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Rolex Daytona ‘Leopard’: is this the most outrageous watch the brand has ever made?

Ok, we get it – at first glance this Rolex looks like an aftermarket bling-fest that Elton John commissioned. The reality is that the Rolex Daytona Reference 116598 SACO – otherwise known as the ‘Leopard’ was conceived and manufactured by the notoriously cautious and conservative Swiss brand. The model does have a link to Sir Elton – but to our knowledge he didn’t design it.

Read on to find out the full backstory.

The Daytona ‘Leopard’ backstory + Elton John

The first thing to know is that the ‘Leopard’ is not a new watch – it was released way back in 2004, and it caused a stir back in those social media-free days. It is also discontinued – so aftermarket is the only way to go if you want one. The model is back in the headlines because Elton ‘Rocketman’ John pawned his for US$176,400 recently at auction – a record for the model. Sir Elton is not known as a Datejust sort of guy, so we are not surprised that he sprung for the Leopard – though the serial number of his watch (K) dates it to 2001, which is before it was officially released. Our guess is Elton got one of the first production watches of this model.

But enough of the backstory, let’s dive in and detail exactly how Rolex blinged a ‘regular’ Daytona into this wild beast. 

Daytona ‘Leopard’ design and features

There is soooo much going with this watch, from the leopard print dial and strap, cognac sapphire bezel, and diamond/gold encrusted case.


The dial has a leopard print or motif dial which is perfectly symmetrical, with 10 gold bordered diamond hour markers. The minute markers at 15, 30, and 45 are also yellow gold, with 3 gold sunken chronograph sub dials.


The bezel is set with 36 baguette-cut cognac sapphires, which is where the watches reference: SACO with SA referring to the sapphires, and CO for cognac, from the French ‘cognac sapphires’. Look closely at these and you will see they are seamlessly set, which confirms the superlative workmanship of Rolex master gemologist. 

Case + Strap

The leather strap and 18-karat-gold case are set with 48 diamonds and orange sapphires on the end links between the lugs and bezel, configured to look like a leopard’s claw. Other than that, it’s a ‘standard’ Daytona under the hood, with the 40mm case housing the in-house Calibre 4130 movement.

Who wears the Daytona ‘Leopard’?

Instagram @djkhaled

Love it or loathe it, you definitely need a certain amount of self-confidence to carry the ‘Leopard’ off on the wrist. No surprise then that besides Elton, other ‘low key’ celebs like DJ Khaled (who also owns a Rolex Daytona Eye of the Tiger) and Nicolas Cage have also been spotted (excuse the pun) with this model.

Looking for a Daytona? We stock new and pre-owned Rolex of all shapes and sizes – so check our dedicated Rolex Daytona page for what is currently available. Stainless steel and two-tone models tend to be the most popular.

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