5 minutes

5 Things to Know Before Buying a Rolex Daytona in 2023

By Thomas Hendricks
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2023 is a big year for Rolex, because the Daytona is celebrating its 60th anniversary. We’ve put together a list of things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about buying a Daytona this year, next year, or after you win the lottery.

The Current Situation

Let’s start with the basics. The fact is, these watches are nearly impossible to buy at retail. When I was working as a Private Client Advisor at Chrono24, it was fairly common to have buyers call in and say, “I tried walking into my local Rolex boutique to buy a Daytona (or another Rolex), and the staff basically laughed at me. Why is that?” I would go on to explain the reality of the situation: There’s just a lot more demand than supply, and even though Rolex makes some 1 million watches per year, only a fraction of those are Daytonas, and that fraction is divided between authorized Rolex dealers around the world. Moreover, many of the watches will end up on the gray market, where they’re sold by non-affiliated dealers for a premium. This is why, even with prices on the decline – which we’ll discuss in a minute – Daytonas are still selling for twice their official retail price on the gray market.

If you talk to the old heads, the industry veterans, they’ll tell you this wasn’t always the case. ADs used to have a hard time selling Daytonas decades ago, but now they’re sold before they even hit the display case.

This 18K Everose Gold Cosmograph Daytona is fitted with an Oysterflex bracelet.

Daytona Financial Performance

Perhaps the biggest watch story of the year for 2022 was how prices for hype watches like the Patek Philippe 5711, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, and Rolex Daytona started to come back down to earth after about five years of runaway growth.

The peak happened around March/April 2022, when a mint condition, current production Daytona like the ref. 116500LN was selling for approx. three times its retail price. Geopolitical factors like the war in Ukraine and global economic factors like rising inflation and the crash of crypto have contributed to the more recent market correction. This has created a contradictory situation where 1) it’s a buyer’s market, and 2) it’s still really hard and really expensive to buy a Daytona.

In more recent news, Rolex has launched their Certified Pre-Owned program, whereby individuals can sell their watches back to the brand, and authorized dealers can sell Certified Pre-Owned Rolex watches that have been inspected by the manufacturer and are at least three years old. We at Chrono24 are still waiting to see how this will affect the secondary and gray markets, but the consensus seems to be that these CPO Rolexes, including Daytonas, will be priced considerably higher than the market average. Side note: We do a monthly watch market series on the Chrono24 YouTube channel called Time is Money, so subscribe for future episodes, including a Rolex CPO analysis.

Warum kleckern, wenn man klotzen kann? Eine Daytona Rainbow Ref. 116595RBOW

The Auction That Changed Everything

Now, for a bit of history, everything changed, or rather things changed quite quickly, in October 2017, when a Paul Newman Daytona went up for auction at Philipps in New York. This wasn’t just a Paul Newman Daytona, it was the Paul Newman Daytona owned by the actor himself with a personalized case back. The watch sold for $17 million, making it the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at the time; understandably, people lost their minds.

I’ve heard rumors about a certain celebrity who apparently submitted the winning bid, but no one really knows if it’s true or not, and I certainly can’t put that name in writing!

The point is, that moment was absolutely pivotal for the watch market as a whole, as well as the vintage watch market, and the Rolex Daytona itself. It turned a lot of heads in the watch world and beyond, and it was the catalyst that led to the watch investment boom of the last few years. Even as modern Daytonas level out on the secondary and gray markets, prices for rare vintage Daytonas are still sky-high.

Paul Newman's top watch: the Daytona ref. 6239 with an "exotic dial"
Paul Newman’s top watch: the Daytona ref. 6239 with an “exotic dial”

Key Dates: Rolex Daytona

1963 – The Beatles are just about to make their American debut, and the Vietnam War is raging on. It’s also the birth year of the Rolex Daytona. The ref. 6239 features a 36.5-mm case; a modified, manual-winding Valjoux 72 movement; and a price tag of about $200. There were pre-Daytonas available before that from Rolex, but we’ll start with the year that the word “Daytona” appeared on the dial.

1988 – Rolex exchanges the movement inside the Daytona to a modified Zenith El Primero automatic chronograph caliber. The brand also increases the case size to 40 mm, adds crown guards, and switches from acrylic bezels to steel bezels. “Zenith” Daytonas, as they’re known, are still quite collectable today, and many believe that the use of the El Primero movement essentially saved Zenith as a company.

2000 – Rolex replaces the Zenith movement with one of their own. The caliber 4130 powers the Daytona ref. 116520, thus creating the first in-house Rolex Daytona.

2016 – Rolex debuts the ref. 116500LN, the first Daytona with the brand’s signature Cerachrom bezel. Seven years later, this is still the same steel Daytona reference produced by Rolex, which brings us to our final date.

2023 – Rolex presents a platinum edition with a sapphire crystal case back at Watches and Wonders.

Rolex Daytona Cosmograph Ref.116520
Rolex Daytona Cosmograph ref. 116520

What’s Worth What: Modern Daytona Pricing

The cheapest Daytonas on Chrono24 are two-tone versions. Here, we’ve got the Zenith Daytona 16520 and the fully in-house 116520 coming in around the $16-17,000 mark. As usual, you’ll pay more for a watch in good condition and with its original box & papers, etc.

Fully steel 116520 references start around $20,000. In general, black dials tend to be a little cheaper than white dials.

If you’d like a ceramic bezel, prices for the current generation 116500LN on the secondary market start around $26,000. We see the same dial trend here, where white is more expensive than black.

After that, all hell breaks loose as we get into vintage Daytonas like the references we mentioned earlier, and precious metal versions in white gold, yellow gold, rose gold, and platinum – not to mention meteorite dials, rainbow sapphire bezels, and Eye of the Tiger configurations.

What do you think about this article?

About the Author

Thomas Hendricks

I didn’t grow up a watch guy, but a few years after graduating from university, I landed a job at the online publication Watchonista as a writer and marketer. “Welcome to the watch world,” my colleagues told me half-jokingly, “no one ever leaves!” Now at Chrono24, I work as a private client advisor, helping people find the perfect watch for major life moments.

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