Sparkling Sports – The Gem-Set Rolex Daytona

by Ross Povey - Apr 27 2021

Rolex using diamonds to adorn its watches was a custom that began in the 1950s on certain Oyster watches. Interestingly, whilst we normally associate gem setting with precious metals watches, in that era the Day-Date, it was also possible to have a subtle few diamonds on the hour markers in your steel 6084 or other 34mm semi-bubbleback. However, in the early to mid 1960s, the art of gem setting really came to the fore at Rolex with the Day-Date becoming available with gem-set bezels and fully paved dials. The whole bling-thing carried on apace into the 70s when some of the most incredible watches were produced with multi-gem-set bezels, dials and even the bracelets.

An early Datejust from the 1960s with diamond hour markers you can shop here…

At Bulang and Sons, we have always loved sports watches in precious metals, especially yellow gold as they are they are their own oxymoron in some ways. Watches that were literally tools of the trade for divers or racing car drivers, often life-saving essentially pieces of kit were born in utilitarian steel; a reasonably cheap and yet strong material for the watches.  When brands such as Rolex began offering sports watches in gold, they truly became style statements based on a toll watch recipe. Still utterly cool in their own way, but with a different purpose and destination in mind for each nugget of gold. We imagine a yellow gold Sub would spend more time on the deck of a yacht than the bottom of the ocean on a commercial diving mission.

Gold Daytonas – 6265 and 6263
Rolex Daytona 16528 with full pave dial and emerald hours available here

Bring The Bling

Always keen to keep pushing the boundaries, in 1979 Rolex unveiled something that nobody would have expected. The reference 16758 yellow gold GMT-Master was offered in a SARU version. The clue to the watch’s guise is in the name – SARU is a reduction and amalgamation of the words sapphire and ruby and refers to the bezel. Where the iconic blue and red of the GMT’s bezel were normally in anodised aluminium, it was in sapphires and rubies. Not only that, but the dial was fully paved with stunning blue sapphire-set hour markers. To pull the whole look together, the watch was fitted with a yellow gold President bracelet with the centre-links fully diamond set. This was the beginning of one of the most fiercely collectable sub-sets of Rolex collecting;  rare gem-set sports watches.

GMT-Master SARU (Pic: Pucci Papaleo)
When there are more stones than metal surface on show!
UV Fun with the 16528 EMRO – live now!

The Daytona got its first bling-over in 1984 in two references, the 6269 and 6270. The 6269 had a brilliant-cut diamond bezel and pave dial with sapphire hour markers and the 6270 was fitted with a baguette-cut diamond bezel and full-pave dial with sapphire hour markers and, importantly, soleil-finish purple sub dials. These are two hugely collectible Daytonas, arguably the hottest manual wind Daytonas from Rolex, a bit factor being that they had unique reference numbers, unlike the SARU GMT for example. The Daytona really hotted up, however, in 1988 with the launch of the Daytona Perpetual.

Rolex 6270 (Pic: Pucci Papleo)

Daytona Perpetual

The relaunch of the Daytona in 1988 was timed to coincide with the venerable chronograph’s 25th anniversary. I’ve said this a number of times in the past, but the design is perhaps one of the most important in the history of the wristwatch. Rolex took a lame duck and created the hottest watch on the planet, but increasing the case size, adding crown guards and a sapphire crystal and the all-important perpetual, Rolex-speak for automatic, calibre 4030 chronograph movement. The steel watches were a smash hit and created such demand that the now-commonplace Rolex waiting list phenomenon began. As well as the yellow gold version, Rolex introduced a two-tone steel and yellow gold Daytona, which had never existed before 1988. To us, the two-tone or as Rolex refer to it Rolesor, is a great option for the Perpetual Daytona. It’s a super-versatile watch and actually represents great value for money.

Cool two-tone 16523 with rare four-line dial and bezel – available here

Both the yellow gold and Rolesor versions were available with diamond set hour markers as a standard option from retailers. However, the real bling-fest began in the early 90s when Rolex introduced the precious metal Daytonas on leather straps. The case was essentially the same as the bracelet watches, but with slightly reworked lugs with flat undersides at the ends. The watches had fixed short endlinks and were fitted with leather straps that had a new matching gold deployment claps with flip lock. The yellow gold version, reference 16518, was unveiled in 1992 and the white gold, reference 16519, in 1997. It was during the 1990s that Rolex really began reimagining the Daytona as a jewellery watch, by setting both the dial and bezel with stones.

A white gold 16589 with pink sapphire baguette bezel and grossular stone dial (Pic: Cattin/Garbati)

The Art of Gem Setting

Rolex is often regarded as the best watch manufacturer at gem-setting. Like pretty much all other areas of watchmaking at the Geneva maison, gem-setting has its own dedicated department that does all the work in-house. Rolex uses only the very finest stones and whilst tiny inclusions are common in naturally occurring stones, Rolex only uses the most translucent examples that must have no visible inclusions when magnified upto to 10 times.  When it comes to dials, Rolex uses the 8/8 cut, which has a total of 17 facets. The diamonds are secured on the dial using the bead setting technique where upto five pieces of gold from the dial surface are made into beads to hold the stone in place.

When it comes to the Zenith-ear Daytona (1988 to 2000), the most common way for bezels to be set was with baguette-cut stones. Diamonds and coloured sapphires were used as were rubies and in one or two cases emeralds. Rolex employs channel setting for the securing of stones for the bezel and it is a task reserved for the most highly-skilled members of the team due to the highly complex and time-consuming nature of the work. In the early 2000s, when Rolex began using its in-house movement, Rolex began using round brilliant stones in two rows on its bezels as well as trapeze cut stones which can be seen in the Leopard and Rainbow Daytonas.

Reference 16599 SAPH with brilliant-cut long endlinks and trapeze cut sapphire bezel (Pic: Cattin/Garbati)
A turquoise stone dial ‘Beach’ 116589 RBR with brilliant-cut two-row diamond bezel (Pic: Cattin/Garbati)

Bulang Loves

To celebrate the art of the gem-set Daytona we have a beautiful watch to offer, a stunning yellow gold Daytona with fully paved dial with emerald our markers. Known by the code EMRO, the emerald hour markers on the dial really jump out and give the watch a totally unique look. The dial features applied Arabic numerals at 15, 30 and 45 and has a small plaque with the word ROLEX applied beneath the yellow gold coronet. The sunken yellow gold subdials have the characteristic concentric circles which adds to the dials sparkle and almost-alive qualities when viewed in the natural sunlight. This such a special watch, please check it out here in our boutique.

What a beauty on the wrist – check it out here