Things got a bit weird for the aftermarket-modified Rolex Space Mission watch over the last few years. What really changed was the price of used Rolex timepieces, which in many instances went higher than retail prices. This was very important if you are interested in modifying a Rolex timepiece because the base that you needed to start with was that much more expensive. On top of that, modifying a Rolex more or less eviscerates its resale value when compared to today’s trends. Rolex itself is so finicky about what it considers a “real” Rolex that pieces with even aftermarket gaskets or screws could be flagged as “inauthentic” and thus ineligible for servicing. Making and owning an aftermarket Rolex watch is for the truly bold. The resulting watches probably mimic that sentiment, and as a result, are just as powerfully eccentric as the brave men and women who buy them. On that note, let me today show you a very interesting art watch that began life as a reference 116500 Rolex Daytona, and ended up as the Designa Individual (“DiW”) Space Mission.
I first discussed an aftermarket-modified Rolex watch produced by Designa Individual back in 2020 here. The Space Mission watch is even more strange and ambitious, and shows you that the world of aftermarket Rolex modification is only getting more avant-garde. Rolex itself is making more colorful and interesting watches as a response to many of the more basic aftermarket modifications to its watches. That leaves the truly dedicated aftermarketers around who, in order to create value for their clients, must make watches that aren’t just fashion alternatives to factory Rolex watches, but that are entirely different compositions unto themselves. There is also a practical legal reason for modifying a Rolex to a point where it barely resembles a factory Rolex. In short, that is to make sure that a jury would suspect the aftermarket Rolex as being something they would make.
Legally speaking, DiW isn’t allowed to buy a Rolex watch, modify it, and then sell it to someone. At least they can’t do that and keep the Rolex name on there. Rolex has successfully argued on a few occasions that its reputation could be damaged by modified Rolex watches if the average consumer believed that Rolex themselves made that watch. So what is the solution to that for an aftermarket modifier? First, legally speaking, the client needs to supply them with a watch that the client purchases. In this sense, you must donate a real Rolex watch to DiW, who then will modify it into something else. DiW is also able to credibly claim that it is not selling a trademark infringing product, but rather performing a legal service for a watch that is owned by a client.
To get around the argument that someone might confuse the modified Rolex for a real Rolex, I think the wisest answer is to make something so wild that no one reasonably believes it could be a real Rolex. Sure there are some unsophisticated consumers out there who might not realize this is an art item, but for the most part, no one sees the Space Mission and says “Oh yeah, I can totally see Rolex doing an astronaut hand like that.” No, there is so little about this watch that Rolex would ever do itself, and that actually helps modifiers like DiW to continue to perform this very expensive craft.
What’s expensive is the “donation cost” because any modified Rolex begins with losing the value of a Rolex. For many people that is affordable, but given the last few years of Rolex value hype, it is probably harder than ever to get someone to voluntarily give up a timepiece they know could be sold for a decent price at most any time. Perhaps if your Rolex watch case is really damaged — but how often does that happen?
One of the less comfortable things about a watch like the Space Mission is you really don’t know where the Rolex ends and the aftermarket parts begin. Most of the movement is an original Rolex caliber 4130 (Rolex later updated the Daytona with the 4131 movement), though it has a special automatic rotor on it. I have a feeling that the original Rolex logo and hour markers are taken from an original dial, to be reused on the aftermarket “moon surface” dial. It is also possible that the crown and screw-down chronograph pushers are at least somewhat original (though they would not have been black in color originally), but otherwise, most of this Designa Individual watch looks to be in the form of a Rolex Daytona but is produced from different materials that Rolex does not currently use. For this watch, the materials include forms of carbon including NTPT layered carbon (made popular by use in Richard Mille watches) as well as other quartz fiber and carbon materials. This results in the layered black and white carbon case, and the black bezel with its organic texturing under the printed tachymeter indexes.
The watch hands are clearly not standard Rolex Daytona, and that is especially true for the uncanny astronaut minute hand. The very same astronaut graphic is used on the automatic rotor, which was cool, but I found it less interesting that the precise same graphic was used twice. I would have strongly preferred for the astronaut logo on the rear of the watch to be at least a different pose than the one on the dial.
The strap attached to the 40mm wide case is produced by DiW and is a textile strap with a Velcro-style enclosure. I found it to be a bit too large for my wrist, and the nature of the enclosure isn’t such that it is particularly adjustable if your wrist is small to medium in size. With that said, as this is a bespoke watch made for individual clients, the strap would fit if the watch was made for me. The strap is lightweight and comfortable, but not super luxurious outside of the fact that it looks like a combo of a Rolex strap and similar Velcro-style straps for some Richard Mille timepieces. Overall the watch is neat, though it does look like someone’s generative image AI answer to “Rolex Daytona + Richard Mille + Moon Astronaut in black, white, and gray with a yellow color accent.”
According to Designa Individual, they will not produce more than 10 Space Mission watches for clients who otherwise deliver them an appropriate original Rolex Daytona as a donor piece. The quality is pretty good and even though the guts are real, it is hard to see the name “Rolex” and know that little of what you see is actually made by Rolex. As an art watch, I suppose the DiW Space Mission has a high expressiveness. Again, what it expresses exactly is a meaning that each person should probably try to determine for themselves. This is art after all. DiW claims that product times aren’t terrible — about 8-12 weeks from the time of order. The retail price for the customization work on top of the Rolex Daytona watch according to DiW is 34,990 Euros. According to Designa Individual, they only work on brand new Rolex watches and furthermore, they say the price of this complete watch with the base Rolex and their customization work is 64,990 Euros. Learn more at the Designa Individual website here.