The Fast And The Fratelli — Quarter-Finals: Ben’s Rolex Daytona 116520 Vs. RJ’s Omega Speedmaster Calibre 321
As we head well into the race stint, the competition heats up. Twenty-four watches have DNF’d from The Fast And The Fratelli. The final eight prove themselves worthy of the best racing chronograph watches of the past ten years. But there can be only one winner. The winning watch may even be amongst the choices today. From Ben’s side of the grid is the Rolex Daytona reference 116520. On RJ’s side is the Omega Speedmaster Calibre 321. This is the titanic battle of iconic chronographs we were hoping to have! But we wouldn’t have gotten there without your votes and voices of encouragement. You now hold the power to select the best racing chronograph. And by commenting, you have the chance to win a Traxxas Bandit RC car.
Both watches won their respective round with ease. The Daytona was a clear winner against the Chopard Mille Miglia with 66%. However, RJ’s Calibre 321 pummelled the Massena LAB Uni-Racer to the tune of 88%. That wasn’t too surprising, as one bases its construction on a ’60s space watch right down to the movement that powers it. The other is essentially a copy/paste of a forgotten timepiece from a defunct maker that bears no affiliation. But enough about the losers. We have two strong contenders for the outright victory, but only one can claim it. And for some added spice, both of our writers own the respective watches that they chose to enter in this race. This time, it’s personal!
Ben — Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ref. 116520
I am feeling a strange sense of deja vu. There’s either a glitch in the Matrix, or we’ve already had these watches duke it out in Sunday Morning Showdown. Well, sort of, as that fight was on equal terms with the latest Daytona with Cerachrom bezel taking on the “Ed White” with ceramic bezel. They were also essentially the same price of around CHF 13,000. Even though this was only July of last year, the “Ed White” is now closer to CHF 15,000 at retail, whereas the Daytona has primarily remained the same price. We all recognize these are the theoretical prices, as the demand still far outweighs the supply for both models.
There’s a different Daytona coming out of the pitlane within this competition, though. I’m bringing out the reference 116520 that existed in the catalog from 2000-2016, with marked iterations in between. The model was discontinued just before the release of the latest Daytona ref. 116500LN. As the 116520 no longer exists at retail, we can only compare these models using the pre-owned market value. From Chrono24, the black dial 116520 has an average value of around CHF 30,000. Even though the “Ed White” is available now with a waitlist, some wishing to skip the wait will pay a premium of roughly CHF 18,000. So, on paper, the “Ed White” has more bang per buck with its aftermarket value. But if we are talking racing chronographs, the Daytona has the upper hand.
The Daytona DNA
For sure, the eponymous Ed White strapping two Speedmaster 105.003s (on which the Calibre 321 is based) on his spacesuit during the first-ever spacewalk is an iconic moment in time. With such a vivid image burned into watch enthusiasts’ psyche, it’s challenging to disassociate the Speedmaster from space. There is a racing pedigree in the Speedmaster, no doubt. Since F1 legend and team principal Sir Frank Williams’s passing, multiple pictures surfaced of Sir Frank wearing his ref. 105.012. Sir Frank’s era was in the barnstorming days of Formula One in the ’70s. There wasn’t a manual, and solutions were conjured on the fly. Alongside Sir Frank was his trusty Speedmaster to time his cars and seek improvements.
But when it comes to the Daytona, racing is in its DNA. Watch any motorsport coverage, and you’re bound to see a Daytona on the wrist of a pundit, driver, team principal, or even the CEO of Formula One. The Rolex Daytona has cemented itself as the de facto chronograph for those that live and breathe the sport. You could say the same for the Speedmaster in the space program, but this is The Fast And The Fratelli. Only the raciest of chronographs deserve a spot in the finals.
The Newman affinity
When we talk quintessential figures in the racing world, none are more widely known than Paul Newman. While Newman never wore the reference 116520, the spiritual predecessor reference 16520 was seen many times on his wrist. This watch was a trophy from Rolex for Newman, placing third in the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona. It comes full circle when specific Daytona references are nicknamed after Newman, who earned a watch by placing at a track from which the timepiece draws its official name. There’s even an engraving on the case back stating the year in which he won and “ROLEX MOTORSPORTS MAN OF THE YEAR.”
I already know RJ’s sentiments about the Daytona, from the sub-dial position being north of the central pinion to the screw-down pushers. These are oddities that bother RJ, which is healthy and constructive criticism, by the way — he is an industry professional, after all. But from my perspective, it’s never been an issue. If I need to time an event and I don’t plan on swimming, I leave the pushers unscrewed. It bears no harm to the watch to do so. Likewise, what dictates the position of the sub-dials is the in-house movement, which is far more reliable and bespoke to the Daytona than its El Primero-based predecessor. For someone like myself who loves the art of engineering, I appreciate Rolex ensuring the spacing is optimal, rather than attempting to shoe-horn in a movement that doesn’t fit just for symmetry. That said, I am on the lookout for a reference 16520 when the funds somehow come my way.
RJ — Omega Speedmaster Calibre 321 ref. 3220.127.116.11.01.001
Let me start by saying that to me personally, this is no contest. Let me explain why. When I had just started with mechanical watches in the late 1990s, my dream was to own a Daytona one day. And that was before the enormous hype. If you wanted one, you could get one for retail, you just had to wait a bit. Later on, you could even get them with a bit of discount from time to time. The Daytona’s availability came in waves, I would say. But then, in the 2000s, when Rolex had just upgraded its movement from the Zenith-based movement to its in-house chronograph caliber, I was able to give it a try for a while. And you know what? I did not like it at all. It was a dream shattered. Well, not really, as meanwhile, I had my mind set on a Royal Oak.
What the Rolex Daytona lacks for me are readability and usability. I don’t like screw-down pushers, which is one of the reasons I sold my AP Royal Oak Chronograph relatively quickly. It suffers from the same pusher construction. But perhaps even more importantly, I don’t like the dial layout on the Daytona models with an in-house movement. The sub-dials at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock are centered above the center pinion, which looks odd. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. At least, I don’t succeed in that particular endeavor. I wonder who at Rolex came up with this nonsense, as the Zenith-powered Daytona was perfectly fine. When Rolex introduced the new Daytona 116500LN a few years ago, I found the black bezel and white dial with black scales on the sub-dials a big improvement. But the dial layout stayed as a result of using Rolex caliber 4130. Needless to say, I don’t care much for the modern Daytona. It just doesn’t tick my boxes, and it doesn’t get me excited.
However, there’s no doubt that the Daytona is an iconic chronograph. Just like the Omega Speedmaster, of course. Where the dial design of the Daytona is a bit of a mess, the Speedmaster dial is incredibly legible. On paper, the Daytona and Speedmaster Calibre 321 are very similar in size, where the first is 40mm and the latter 39.7mm. However, the Speedmaster is a more elegant watch when wearing on the wrist. The Daytona is a bit bulky for its size. Perhaps that is exactly the difference: an elegant chronograph versus a 40mm chronograph on steroids. The Daytona has one advantage, in my opinion, with a water resistance of 100 meters.
So, you can actually dive with it. The Speedmaster is fine for swimming, but be very careful with the crown and pushers when the watch is in the water. On the other hand, as a Speedmaster collector myself, I’ve never been worried or bothered by this. I don’t swim very often, and when I do, I either leave my watch at home (or in the hotel safe) or bring my PloProf to damage the swimming pool tiles.
You buy it for yourself
Another difference is that the Daytona is a bit of a watch for posers. Owners of the Daytona often want others to notice they’re wearing an expensive or “hard-to-get” watch. This might not apply to everyone, and I am sure Ben is not that guy. But I would bet that a proper 90% of people buy a Daytona for this reason. The opposite goes for the Speedmaster Calibre 321. You spend CHF 15,000 or whatever it is in your currency, and no one will notice it except you. Until you run into another Speedmaster enthusiast. Then it is a great conversation piece, especially when there’s a mutual love for the Lémania-based caliber 321 that Omega rebuilds for those who appreciate it.
In my opinion, this Speedmaster Calibre 321 watch is the result of years of build-up. Omega intensified its focus on the Speedmaster, getting all the details right, and together with the Moonshine Gold Speedmaster Apollo XI, I think the Speedmaster Calibre 321 is the brand’s absolute highlight. The good thing is that Omega also updated the regular Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch in the more affordable price range, bringing all recent innovations but also all design cues from the past together.
Special Calibre 321 workshop
Wearing the Speedmaster Calibre 321 is something special. It is hard to describe, but when I put on my Calibre 321, it feels a bit like when I was putting on my Royal Oak 15202. It’s very delicate, well-finished, and perfectly fitting. Everything about the Speedmaster Calibre 321 is incredibly well-executed, and then there’s the fact that every watch is assembled by one watchmaker in the headquarters in Bienne. I’ve visited the “321 ateliers” in Bienne, and it is completely different from the larger spaces where the other Omega watches are being manufactured in an industrialized way. Somehow, this can be felt and experienced when wearing the Speedmaster Calibre 321. The downside of this, however, is the limited capacity to produce these beautiful 321 movements,
I am not completely convinced the Speedmaster Calibre 321 will win this contest or even this round, as the Daytona is a serious contender that definitely has more fans. But to me, the Speedmaster Calibre 321 is definitely a winner, and that’s why I bought it.