Review: Rolex Daytona Rainbow 116595RBOW
Of every watch Rolex makes today, this is the top. The best. The most expensive and the most desirable. But what makes it so rare and so special, and why do people want it so badly they’ll pay half a million dollars for one? Let’s take a closer look at the absolutely insane Rolex Daytona Rainbow.
We’ve come a long, long way since the very first Rolex Daytona. A muddled watch without a purpose, it sold worse than deodorant at Burning Man, and was even less relevant. Omega was pulling no punches with the Speedmaster and the Daytona was Rolex’s lacklustre response. Rolex’s usual movement supplier Aegler had no answer for Omega’s hand-wound Lemania chronograph, and so an off-the-shelf Valjoux 72 was chosen. All-in-all, it was a below-average watch with distinctly below-average sales.
That all change in 1988. Rolex had spent the better part of the 70s and 80s pivoting from its original mantra of professional watches for professional people to shiny watches for shiny people. Solid gold Rolex’s were to be seen up and down the Florida coast hanging loose on the wrists of oiled up retirees whose small businesses had performed unexpectedly well.
The Daytona was reimaged from a trackside tool into a curvy, shining, voluptuous timepiece whose deep gleam was the perfect counterpart to the Floridian sun. From that moment onwards, the only thing its chronograph complication would time was how long the waiter took to get your drink.
It was the form factor that was to define a new age for Rolex, with the Yacht-Master primed to be the next big release a few years later. The Yacht-Master was supposedly intended to be a luxurious update to the Submariner in the style of the new Daytona, but Rolex chickened out. Imagine a GMT-Master II in the Yacht-Master style? Or an Explorer?
Anyway, the desirability of this new Daytona is where we find the genesis of the waitlist. By the 90s, the queue to get a Daytona was two to three years long for the basic steel model. Today, things have ground to such a stop that our waitlist satellite navigation won’t even give us an estimate. Some say ten years, some say fifteen—and as far as most of us are concerned, that may as well mean never.
For a handful for people—by which I literally mean the number of people I can fit into my hand—there aren’t just stainless steel Daytonas, or even special edition limited Daytonas—there’s a whole other catalogue. These are the off-menu items, the secret burgers you can only get if you know the password. And the password is your bank account number which needs to be deposited en masse into Rolex’s.
Rumour has it you need to spend over half a million with Rolex to get access to the secret catalogue, and when you think about that, it’s no easy feat. Not just because you’d need to have a half-million dollar watch budget, but because not all Rolex watches are eye-wateringly expensive. If the first you buy is $10,000, the second $20,000 and so-on and so-fourth, it’s going to take a lot of purchases to reach that magic number.
But there’s a twist. The most expensive watch you’ll find on Rolex’s public catalogue is the platinum Day-Date with diamond-set dial and bezel, with an RRP of something around $140,000. The Rainbow Daytona? Surprisingly, less. Rolex doesn’t place a premium on the rarity of the model, and so it costs a rumoured $96,000.
Being so incredibly rare, however, the Rainbow, in production in some form or another only since 2012, gets a big premium when it changes hands. It’s been as low as RRP, as high as $1,000,000, and currently splits the difference at a cool half a million. The exclusivity, rarity and eye-popping looks have made it into the most desirable modern Rolex in the world. And I get to play with one.
So, what is the Daytona Rainbow actually like? First off, despite the LSD-laced candy looks, the most startling thing is the weight. That’s solid Everose gold, case and bracelet, and although it doesn’t tip the scales at the same heft as the incredible platinum Daytona, it still takes a moment of recalibration to come to terms with a watch weighing quite so much. If you’re concerned that you have one arm slightly shorter than the other, this is the watch for you. It’ll fix that in a minute.
Of course, the dominating visual factor on the watch is the namesake rainbow of gems set around the bezel. Those are sapphires, baguette-cut and set by Rolex in-house. Why mention that Rolex sets them? Rolex has set its own gems for a while now, a skillset that’s probably the most demanding aspect of the entire watch. By comparison, Patek Philippe was outsourcing this skillset until late-2022, when it bought the company that does it for them.
Each of the sapphires is internally flawless and chosen for its exact shade. This would be a monumentally easier task if Rolex used lab-grown sapphires, but of course it wants to play the game on hard mode and insists on them being both natural and responsibly sourced. The real limitation on production is finding sapphires that meet all of these criteria. Regardless of whether or not you like the look, it’s hard not to be impressed by the painstaking challenge of actually making this thing a reality.
If you’re still furrowing your brow at the idea of a natural sapphire that’s any other colour but blue, then check this out: sapphire in its purest form is completely clear. These are known as white sapphires or corundum, and it’s that form that’s grown in labs to make watch crystals. But additives to the chemical makeup of a clear sapphire can turn it many different colours.
Iron makes a sapphire blue, a colour common to the gemstone. Chromium makes it red. A red sapphire is typically known as a ruby. Titanium makes a sapphire green. That’s not the same as an emerald, however. And so pure corundum can be transformed into any colour you like with just a hint of the right chemical. An upgrade for 2018 was the inclusion of matching hour markers, mirroring the bezel hue at that particular point. And then, just because, the case gets 56 brilliant-cut diamonds, too.
A personal favourite touch on this watch is the inclusion of the gold crystalline sub-dials. Now, I can’t find anything on the process of making these or what they’re made of, but they remind me of the crystalline pattern of the zinc coating on galvanised steel. Forming gold crystals is difficult but not impossible, requiring very slow cooling, and the difficulty may explain Rolex’s limitation to just the sub-dials. I like it. There’s an other-worldly feel about it, like the Widmanstatten pattern found in meteorites.
Put it all together and you get the most expensive and desirable modern Rolex in the world, with customers like John Mayer and Mark Wahlberg very visibly seen wearing them. Some people say it’s gaudy and tacky, and it’s certainly not subtle, but I do think it’s the kind of out-there thinking Rolex needs to continue to remain relevant. It’s all very well and good that it’s big now, but it’s that kind of complacency that’ll stop a brand dead in its tracks. Remember, Omega and the Speedmaster used to be number one. Not anymore. Now it’s this.
What do you think of the Rolex Daytona Rainbow? Your cup of tea or a puke heap of Lucky Charms?