The Rolex Daytona saw its last major update in 2016, with the introduction of the 116500LN in stainless steel — featuring a ceramic bezel — available both in panda and reverse panda dials.
Rolex’s first chronographs date back to the 1930s, though the Daytona was not introduced until 1963. To mark its 60th anniversary (2023), Rolex has revamped the entire Daytona collection. Ever since the 2016 launch of the Daytonas with ceramic bezels, the demand for Rolex chronographs has skyrocketed, causing them to command above retail price on the secondary market. At the peak, you would see the stainless steel ceramic bezel, Ref. 116500LN Daytonas listed sometimes as high as four times the retail price, though currently, the typical asking price is closer to two times retail. This is undoubtedly the most desirable and collectible Rolex model, and Rolex certainly wants to keep it that way.
The 2023 Daytona
The new Rolex Daytona Cosmograph references are 126500LN stainless steel, 126503 stainless steel and gold, 126518LN 18K yellow gold, 126505 18K Everose gold, and 126500LN platinum. The stainless steel Ref. 116500LN being replaced by the stainless steel Ref. 126500LN, available in both black-on-white and white-on-black dial variations, is of the most interest to us as these entry-level Daytonas, that appeal to the broadest audience. Rolex has made changes to many elements of the Daytona line, though, similar to the updated Rolex Submariner in 2020, none of the changes is profound. And you’ll have a hard time pinpointing the differences between the two without having the old and the new sitting next to each other.
One of the most notable changes is that Rolex added a sapphire caseback to the iced blue platinum Daytona, a watch that was originally introduced in 2013 to mark its 50th anniversary. The sapphire caseback is a first for any model in the “professional watches” collection. The rest of the Daytona collection retains solid casebacks, for now. Interestingly, the iced blue platinum Daytona that was introduced in 2013 marked the first time a Daytona received a ceramic bezel. The ceramic bezel eventually appeared on the standard stainless steel 116500LN Daytona three years later in 2016. Could that perhaps foreshadow a sapphire caseback being added to more Daytonas in the future, just as the ceramic bezel on the 50th anniversary did?
Another small but notable detail is that 2023 marks the end of the so-called “John Mayer Daytona” 18K yellow gold with green dial Rolex Daytona Ref. 116508. We wrote about rumors of its demise in 2021, but the 116508 stayed in the catalog for two more years, and has now been officially discontinued.
The new Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 126500LN starts at $15,100 in stainless steel.
The new movement caliber 4131, now features Rolex’s patented Chronergy escapement and a chronograph mechanism that uses fewer components, thus enhancing energy usage and reliability. The movement beats at the same 4Hz frequency and has the same 72-hour power reserve as before. The rotor which winds the mainspring bidirectionally and has been redesigned though with a skeletonized cut-out, with one version made of nonprecious metal for the standard Daytonas, and on the 126500LN platinum model, it’s made of 18K yellow gold, and visible through the open caseback.
The bridges of caliber 4131 now feature Rolex Côtes de Genève decoration, versus the traditional Côtes de Genève. A slightly polished groove between each band makes the otherwise ubiquitous finish more exclusive to Rolex. And while you do not see this on any Daytona except the platinum model, as mentioned above, Rolex could add the sapphire casebacks to more models in the near future.
Considering the power reserve has remained the same, the free-sprung balance system has remained the same, the Superlative accuracy of -2/+2 (cased up) is the same, the smooth actuating column-wheel with no jump or power loss vertical clutch is the same — apart from the new decorations and rotor — perhaps the biggest change from a technical standpoint is the reduction of components.
From the circa 1988 caliber 4030 (Zenith designed) used in the Daytona 16520 and 116520 references, to the circa 2000 caliber 4130 used in the 116500LN (Rolex designed), Rolex reduced the number of movement components, and now with the circa 2023 caliber 4131 (Rolex designed) that powers the 126500LN, they’ve reduced the number of components again, while maintaining all the existing features and upgrades. This means the caliber 4131 will, theoretically, be more reliable and require fewer parts to service than previous calibers.
The Case, Dial, and Bezel
First, the case has been subtly resculpted while maintaining the proportions that have played a part in keeping the chronograph so popular and appealing amongst enthusiasts and collectors. The diameter is still listed at 40 mm, however, it appears to have grown by perhaps half a millimeter, and the edges are slightly less rounded. None of these case changes appear to be discernable without a caliper. The case thickness remains at 11.9 mm and the lug width is still at 20 mm.
Second, the dial has been refined with thinner rings around the three subdials. And the applied indices have been given a longer, thinner appearance.
Lastly, a metallic edge, in the same metal as the case, has been added to the Cerachrom (monoblock ceramic bezel), which is going to be one of the easiest ways to distinguish the new Ref. 126500LN from the now discontinued Ref. 116500LN Daytonas. The bezel proportions have also changed minimally, to match the redesigned case and dial aesthetic.
As Rolex tends to do, they’ve largely left one of the company’s all-time best-selling wristwatch designs alone. The added metallic edge to the ceramic bezel versions, the revised dial and case, and all the existing features such as Oysterflex, Oysterlock, Easylink, Triplock, Parachrom, Paraflex, Chromolight, make for a watch that enthusiasts and collectors will continue to desire. The Glidelock bracelet extensions system is available on Daytona models with the Oysterflex rubber strap for the first time. New dial variations, more stainless steel references, and an Oysterflex rubber strap on stainless steel models are surely on the minds of Daytona fans — though this looks like all the Daytona newness we’ll see until next year.
Photos by Rolex.