I really don’t think I need to go too much into the Daytona as pretty much everyone, watch enthusiast or not, knows or has at least heard about this iconic watch. It has always been the case that the ultimate Rolex is ironically not a solid gold President Day-Date, but the Cosmograph Daytona. With waitlists in the years to authorized dealers these days not even entertaining you unless you’ve bought another (or a few) Rolex before, the Daytona is without a doubt the most desirable and hardest-to-get Rolex in the market today. Period.
However, I believe it remains crucial to briefly reiterate the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona's origin story. In 1959, the Daytona International Speedway emerged as the swiftest racing track in the United States, and in 1962, it became renowned for hosting the esteemed “Rolex 24 At Daytona” endurance race. Recognizing the significance of this racing venue, Rolex was designated as the official timepiece/timekeeper of the Daytona International Speedway. In 1963, Rolex solidified its connection to the illustrious racetrack by christening its newly introduced racing chronograph as the Cosmograph Daytona.
The example we have on offer today is the now-discontinued and highly sought-after A-serial Ref. 16520 with a white dial, widely known among collectors as the “Zenith Daytona”. For context, Rolex didn’t actually offer an in-house self-winding calibre for the Daytona up until the year 2000. Earlier references of the Cosmograph Daytona (Paul Newman, John Player Specials, etc) were powered by outsourced Valjoux movements. When the Ref. 16520 first debuted at Baselworld 1988, it featured a heavily modified self-winding Cal. 4030 based on the high-beat Zenith El Primero 400 movement.
One of the reasons why the Ref. 16520 was so desirable among collectors was primarily because it had a limited production run of only 12 years. It was eventually succeeded by the Ref. 116520 in 2000, which housed a new in-house, self-winding Cal. 4130. With its 40mm case size, the Ref. 16520 sits perfectly on the wrist and possesses a sophisticated design language that aligns with other legendary creations like the 911 Porsche and Fender Stratocaster. It features an exquisite white dial complemented by contrasting sub-dials and a highly polished bezel. Positioned prominently in the centre is the iconic red "Daytona" inscription, just above the small-seconds sub-dial.
Without a doubt, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona has solidified its position as the flagship and iconic model of Rolex, thanks in part to its remarkable history and association with renowned individuals throughout the years. On the wrist, with all of the hype and history aside, it is just a downright handsome watch, plain and simple. The Zenith Daytona also represents a significant era in the history of Rolex's iconic Daytona line when dial and bezel variations were relatively frequent. Arguably, it also marks the final generation of Daytonas before Rolex embarked on a path of embracing a more refined and commercially-oriented incarnation that we commonly see today.
As Zenith Daytonas continue to climb in value and overall appreciation from the community, this is the series best suited to capitalize on any movements within the market, making for an exceptional collector's piece as both, a model to wear and appreciate in value.