Vintage or modern, the Rolex Daytona craze is real and it doesn’t seem to be heading for a slowdown just yet. Add to that the fact that we aren’t going to see any new releases in 2020, and it seems quite likely that the demand for the modern Rolex Daytona will remain intact for quite some time. However, not everyone is willing to pay the steep premiums to acquire a rare vintage reference or the current stainless steel and ceramic ref. 116500LN.
That in mind, there are a good number of other references that seem to keep slipping under the radar these days. If you love the legacy of the Daytona but aren’t looking to throw down more than $20K to make it happen, you aren’t without options. Our picks in this category landed from the 1990s onwards, and what’s most surprising is the fact that several of them were not the least expensive Daytona references when they initially were sold at retailers.
One of the joys of collecting the Daytona is that in recent years, regardless of the specific model you are considering adding to your collection, the market continues to tick upwards. Zenith Daytona references have been climbing in value recently, as have earlier in-house cal. 4130 examples. It’s a hard category to lose money in, and especially during times when markets otherwise are seeming very unstable, there’s some reassurance in knowing that your new watch isn’t going to plummet in value over the next few years of ownership.
Value aside, finding a watch you love is what matters here the most, so let’s have a look at some of the best bargain Rolex Daytona watches currently available.
ROLEX DAYTONA 116520 – Stainless Steel
First and foremost, the last iteration of the all-steel Daytona (prior to the adoption of a ceramic bezel) remains miles more affordable than its more recent sibling. There are certainly benefits to the ceramic bezel – it is more resistant to scratches, scuffs, and corrosion. However many collectors find the character of a well-worn stainless steel bezel rather visually appealing on a sport or tool watch.
Also, should significant damage to the watch somehow occur, a steel bezel is much easier and more affordable to replace than the ones crafted from Rolex’s proprietary Cerachom ceramic material. Aside from its bezel the changes between the two models are incredibly subtle, and with a $5,000+ difference between the two references, it’s hard not to see the value in going for the steel bezel version of the in-house Daytona.
ROLEX DAYTONA 16523 – TWO-TONE
At the most affordable end of the spectrum right now lives a Daytona reference that won’t necessarily appeal to everyone, but it is incredibly charming if you can get down with its aesthetics. We’re not only talking about two-tone here, but the combination of stainless steel and yellow gold paired with a champagne (gold-colored) dial.
This reference 16523 from 1990 uses the Zenith-based cal. 4030 self-winding movement, so it’s no slouch at a technical level, and represents an interesting point in Rolex’s history, before the Daytona received an in-house movement. When fitted with a leather or canvas strap, this piece can surprisingly be a bit of a sleeper. At just over $12k, its a modest way to get a funky and out of the ordinary Daytona into your collection.
ROLEX DAYTONA 16520 – STAINLESS STEEL
If you simply can’t get yourself into a two-tone state of mind, the stainless steel version of the Zenith-era Daytona is still floating around for under $20k these days. At the present time, the ref. 16520 is still on the more affordable side of Daytona watches; however we’ve seen these guys starting to climb in value recently, and prices for stainless steel Zenith Daytona watches are increasing more rapidly than many other almost-vintage Rolex references.
It’s a similar trajectory to the Submariner ref. 5513 in some respects, and we expect this to remain fairly stable moving forward. Present-day value and investment potential aside, the Zenith Daytona comes from a very interesting point in the modern history of the Rolex Daytona, representing the first generation to feature a self-winding movement, which adds further desirability to these pieces.
ROLEX DAYTONA 16528 – YELLOW GOLD
Yes, this Zenith-powered ref. 16528 is priced a bit north of $20K ($23,995 to be precise), but it’s also a solid gold Rolex Daytona for about the same price of the modern stainless steel version on the open market. Its a bit mind-blowing to think of of a steel watch selling for as much as one crafted entirely from 18k gold – especially when you consider the massive price difference that exists between steel and gold Rolex watches at retail.
With that in mind, the days of solid gold Rolex watches remaining undervalued will likely come to an end soon. Swings in the market can be temporary, but gold will always be gold. It’s also worth noting that in the last two years we’ve seen a strong revival of yellow gold, further fueling the speculation that these references won’t stay undervalued like this forever.