Feature: 5 Annoying Things About The Rolex Daytona
The Daytona is not just one of Rolex’s, but luxury watchmaking’s, most popular watches. Despite its not inconsiderable £10,500 price—that’s more expensive than the cheapest new car on sale today, the Dacia Sandero—it flies off shelves like its more valuable than gold. Which it is. By double. People will spend that and more fighting to own this legend of a watch, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Here are five annoying things about the Rolex Daytona.
I don’t want to start a comment war, but the date on a watch—ever since Rolex, funnily enough, plonked it there three-quarters of a century ago—is about the best wristwatch invention since the wristwatch itself. What’s the date? Bam—it’s there, on your wrist, ready to go. The mild inconvenience of having to tick it over yourself every other month—unless you’ve got one of those all-singing, all-dancing calendar watches that is—pales into insignificance compared to the effort of finding the date somewhere else.
Naysayers will bleat and yell about how a date window ruins a watch, and to be fair to them, they’re right. But if a watch is just for watching, may as well rid it of the hands and markers altogether and put a picture of something nice in its place instead—perhaps a small mirror with which to admire yourself. The date is a fundamental piece of information that is as easy to find when it’s on a wristwatch as it is easy to forget when it’s not—and the Rolex Daytona doesn’t have one.
The word “date” even appears phonetically in the name Daytona, and although that’s nothing more than coincidence, that doesn’t make it any less annoying the eight hundredth time you turn your watch to read the date and … it’s not there. You’d probably get used to it if it were your only watch, but if you swap between it and one with a date, it’ll be a never-ending bugbear. It’s the horological equivalent of when someone points at your chest and flicks your nose when you look. Not the worst thing to ever happen, but still downright annoying.
It was in 2005 that Rolex ditched trusty but old-fashioned metal in place of something newer and more hi-tech for its bezels: ceramic. This zirconium-oxide based material bears little in common with its namesake compatriots like plant pots and coffee mugs, chosen for its incredible hardness and fade resistance. Remember scratched, desaturated bezels? For the Daytona, that’s a problem for the past.
In fact, so hard is this ceramic material that it offers some incredible levels of tolerance, with each of the tachymeter’s many digits plugged with nanometre crispness and inset with a dusting of bright platinum. Whilst, in the showroom, fresh and untouched, this all seems like a wonderful idea, in practice it’s a little different, because the rest of the world isn’t quite so spick and span.
Once you’ve eaten a sandwich with it, scratched your head with it, reached under the sofa with it, those crisp hollows where those platinum numbers used to be will have become something else. They will have become the world’s smallest rubbish bins, brim-full of whatever gunk is small enough to get in there. And once it’s in there, it’s not coming out. You can’t just stick a bent-out paperclip in there or you’ll risk scratching the platinum. A blast of water isn’t enough. Instead, you’re left wearing a petri dish.
Born on the racetrack, the Daytona, like the driver wearing it, should fear no corner too tight, no straight too fast. It’s made of different stuff to your average watch. The right stuff. True mettle, as in em, ee, tee, tee, el, ee. But it’s in the metal—em, ee, tee, ey, el—that this comes a cropper. Daytonas of old were tough little watches that looked like they could survive a week in a cement mixer, built with a certain ruggedness resistant to the rigours of daily life. A scratch barely went noticed—it just blended in.
But that was a different Rolex. A Rolex made for professionals. It’s a little different today. Count the number of Rolexes seen at a race weekend, and the majority won’t be hanging out in the paddock, but the paddock club. The hardest work it’ll have to do is resist an accidental splash of champagne. And the people who frequent this most exclusive of arenas expect a certain polish to their products, and so that’s what Rolex has done—quite literally.
A Rolex Oyster bracelet was once the epitome of form follows function. The links were as hollow as my promise to eat better, the clasp pressed out of an old tin of Spam, the build as hefty as my old nan—but it did the job, and you couldn’t argue that. I get that’s not very 2021, so I understand that the bracelet has undergone some modernisation—to a point. The fact that a watch whose home is the cramped, hot, dirty confines of a race car cockpit has polished centre links is like attending the work Christmas booze-up in a wedding dress. You don’t have to worry too much about it however, as before long they’ll be so scratched they’ll blend in.
Using a Daytona’s chronograph function should be—as far as Rolex is concerned—a priority. Up until 2007, the Daytona was the only chronograph watch in Rolex’s line-up—unlike Omega, which dishes out chronographs like a parking warden does tickets—and that meant the fate of this time-recording complication sat squarely on the model’s shoulders.
But there’s a problem. Since the 1920s, Rolex’s whole deal has been water-resistance. Sure, the watchmaker has conquered the sky, mountains and lava fields since, but that Oyster case, sealed with screw-threads from top to bottom, is its bread and butter. You can’t call it a Rolex sports watch if it leaks. 1937’s Zerographe was the first Rolex to demonstrate a solution to adding functions without compromising integrity, slapping a timer on with an external bezel. Simple, smart, cheap.
With the Daytona, things are a little more clunky. Where the start/stop and reset pushers leave the watch vulnerable to leaks, Rolex has adopted the same screw-down seal approach it’s taken to the rest of the watch, which means every time you want to use the chronograph, you have to unscrew it first—twice. And when you’re done, you’ve got to reverse the process. It’s an annoying hindrance that won’t impact many owners—since they’ll never even use it—but for those who do, it’s a ritual made all the more annoying by the fact that the original Zerographe also had a basic chronograph—and that didn’t need screwing down.
But by far and large the most annoying thing about the Rolex Daytona is that no matter how much you want one, no matter how much you’re willing to overlook the scratchy centre links and missing date—you’re almost certainly not getting one. It’s an understatement to say this watch is popular—you’ve got more chance of getting tickets to Hamilton than getting one of these.
You would think with a price as butt-clenchingly steep as £10,500, the Daytona would be in ready supply, but it turns out that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s always been a popular watch, notorious for its waiting lists and pre-requisite purchases to make said list, but that was back when it was a £5-6,000 watch. It seems the extra margin did nothing to deflate the hype.
The good news is that, as good as the Daytona is, there are plenty of other options, cheaper ones, too. Like the new Tudor Black Bay Chrono, a much cheaper alternative from the same family with great looks and a sturdy movement which … now also has a waiting list.
The Rolex Daytona is far from the best watch ever made, but given how difficult is to fault, it only goes to show how good it is. Rolex has never been about being the ultimate in high horology, building a reputation on its performance in the hands of professionals, and the Daytona is no different. Despite its small flaws, it remains the go-to choice for many and it’s easy to see why. Despite being an incredibly expensive luxury item, it still somehow hangs on to its standing as a watch for the people … only none of those people are actually able to get one.
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