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25 years after the debut of the Cosmograph, Rolex finally ushered in the automatic Daytona era. Prior to that, all Rolex Cosmograph Daytona watches were manual-winding ones, which kept some customers away. While there are gold, two-tone, and platinum versions, stainless steel Daytona chronographs are the most popular options. Join us as we explore the trio of automatic stainless steel Daytona references.
It was in 1988 that Rolex unveiled a new generation of Daytona chronographs. Rather than the hand-wound movements of previous Daytona models, the new ones ran on an automatic caliber. This move quickly pushed the Rolex Daytona to the forefront of luxury chronographs, where it has stayed since.
The first automatic stainless steel Daytona watch was the ref. 16520. Equipped with a 40mm stainless steel Oyster case, matching steel Oyster bracelet, and sapphire crystal, it was an instant hit. The black or white dial variations of the stainless steel Daytona ref. 16520 featured the characteristic trio of subdials in a contrasting color.
The Daytona ref. 16520 models are often called the Zenith Daytona due to the movement within. The Rolex Caliber 4030 driving the first automatic Daytona was, in fact, a modified version of the famous Zenith El-Primero chronograph caliber.
Although the automatic Daytona watches were a great success, Rolex thought it was high time to have their signature chronograph collection run on an in-house movement. Therefore, in 2000, Rolex launched the latest version of the Daytona powered by the Rolex 4130 Caliber manufacture movement. It took Rolex five years to develop the 4130 Caliber and it boasts a vertical clutch rather than the more standard horizontal clutch. The new construction resulted in not only a more accurate time keeping instrument but also smoother motion of the chronograph hand. Plus, there was an increase of power reserve from 54 to 72 hours.
Amongst the slew of other metal options was the stainless steel Daytona ref. 116520. It kept its iconic 40mm steel Oyster case, steel Oyster bracelet, and pair of screw-down pushers flanking the winding crown. There were, however, a few modifications to the dial, including silver outlines on the subdials. Also, because of the new movement, the small seconds register moved from 9 o’clock to 6 o’clock.
In 2007, Rolex unleashed the Cerachrom ceramic bezel on the GMT Master II. Prized for its look, as well as, its resistance to fading and scratching, the Rolex ceramic bezels are simply stunning. Over the ensuing years, Rolex began outfitting their popular sports models, such as the Submariner, Deepsea, and Yacht Master with the Cerachrom bezel. The Rolex Daytona mens watches also received one, but only on more precious models such as a platinum and Everose gold Daytonas.
But finally, in 2016, the stainless steel Daytona ref. 116500 also got the Cerachrom ceramic bezel. And Rolex enthusiasts everywhere rejoiced! On both the black dial and white dial versions of the Daytona ref. 116500 sits a black ceramic bezel engraved with the tachymetric scale. Beating at the core of the Rolex’s newest stainless steel Daytona is also the unbeatable Caliber 4130.
The evolution of these automatic stainless steel Daytona references show a perfect illustration of how the Swiss watchmaking giant constantly seeks to improve their products. In turn, Rolex fans everywhere can enjoy the best luxury watches money can buy.
In addition to being Rolex’s signature chronograph collection, the Cosmograph Daytona is, in fact, the world’s most famous chronograph watch. It is without a doubt the chronograph to which other luxury chronographs compare themselves to. Launched in the 1960s, let’s get a closer look at the three-part evolution of the Rolex Daytona series.
Although Rolex already had several chronograph watches to its name, in 1963 the brand presented a new version dubbed the Cosmograph ref. 6239. With its new tachymeter engraved bezel and contrasting colors of the registers on the dial, this was the start of the Cosmograph’s journey. One year after its debut, the “Daytona” label joined the “Cosmograph” name. This was in honor of Rolex’s sponsorship of the famous endurance auto race in Florida. The Rolex Daytona designation eventually became a permanent part of the Cosmograph and today, the Rolex chronograph is simply known as the Daytona.
The first series of the Rolex Daytona watches were made from the 1960s until the late 1980s. They carry four-digit reference numbers, such as the ref. 6240, ref. 6241, ref. 6262, ref. 6264, ref. 6263, ref. 6265, ref. 6269, and ref. 6270 Along with their distinct look, another noteworthy component of these vintage Daytona references are the engines under the hoods, so to speak. Powered by a movement based on the Valjoux Caliber 72, the early Rolex Daytona models were manual-winding ones. While four-digit Daytona references are the most popular vintage sports watches today, during its time, these manual chronographs were a hard sell.
We can’t very well speak of the evolution of the Rolex Daytona without mentioning its most famous editions—the Paul Newman Daytona watches. These particular Rolex Daytona series come equipped with a dial initially named the “exotic dial” by Rolex. These were later more commonly known as the Paul Newman dial thanks to the famous actor owning one of these special-edition Daytona watches.
Finally, in 1988, Rolex presented a completely revamped version of the Daytona with the ref. 16520. The five-digit Daytona reference hailed a new era with an automatic Rolex Daytona. This time, replacing the manual movement was the automatic Rolex Caliber 4030. The Caliber 4030 is based on the Zenith El Primero movement. However, it boasts many Rolex modifications such as a new escapement, a reduction in the beats per hour rate, and the removal of the date function.
From the late 1980s until the start of the new millennium, Rolex produced a variety of automatic Daytona watches including steel, yellow gold, and two-tone versions.
At the turn of this century, Rolex unveiled their first Daytona chronographs driven by an in-house automatic movement—Caliber 4130. The first editions of the 4130-powered Daytona models were the stainless steel ref. 116520, the yellow gold ref. 116518, the white gold ref. 116519, and the two-tone ref. 116523.
Today, the most current versions of the Daytona still run on the famous Rolex Caliber 4130 movement, including the platinum anniversary model ref. 116506 and the newest stainless steel model with the ceramic bezel, Daytona ref. 116500LN, which came out in 2016.
It’s impressive to think that although the Daytona had a slow start over five decades ago, today it enjoys its status as the leading luxury chronograph to own. It’s a Rolex story that will undoubtedly continue to write its own history for many more decades to come. For more luxury, feel free to view a great selection of used Rolex Daytona watches here at BeckerTime.