Rolex Daytona Retrospective Chapter 2

Rolex Daytona Retrospective Chapter 2 - Twain Time

In Chapter 1 of this Daytona retrospective, we discussed the first generation of Rolex’s flagship chronograph, which covered nine manual winding references that spanned from 1963 until 1988. In this chapter, we will cover the second Rolex Daytona generation, which stretched from 1988 until 2000. This particular generation was markedly different than the one preceding it as it featured not only larger watches but automatic ones too.

Make no mistake, the redesign of the Daytona in the late-1980s was a dramatic one, and it paved the way for the immense popularity of the entire Rolex Daytona line as we know it today. The Daytona series unveiled in 1988 eventually became known as the “Zenith Daytona” thanks to the automatic movements that served to power the watches.

In this installment of our three-part Daytona retrospective, we’ll outline the watches’ design characteristics, touch upon the movements, delve into all the references, and offer a guide on how to use the Zenith Daytona watches.



Rolex Daytona "El Primero" Ref. 16520

Brief History of Rolex’s First Automatic Daytona Collection 

When Rolex released the new slate of Daytona watches at the Basel Fair in 1988, it was the most significant redesign of the brand’s signature chronograph watch since it debuted in 1963. Gone were the Valjoux manual-wound movements, compact 37mm case sizes, and acrylic crystals. And in their place were 40mm cases that housed automatic Zenith El-Primero-based movements and were topped with sapphire crystals.

The first automatic chronograph made by Rolex was the Daytona reference 165xx, powered by a Zenith El-Primero base movement. While the five-digit Daytona references are affectionately nicknamed the “Zenith” Daytona watches, it must be said that Rolex modified these movements heavily to meet the company’s stringent standards. Rolex made more than 200 modifications to the movement and replaced half of the components. It was renamed the Rolex Caliber 4030.

Rolex Daytona Zenith Movement Ref. 16528
Rolex Daytona Zenith Diamond Markers Ref. 16528

Rolex “Zenith” Daytona Design Characteristics

Regardless of the specific reference, all Daytona “Zenith” models made from 1988 to 2000 share a few design characteristics. These include:

  • 40mm Oyster cases with screw-down chronograph pushers and screw-down winding crown
  • Crown guards around the winding crown
  • 100-meter water-resistant cases
  • A tachymeter engraved metal bezel or gem-set bezel
  • A dial with three registers: 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock, 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock, running seconds at 9 o’clock
  • Rings around the three registers in a color contrasting with the main dial
  • Caliber Rolex 4030 automatic chronograph movement, based on a Zenith El-Primero movement
  • Most models are furnished with three-link Oyster bracelets and some models have leather straps

These particular Daytona models have five-digit reference numbers that start with 165xx (for example, 16520, 16523, and 16528).


Rolex Daytona Zenith Yellow Gold Champagne Dial Ref. 16528

Rolex Daytona El Primero Yellow Gold champagne Dial Ref. 16528


Five-Digit Daytona References

From 1988 until 2000, Rolex made several Daytona references in a range of materials, bracelets, and dial styles. The earliest references of the automatic Daytona line included a steel version, a yellow gold version, and for the first time in the history of the collection, a two-tone steel, and yellow gold version. The debut of the stainless-steel Daytona ref. 16520 is often credited for increasing the popularity of Rolex’s chronograph, eventually becoming the embodiment of a luxury chronograph. Over the years, Rolex added more metals and styles such as white gold cases, the choice of leather straps, and the addition of opulent gem-set options.

Rolex Daytona El Primero Ref. 16523

Rolex Daytona Zenith El primero Yellow Gold & Steel Champagne Dial Ref. 16523

The standard Daytona references include:

  • Daytona ref. 16520 (introduced 1988): Stainless steel case, stainless steel Oyster bracelet
  • Daytona ref. 16523 (introduced 1988): Two-tone stainless steel and yellow gold case, two-tone stainless steel/yellow gold Oyster bracelet.
  • Daytona ref. 16528 (introduced 1988): Yellow gold case, yellow gold Oyster bracelet
  • Daytona ref. 16518 (introduced 1992): Yellow gold case, leather strap
  • Daytona ref. 16519 (introduced 1997): White gold case, leather strap

    Rolex Daytona Zenith Movement Ref. 15625
    Rolex Daytona Zenith Movement Ref. 16528

In addition to the regular production Daytona references fitted with metal bezels engraved with tachymeter scales, Rolex also made an assortment of special precious gemstone Daytona references with incredible gem-set bezels. These include:

  • Daytona ref. 16568 (introduced 1994): Yellow gold case, baguette diamond bezel, yellow gold Oyster bracelet
  • Daytona ref. 16568 EMRO (introduced 1996): Yellow gold case, emerald bezel, yellow gold Oyster bracelet
  • Daytona ref. 16588 SAFU (introduced 1997): Yellow gold case, pink sapphire bezel, leather strap
  • Daytona ref. 16589 BRIL (introduced 1997): White gold case, baguette diamond bezel, leather strap
  • Daytona ref. 16589 SAPH (introduced 1997): White gold case, blue sapphire bezel, leather strap
  • Daytona ref. 16589 RUBI (Introduced 1997): White gold case, ruby bezel, leather strap
  • Daytona ref. 16599 SAPH (introduced 1998): White gold case, blue sapphire bezel, diamond end-links, leather strap
  • Daytona ref. 16599 RUBI (introduced 1999): White gold case, ruby bezel, diamond end-links, leather strap
  • Daytona ref. 16559 SACO (introduced 1999): White gold case, cognac-colored sapphires, diamond end-links, leather strap
  • Daytona ref. 16598 EMRO (introduced 1999): Yellow gold case, emerald bezel, diamond end-links, leather strap

Collecting the Rolex “Zenith” Daytona

Like all Rolex Daytona models, the “Zenith” series are highly sought after in the collector’s market. Emphasizing their collectibility is the fact that Rolex only produced the oldest references of this series for 12 years and some of the later examples for less than 10 years.

Prices for the stainless steel Daytona “Zenith” ref. 16520 generally ranges from about $22,000 to over $40,000, depending on condition, provenance, and age. Prices for the two-tone Daytona “Zenith” ref. 16523 are slightly less expensive, typically ranging from $16,000 to $30,000. Prices for the yellow gold Daytona “Zenith” ref. 16528 are the highest of them all, normally ranging from $38,000 to over $100,000.



Rolex Daytona Zenith Ref. 16528

Rolex Daytona "Zenith" 18K Gold Black Dial Ref. 16528


However, expect to pay higher prices for collectible models such as the Daytona “Patrizzi” watch. The “Patrizzi” dial is characterized by counters that have turned brown on the black dial version of the steel Daytona “Zenith,” which is said to be caused by the use of Zapon lacquer. Watch expert Osvaldo Patrizzi is the man credited for discovering this color-changing phenomenon, thus the nickname. These Patrizzi Daytona watches can sell anywhere from $30,000 to over $100,000.

Another exceedingly collectible, and therefore expensive, Zenith Daytona is the “Floating Porcelain” dial version. First, the “Floating” nickname comes from the fact that the “COSMOGRAPH” inscription sits far away from the preceding four lines of text (under 12 o’clock) as if it is floating. The “Porcelain” portion is thanks to the glossy lacquered white dial. These dials are very rare and were only found on the earliest models of the Daytona (steel, gold, and two-tone), with serial numbers R to L6 and furnished with tachymeter scales at 200 units (later bezels had scales for 400 units). Prices for these rare Daytona models typically range from $70,000 to over $300,000 depending on material, condition, and provenance.

 Rolex Daytona Zenith 16520 Full Set New Old Stock

How To Use The Five-Digit Rolex Daytona Watches

Since five-digit Daytona references are automatic chronographs, they will keep on running as long as they are on your wrist (or stored in a watch winder). Caliber 4030 has a power reserve of about 50 hours. If the watch stops after being off your wrist for a while, you simply have to wind it up manually to get it started again.

How To Manually Wind An Automatic Daytona

  1. Unscrew the winding crown completely, then turn it several times clockwise
  2. A minimum of 25 turns is required for adequate partial winding
  3. Carefully screw the crown back down against the case to ensure waterproofness
  4. Put it on your wrist and the watch will then be wound automatically

How To Set An Automatic Daytona

  1. Unscrew the winding crown and pull out to the first notch
  2. The small seconds hand will stop to allow setting the time to the precise second
  3. To adjust the hour and minute, turn the crown in either direction until you reach the correct time
  4. Once the time is set, carefully screw the crown back down against the case to ensure waterproofness

How To Use The Chronograph To Measure Elapsed Time On An Automatic Daytona

  1. Completely unscrew the pushers by turning them counterclockwise
  2. Make sure that the central chronograph seconds hand is stopped. If needed, stop it by pressing the upper pusher
  3. Press the lower pusher to reset the chronograph seconds hand and counters to zero
  4. Press the upper pusher to start timing
  5. Press the upper pusher again to stop timing
  6. Read the elapsed time
  7. The center seconds hand displays the elapsed seconds while the two counters at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock display the elapsed minutes and hours, respectively
  8. Screw the pushers back into the case by turning them clockwise

On a five-digit Daytona, the 30-minute counter is located at 3 o'clock, the 12-hour counter is located at 6 o'clock, and the running seconds is located at 9 o'clock. Therefore, when the central chronograph hand is activated, you can keep track of how many minutes and hours (up to 12 hours) have elapsed by looking at the hour and minute counters.

How To Calculate Average Speed On An Automatic Daytona

Thanks to its tachymeter bezel, the Rolex Daytona can be used to calculate average speeds per hour over a given distance, whether kilometers or miles.

  1. Once the chronograph pushers are unscrewed, press the lower pusher to reset the chronograph seconds hand and counters back to zero
  2. At the starting point of the distance to be covered, press the upper pusher to activate the chronograph to start timing
  3. When the distance has been covered, press the upper pusher to stop the chronograph timing
  4. The chronograph seconds hand indicates the average speed per hour on the graduated bezel
  5. Screw the pushers back into the case by turning them clockwise



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