Rolex Daytona 16520 'Salmon prototype'

Museum Piece
"Salmon dials" are synonymous with special specimens, but have you ever encountered one in a Daytona? Let's start by emphasising the rarity of this dial: only 3 ever surfaced on auction.

"Salmon dials" are synonymous with special specimens, but have you ever encountered one in a Daytona?

Let's start by emphasising the rarity of this dial: only 3 ever surfaced on auction. The first one to go under the hammer fetched an impressive 150K Swiss Francs at the 2017 Antiquorum auction. The honour of the other 2 sales go to Christies; the most recent result was 378.000,- Swiss Francs in 2023. There is no point in denying; these elusive editions -of an all-time classic- are perceived as highly valuable. How come?

Well, conversation pieces like these are for the spoiled collectors. The aficionados that want to turn up to a GTG, filled with rare vintage gems, and shock the room with their timepiece. After the air gets sucked out of the room; the other guests will wonder what is the story behind this dial color. If you are into the world of vintage Rolex, it probably won't surprise you that the origins are debated. Arguably that adds to the mystery and the desirability.

One theory is that it's a special order for VIP clients or friends of the company. Much like the blue "Chairman dial", from the same decade, for the gold Daytona 16528. But perhaps it was a dial study or prototype, done by Singer for Rolex, but was never taken into production and later found its way into cases.

Talking about cases: 4 other known examples are housed in white-gold 16519 cases. This one however, sits in a stainless steel 16520 case. The applied Arabic index is mostly seen in regular precious metal configurations, but regardless if you endorse the first or second theory; all would be possible. A common denominator of all these pieces is the year of production: from around 1997/ W-series. The graphics and overall lay-out and build-up of this dial is consistent with that period, making it logical to conclude Singer used the same clichés for this project as they did with their common production dials.

There are 2 varieties for the applied Arabic markers on Daytona: either with a smooth surface or with a black lacquered inlay. The "Salmon" sports the first-mentioned variety, which pairs well with the metal sub-dial rings seen on 5-digit Daytona's from the second half of the 1990's. The dial reads "T Swiss Made T", but apart from this luminous compound in the hands, there is no Tritium present in the indices at the quarters. These being "empty", might indicate this dial wasn't intended to be used for commercial purposes. The well-known Daytona printing above the 6 o'clock counter is in red and offers a nice distinction against the soft-colored background.

Obviously the dial steals the show, but it is nice to see and appreciate the pristine exterior. The case remains absolutely immaculate and the thick lugs show the original finishing unscathed. The bezel has all the lacquer in the tachymeter scale in tact and the Oyster bracelet is virtually new and can be dated to the same year of production. The original pushers and crown are obviously still installed and on the backside one can see a 25 year old green sticker.

The beating hard of every Daytona -in the decade before the turn of the century- is the cal. 4030. An adopted ebauche from the Zenith El Primero served Rolex well to utilise in their first automatic chronographs. All the screws of the movement appear untouched, accordant to the overall NOS condition of this Cosmograph.

If you want to play it safe in your collectiing journey it is better to steer away from watches like these. But if you already have (seen it) all, and want to sport a peerless project: here is your chance!