1988 was a hugely important year for Rolex. It was the year when they unveiled their newly designed Cosmograph Daytona. And what a facelift it was!
Hold a vintage manual-wind 6265 from 1988 next to its successor, the 16520, and you can see the huge shift in the model. A case size increase of 4mm, a sapphire glass, crown guards flanking the trip-lock crown and, most importantly, the presence of the word PERPETUAL on the dial; the Daytona was automatic!
The least popular kid on the yard quickly became the coolest and hippest around, who everybody wanted to hang out with. The Daytona Perpetual became a modern icon and Rolex used it as a canvas to paint elaborate visions of what happens when the world of haute-jewellery and watches collide.
1997 was another good year, at least in my mind, as it was at Baselworld that year that Rolex unveiled the white gold reference 16519. The white gold Daytona is one of those ‘if you know, you know’ kind of watches.
To the untrained eye, it looks like a steel watch and with the 16519 you got it on a leather strap, which toned it down even more. In 2000, Rolex launched their in-house chronograph movement, the calibre 4130, and so the white-gold-strap Daytona became reference 116519. This watch was the base for models set with sapphire, diamond and ruby baguette-cut bezels and dials made from hard stones including turquoise, chrysoprase, sodalite, grossular garnet and mother of pearl.
The watch I am sharing today is a 116519 that dates to 2005. I love the way that it feels on the wrist: the heft of gold but without the bling factor of yellow gold. I’m currently wearing it on a sporty black Oysterflex strap, but the endless options of leathers means it can be dressed up on black crocodile or down on vintage distressed brown.
And my friend Jean-Paul Menicucci made me two straps — one in lilac and one in green to pick out the different hues in the dial. Ah, the dial — this is the main event. Tahitian mother of pearl is the way that collectors refer to what Rolex calls black mother of pearl. It’s so much more exotic than ‘black’ and so I prefer its nickname.
This dial changes colour depending on how the light catches it and the applied Roman hour markers ground the dial and add a serious element. The fail rate at the production level for mother of pearl dials is high, due to the unpredictable nature of each unique piece that Rolex transforms into a dial. How cool is that? My own pièce unique!