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The Zenith Movement in the Rolex Daytona

The Zenith Movement in the Rolex Daytona

the zenith movement

The Rolex Daytona maintains a long-time presence as a fixture within the luxury watch market. This line of watches holds this reputation for decades now. However, what some collectors might fail to recognize is that it wasn’t always the Rolex’s now-standard ‘Perpetual’ movement. This movement did not always power the famed timepiece. How about the Zenith movement?

According to Rolex history, we once had the early Rolex Daytona references. These references relied on Valjoux-based, manually-wound movements. Meanwhile, the collection’s first self-winding caliber was a product born from the design of a Zenith movement. It was not one of Rolex’s inventions. This situation persisted until the current era of Rolex Daytona watches. Finally, the brand’s celebrated timepiece got an entirely in-house movement.

In the last few years, Rolex continued to release a number of distinct Daytona references. It is important to note that these different references do not get powered by the same caliber. Here, we will take a closer look at the Rolex Daytona chronographs and the diverse Daytona eras. Our focus will be on the dynamism of the Zenith movements in these watches. 

The Rolex Daytona In a World of Its Own

the Rolex Daytona

In today’s watch community – new, pre-owned and vintage – there is a legendary line of watches from an equally legendary watchmaker. The Rolex Daytona is certain to get pulses racing like no other. Regardless of what reference you choose from the Newmans to the Zeniths, the Daytona is the most sought-after, coveted, and commercially thriving Rolex model available.

Try spending some time on Instagram or visit the watch blogs often. There is a high chance you will come across the conversation about the Rolex Daytona being a brand within a brand. You will discover that there are Rolex collectors, and then there are Daytona collectors. Thanks to the Italians, the Daytona continues to grow a power play like no other watch can ever really manage. 

A good illustration of this is how the market can’t stop reeling from the tumultuous result last October of “Newman’s Newman” This timepiece became the most expensive watch ever traded. That is one for the record books. Paul Newman’s Daytona auctioned in October 2017 for an incredible $18 million. That price tag made it the most expensive wristwatch in history.

The Rolex Daytona Reaches Its Zenith

the zenith movement in Rolex Daytona watches

We can’t fail to recognize how the Daytona, in its several renditions, can’t cease to reach new price milestones. Examples include the MK1 Oyster “Paul Newman” Daytona, Oyster Sotto Newman, other distinct pieces, and svelte plastic crystal 62xx references. All these timepieces with their classic 36mm cases and sleek 19mm lug width. Nevertheless, this article will focus on that other branch of the family, the celebrated Zenith movement powering different Rolex Daytona series.

Fun Fact: The first self-winding timepiece from Rolex is the Zenith Daytona watch (165xx series). These Zenith Daytona watches from Rolex remain long-time favorites and objects of keen interest to collectors. Plus, they improved steeply in value as the latest version of the steel Daytona got introduced at Baselworld 2016. That right there is an intriguing habit with Rolex wristwatches. With Rolex, as new editions of models get released, older editions steadily increase in value. For the 165xx series watches, they almost made twice as much in value over the past two or three years.

Welcoming the Zenith Movement into the Rolex Daytona Line

the zenith movement in Rolex Daytona watches

This chapter kicks off in 1988 at Baselworld when Rolex launched the latest manifestation. This edition comes in as the most notable redesign of their flagship sports watch, the automatic Daytona. Thanks to the 16520 Daytona, we got a watch that published the introduction of a new 40mm case and a sapphire crystal. 

As for the prior 62xx Daytonas, they all had plexi crystals. Therefore, the launch of the robust sapphire crystals on the new case suggested that Rolex now guarantees wristwatches a depth rating of 100m (330ft). That was Rolex’s first automatic winding chronograph, which is delightful as the cheeky younger sibling Tudor had shown off an automatic chronograph in the Big Block. This watch has been featured in its line-up since 1976.

Zenith Daytona watches

Although the Tudor Big Block came with a modified Valjoux base caliber, Rolex’s fresh Daytona got powered by a heavily improved Zenith El Primero movement. This Caliber 400 movement established the basis for the new Rolex 4030 movement. 

Thanks to its very rigid standards, Rolex made in excess of 200 improvements to the base caliber. With that, the movement had a 52-hour power reserve and spotlighted 31 jewels, a free Breguet balance spring and most notably, the automatic rotor. Additionally, the movement assisted Rolex well for 12 years. Then, in 2000, Rolex introduced its own in-house movement, the Caliber 4130. That movement powered the next generation, new-millennium 1165xx line of Rolex Daytona watches.

  • Introducing the Ref. 116500 Zenith Daytona Watches (2016)

Here comes the watch that initiated the Daytona mania. Interestingly, this is not a phenomenon ready to die down at all. More so, there is evidently always a waiting list for recently released steel sports wristwatches from Rolex. These watches list often dies down once the early clamor wanes a little. 

Zenith Daytona watches

Meanwhile, the Rolex Daytona appears to buck this trend. Plus, bringing a new steel Daytona from a legitimate dealer will always remain something of a dark art. Recently, we learned that one dealer in the UK possesses a closed waiting list of 200 people. Besides, how many of you recall seeing those public service announcements (PSA) on watch forums? These announcements often involve a member sighting a steel Daytona in a dealer’s window. 

Clearly, this is a sure-fire strategy to keep a watch hot. The rule is simple: limit supply way short of demand! By doing so, following a watch that was, at best, a slow seller, the recent 16520 Daytona became a mega-hit. That marked the advent of the iconic waiting lists.

The Fame and the Value of Zenith Daytona Watches

the Zenith powered Rolex Daytona watches

In similar fashion to all Rolex timepieces, the older the Zenith Daytona watches become, the more interest grows amongst collectors. For the steel 16520, it is presently three generations old. These watches got superseded twice. That was by the 116520 in 2000 and the 116500 in 2016. 

Hence, the Zenith Daytona watches now boast sizable devotees. That feat is largely thanks to the fact that it is perhaps one of the last created Rolex watches to start a number of crucial variations to the dial and bezels. Repeatedly, these are slight distinctions that the layperson might not recognize without it being singled out. 

As for collectors, it’s the very life blood of their specialty. They watch out for the minutiae. While Rolex continues to enhance its production capabilities, the evolution of dials is less frequent. But, with the 12-year run of the Zenith Daytona watches, there is a well-documented history of dial modifications and differences.

The Zenith Movement and the Rolex Daytona: A Relationship for the Book

There are a number of books penned on the topics of the Daytona. One book that can ignite that love for the model will be “Rolex Daytona – A Legend is Born by Stefano Mazzariol.”

In this book, Mazzariol broke down the 16520 dials into five versions, from the MK1 to MK5. Below is a summary of his work:

  • MK1 (1988)

Here is the so-called “floating Cosmograph.” This one, due to the word “COSMOGRAPH,” gets spaced away from the other four lines of text. Here, the “6”’ in the hour totalizer is placed upside down or reversed. A good instance of the Mk 1 Rolex Daytona is the reference 16520.

  • MK2 (1989-1990)

Similarly, the dial here is the brainchild of Singer. Also, it maintains the inverted 6. With that variation, nonetheless, it possesses the “OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED” text line missing. Therefore, collectors refer to this as the “4 Liner”.

  • MK3 (1991-1993)

Created by Rolex, this dial witnessed the reintroduction of “OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED” That is one feature that we missed since the MK1 dial. However, here, all five lines come evenly spaced together below the Rolex coronet. Also, the ‘6’ at the hour counter remains inverted. Additionally, there are still (just like the MK1 and MK2) four hash markers in every five-minute subsection of the minute register.

  • MK4 (1993-1998)

Another product from Rolex, this dial proceeds with the presence of the five lines of text. Meanwhile, on this version, the 6 is now the right way up. Also, the font employed in all three chronograph registers comes flatter and wider. In addition, the dial still retains tritium filling in the hour markers. Therefore, the dial remains marked “T SWISS MADE T” at the bottom between 4 and 7 0’clock.

  • MK5 (1998-2000)

Here comes the last of the 16520 dials, the MK5. This piece is relatively identical to the MK4. Here, we get a version that has very few serifs on the text, just like the MK4 version. One very striking distinction is the shift from utilizing tritium to Super-LumiNova for the filling of the hour markers. That change comes revealed in the lack of Ts in the signing at the bottom of the dial. Now, that sign reads “SWISS MADE.”

Into the Details 

Notably, the MK1 dial is the most sought-after. Hence, it commands a substantial premium over other editions. The dials here appeared in the first series of watches from 1988. More so, the collectors’ preference is for timepieces whose serials have an “R” prefix. These watches were the very first 16520s. 

Also, It is worth pointing out here that the complementary yellow-gold watches also starred an identical dial improvement.

Furthermore, each dial editions fit perfectly in place to quite detailed serial number varieties. Therefore, collectors will always prefer to check the serial number of the timepiece to make sure the exact dial gets fitted. Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be odd for Rolex to replace dials at service. Therefore, as an example, a 1992 timepiece could have had an MK5 dial fitted at some point in its life at service. Do not forget that it’s all about the details!

Dials in the Zenith Daytona Watches 

It is fun to see how production mistakes can come off perfectly in the end. If not for everyone, it happened to some people. Clearly, one man’s treasure is another man’s piece of junk. In other words, sometimes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Such is the case with the dials on Zenith-powered Daytona watches.

Regardless of how it comes, some people admire these mistakes on Rolex dials while others see them as mere junk. One classic example of this is the “spider dial” This nickname came from collectors for these dials that possess a cracked or crazed structure in the glossy finish dials.

As for Zenith Daytona watches, we see black dials featuring discolored rings around the subdials. There is an impression that suggests that the varnish employed to protect the dial reacted with the silver rings around the three sub-dials. This appearance is striking on the black 16520. 

More so, it resulted in a change in color in unexpected manners. Thanks to this phenomenon, there came prominence by author and Antiquorum founder Osvaldo Patrizzi. Hence, it seems suitable that these dials have the alias “Patrizzi dials.” 

Moreover, it is most common to notice this impact on watches produced between 1993 and 1995. These watches can age in any number of ways, from light beige to deep chestnut. Nevertheless, beware of unethical types. These watches come with sub-dials painted with brown varnish.


Overall, note that collectors like a full set. Therefore, it is a key point with the Zenith Daytona watches. These Rolex Daytona watches are much more attractive if supported by the actual guarantee papers and associated booklets and gear. Nothing brings out the best in Rolex Daytona watches than the Zenith movement. 

Meanwhile, as we cited at the beginning, these watches took off in line with other popular timepieces. Hence, all we will say is, go out there and find yourself one Zenith-powered Daytona watch. That is one bargain with all the qualities to make it worth every penny. 


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