Rolex Daytona 'Zenith'

Rolex Daytona 'Zenith'

Why We Love It

We all know the Daytona Story, and it has proven to be a big favorite among the collectors.

Why?  Rolex's brilliant motorsports chronograph is in pole position in any category, vintage or modern. And while current automatic versions admittedly don't generally do as much for us as a nice hand-cranking example, this particular iteration might be the exception to the rule.

The timepiece you're looking at is a Reference 16520 Cosmograph, known among collectors as the "Zenith Daytona" due to its internal automatic chronograph mechanism that is based on the world-famous high beat El Primero movement.

Until 2000, Rolex didn't actually offer an in-house automatic chronograph movement in the Daytona line, and since leaving the manual-winding Valjoux based movements on which they were founded in 1988, relied on Zenith to provide the internals for their flagship chronograph. 

"Zenith Daytonas" were made for almost a decade and have become incredibly desirable by collectors. With near-perfect proportions, the 16520 has become a true icon, and this particular example is a great way to get in on the action!

Dating to circa 1997, this piece features a thoughtfully refinished case, white dial with black rings circling the subsidiary registers giving it a vaguely "Panda-like" feel, sapphire crystal, and a matching Oyster Bracelet with signed Flip-Lock clasp.

It has been speculated by many that the Zenith Daytona - particularly the white dial models - may be the single greatest modern Rolex with a huge potential for appreciation.  

We're not going to suggest otherwise.

The Story

For a brand that was an early pioneer of automatic movements, it seems odd that for decades Rolex's only chronograph was powered by a manual-winding movement.

The earliest Daytonas relied on that well known manually-wound workhorse caliber--the Valjoux 72, used by Heuer in both their Autavias and Carreras. But in 1988 Rolex released a Daytona using Zenith's El Primero movement, making the Cosmograph Daytona now worthy of the appellation "Oyster Perpetual." These "Zenith" Daytonas--particularly with the white dial--have gained serious traction over the past decade on the vintage chronograph market, with potential to appreciate in value.

Still, Rolex has never been the sort of brand to rely on another company's technology for long, so when the Reference 116520 debuted in 2000 at BaselWorld, it made headlines. The result of years of R&D, the movement used in the Reference 116520--the Caliber 4130--was the manufacture's first new in-house caliber in five decades. The Caliber 4130's construction--consisting of a vertical clutch, a larger balance wheel, and fewer screws--made it far more accurate (and more easily-serviced) than any of Rolex's previous self-winding chronograph calibers.  

As Rolex’s only chronograph in continuous production, the Daytona occupies a place of privilege in watch boxes around the world. Preference, of course, is given to early variants, such as the exotic dial versions worn by Paul Newman. However, the climate has certainly changed thanks to the recent auction, and “Newman Daytonas” have crept from attainable artifacts into “grail watch” territory—for a certain few who won’t balk at dropping hundreds of thousands - or even millions - of dollars on a watch. 


SKU: AS04068

Stainless steel Oyster case is approximately 40mm (excluding the pushers & crown). Rolex Reference 16520. Circa 1997.

Overall Condition: The case is in good condition overall showing refinishing. Tritium luminous gloss white dial is in outstanding condition with applied white gold indices and matching handset. Signed crown.

Includes solid link stainless steel Oyster bracelet (78390/503) with signed Fliplock clasp.

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