The Rolex Daytona, the Crown’s emblematic chronograph since 1963, celebrated its 60th anniversary this year. Over the decades, everything has been said and written about this industry icon… Everything, up until now. Because for the first time in more than 20 years, the Cosmograph Daytona undergoes a transversal update. Case, dial, hands, movement: everything has changed… Except for the design, that remains very much the same. And since the devil is in the details, as it was with the 2020 update of the Submariner, let’s take a closer look at the star of the show, the classic Rolex Daytona 126500LN with a steel case and white dial.
Because we are going to look at the changes of the new Daytona in close detail, this article isn’t the space to rewrite the history of the Daytona again. A vast amount of literature on the subject is available off- and online. However, an essential part of the history of the Rolex Daytona needs to be told again. The Cosmograph Daytona, as we knew it up until 27 March 2023, was actually one of the oldest watches in the brand’s catalogue. If you think about it, the last major update on the Daytona, save for the introduction of a ceramic bezel on the steel model in 2016, occurred in 2000, when the Crown slightly redesigned the case, dial and bracelet and, most importantly, introduced its in-house calibre 4130 – which is still, 23 years later, one of the best integrated chronograph movements on the market. Most of the design elements of the previous generation Daytona were a gentle facelift of the 5-digit generation models – which were launched in 1988 when Rolex introduced the first automatic movement (Zenith-based) in the collection. So, all in all, the design was not the most innovative, to say the least.
Has it changed? Well, not much. The new Rolex Daytona is still, by all means, a Daytona as we’ve come to know it in the past 35 years. Or at least, the new reference 126500LN is very close visually to the previous reference 116500LN, which was nothing more than a ceramic bezel and black rings on the dial added to a steel reference 116520. The keyword at Rolex’s product development team is still evolution, not revolution. (P.S. This strategy has long been successful and applied to many other ranges, such as the Submariner… consistency is key to the brand’s desirability).
However, as is often the case with Rolex, a new generation comes with hundreds of subtle (sometimes almost imperceptible) updates and upgrades. The new Daytona is visually extremely close to the previous generation, but the reality is that virtually no components of the habillage are shared. You have certainly already noticed the new bezel or the redesigned dial, and of course, read in our previous article that the movement is now calibre 4131. But look closely, and you’ll see that the case is different in shape, the guards have been redesigned, the first link of the bracelet is new, the bracelet itself has changed, and the hands and indexes have been reshaped. Indeed, it’s all about incremental changes, but these are everywhere.
An Updated Case & Bezel
Let’s start with the basics and look at the case of the new Daytona 126500LN. At first, one might think that almost nothing has changed. Certainly, the watch is still 40mm in diameter. But look closely, and you’ll see that the entire case has been discreetly redesigned. While we’re on the topic of dimensions, it’s worth pointing out that the thickness is now 11.9mm, which is about 0.5mm less than the previous generation. The Daytona has always been thin among its peers – most modern automatic chronographs are 14mm or more, specifically when equipped with a vertical clutch. Rolex has done a great job here.
Then there’s the actual shape of the case. The updated design of the new Rolex Daytona follows the same rules as previously updated collections. First, the lugs have been reshaped, with less difference between the left and right sides – the 1165xx generation always had an asymmetrical case with the thinner right lugs. This dissymmetry of the case has been reduced now. However, contrary to the recent Submariner and Explorer II updates, Rolex hasn’t shaved the inner part of the lugs, and the lug width is still 20mm. Another update concerns the shape of the crown guard, which is now longer and curved from top to bottom, making it better integrated within the overall design. Minimal touches, but once you know, you can’t unsee the differences.
Looking at the profile of the new steel Daytona 126500LN (and, as a matter of fact, the entire 2023 collection), the design is also different, with lugs that have been reshaped and now point downwards. While they used to be straight and pointy at the edge, the new lug design was made to improve the ergonomics of the case. The surface of the flanks is now flatter than in the past, as the Daytona used to have rounded casebands. The back is still a classic fluted, screwed element in solid steel – the see-through sapphire back is exclusive to the platinum edition. The crown screws down, the sapphire on top is flat but now has an anti-reflective coating, and, unfortunately for the practicality of the chronograph functions, the pushers are still screwed. Water-resistance is again comfortable at 100m.
Looking at the back, changes are visible on the newly shaped end links. We’ll come back to that later in the article. The major update on the new Daytona, or at least on all ceramic editions, concerns the bezel’s construction. In the past, the Daytona used to have a full-ceramic ring. Now, the bezel is edged with a thin polished band of the same metal as the middle case. Although Rolex mentions this change as a mere design choice, adding a metallic ring offers more resistance to possible shocks since ceramic tends to shatter.
The bezel itself isn’t an insert but a solid element, and the metallic ring is part of the case. It’s interesting to note that Rolex mentions that the design is a tribute to vintage watches with bakelite inserts – and we know that Rolex rarely looks back to the past or admits to having retro-looking references. Besides that, we still find the same moulded, recessed tachymeter scale on a black polished surface, with markers and numerals coated with a thin layer of platinum via PVD. As for the looks, this decision elicits mixed feelings (I heard both sides during the fair, this new construction has its advocates and detractors).
All in all, it amounts to small touches everywhere on the case and bezel. Some are almost imperceptible; some are more obvious. I know that many will say that the update is typical of Rolex and that almost nothing has changed. But looking closely at this new 126500LN, you’ll see that there are a lot of differences. It feels a bit more slender, a bit sharper, a bit more modern… And yes, this thin 40mm watch is still one of the most comfortable automatic chronographs on the market.
A More Refined Dial
In addition to the newly designed bezel, the updated dial is the second most obvious change on the 2023 Rolex Daytona. Then again, it’s not a revolution, and the facelift has been done with light touches. First, note that the steel Daytona 126500LN is still available in two editions, one with a black dial and silver rings and the most coveted of all, the white lacquered dial with black rings (photographed here).
The changes on the dial primarily concern the hands/markers and the sub-dials. Both have been reduced in size to bring a more modern, sleeker look without compromising legibility and contrast. The pointy hour markers are now smaller, far better defined than in the past and feature a thinner metallic ring, offering more space for the luminous Chromalight insert inside. The hands, still combining a black lacquered band and a luminous insert, are also slightly thinner to remain consistent with the rest of the dial.
Another change concerns the contrasting rings surrounding the sub-dials, which have been resized. The external diameter remains identical; however, the internal diameter has been increased, making the black textured element thinner. This, together with the smaller applied markers, brings more air to the dial, and the new graphics feel more harmonious.
Some minor details to consider are the small Coronet at 6 o’clock, indicating a new-generation movement, slightly thinner fonts all around, but no changes regarding the copious literature at 12 o’clock (5 lines… Please Rolex, move that Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified mention to the caseback), the position of the counters (still slightly higher than the central axle) or the red Daytona mention above the small seconds counter.
A Slightly Redesigned bracelet
As for the bracelet, it’s all about very small details. The new Daytona 126500LN comes on a classic 3-link Oyster bracelet in Oystersteel, with satin-finished outer links and polished centre links (bracelet reference 78HA00). It is closed by an Oysterlock folding safety clasp with an Easylink comfort extension link (with about 5mm of adjustment).
While it still measures 20mm between the lugs, the bracelet, or at least the end links, seems to have a slightly updated profile. It isn’t obvious, but the end link felt a tad shorter to me than in the past, and the central element is less protruding and points downwards for improved ergonomics. As always with Rolex, the construction and comfort of the bracelet/clasp are superb.
The New Calibre 4131
While the movement is visible on the caseback of the platinum edition, the mechanical update is hidden in the steel Daytona 126500LN (and gold models). The new version of the Cosmograph comes with calibre 4131. Again, an evolution more than a revolution, this new movement benefits from the latest technologies of the Crown, including its patented Chronergy escapement with its efficient geometry. Made of nickel-phosphorus, this escapement is resistant to magnetic fields and is combined with a blue Parachrom hairspring made from a paramagnetic alloy. It is equipped with a Rolex overcoil, and the oscillator is mounted on Paraflex shock absorbers.
Otherwise, the architecture is identical, with a column wheel and vertical clutch combination, automatic winding with a newly designed rotor on an (upgraded) ball bearing, and a single barrel capable of storing 72h of power reserve. And even if it’s hidden under a solid back, calibre 4131 has a new, more refined decoration with Rolex Côtes de Genève, which differs from traditional Côtes de Genève with the addition of a slightly polished groove between each band (the sapphire back should be standard on the entire collection). The movement is, of course, Superlative Chronometer certified (both by the COSC and then by Rolex after casing) with an accuracy of -2/+2 seconds/day.
My Take on the New Daytona 126500LN
The new steel Daytona 126500LN is a case study of evolution without revolution. It’s the iPhone or 911 of the watch industry. While almost everything has changed, almost none of the evolutions are perceptible at first sight. This strategy will, as always, have its detractors. But this consistency is also a significant part of the brand’s success. That being said, the new Daytona comes with several very interesting upgrades.
I personally think that the new dial, with its more refined markers and thinner rings, really rejuvenates the style of the Daytona – the dial of the older generation now looks dated. Sleeker, more modern, more aerial, it feels even more luxurious, too, in a pleasant way. Sometimes less is more. The updates on the case are minimal, but then again, a comparison between the old generation and the new model reveals the upgrade in elegance and modernity. The work done to improve the ergonomics (case thinness and bracelet) is undeniably a plus, and the revised movement is also appreciated – even though I had no complaints about the calibre 4130.
The new framed bezel is the one element that remains questionable. I’m still not entirely sure if I love it or if it’s a bit overdone. We debated this topic among the MONO team members more than once during the fair, and I know that our own founder Frank prefers the old one. On my side, I don’t have a clear position yet. Finally, what I disliked in the previous generation hasn’t been corrected – the screwed pushers and the crazy amount of text on the dial are still there.
(Non)Availability & Price
The new Rolex Cosmograph Daytona 126500LN in Oystersteel is now part of the permanent collection; the older generation has been officially discontinued. This new model is priced at EUR 14,950 (300 euros more than the 116500LN in early 2023). And as for the ability to get one at retail price, the situation won’t change overnight because there’s a new reference. It is still a unicorn that is almost impossible to get. Even if Rolex is increasing its production, and plans have been released for the opening of a new manufacture in Bulle (scheduled for 2029), the steel Daytona has long been among the most sought-after watches on the market. And the new 126500LN is not going to change this… sadly!
More details at rolex.com.