Step aside Rainbow Daytona because the OG of over-the-top Rolex Daytona models is here to reclaim its crown as the craziest chronograph to come out of the brand’s factory. Nicknamed the “Leopard” for obvious reasons, the Daytona ref. 116598 SACO reminds us that sometimes normally-conservative Rolex watches can really let their hair down.
Rolex Daytona Reference 116598 SACO
Leopard Daytona 116598SACO Key Features:
– Year of Introduction: 2004
– Case Size: 40mm
– Materials: 18k Yellow Gold
– Functions: Time w/ Running Seconds, 12-Hour Chronograph
– Dial: Leopard Print w/ Diamond Hour Markers
– Bezel: Fixed, 18k Yellow Gold w/ 36 Cognac Sapphires
– Crystal: Sapphire (Flat)
– Movement: Rolex Caliber 4130
– Strap/Bracelet: Leopard Print Leather Strap w/ Gold Clasp
Leopard Print, Cognac Sapphires, Diamonds, and Gold
The Rolex Daytona ref. 116598 SACO made its debut in 2004, which was about 15 years too soon. I say this because I think if the Daytona Leopard had made its entrance during the Instagram “influencer” era, it would have found a much larger appreciative audience instead of being regularly labeled “the ugliest Rolex” ever made.
Back in 2004, there was much less of a market for unapologetically in-your-face watches and the industry as a whole was quite a bit more traditional and conservative than it is today. As a point of reference, the green bezel on the “Kermit” Submariner from 2003 initially received criticism for being too bright, colorful, and flashy. When the Leopard Daytona appeared the following year, many collectors were entirely caught off-guard and no idea what to make of the ultra-lavish and entirely unconventional Rolex watch.
To state the obvious, the Daytona Leopard is certainly not for everyone – it’ll take an ultra-confident guy or gal to pull this look off. And I would admire them for doing so. While it retains the familiar 40mm yellow gold Daytona case of the in-house Caliber 4130 generation, nothing else is standard here.
First, there’s the combination of the leopard print dial and leopard print strap, which is just wild. The black “spots” on the dial are made from black lacquer, and if you dare to look closer, you will note that both sides (left and right) of the print are perfectly symmetrical. On the dial are 10 diamond hour markers with yellow gold surrounds, punctuated with gold Arabic minute markers at 15, 30, and 45. And in case we forgot for a moment that this is a Daytona, the trio of yellow gold sunken sub-dials reminds us that this is still indeed a Rolex chronograph.
Continuing with the extravagance, there are the claw-like lug hood pieces, embellished with 48 diamonds, which fill the gap where the strap and case meet. And how about those 36 sapphires on the bezel? If you have read our handy guide on decoding the letters in Rolex references, then you would know that “SACO” in ref. 116598 SACO stands for “Saphirs Cognac,” which is French for “cognac sapphires.” The fancy-colored sapphires are baguette-cut and are set into the yellow gold bezel using the intricate invisible-setting technique.
Regardless of how you feel about the look of gem-set Rolex watches, the company is known for employing some of the best master jewelers and gem-setters in the business and using only the finest gemstones available. Sourcing, cutting, and setting three dozen identically colored sapphires is no easy feat.
Faux Pas or Fierce?
Whether vintage, retro, or modern, Rolex Daytona chronographs are some of the most popular watches in the world. And once in a while, Rolex likes to shake things up by adding heavily gem-set models and flamboyantly designed pieces to the mix. And if rarity is your thing, it must be mentioned that these Daytona models are produced in very limited quantities and are extremely hard to find.
Animal print, (particularly leopard print), is proving to be this year’s biggest fashion trend (and not just for women, but men too who are also looking for animal prints). So maybe, the now-discontinued Leopard Daytona is, in fact, the most fashionable luxury watch right now that not enough people know about – yet.