The best Rolex Daytona to buy is largely a matter of deciding on what your preferred material is for a sporty chronograph watch. There are full steel versions and steel and ceramic versions for a casual approach. Then there are the two-tone gold and steel Daytonas, which offer a dressier retro style. The full yellow gold and full rose gold variants flaunt their lavishness proudly while the white gold models are an exercise in stealth wealth. In terms of ultimate luxury, there’s a battle between the hefty platinum editions and the sparkly gem-set versions.
In short, when it comes to luxury watches, the Rolex Daytona has attained legendary status. Launched in 1963, this Rolex chronograph takes its name from Daytona, Florida – a city famously associated with motorsports and speed. Thanks to a chronograph’s ability to measure elapsed times and the Daytona’s tachymeter bezel, Rolex has always aligned the Daytona with car racing and professional motor racers. The watch is also closely linked to iconic actor and racecar driver, Paul Newman as he wore one regularly from the 1970s onward.
The Daytona’s limited production, coupled with high demand and long waitlists, only further contributes to its mystique, charm, and charisma. Recent versions are highly sought-after by serious timepiece collectors and casual luxury watch fans alike while vintage Daytona references often emerge as stars at auctions.
In case you are keen on purchasing a Daytona but are a tad confused as to which is the best one, you are in the right place. Our buying guide will help you make an informed decision by giving you a fuller look at the Daytona collection – both past and present – and the many options available in the market, complete with pricing and specs.
Rolex Daytona Watch Features
Rolex has made three main generations of the Daytona so far:
- Vintage Rolex Daytona (1963 – 1988): Manual-winding, 37mm, available only in full steel or full yellow gold, four-digit reference numbers
- Rolex “Zenith” Daytona (1988 – 2000): Self-winding movements based on Zenith El-Primero calibers, 40mm, available in steel, steel/yellow gold, yellow gold, white gold, five-digit reference numbers
- Rolex Daytona In-House (2000 – Present): Self-winding in-house movements, 40mm, available in steel, steel/yellow gold, yellow gold, white gold, Everose gold, platinum
Regardless of the generation, all Daytona watches are chronographs. That means that in addition to displaying the time, they can also be used as a stopwatch by pressing the pair of chronograph pushers that flank the winding crown. The top pusher starts and stops the chronograph hand while the bottom one resets it back to zero. Furthermore, all Daytona watches have three subdials positioned at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions on the dial. These subdials serve to track the elapsed minutes and hours of the running chronograph, as well as indicate the running seconds of the current time.
Additionally, the Daytona is popular for its bezel that comes with a tachymeter scale. A tachymeter scale can help measure speed against the time taken to travel or measure distance against speed. The only Rolex Daytona watches that do not include a tachymeter scale are the ones with gem-set bezels.
An important factor to consider when buying a Rolex Daytona is price, particularly the differences between retail prices and market prices. Due to immense demand, Daytona watches are exceedingly difficult to find at authorized Rolex retailers and subject to the longest Rolex waiting lists; therefore, they can be sold by grey market dealers at premium prices. Expect to pay higher than retail for a Rolex Daytona if you want one now or potentially wait years to buy one at sticker price.
Steel Rolex Daytonas
- Daytona 116500LN
- Daytona 116520 (discontinued)
- Daytona 16520 (neo-vintage)
- Daytona 6239, 6241, 6240, 6262, 6264, 6265, 6263 (vintage)
The current production steel Daytona model is the reference 116500LN, which debuted in 2016 to replace reference 116520. The main difference between these two references is that the newer version is equipped with a Cerachrom ceramic bezel while the older one has a steel bezel.
If we compare these two types, the steel bezel is more likely to show scratches as the ceramic bezel is scratch-resistant (and fade-resistant). Apart from this, it does not matter which bezel you choose; the dial you will get will be either black or white in color. While the white versions – especially the white 116500LN “Panda” edition – are slightly more popular there are many Daytona fans who appreciate the sleek black dial too.
Steel Daytona Prices
|Steel Daytona Reference||Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)||Avg. Market Price Nov. 2022|
Two-Tone Rolex Daytona
- Daytona 116503
- Daytona 116523 (discontinued)
- Daytona 16523 (neo-vintage)
The Daytona collection has a category of two-tone “Yellow Rolesor” models, which is Rolex’s name for the combination of stainless steel and 18k yellow gold. The marriage of the metals can be decisive, but for those who like a two-tone watch, these are typically the most affordable Daytona watches you can buy on the secondary market.
The newest steel and yellow gold Daytona is reference 116503, which replaced reference 116523 in 2016. These two references are nearly identical except for a redesigned bezel with wider fonts, triangular markers rather than circular ones, and a different orientation of the scale.
See it on the wrist: Rolex Daytona Two-Tone Chronograph Watch 116523
All Rolesor Daytonas watches come with a yellow gold bezel; there’s no option for a black ceramic bezel. Furthermore, Rolex only introduced two-tone editions with automatic movements; there are no vintage (pre-1988) versions. However, two-tone Daytonas often come with the choice of gem-set hour markers and the dial options are plentiful. Available colors include black, white, blue, mother-of-pearl, and champagne. While the black dial promises an edgy contrast, the white dial offers superior legibility. However, the champagne’s golden tone complements the tone-tone Daytona watch’s design beautifully and is often considered the classic choice.
Two-Tone Daytona Prices
|Yellow Rolesor Daytona Reference||Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)||Avg. Market Price Nov. 2022|
Yellow Gold Rolex Daytona
- Daytona 116508
- Daytona 116518LN
- Daytona 116528 (discontinued)
- Daytona 116518 (discontinued)
- Daytona 16528 (neo-vintage)
- Daytona 16518 (neo-vintage)
- Daytona 6239, 6241, 6262, 6264, 6265, 6263, 6269, 6270 (vintage)
Yellow gold Daytona watches offer a flashier appeal and are propbaly the best Rolex Daytona to buy for people who don’t mind splurging to make a style statement. White, black, and champagne are popular colors when it comes to choosing the dial, however, the green dial versions are some of the most collectible. Diamond hour markers are an option too, as are meteorite dials.
This particular ultra-luxe variant of the Daytona offers plenty of iterations such as the choice between a gold bezel or a black ceramic bezel. The gold bezel versions come fitted with matching yellow gold Oyster bracelets while the black ceramic bezel editions are fitted with black rubber Oysterflex bracelets. There are also some older discontinued references fitted with leather straps and vintage gold Daytonas with black acrylic bezels.
Yellow Gold Daytona Prices
|Yellow Gold Daytona Reference||Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)||Avg. Market Price Nov. 2022|
Rose Gold Daytona
- Daytona 116505
- Daytona 116515LN with Oysterflex bracelet
- Daytona 116515LN with leather strap (discontinued)
- Daytona 116595RBOW
In the mid-2000s, Rolex introduced Everose gold, which is its proprietary rose gold alloy that combines gold, copper, and platinum and promises to never fade. The material made its debut in the Daytona line in 2008 and has remained an option since.
Compared to yellow gold, Everose gold offers quite an elegant and warmer take on the precious metal. Since there are no two-tone options in this category, buyers would have to do with full rose gold cases or not at all.
There are a few choices however. For instance, there’s a full Everose gold option including the bezel and Oyster bracelet. Then there’s the Daytona with an Everose gold case topped with a black Cerachrom bezel. This version used to come with a leather strap but Rolex eventually replaced it with a rubber Oysterflex bracelet. From dressy to sporty, there is a broad range of dials available. However, the most popular color choices are ivory, black, and pink, chocolate and, of course, black. On the other hand, if you are looking for added sparkle, a diamond-set hour marker model is what you should probably go for.
Lastly, for those who have no qualms as such when it comes to spending a little extra cash, the sapphire rainbow set Rolex Daytona bezel promises more luxury, originality, and lavish aesthetics.
Everose Gold Rolex Daytona Prices
|Everose Gold Daytona Reference||Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)||Avg. Market Price Nov. 2022|
White Gold Rolex Daytona
- Daytona 116509
- Daytona 116519LN
- Daytona 116519 (discontinued)
- Daytona 16519 (neo-vintage)
At first glance, white gold Rolex Daytonas watches are not very dissimilar to stainless steel ones – after all, they are both crafted from silver-toned metals. However, given that 18k white gold is a precious metal and steel is not, they differ significantly in terms of weight and retail price.
Like all current production Daytona models in gold, white gold Daytona models are available with black ceramic bezels and black rubber Oysterflex bracelets or with matching white gold bezels and Oyster bracelets. Dial choices are plentiful too and some older versions come with leather straps.
A particularly interesting sub-collection within the white gold line is the “Daytona Beach” models, which feature colorful lacquer dials and exotic leather straps. There are pink, yellow, green, and blue versions, each rare to find and quite collectible.
White Gold Rolex Daytona Prices
|White Gold Daytona Reference||Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)||Avg. Market Price Nov. 2022|
Platinum Rolex Daytona
- Daytona 116506
For many, the platinum Daytona is the most glamorous option available in the entire collection. It was introduced in 2013 to celebrate the Daytona’s 50th anniversary. These watch models are constructed using 950 platinum, which is denser, heavier, and provides unmatchable resistance against corrosion.
Like many platinum Rolex watches, the platinum Daytona is furnished with an ice-blue dial to signal that they are indeed made from platinum and not any other white-toned metal (such as steel or white gold). Furthermore, they come with the option of a chocolate brown Cerachrom ceramic bezel or an icy diamond-set bezel.
The average market price of the Daytona in platinum with a ceramic bezel in November 2022 is $123,000.
Gem-Set Rolex Daytona
For fans of full factory gem-set Rolex watches, the Daytona collection offers some very special models. These gem-set Daytona watches are not part of the regular collection but rather, an off-catalog assortment of incredibly lavish pieces made in very small numbers reserved for a small audience. They can be found on either gold models (all three shades) or platinum models.
A few of the most famous gem-set Daytona models include:
- Rainbow – Multi-colored sapphires
- SACO – Cognac-colored sapphires
- TBR – Baguette diamonds
- Eye of the Tiger – Baguette diamond bezel and black lacquered and diamond dial
Make no mistake; these are some of the priciest modern Daytona watches in the market, generally selling for six figures.
How To Pick The Best Rolex Daytona
As we mentioned at the top, the best strategy is to first decide on your preferred case metal for a Rolex Daytona. This will narrow down your choices in terms of what generation, dial, bezel, and bracelet to choose from there.
For instance, if you wanted a steel Daytona or yellow gold Daytona, you can go for vintage, neo-vintage, or modern depending on your preferences, in addition to different bezel designs. On the other hand, if you want an Everose Daytona or platinum Daytona, your only options are automatic in-house movement versions made in the 2000s. If you’re looking at two-tone Daytona references, you can pick between Zenith-based and in-house self-winding movements, but you’ll be limited to yellow gold bezels and two-tone bracelets.
Whichever Daytona you decide on, be ready to pay at least $20,000 for one on the secondary market but expect to pay much more for ultra-popular models.
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