This is the Rolex Daytona Ref 116520. The last full-steel Daytona Rolex will ever make. It’s also the most accessible. Both with regards to price and availability. And, I would hazard to say, the least collectible of the modern steel Daytonas. Which is actually a good thing. That means you can buy and enjoy wearing your Ref 116520. Rather than having to preserve it like a museum piece in a safe somewhere. And don’t worry, as long as you keep it in decent condition it will still likely see some price appreciation. Albeit at a slower rate than its counterparts. But does all this make the Rolex Daytona Ref 116520 good value? Read on and decide for yourself.

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    A (Very) Brief History Of The Ref 116520

    When the Ref 116520 launched in 2000, it was kind of a big deal for Rolex. It replaced the outgoing Ref 16520, better known as the Zenith Daytona. (A legendary model in its own right that you can read all about here.) And it debuted the brand’s first ever, in-house self-winding chronograph. The Calibre 4130. Considered one of the best mass-produced chronograph movements ever.

    Comprised of 290 parts – far fewer than your standard chronograph movement at the time – Calibre 4130 set a high bar. Reducing the number of components made the movement easier to service. And more reliable. But it also freed up space, allowing Rolex to incorporate a larger mainspring. This increased the power reserve on the Ref 116520 to 72 hours (compared to 54 hours on the Zenith Daytona). All whilst still delivering timekeeping accuracy of -2/+2 seconds per day.

    AT WATCHBOX: check out this pre-owned Rolex Daytona Ref 116520 available now.

    The calibre was also the first to incorporate Rolex’s proprietary Parachrom hairspring. (Now found in all Rolex movements.) And introduced a stop seconds function as well. Calibre 4130 is so good in fact that it remains in use by Rolex more than 20 years later. The mythical Ref 116500LN – aka the ‘Ceramic Daytona’ – still uses the Calibre 4130. As do all other current Daytona models.

    Of course, the movement wasn’t the only thing to change on the Ref 116520.

    The Rolex Daytona Ref 116520

    By the time the Ref 116520 rolled off the production line in 2000, the Daytona already had a clear identity. This was – and still is – a watch you could recognise from across the room. Although, from that distance you might struggle to tell it apart from its predecessor. In fact, even side by side a novice might struggle to pick out one from the other.

    This is no oversight by Rolex though. They knew they had a winning design on their hands. Changing it too much would have been foolish. But there are several, subtle differences between the Ref 116520 and the Ref 16520. Most of which are the result of the new movement architecture. Let’s start with the changes to the dial.

    The Dial

    The most obvious change here is the positioning of the sub-dials. On the Zenith Daytona, the small seconds counter is at 9 o’clock, and the chronograph hour counter is at 6 o’clock. On the Ref 116520 these two dials switch positions. Creating what I would say is a more harmonious dial lay-out. Although not everyone agrees of course.

    AT WATCHBOX: check out this pre-owned Rolex Daytona Ref 116520 available now.

    Another, more subtle tweak is the positioning of the sub-dials at 3 and 9 o’clock. Due to the new movement, these needed to move up the dial a smidge. As a result, the chronograph hands on the Ref 116520 do not line up with the central time-keeping hands. Whereas on the Ref 16520 you could draw a straight line across from the hour marker at 3 to the hour marker at 9 o’clock. An example of one of those small things that once seen, cannot be unseen. And which irks purists to no end. I’m sure Rolex wasn’t thrilled about it either but not much they could do I suppose.

    Other changes include larger hands and shorter, wider hour markers for improved legibility. There’s also silver sub-dial surrounds instead of black for the white dial version. Although Rolex reverted back to black for the Ref 116500LN. Which is why collectors consider it a throwback of sorts to the Zenith Daytona.

    The Case And Bezel

    At 40mm the diameter of the Oyster remains unchanged from its predecessor. Rolex resisted the temptation to introduce a “maxi-case” like on the Submariner. Instead, the addition of the in-house movement meant the case could be a little slimmer. And the lugs are also a touch longer. Subtle differences you don’t notice but which further improve the wearing experience.

    The Ref 116520 is still a tool watch though, albeit a more elegant one. As attested to by its many polished surfaces. Fair warning though, these are a magnet for scratches. Which brings us onto the steel bezel. This is the last steel case Rolex to feature a matching steel bezel with engraved tachymeter. Whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of personal taste.

    AT WATCHBOX: check out this pre-owned Rolex Daytona Ref 116520 available now.

    The new Cerachrom/ceramic version on the Ref 116500LN is all but indestructible. It won’t fade, like the aluminum one on the Black Bay Chrono. And you would be very unlucky to scratch it. But it’s also black and shiny. And gives the Daytona a sportier, less elegant look. The all steel version Ref 116520 meanwhile is more classic and understated. Plus, it makes the watch look a touch bigger than it is. But that high polish finish shows up every scratch. Of course, you also pay a massive price premium for the ceramic version. But more on that in a moment.

    The Bracelet

    The Ref 116520 Daytona comes on an Oyster bracelet, the same as its predecessor. Both with brushed side links and high-polished center links. But again, Rolex made several improvements here. For a start, the newer bracelet features solid end and center links. Giving it more weight and presence on the wrist.

    The other big upgrade is the clasp. Its construction is more complex than on previous models and provides a more secure fit. Plus, it incorporates Rolex’s famed Easylink extension system. This allows for tool-free micro-adjustments of the length of the bracelet up to 5mm for the ideal fit. Anyone who’s used this system before will tell you how easy it is to operate. And it makes a big difference.

    AT WATCHBOX: check out this pre-owned Rolex Daytona Ref 116520 available now.

    The Movement

    As I mentioned before, the advent of Calibre 4130 was a big deal. Not only for Rolex, but for the industry as a whole. It took five years to research and develop. And its unveiling turned mechanical watchmaking on its head in many respects. In the Ref 16520, Rolex used the Calibre 4030. Which at its core was a heavily-modified Zenith El Primero calibre. (Hence the Zenith Daytona moniker.)

    This wasn’t a particularly efficient way of doing things. Plus, the limited availability of Zenith base movements constrained production of the Daytona. So, Rolex was always going to move towards in-house production at some point. But Rolex being Rolex, they wanted to build a better, more reliable and easier to service movement. And that’s exactly what the Calibre 4130 is.

    For a start, it’s comprised of only 290 components. Which still seems like a lot but is far fewer than your traditional chronograph movement. To give you a rough idea, the Calibre 4130 has around 20% less parts than the Calibre 4030. But it also has a more efficient design. Rolex focused a lot of attention on developing its vertical clutch system. Which in unison with the column wheel, drives the chronograph. A key advantage is that this mechanism can be re-oiled and replaced during servicing. As can the hair spring. But without requiring the full deconstruction of the movement itself.

    The winding system was also made more efficient. And the space created by using less parts allowed for a bigger hair spring. Thus increasing the power reserve to 72 hours. Accuracy and shock absorption were also improved. It is safe to say the Calibre 4130 is a superior movement in every way to the Calibre 4030. And is in fact one of the best, self-winding chronograph movements on the market. Hence the reason it’s still in use today.

    Price & Availability

    The Ref 116520 was in production from 2000 to 2016. Sixteen years. Which means there are a lot of them in circulation. At least relative to other Daytona models. And while it was very popular throughout that time, it was never considered a must have watch. It’s what collectors would describe as the ‘every man’ Daytona. This is no bad thing, particularly in the current market. It means that if you want one, you can get one. Case in point: our retail partner WatchBox has four examples available at the time of writing.

    AT WATCHBOX: check out this pre-owned Rolex Daytona Ref 116520 available now.

    That’s not to say they’re available at bargain prices though. The rising tide of interest in steel sports Rolex models has lifted all boats. But most especially the Daytona. You can expect to pay between US$28,000 – US$30,000 for a later model in good condition. Earlier models might be a tad cheaper. And the white dial versions tend to be more expensive than black dial ones. Prices are likely to continue going up, albeit at a slower rate. Still, the Ref 116520 is a good blue-chip watch, that you can actually enjoy wearing on a daily basis. For the sake of comparison, a ceramic Daytona will run you north of US$35,000.

    Is The Ref 116520 Good Value?

    Value is a relative term. At close to US$30,000, you are opening yourself up to a lot of other options. If you wanted to stay with complicated Rolex, you’re in Sky-Dweller territory. Or you could consider a Vacheron Constantin Overseas 4500V. Along with a plethora of other options. Very few, if any, though, will be as iconic as the Rolex Daytona. Yes, the Ref 116520 is not the rarest example. And yes, the ceramic version offers some further technical improvements. Plus, a shiny black bezel, if you’re into that.

    But to me, there’s something special about the all steel look. About the fact that – like your face – this watch will tell a story in 30 years. Hopefully one of a life well lived. Not one spent in a dark safe somewhere. And there’s the fact that calibre 4130 is legit one of the best mass-produced chronographs on the market. If you’ve always wanted a full steel Daytona, then you’re never going to regret buying a Ref 116520. And even if you do, I daresay you’ll have little trouble selling it again and recouping your money.

    Technical Specifications: Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Ref 116520

    • Case: Oyster – 40 mm – Oystersteel – monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and winding crown – fixed steel bezel engraved tachymetric scale – waterproof to 100 metres / 330 feet.
    • Dial: Available in black or white – centre hour, minute and seconds hands, small seconds hand at 6 o’clock. Chronograph (centre hand) accurate to within 1/8 of a second, 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock and 12-hour counter at 9 o’clock – stop seconds for precise time setting.
    • Movement: Calibre 4130 – bidirectional self-winding via Perpetual rotor – paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring – 72-hour power reserve – certified as Superlative Chronometer.
    • Price: Discontinued/approx. US$28,000 – US$30,000.

    This article by TheWatchLounge has been sponsored by our partner WatchBox.

      Interested in this watch?

      Please fill out the form below and I’ll find it for you! You’ll hear from me shortly.

      Tom Mulraney
      Tom Mulraney
      Founder & Editor
      Tom likes to write about luxury watches. So much so, that he created The Watch Lounge just so he would have an outlet for his passion. Together with his team, he is dedicated to bringing you original, entertaining (and maybe even a little educational) luxury watch and lifestyle content.

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