The life of the Rolex Daytona, currently the hottest ticket on the vintage watch market and the world’s favorite chronograph, has gone through three (so far) separate generations, defined almost entirely by their individual calibers. Say hello to the Patrizzi Dial Daytona.
The first wave started in 1963 and went on, fairly unsuccessfully, all the way until 1988, using the manually-wound Valjoux 72 movement. The modern era models, launched in 2000, are fitted with Rolex’s own in-house Cal. 4130 like the hottest chronograph on the market.
In between, there was a 12-year span where the brand’s flagship racer was driven by another third-party mechanism—arguably the first automatic chronograph engine ever made; the El Primero from Swiss neighbors Zenith.
The Patrizzi Dial Daytona is a watch with darkened subdials due to failure.
The Zenith Daytonas
It was the first of the Zenith Daytonas, as they became unofficially known, that finally put the watch on the map and started the insatiable feeding frenzy that we associate with the Cosmograph today. With, at long last, the convenience of a self-winding caliber, demand for the Daytona reached epic proportions, and with Rolex’s usual regimented manufacturing efficiency hamstrung by having to rely on an outside concern to build their movements, they found themselves unable to keep up.
This, of course, led to patience-defying waiting lists and incredible premiums charged for those wanting to cut in line. As the Daytona’s reputation grew, more and more people started seeking out the earlier examples—and the rest is history. Today, the watch that dealer’s couldn’t even give away for decades is credited by some for starting the vintage industry as we know it.
The Patrizzi Dial Daytona ‘Mistakes’
Those original Zenith models, the all-steel ref. 16520, came with the option of a black or white dial and, as is standard practice at Rolex, several elements of each were tweaked minutely throughout the watch’s life.
In total, there are five distinct ‘Marks’ of the Zenith Daytona’s dial, but among the most valuable today are the black Mark IV versions, prices of which can reach up to twice what you would pay for a similar white dial model.
Even more strangely, the huge gulf in value is all down to a rare and quickly corrected mistake.
The black ref. 16520’s made between 1994 and 1995 used an organic varnish, called Zapon, to protect the Daytona’s face. Unrecognized at the time, the lacquer did not provide sufficient coverage and, over the years, the silver outer tracks on the iconic sub dials have oxidized, turning a definite brown color as they react with UV rays. Even more importantly to collectors, the changes do not stabilize and continue to take effect the older the watch gets. It means every one of the so-called Patrizzi dials is unique and, in the world of classic Rolex, unique equals expensive.
Here is a close-up of the Patrizzi Dial Daytona.
The dials got their name from the first man to recognize the color changing phenomenon, Osvaldo Patrizzi. Originally a watchmaker and restorer, Patrizzi founded Antiquorum, now one of the premier auction houses specializing in fine timepieces, in 1974.
When, in 2006, he decided to sell off his Rolex collection, he had one of the mid-nineties Daytonas among the haul, and it was then that he discovered the discoloration effect. The anomaly was not only an attractive feature on an already highly sought after watch, it also made each individual piece a one-off. Instantly attracting the attention of hardcore collectors, that first example of a Patrizzi dial sold for double its estimate, and it is a trend that is still going strong.
The Daytona into the New Millennium
Although the fault was dealt with as swiftly as possible by Rolex HQ, it was not the last time a paint defect would disturb the Daytona’s output.
The third generation model, the Daytona ref. 116520 launched in 2000 with Rolex’s own Cal. 4130, also ran into problems, although this time it was the white dials that were affected.
Much like the ref. 16550 Explorer II from the 1980s, those models of the new Daytona produced in the first two years saw their once bright white dials fade to a rich cream. With every enthusiast and aficionado forever clamoring to own the most exclusive, one-of-a-kind piece, prices for these rare errors also consistently outstrip the standard watch.
The new editions of the Daytona are not likely to have this same effect.
The Zenith Vs. The Rolex Daytona
Spotting the external differences between the outgoing Zenith-driven Daytona and the all-Rolex successor takes an eagle eye. Look hard and you might notice the trio of sub dials are a fraction higher now, and two of them, the standard seconds and the 12-hour counters, have swapped position.
Other than that, there was obviously no sense in disrupting a winning formula, aesthetics-wise. The big difference between the pair is on the inside. Although Zenith’s El Primero caliber was, and still is, a formidable performer, one made even better by its extensive reworking by Rolex’s engineers, the brand’s own Cal. 4130 is possibly the best chronograph movement ever made.
Containing just 201 separate parts, 60% fewer than the Zenith, it is a stripped back, barebones mechanism designed to be as efficient, accurate and easily regulated as possible.
It was the first of Rolex’s calibers to house a Parachrom hairspring, made from a niobium and zirconium alloy that is resistant to variations in temperature and has up to 10 times the shock absorption of previous systems. In 2005 it was given a thicker oxide coating to protect its surface, causing it to change color when it reacts with the air, renaming it the Parachrom Bleu.
The two modules that controlled the minute and hour counters in the El Primero were combined into one unit, freeing up enough space for a larger mainspring and raising the power reserve from 50 to 72 hours.
And, most importantly, it brought a vertical clutch in to replace the horizontal one used in just about every other mechanical chronograph movement. Not only does it mean the stopwatch functions can be run for longer without affecting the accuracy of the main timekeeping, it also eliminates ‘backlash’, the tendency for the sub dial’s hands to judder when activated as the gears fight for purchase.
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Which to Choose?
Because of their inherent rarity, it is the Zenith Daytonas, with or without a Patrizzi dial, that are currently representing a better bet for collectors than the very latest models. Visually almost identical to the contemporary example, the ref. 116520 is also the last all-steel reference sold without a Cerachrom bezel. The closest you can get to that classic effect within the modern range is with the white gold pieces, at a significantly higher price point.
Of course, if you do manage to get your hands on a Patrizzi dial Daytona, it represents one of the most rock solid investment potentials of them all. A beloved watch, with a relative mere handful of examples displaying the unique flaw, its stock is only going to keep on rising. If you get the chance, you could do a lot worse than securing yourself one sooner rather than later.