The Rolex Daytona, the marquee timepiece of a brand that is so well known, a wristwatch so revered that even those who loathe Rolex find a spot within their heart for this timepiece. Many adore the Rolex Daytona for unknown reasons but many adore it for very, very good reasons. Launched in 1963 as the plain Cosmograph Ref. 6239, though some people tend to dismiss that fact and actually group it into the Rolex chronograph section. Inspired by motor racing, the Daytona wasn’t the first name it was given, the original name of the Daytona was actually ‘Le Mans’ but obviously this name didn’t stick.
When the Cosmograph made its way to North America, Rolex USA requested that Daytona be inscribed on the dial for the American-market models, as Rolex was the official sponsor of the 24-hour race at Daytona. However, this name change didn’t fully take place until 1964. Each winner of the gruelling 24-hour race has since then been presented with one of the watches as part of the prize.
The Rolex Daytona is undoubtedly the most collectable sports watch in existence and is still the most popular chronograph in the world but when it comes to vintage Daytonas there is something just that extra bit special about them. As mentioned, the 6239 were the first Daytonas introduced and sported a Tachymetre bezel. Though through the early years small adjustments were made to these and there were a couple of dial variations too. Beating away at the heart of these early Daytonas, was the infamous Valjoux 72 (a movement used by many watch brands during these years) – which Rolex named the 72B. The next significant change came just a year later in 1965.
Rolex pride themselves on having water-resistant watch cases, so to have a wristwatch that wasn’t fully deserving of their ‘Oyster’ inscription on the dial just wasn’t quite right, so gone were the pump chronograph pushers and in came the new screw-down pushers – this reference would be known as the 6240 and now bared the ‘Oyster’ inscription. But I think where Daytonas start to get interesting and also quite ridiculously priced are in the so-called ‘Exotic Dial’ a.k.a ‘Paul Newman’ era. You see, these Daytonas are what you’d call “iconic” and this is simply because when Paul Newman was pictured on the front of an Italian magazine wearing a 6239 exotic dial Daytona, that was it; an iconic figure wearing this timepiece meant you had to have one. Strangely enough the Paul Newman Daytona when introduced really didn’t sell that well but trying to get your hands on one now, will cost you, dearly!
In 1988 Rolex finally introduced a self-winding Daytona. Now beating away at the heart of the Daytona was the Zenith calibre 400, which Rolex dubbed the calibre 4030. The aesthetics of the Daytona also changed, it now sported crown guards, a new dial that featured halos around each subsidiary dial and the size of the Daytona had also grown from 37mm to 40mm. This update was probably the most significant because until this day the Daytona, design-wise, is almost unchanged.
In 2000 Rolex announced the new in-house automatic calibre 4130 and the only cosmetic change this made were to the running seconds, which moved from its position at 9 to 6 o’clock. The Daytona is a legendary timepiece that commands and deserves its respect in the world of horology and when you look a little into its history, you can see why.
Discover the new Daytona here: