The Rolex Daytona is an icon, an institution, and a grail watch for watch collectors around the world. This Rolex Daytona review and buyer’s guide discusses the 2000-2015 stainless steel Rolex Daytona reference 116520. WatchBox Watch Specialist Tim Mosso guides watch enthusiasts through a history of this famous sports chronograph and its ancestors dating back to 1963. The hottest Rolex watch of our time here is explained in detail with extraordinary companion video from the WatchBox multimedia team.
Launched in 1963, the Rolex Le Mans didn’t last long; it was renamed “Rolex Daytona” before the year’s end. Named after the Daytona Beach motorsports scene, the “Cosmograph” acknowledged the popularity of pre-Daytona Rolex chronographs at the sand-track racing events of the 1950s and early 1960s. During that period, flying mile, stock car racing, and absolute speed records were pursued on the beach itself. The arrival of Daytona International Speedway in 1959 and the emergence of the Bonneville salt flats moved most of the automotive action off the beach by the time Rolex dubbed its chronograph, the “Daytona.”
From the early days, Rolex chronographs were a constant presence trackside at the speedway. By 1962, endurance sports car racing on the DIS road course had attracted the top production-based racing teams from around the world. The race became a full 24-hour endure by 1966, and Rolex became involved as the official timing partner almost immediately. By the 1990s, Rolex involvement had grown to encompass a gift of one Rolex Cosmograph Daytona for each driver of each class-winning race car at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.
If 1963 was the first year of the Rolex Daytona, 1988 was the year that watch achieved immortality. The initial manual-wind 37.5mm Daytona never sold well, but the 40mm automatic version launched in ’88 was a sensation. Now powered by a Zenith El Primero automatic chronograph movement, the Rolex 16520 in stainless steel emerged as the most-sought Rolex watch of the 1990s.
The year 2000 marked a mechanical revolution in the annals of Rolex’s chronograph. Rolex’s Zenith-based caliber 4030 was retired in favor of the in-house Rolex caliber 4130. It was a milestone worthy of a new reference: 116520. This model was built from 2000 to 2015, and its basic steel construction, size, shape, and dial design were remarkably faithful to the 1988 model. A tachymeter scale on the metal bezel permitted the user to determine the speed of a car over a kilometer, and the graceful Cosmograph case boasted 100-meter water resistance. Externally, there is very little to distinguish the Zenith Daytona from the all-Rolex watch.
Internally, the caliber 4130 is a major upgrade over the old El Primero. Rolex’s movement includes a 72-hour power reserve, a stop-seconds function, a vertical clutch not available on the 4030. Additional watchmaking refinements included retention of the column wheel for chronograph control, a COSC Swiss chronometer certification, and a beat rate of 28,800 vibrations per hour. In order to ace the chronometer test, the caliber 4130 is equipped with a hand-made Breguet overcoil hairspring and five-position adjustment. A full balance bridge, ball bearing-borne winding rotor, and a free-sprung balance add durability.
Today, the Rolex 116520 is a collectible watch despite its high production volumes. As watch collectors have battle for access to the newer Daytona 116500LN, the older full-steel chronographs are gaining value in step.
A full boxed set improves the value of this Rolex, and collectors shopping for a 2000-2015 Daytona should insist on no less than the inner box, the outer box, and the Rolex warranty document. From 2013, the warranty was achieved by scanning a magnetic strip on a plastic warranty card. Additional Rolex accessories including tags, user’s manuals, and the sleeve for the manuals are preferred. Ideally, the boxed set also will include original sales documentation from the Rolex authorized dealer that sold the watch plus any receipts from mechanical service with Rolex itself.