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Rolex Cosmograph Daytona 116520 Review

Ask any serious watch collector to name the most difficult to acquire, most highly sought after watch, and chances are that the same name will come up time after time—the Daytona. The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, Ref. 116520, enjoys a status and cult-like following that no other watch in the world can claim. The Daytona is offered in several variations, but it is the stainless steel models (both white dial and black dial versions) that are par­ticularly prized by collectors. Rolex sends each of their dealers a very limited number of the coveted stainless steel Daytona variants each year. Not surprisingly, demand for the Daytona far outstrips supply, as it has for many years, and nearly every Rolex dealer maintains a long list of clients waiting for the opportunity to pur­chase one.  In recent months, the global economic downturn has had a significant impact on supply and demand – it’s far easier to acquire a Daytona from an authorized dealer than it historically has been.  As a result, the price of a 116520 Daytona in the secondary markets has also softened considerably.  I expect however that as the global economy improves, demand and scarcity of the 116520 Daytona will likely return to previous conditions.

The 116520 comes in two versions – a white and black dial.  I’m often asked which version of the 116520 is more rare.  Rolex doesn’t publish production numbers, so no one can say for certain if they produce either version in higher numbers than the other.  In my personally opinion, it is unlikely that this is the case – my guess is that Rolex produces both variants in roughly equal numbers.  I’ve owned several examples of both and never noticed that one was any harder to acquire than the other.
In terms of my personal preference, I happen to prefer the white dial version over the black.  There are several reasons why the white dial is my Daytona of choice – Rolex happens to make several other great watches with a black dial which I own, and relatively few white dial watches, which makes it an easy choice for me, if for no other reason.

Like the other watches in Rolex’s Oyster Professional series, the Cosmograph Daytona is designed to be a robust watch with a specific function in mind. Specifically, the Daytona is designed to measure and calculate elapsed time and average speed via the chronograph registers on the dial and the graduated tachymeter bezel. Given the utility of the Cosmograph in sporting events, the Daytona has been designed to endure the rigors that often accom­pany sports. The 40mm Oyster case and Triplock crown combine to provide the Daytona an impressive 100 meters (approximately 333 feet) of water resistance. The chronograph pushers screw in to ensure the water resistance rating. The Cosmograph became such an icon in the sport of auto racing, that during the late 1960s, the watch earned the nickname “Daytona” after the Daytona International Speedway. Rolex continues to be a very active spon­sor in the world of auto racing.

One cannot help but admire the beauty of the Daytona.  Beneath the sapphire crystal lies a pure white dial with white gold hands and markers, which provide excellent legibility. The markers and hands are also painted with Superluminova to provide low-light visibility. The polished bezel, case and center links of the bracelet also add to the atten­tion-getting quality of the Daytona.  Despite the highly polished finish, the tachymetric scale of the bezel remains reasonably easy to read, even in direct sunlight.

The bracelet and clasp of the Daytona are particularly inter­esting, especially to long time Rolex fans. Like the Rolex Oyster case, the Rolex Oyster style bracelet and flip-lock safety clasp are so well-designed that they’ve influenced how watches have been designed for decades. However, as well designed and executed as the Oyster bracelet and clasp are, they have drawn criticism. The good news is that Rolex has chosen to correct two minor points that have long been criticized, even among the most ardent Rolex watch enthusiasts. First, the center links of the Daytona bracelet are now entirely solid. The Rolex Daytona and Yachtmaster are the first watches in the Oyster Professional line-up with solid cen­ter links (not hollow as in other models, including the famed Submariner). The Daytona bracelet is also fitted with an entirely redesigned clasp that no other Rolex watch yet has. Gone is the thinly stamped steel construction of the traditional Rolex flip-lock clasp. In its place is a much higher quality deployant clasp (in both look and feel) in solid, polished steel. I cannot give Rolex enough kudos for this redesigned clasp. I hope that similarly designed clasps make their way to the other watches in the Oyster Professional line. Some will question the decision of Rolex to apply a polished finish—which shows scratches more readily than a brushed finish—to the center links. But with the solid center links and the redesigned clasp, the Daytona bracelet is no doubt the finest that Rolex has ever produced.

From an horological perspective, the most exciting aspect of the Rolex Daytona is the movement inside the polished case. The Rolex Caliber 4130 made its debut in 2000, replacing the previ­ous Daytona Caliber 4030, which was based on a modified Zenith Caliber 400 El Primero. With the 4130, Rolex joins an exclusive club comprised of a handful of watch companies that can claim to manufacture the movements for every watch they sell. Like most high-end chronograph movements, the caliber 4130 uses a column wheel design to engage and control the chronograph functions.  Rolex uses an innovative vertical friction coupling for engaging the column wheel func­tions. This particular design feature is evident when the chronograph seconds hand is engaged. The chronograph second hand  exhibits a smooth start and is free of the staggered movement so typical of other mechanical chronographs. This is not simply a more cosmetically appealing feature; a smoother chronograph hand means timekeeping with split-second accuracy.

The 44 jewel movement oscillates at 28,800 bph has power reserve of 72 hours, and a total parts count of 201 components.  That number is less than any other modern chronograph movement. Many manufacturers pride themselves on intricately com­plex designs that necessitate a high number of parts. Rolex takes the approach that less is more—fewer parts means less maintenance and an all-around more robust and stable movement.

With the caliber 4130, Rolex has, for the first time used ball bearings (made of ceramic) in the automatic winding system. While the winding system may appear to be identical to that used in previous, non-chronograph calibers, (right down to the distinctive vented rotor pattern) it is not. Most Rolex calibers rely on a single sleeve bearing in concert with proper lubrication to keep the automatic winding rotor spinning freely. The use of ceramic ball bearings means better rotor spin efficiency and lower maintenance.

The free-sprung balance wheel is finely regulated via Microstella screws and employs Rolex’s KIF shock absorption. Attached to the balance is the Rolex “Parachrom Bleu” hairspring, with it’s unique anti-magnetic and temperature resistant properties.

The caliber 41030 is self-winding via a bidirectional rotor but can also be manually wound. Of course, no Caliber 4130 finds its way into a Daytona case without first attaining COSC certification. Compared to other legendary chronograph movements, such as the Piguet 1185, the Rolex 4130 is arguably lacking in sophistica­tion and fine finishing. However, it has historically been Rolex’s adherence to simplicity and practicali­ty of design that has given its movements such leg­endary reputations—the 4130 is no exception. In less than a decade of service, the movement has already firmly established itself at the table with the best chronograph movements in the world.

From the crystal to the clasp, I find it difficult to fault any aspect of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. The $10,400 current retail price compares quite favorably with other sport chronographs and is an outstanding price to pay for those fortunate enough to buy at retail price.

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