Face Off: Rolex Daytona Steel vs Ceramic Bezel

Among the great chronographs that have been produced through the years, perhaps none is more celebrated by collectors than the Rolex Daytona. The It chronograph’s vintage models repeatedly top auction records, while new models have years long waiting lists.

Two of the Daytona’s best-selling models are the stainless steel references – 116500LN with a Ceramic bezel and 116520 with a Steel bezel. Both sleek, versatile, and not to mention historic and collectible, these monochromatic styles present a tough choice for anyone seeking a classic Daytona. Here’s a guide to help you decide.


The Rolex Daytona ref 16520 and 116520 Stainless Steel Bezel

The full stainless steel Rolex Daytona models that we know of today, are second and third generation Daytona watches. From the vintage, manual wound four-digit references, Rolex launched major changes in the production of the Daytona in 1988, beginning with the ref. 16520.


Self-winding movement – the manually wound movement became a disadvantage for the Daytona when the Quartz crisis struck ; the new generation Daytona ran on the  automatic Caliber 4030, based on the Zenith El Primero’s Caliber 400.

Design changes – the Daytona’s case grew to 40mm, the crystal was changed from acrylic to synthetic sapphire, the dial featured different hour markers, and the sub-dials came with contrasting timing tracks instead of full contrasting sub-dials.


Steel Daytonas
 First, second, and third generation steel Rolex Cosmograph Daytonas: ref 6240, ref 16520 and ref 116520.

In the year 2000, Rolex debuted the third generation Daytona, this time powered by the long-awaited in-house automatic chronograph movement. From the Zenith El Primero-based Caliber 4030, the Daytona was equipped with the entirely in-house Rolex movement, Caliber 4130.

The stainless steel version that came with the new movement was ref 116520. Like the previous generation, all models of the new batch of Rolex Daytona models were fitted with metal bezels.


Daytona Steel
 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Zenith Movement Mens Watch 16520



Ceramic Bezel Daytonas

In 2005, Rolex introduced the use of the Cerachrom ceramic bezel to their watches, beginning with the Rolex GMT-Master II. Prized for both its aesthetic appeal and durability, the Cerachrom bezel is virtually scratch-proof and is impervious to UV rays and fading.

The first Daytona to be equipped with the Rolex-patented Cerachrom bezel was the Everose Gold Daytona ref 116515LN with a black bezel, launched in 2010. It was followed by the platinum 50th anniversary Daytona ref 116506 in 2013 – this time, with a brown ceramic bezel. In the years that followed, only Daytona models in precious metals were equipped with the Cerachrom bezel.


Daytona Ceramic Bezels
Earlier models of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona with Ceramic Bezels:
Everose Gold, 50th Anniversary Platinum, and Yellow Gold.



The Rolex Daytona ref 116500LN Cerachrom Bezel

Finally in 2016, Rolex introduced a stainless steel Cerachrom Ceramic bezel Daytona – the ref 116500LN. It can be said that it was the Daytona that every watch collector was waiting for. It became the hottest watch of 2016; and continues to have a years-long waiting list until today.


Rolex Daytona Ceramic Bezel
Rolex Daytona Ceramic Bezel White Dial Chronograph Mens Watch 116500



Ceramic or Steel Bezel?

With the introduction of the Ceramic bezel ref 116500LN also came the end of the 116520’s two-decades of production. It still remains in high demand among collectors however, and is available in the pre-owned market.

With respect to the design, the two models share many traits:  they’re both made of 904L stainless steel; both come with a 40mm Oyster case with screw-down pushers and crown, the Caliber 4130 movement, the Oyster bracelet, and a choice of a black or white dial. The difference between the two models really lies in the bezel – after all, it is precisely this element that caught the attention of Rolex fans the world over.


Rolex Daytona Steel and Ceramic Bezel
Rolex Daytona Steel Bezel Watch 116520 vs Rolex Daytona Ceramic Bezel Watch 116500

Despite being discontinued, the ref 116520 still enjoys plenty of popularity among collectors. Aside from being a landmark model, it still has great chronographic functions and a classic aesthetic that looks good even 20 years after its release.

Meanwhile, the Ceramic bezel ref 116500LN hasn’t lost its steam four years after its release. The high-contrast design feels more like a statement watch compared to the previous model, without losing any of its readability. It also closes the loop on the Daytona’s design, bringing back the familiar look that legendary vintage Daytonas like the 6263 and 6240 had.

If you’re into a modern, understated design, go for the Daytona 116520. If a vintage-inspired statement piece is more your taste, and the Cerachrom bezel is a non-negotiable for you, then the newer Daytona 116500LN is the better fit.





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