November 19, 2019
by David Bredan
No-holds-barred, creatively designed watches are the true limited editions of today’s biggest watch brands. Seeing 2018’s Rolex Daytona Rainbow almost triple in value, from its $90,000 retail well into the $200,000 range is just one of many fitting examples. On this occasion, we are going hands-on with the latest iteration of outlandish, factory diamond-set Rolex Daytona watches with the Rolex Daytona 116588TBR, nicknamed “Eye Of The Tiger Daytona” or, as I like to call it, the “Rorschach Test Daytona” after the unique gem-set pattern of its dial.
Rolex has one of the longest track records of consistently, if not frequently, making outlandish and creatively designed watches. I strongly believe this track record comes not simply from a “because we can” but rather a “because we have to” approach. That is something important to think about, not merely for us watch enthusiasts (and the Rolex fans among us), but also for Rolex’s rivals.
All too often, I see how convenient it is to look at high-end watchmaking as the proving grounds for technical refinement, engineering capability, and manufacturing complexity in isolation. Creative watch design, by contrast, often has a take-it-or-leave-it element, whose presence is considered almost insignificant if there is enough technical grandness (infused with loud or condescending marketing) to direct attention away from the staleness that results from the lack of a creative presentation.
That said, I truly believe that the extent to which a brand is creatively/aesthetically exciting matters to every one of us watch-lovers — we just don’t talk about it as much as we do about pricing, watch movement performance, or the controversies around design elements. A brand’s ability to occasionally take itself less seriously is a rare and important treat. If a brand isn’t relevant in its design, it will soon grow irrelevant in other ways, as well.
We must stick to the point of discussing this new Daytona and not go off-topic too much, but what is a thought-provoker if not such a watch from Rolex? It makes me think of other brands I really appreciate and have owned previously: IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Two mighty-awesome brands with fancy factories, rich histories, and more established watch collections than one could shake a stick at… and just look at how much less time we have recently spent speaking about these two.
They, and other established brands like Blancpain and Breguet, enjoy less time in the limelight than they used to just a few years ago. And while they can survive on luxury conglomerate money and by selling bucketloads of basic Reversos, vintage-inspired “novelties,” and the rest, wouldn’t you agree that there used to be so much more buzz when we had fascinating Master Compressors, crazy Extreme LABs, high-tech Ingenieurs and the like? Sure, we might have ended up buying base Reversos and classic IWC Pilots just the same, but we had contemporary watch stuff attracting us to these brands and not just ambassadors, partnerships, and the products that exclusively lived in the past. Halo products have right to exist — all I’m saying is that they should not be limited to technical excellence, but concern modern aesthetics, too.
Sure, it could be said that Rolex gets by selling bucketloads of, well, almost everything, and this gives them plenty of leeway to experiment. But how many major brands can you name that systematically go out on a limb with loud new interpretations on their bestselling designs and collections? There may be the occasional outrageous watch from others, but it’s exceedingly rare that it’s done with any bestselling collections. Whether or not the Rolex Daytona 116588TBR “Eye Of The Tiger” is liked and appreciated is down to a matter of personal taste — but a braver approach of major brands to debut borderline shocking designs is something I reckon would do all of us good.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of these offbeat Rolex watches lies in Rolex’s agility in dancing around addressing or specifying literally anything about their actual theme, inspiration, design, or execution. In the watch’s 14-page official presentation, Rolex dedicates two entire pages to saying: “The Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona was born to race, and is the benchmark for those with a passion for driving and speed.” Like anyone cares!
To its credit, Rolex does refer to this version as “mysterious and sparkling” — a description hard to argue against. These two words are right where the presentation ends though, as they are followed by a very dry description of the bezel with its 36 trapeze-cut diamonds, and the paved black lacquer dial where “champagne-colour chronograph counters are intertwined with black lacquer and diamonds.” The rest of the entire document is Rolex describing its impressive features, such as the Manufacture Rolex Caliber 4130, the Oyster case, the Oysterflex bracelet in the exact same way as it does with all other watches.
So, why does the dial look like the eye of a tiger, then? Or a lacquer-diamond tribute to inkblots of Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach? Not a single word on these from Rolex; we are left to our own imagination. As for the core specs, the case is the olden but golden 40mm-wide Oyster Cosmograph Daytona case, fitted with a non-removable lug-structure that allows no three-link solid gold Oyster bracelet to ever be fitted.
In its place, we find the Oysterflex elastomer strap that has a flexible metal blade integrated into its structure. Inside the solid 18-karat gold case is the Rolex Manufacture Caliber 4130, exactly the same movement you would find in each and every other currently produced Cosmograph Daytona. The Cerachrom ceramic bezel has been replaced with 34 trapeze-cut diamonds, all invisibly set, stacked closely next to each other — experts refer to invisible setting as the most challenging setting technique in watchmaking, as the preparation of the slot, as well as the cut, has to be exactly right throughout.
I understand that, in today’s PC world, it’s probably best not to say anything — and if the Swiss watchmaking culture is absolutely world-class in something, it is “choosing not to comment” on anything. It’s often referred to as discretion — I’d rather call it secrecy verging on condescension. 2018’s rainbow model, and all other Daytona and Day-Date rainbows we have seen, are rather self-explanatory. Everyone knows what a rainbow is, and their recreation in colorful, semi-precious stones paints a likeable and neat picture. But this? The 116588TBR? You either get it/love it at first sight, or you probably never will, and Rolex appears not to make an effort to tip you over — save for its beautiful photography.
Okay, so what have learned from Rolex about one of Rolex’s most bizarre creations? Nothing. Better still, the watch is not to be found anywhere on Rolex.com — it is, however, present on the official press site, and it was on show at BaselWorld 2019. The wackiest, boldest, craziest, blingest Rolex watches that are made today will never ever make it to any of those websites, nor the public or media-reserved product viewings of the brand at BaselWorld. We do occasionally get our hands on one or two though.
Irrespective of whether you, I, or anyone else likes the Rolex Daytona 116588TBR, it is, objectively, one heck of a watch both in its execution — there’s a reason why you don’t see invisibly set baguette- or trapeze-cut diamond bezels that often — and in its daring looks. To get back to the original point, I’ll end on the following note. Rolex is considered to stand above others by so many for a vast variety of reasons, from reliability and engineering through history, design, and marketing. But there are other elements as well, a certain air of carefully engineered mysteriousness — which admittedly might irk those of us who want to know and understand it all, but it sure as hell attracts countless others. Having halo products like this that open up a new dimension of the brand, add a depth to Rolex that many of its competitors are yet to dare to create. It is easy to dismiss Rolex as a privileged brand that has the world at its feet — but, again, if what Rolex does was easy, those aforementioned brands would certainly be doing it as well.
Does the Rolex Daytona 116588TBR “Eye Of The Tiger” rank among the best bonkers Rolex executions? I think not, for its lack of coherence in its design and message — but I am thrilled to see Rolex designing and producing such watches on a more frequent basis. The price for the Rolex Daytona 116588TBR “Eye Of The Tiger” is CHF 98,300 and you can scout Rolex.com for other outlandish Rolex watches.