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Iconic Models Face-Off: Rolex Daytona vs. Zenith El Primero

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rolex daytona vs zenith el primero

Zenith, established well before Rolex, has been a prominent player in watchmaking for over a century. Despite this head start, Rolex has achieved remarkable brand recognition, producing around 2,000 watches daily and becoming a symbol of luxury.

The Rolex Daytona, known for its elegance and connection to sports, stands out for its use of Zenith’s El Primero movement in earlier models. This collaboration highlights the intersection of two horological giants and the Daytona’s evolution into a collectible icon.

As we compare these prestigious brands, Rolex vs Zenith, we delve into what makes each unique and which might suit your style and preferences better. Delve into this article to see which of these timepieces, Zenith or Rolex, fits you best.

Comparison Table: At a Glance 


Rolex Daytona

Zenith El Primero

Brand Heritage

Synonymous with luxury, established in the 20th century.

Older, with over a century in precision watchmaking.

Key Milestone

1963 introduction of Ref. 6239, a major chronograph evolution.

Developed the first automatic chronograph in 1969.


Sporty elegance, linked to motor racing.

Known for high-frequency, precise chronographs.

Technological Innovation

Pioneered use of Zenith’s El Primero movement; later developed in-house movements.

Introduced groundbreaking high-frequency movement.


Renowned for luxurious build and reliability.

Acclaimed for precision and quality craftsmanship.


Highly sought after, iconic in the luxury watch market.

Well-respected among enthusiasts and collectors.

Resale Value

Generally higher resale value.

Good value retention, slightly less than Rolex.

Price Range

Higher price point; entry-level Rolex higher than Zenith’s.

More accessible entry-level pricing.

Horological Complications

Focus on chronographs with robust functionality.

Variety of complications, emphasizing precision.


Exclusive and limited collections, high demand.

Diverse range, including both classic and modern styles.

Rolex Daytona: A Timeless Icon of Speed and Elegance

close up image of Rolex Daytona watch

The Rolex Daytona, a name synonymous with precision and luxury, has a storied history that traces back to its inception in 1963. Originally equipped with a mechanical chronograph movement, the Daytona underwent a significant transformation in 1988 with the incorporation of the Zenith El Primero movement, marking a new era of sophistication. 

This collaboration with Zenith lasted until 2000, after which Rolex transitioned to its in-house caliber 4130 movement, enhancing the Daytona’s precision and durability with features like a larger mainspring and a Parachrom hairspring.

It wasn’t until 1963 that this Swiss watchmakers’ exploration bore significant fruit with the introduction of the reference 6239. This model marked a pivotal moment in Rolex’s history, as it was the first time their chronograph watches were distinguished by a specific line name. 

Initially, Rolex’s chronograph line didn’t bear the “Daytona” name;

  • instead, it was known simply as the “Cosmograph”
  • It was around 1965 that the “Daytona” name first appeared on the dial, a tribute to the famous motor racing circuit in Daytona Beach, Florida. 
  • This naming signified Rolex’s deep connection with the racing world.

Throughout its evolution, the Daytona has maintained its iconic status, partly due to its craftsmanship and association with motor racing. 

  • The transition to the caliber 4130 movement represented a significant technological leap, offering increased power reserve and improved resistance to shocks and temperature variations. 
  • These advancements, combined with the robust 904L stainless steel construction, solidify the Daytona’s reputation as a masterpiece of horology.

The pre-2000 Daytona Rolex watches models, especially those featuring the Zenith El Primero movement, have become highly sought after by collectors. The Daytona’s craftsmanship, combined with its historical significance, particularly models like the Daytona Paul Newman, has made it a highly collectible and esteemed piece in the world of luxury watches.

Top 3 Popular Models

1. Rolex Daytona “Panda” – Stainless Steel & White Dial Ref. 126500LN

Rolex Daytona 126500LN

Market Price

  • Retail Price: S$19,728
  • Pre-Owned Price: S$42,942

Merging sophistication with utility, this Daytona Panda timepiece presents a sleek white dial encased in oyster case, standing as a testament to both style and precision. It offers a tachymetric scale for speed measurement and a luminous Chromalight display on the 18 ct gold markers and hands, catering perfectly to the discerning demands of racing connoisseurs.

2. Rolex Cosmograph Daytona – Platinum & Ice Blue Dial Ref. 116506

Rolex Daytona 116506

Market Price

  • Retail Price: S$99,531
  • Pre-Owned Price: S$127,759

Featuring an ‘ice’ blue dial paired gracefully with a chestnut brown Cerachrom bezel, this timepiece represents a harmonious blend of luxury and practicality. Its platinum case underscores the watch’s sophistication, making it a distinguished choice for collectors and style-conscious individuals alike.

3. Rolex Cosmograph Daytona – Yellow Gold & Champagne Dial Ref. 116503

rolex daytona ref. 116503-0003

Market Price

  • Retail Price: S$26,650
  • Pre-Owned Price: S$34,450

This exquisite watch combines stainless steel and yellow gold in a 40mm case, featuring a champagne sunburst dial and Rolex’s caliber 4130 automatic movement . Its sophisticated design is complemented by a chronograph and minute repeaters with 100-meter water resistance, embodying both elegance and functionality.

Zenith El Primero: Pioneering Precision in Watchmaking

close up image of Zenith El Primero watch

Zenith, founded in 1865 by Georges Favre-Jacot in Le Locle, Switzerland, quickly established itself as a leader in precision watchmaking, winning the prestigious first prize at the Neuchâtel Observatory’s chronometry competition in 1903. By 1911, the brand, initially named Georges Favre-Jacot & Co., had rebranded to Zenith, a name inspired by its award-winning movement.

  • The most significant milestone in Zenith’s history was the development of the El Primero caliber in 1969, the world’s first fully integrated, high-frequency, automatic chronograph movement. 
  • The brand’s dedication to precision led to the dominance of the Neuchâtel Observatory’s chronometry awards between 1950-1954 with Caliber 135. 
  • Over the years, Zenith’s pursuit of accuracy has earned it over 2,330 chronometry prizes, a record in the industry.

Zenith’s centennial year in 1965 marked the beginning of its ambitious project to develop the world’s first self-winding chronograph movement. Despite intense competition and technical challenges, Zenith achieved this feat in 1969 with the El Primero movement.

This technological breakthrough, Zenith movement originally codenamed 3019 PHC, set new standards in watchmaking with its precision (measuring time to 1/10th of a second), integrated chronograph function, and high-frequency mechanism. The El Primero, which means “the first” in Spanish, solidified Zenith created a reputation as a pioneer in the watch industry and remains a symbol of innovation and excellence.

The El Primero’s innovative design included:

  • A high-frequency balance, an efficient winding rotor, and the use of novel lubricants to reduce friction. 
  • This ensured its long-term precision and a power reserve significantly above the standard at the time.

The El Primero’s reputation remains a symbol of Zenith’s commitment to pushing the boundaries in watchmaking. Zenith watch influence extends beyond its technical achievements, embodying the brand’s pioneering spirit and enduring dedication to horological excellence.

Top 3 Popular Models 

1. Zenith El Primero’s Chronomaster Sport – Stainless Steel & White Dial Ref. 03.3100.3600/69.M3100

Zenith El Primero’s Chronomaster Sport Ref. 03.3100.3600-69.M3100

Market Price

  • Retail Price: S$13,400
  • Pre-Owned Price: S$10,469

Elegantly fusing past and present, this timepiece pairs a vintage-inspired tri-color dial and classic pump-style pushers with a modern 41mm stainless steel case and black ceramic bezel. It’s powered by the advanced El Primero 3600 self winding movements, offering unparalleled 1/10th of a second precision, a testament to contemporary horological artistry.

2. Zenith El Primero’s Chronomaster Open – Stainless Steel & Black Dial Ref. 03.2040.4061/21.M2040

Zenith El Primero’s Chronomaster Open Ref. 03.2040.4061-21.M2040

Market Price

  • Retail Price: S$12,800
  • Pre-Owned Price: S$5,383

Captivates with a striking black dial featuring a sunburst finish, enhancing its sophisticated allure. Its most unique feature is the intriguing cut-out between 8 and 11 o’clock, offering a glimpse into the intricate workings beneath its surface. This design element not only showcases technical prowess but also adds a visually dynamic aspect to the watch. 

3. Zenith El Primero’s A384 Revival 50th Anniversary – Stainless Steel & White Dial Ref. 03.A384.400/21

Zenith El Primero’s A384 Revival 50th Anniversary Ref. 03.A384.400-21

Market Price

  • Retail Price: S$11,400
  • Pre-Owned Price: S$7,202

Celebrating a significant moment in watchmaking, this refined piece showcases a “Panda” dial with a stark white background and contrasting black sub-dials with date function. Its stainless steel case, paired with a luxury alligator strap and featuring pump pushers, symbolizes a harmonious fusion of traditional elegance and contemporary sophistication.


1. Is Zenith owned by Rolex?

Zenith is not owned by Rolex but by LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton), a multinational luxury goods conglomerate. This group also owns other prestigious watch brands such as TAG Heuer and Hublot. Rolex had a history of using Zenith’s renowned El Primero movement in its Daytona watches, but this was a collaboration and not indicative of ownership.

2. Is Zenith a luxury brand?

Zenith is indeed categorized as a luxury watch brand. While its price point is generally more accessible compared to the Rolex brand, it offers exceptional value, particularly in its excellent watches, renowned for their precision. Although Zenith watches may not retain their value as well as Rolex, it’s important to note that very few brands do.

3. When did Rolex stop using Zenith?

The collaboration between Rolex and Zenith, wherein Rolex used Zenith’s El Primero movement in their Daytona watches, concluded in 2000. This marked the year Rolex introduced its first in-house chronograph movement, signifying a shift to complete manufacturing independence.

4. Are Zenith watches worth the money?

Zenith watches are highly regarded for their quality and craftsmanship. The brand is renowned for its in-house manufacturing processes and the use of top-tier mechanisms and high horology watches.

Final Word

Rolex Daytona and Zenith El Primero each represent pinnacle achievements in watchmaking, offering unique blends of style, history, and precision engineering. Their legacy and technological advancements continue to influence and define the luxury watch industry.

Key Takeaways

  • Rolex is renowned for its resale value, while Zenith excels in value and precision, especially in chronographs.
  • The Daytona’s iconic design and racing heritage slightly edge out El Primero’s technical look. 
  • Price-wise, Zenith offers more accessibility, while Rolex offers generally holds a higher investment value.

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