This may be surprising to those new to the brand, but Rolex making “luxury watches” is a relatively new concept. For most of the brand’s storied history, they were primarily known as a maker of tool/sport watches, rugged and accurate timepieces made to help folks get things done. However, over time their stellar reputation and relentless pursuit of perfection eventually led to them being the luxury objects we know them as today. Sure, they still technically make sports watches but as everyone knows, having a watch with a crown on the dial is unarguably a luxury. Perhaps the ultimate symbol of this evolution from “sport” to “luxury sport” is the rare and opulent solid gold Rolex Rainbow Daytona 116595RBOW, otherwise known as the “Rainbow Daytona.” It’s the ultimate expression of a fun, luxury sports watch, the Rolex way.
The original Rolex Daytona was released in the early 1960s as a racing watch. It was made for those involved in motorsports, and that’s who made up a majority of the folks who bought and wore the watch. Over time, however, the reputation of Rolex grew, and unofficial celebrity brand ambassadors like Paul Newman helped the watch become more mainstream.
Fast forward to the 1980s, Rolex was becoming more known as a luxury watchmaker. Like some of their other sports watches, they decided that the famous Daytona deserved the full luxury treatment and released the exceedingly rare reference 6269. The 6269 paired the 6263 case style with a solid gold case and a bezel set with 48 brilliant-cut diamonds along with a dial that was covered by 240 brilliant-cut diamonds. This reference marked the first time Rolex glammed up the Daytona and set the stage for the Rainbow Daytona.
The first modern “Rainbow Daytona” was launched at Basel World in 2012 in white and yellow gold and was produced in extremely limited quantities. It was initially met with some pushback for being too gaudy, but it has become a favorite among watch-obsessed celebrities like John Mayer and Mark Wahlberg since then. Six years later, in 2018, Rolex introduced another Rainbow Daytona—the timepiece we have here—the reference 116595RBOW. This watch differs from its white and yellow gold siblings in two key ways. One, it’s made from Rolex’s proprietary Everrose gold, and two, instead of diamonds, the watch has baguette-cut sapphires for hour indices to match the color gradient of the bezel, giving us just that much more rainbow. The watch was a bit more appreciated this time around and has become a modern Daytona holy grail for many collectors. But like the Rainbow’s and diamond set Daytonas before it, this watch is tough to produce and exceptionally rare.
Visually, this is a love-it-or-hate-it type of timepiece, but I suspect some watch nerds who aren’t into this watch’s aesthetic could be converted if they fully understood what goes into its bejeweled design. On the lug hoods and crown guards, you’ll find 56 brilliant-cut diamonds, which are inclusion free and among the highest quality diamonds available. The bezel is set with 36 baguette-cut sapphires arranged in a rainbow gradation. Every stone on this watch is totally genuine, inclusive free, and naturally colored. Unlike other “rainbow” watches which might artificially dye the sapphires to make a smooth color transition, Rolex goes through a pain-staking sourcing process until they find the perfect sapphire in terms of quality and color. This—along with the fact that each gem is handset—is a big reason why so few of these are produced. While most of Rolex’s product line is mass-produced, this watch is not one of them. This is about as close to artisanal watchmaking as Rolex gets.
If you somehow manage to stop staring at the gorgeous stones, you’ll find the rest of the watch is also pretty easy on the eyes. This is—like any modern Daytona—an elegantly curvy and effortlessly wearable watch. The Daytona is one of the few Rolex models that never got the “Super Case” treatment, and because of that, modern versions like this one still have similar proportions to their vintage counterparts. It’s a big reason why the watch is so popular. Additionally, the solid 18kt Everrose case of this 40mm watch is made almost entirely of Rolex’s proprietary pink gold. The brand introduced Everrose in 2005, and several patents protect the formula. Its hue and luster are unique and lasting while still offering the warmth and pink sheen that makes rose gold so desirable.
Overall this is an ultra-luxurious watch, but it still has a fun and playful attitude. Despite how much I dig the rainbow theme and how impressed I am with the smooth color transition of the sapphires, the thing that most impresses me about this watch is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It reminds us that just because a watch is ultra-luxurious and difficult to create doesn’t mean it needs to be boring and unapproachable.
Inside the watch is the same reliable and capable in-house caliber 4130 found across the entire Daytona line. It’s is an automatic winding column-wheel chronograph with a generous 72-hour power reserve and Rolex’s patented Paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring, and Paraflex shock system. Like all current Rolex calibers, it’s a Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified, which means it was COSC certified, and then put through Rolex’s gauntlet of tests and regulation to be accurate within +2/-2 seconds per day. The Rainbow Daytona’s movement is incredibly durable, and while I wouldn’t suggest knocking this particular watch around—for obvious reasons—the movement would likely be unfazed by any rough and tumble activity.
Versus The Competition
This is a heavy-hitting timepiece with a value of upwards of $400,000, and it also has a pretty specific vibe to it. Still, luckily for fans of ultra-luxurious rainbow-themed watches, it’s also very on-trend. Another exceptional bejeweled rainbow timepiece is this automatic Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Rainbow” 15413BC. This is an 18k white gold Royal Oak with a bezel that has been set with 32 baguette cut rainbow-colored sapphire crystals that—like the Daytona—transition flawlessly from color to color. It has a pave diamond dial and baguette-cut diamond hour markers, and while it doesn’t have any diamonds set into the case, it’s still every bit as luxurious as the Daytona. My pick, in this case, would still be the Rainbow Daytona, but that’s only because I slightly prefer the rainbow sapphire indices over this AP’s diamond ones. The more rainbow, the better, I think, but if you like the smaller, more pared-down version, this might be perfect.
If you’re shopping for a Daytona in this price bracket and you don’t at least take a peek at some Paul Newman Daytona references, I’m not sure you can really consider yourself a watch enthusiast. The Paul Newman Daytona is perhaps the most famous vintage watch reference in the world. Made famous by Paul Newman—obviously—this watch, more than maybe any other, is responsible for the vintage and subsequently modern Rolex watch boom we find ourselves in today. The record-breaking auction result of Paul Newman’s Paul Newman catapulted vintage watch collecting into the mainstream like nothing before. It’s way more understated than the other two iced-out watches we’ve just talked about, but it is also arguably a bigger statement piece to those in the know. For better or worse, this hobby wouldn’t be the same without this watch, and if you have the means to get one, you should at least think about it.
This watch represents the fun side of luxury. This isn’t a stuffy, complicated timepiece that takes a Ph.D. to understand how to operate. It’s a bright and colorful sports watch for someone who enjoys the finer things and doesn’t take themselves to seriously. This is a watch for someone who likes to dance like no one is watching and sing loud and off-key just because it’s their favorite part of the song.
This watch is essentially an amalgam of Rolex’s best skill sets as a manufacturer. It’s their most popular sports watch made of a material they invented, set with almost 100 meticulously sourced and vetted diamonds and sapphires. They’ve taken an iconic sports watch and added a luxurious and artisanal flair to it in a way only Rolex can, and in doing so, they created one of the sought-after ultra-luxury sports watches ever.