The Rolex Daytona has always been highly sought-after thanks to its legendary status. In recent years, however, it has become almost impossible for watch collectors to get their hands on the iconic Rolex chronograph. The current Rolex Daytona “Panda” ref. 116500LN will soon reach a market price of just under $53,000. For most watch lovers among us, this goes far beyond our budgets. Yet even older references of the Rolex Daytona are currently yielding record prices and becoming essentially unattainable. But what happens when we dig a little deeper into the vintage watch sector? I went on the hunt and found three very interesting Rolex Daytona references that I’ll share with you in this article. Make no mistake: these are not bargain finds, but they are nevertheless the most affordable references of the legendary Rolex chronograph currently on the market.
1. The Two-Tone Underdog – Rolex Daytona Ref. 116523
The first watch in the lineup of affordable Rolex Daytona references was the original inspiration for this article. Last year, when I wrote about the best Rolex references under $20,000, I wanted to give myself a little challenge and include a six-digit Daytona. In doing so, I came across the Rolex Daytona ref. 116523, which at that time you could find for under $20,000. Almost a year later, prices have gone up a bit for this watch, but it is still the cheapest six-digit Rolex Daytona reference out there. The ref. 116523 is a two-tone steel and yellow gold version of the legendary chronograph. Though an older reference from the 2000s, it features Rolex’s in-house caliber 4130 with a whopping 72-hour power reserve. Prior to this, Rolex relied on the “El Primero” movements from Zenith for its iconic chronographs.
This Rolex Daytona reference comes with a solid bracelet and clasp. Unlike older references, the case is fully polished, just like the current Daytona models. Have you always dreamed of owning a Rolex Daytona? If you’re a fan of the steel and gold combo and the price fits your budget, then the reference 116523 is the most affordable way of making this dream a reality. With a little luck and knack for finding good deals, you can acquire this model for around $21,000 with a black, white, or even champagne dial.
2. The Legendary Chronograph in Steel – Rolex Daytona Ref. 116520
If the two-tone Rolex Daytona ref. 116523 doesn’t quite appeal to you, and you only have eyes for an all-steel watch, the Rolex Daytona ref. 116520 might be just what you’re looking for. Just like the steel and gold version above, it has all the benefits of a more modern Rolex: a sapphire crystal, the Rolex automatic caliber 4130 with a 72-hour power reserve, as well as a solid bracelet and clasp. However, you’ll have to forgo the black ceramic bezel and popular panda dial of the current Rolex Daytona. Instead, the ref. 116520 features a steel bezel and silver subdials, even on the white dial version.
The black dial version of the ref. 116520, with its shimmering silver subdials and indices, nevertheless comes extremely close to the latest version of the legendary chronograph. In terms of optics, only the missing ceramic bezel will alert an attentive watch enthusiast to the fact that this is not the most current Rolex Daytona reference. While the ref. 116520 is anything but a bargain, with market prices ranging from $26,000 to $31,000, it’s significantly “cheaper” than the current Rolex Daytona. So, if you’re looking for a more affordable steel Daytona, the ref. 116520 is the best choice you can make, especially if you’re a fan of the black dial: with this color combination, you might almost mistake it for the newest Daytona.
3. The Golden Outlander – Rolex Daytona Ref. 16518
The five-digit reference 16518 of the classic Rolex chronograph is truly one-of-a-kind: I guarantee you, a Rolex Daytona like this one is not something even the most experienced watch connoisseur comes across every day. Produced in the nineties, the Rolex Daytona ref. 16518 features an authentic “El Primero” movement from Zenith. The case and the tachymeter bezel of this reference are crafted from yellow gold; only the similar ref. 16528, however, boasts a solid gold bracelet. The ref. 16518, by contrast, comes exclusively on a brown crocodile leather strap that closes with a gold safety clasp. This is strikingly reminiscent of the current Rolex Daytona references that are mounted on a rubber strap. While certainly not as sporty as the modern variant, the Daytona ref. 16518 makes up for this in pure elegance. Indeed, this vintage beauty could almost pass for a refined dress watch.
The most unusual detail of this unique timepiece, however, are the eye-catching Arabic numerals on the dial. Rolex fans are well-acquainted with dials featuring Arabic numerals, as they have been used time and again in vintage references. However, on such an iconic model as the Rolex Daytona, I find this dial style particularly noteworthy. Thanks to the special way the case material, dial, and leather strap play off one another, the ref. 16518 is one of the most extraordinary Daytona references out there. Are you a fan of gold watches? Can you imagine one of the more elegant Rolex chronographs on your wrist? If so, then the Rolex Daytona ref. 16518 might just be the best choice for you, especially since it will likely appreciate in value. This exceptional Daytona reference leaves its mark in an entirely different way than you might expect from a Rolex. With market prices starting at around $31,000, it is also one of the most affordable Daytona references around – after all, we are talking about a gold version of the iconic racing chronograph.