Over the years, Rolex has delighted the world of watches with an impressive number of models – but one of them still stands out: the Cosmograph Daytona. The timepiece made its debut in 1963 and was specially designed to meet the needs of professional racing drivers. The highly reliable chronograph movement and tachymeter bezel make it possible to measure average speeds of up to 400 kilometres per hour. Rolex has always attached great importance to precision and reliability. Characteristics that are also of great importance in the world of motor sports. This combination formed the basis for the Cosmograph Daytona at the beginning. In the meantime, the model has become one of the most famous watches in the world and a continuously sought-after collector’s item. Anyone who knows Rolex knows the Daytona – but how did this hype come about?
The right strategy
After a rather sober sales launch, demand for the Daytona finally rose when Hollywood star Paul Newman showed up with an early version of the watch that his wife gave him as a gift. The successful actor with the deep blue eyes was also a racing driver – so the words “Drive Carefully” were engraved in the case back of his model.
In the 1980s, when mechanical watches were generally still relatively cheap, the watch model became a must-have with this happy “advertising”. The so-called “Paul Newman dial” of this version is known for the minute scale with seconds division at the dial edge, as well as the contrast color of the dial and the three totalizers. In the 80s, collectors also nicknamed this watch “Paul Newman” after its famous wearer. Daytonas of this type can now earn up to 100,000 euros at auctions, but there are huge differences between the individual pieces. The original Newman watch, for example, has a white dial with black totalizers and large, easy-to-read Art Deco style numerals. The second variant has smaller, simpler numbers in the auxiliary dials and is “only” worth between 30,000 and 40,000 Euros. However, the price curve for such models was generally steep: At the end of the 80s copies were still auctioned for approx. 3,000 to 4,000 Euros. The value has increased almost tenfold in between. However, these are only peanuts compared to the sum the Daytona, which Paul Newman personally wore on his wrist, brought in at the auction in New York in October 2017: The auction house Phillips was able to achieve a record price of 17,752,500 US dollars for the original with the reference 6239 after only 12 minutes (approx. 15,228,095 Euros). This makes this Rolex the most expensive wristwatch in the world. When buying such a Daytona, however, you should be careful, because a standard model is often turned into a “Paul Newman”. Experts currently even think that there are more fake than actual Newman dials in circulation. In addition, even complete watches are often not originals, but merely “made up” from different individual parts. For this reason, watches in particular should only be purchased from well-known auction houses and trustworthy dealers. In addition, an inspection directly at the manufacturer is recommended.
The continuing success of the Rolex Daytona has however still another reason: The clock developed already at that time owing to a skilful marketing strategy to the myth. First about 500 pieces were produced annually, of which a part often became the protracted shop keeper. Since other chronograph suppliers had long since established themselves on the market, it was difficult for Rolex to do the same. But the company knew exactly how to maximize interest in the model: After only a short time, it did not even come close to bringing the number of Daytonas onto the market that could actually have been sold – and this for pure intention. The demand was thus always far greater than the supply – which ensured that the timepiece attracted worldwide attention. More and more people also wanted to be among the few lucky chosen ones and own one of the much sought-after specimens. You can think what you want of this artificial scarcity – Rolex’s plan was successful at the time and exclusivity made the Daytona the icon it is today. Of course, this aspect is not the only reason for the watch’s continued success. Rolex’s generally excellent image also remains an important factor. And this is what the luxury brand has worked hard to achieve over the years – so let it be allowed to do so!
Back to the roots
When it was introduced, the Cosmograph Daytona did not bear either of its two names. The first of the two was reserved for Rolex since 1953, but the dial of the reference 6234 (built between 1955 and 1961) simply said “Chronograph”. Nowadays these “Pre-Daytonas” are a real gold mine: 20.000 Euro are only the entry price for one of the rare models with stainless steel case and dial in silver or black.
Later, the watch was finally christened the official name. And it doesn’t come from somewhere: 1903 motorsport races are already being held at Daytona Beach in Florida. One of the most famous drivers there was Sir Malcom Campbell, who beat his own world records every year during the 30s with his “Bluebird”. As a British record holder, Campbell received a great deal of international attention at the time. To Rolex’s delight, the racing star regularly wore a Daytona on his wrist – even during races – bringing a lot of positive publicity to the brand.
The race track was partly on the beach and partly on the lakeside road. It was not until 1959 that the first races were held completely on asphalt. The new “Daytona International Speedway” was at that time the fastest course in the USA and one of the very first “Superspeedways” ever. Three years later Rolex started to participate directly in the competition and became its official timekeeper. In 1963 the Cosmograph with the reference 6239 appeared, which got the nickname “Daytona” in the same year to emphasize the connection to racing. From this time on, the winner of the race not only received a trophy, but also a Rolex Cosmograph. At first the designation was immortalized only on the dial of the specimens, which were intended especially for the American market. Over time, however, the lettering was adopted for all models, in the way we know it today: semi-circular, in red letters, above the totalizer at six o’clock.
In 1965, Rolex switched to screwed pushers, which ideally sealed both the Daytona and the Oyster models. The better water resistance was also noted on the dial and the “Cosmograph” lettering was supplemented with “Oyster”. The last series of hand-wound models were finally produced between 1971 and 1988, one variant of which is particularly valuable today: the Christie’s Auction House was able to get almost one million Swiss francs for it in 2013 – an absolute record sum. From 1988, the mechanical watch was actually just a remnant of days gone by, after all, quartz technology had long since arrived. Rolex also decided to leave this train and continue producing the Daytona as an automatic watch. However, the movement for this was not an in-house production, but a creation from Zenith: Rolex revised the well-known El Primero movement of the competition and called it “caliber 4030”. In addition, the famous rings around the totalizers were introduced, which have been retained to this day, and the Daytona case was enlarged from 36 millimeters to 40 millimeters in diameter. Over time, the demand for the sporty chronograph continued to grow, and waiting times of up to three years were no longer an exception.
At the turn of the millennium, Rolex presented the Daytona for the first time with its own in-house movement: the 4130 calibre still in use today comes with over 44 jewels, a 72-hour autonomy and the typical Kif shock protections for balance and escape wheel. A vertical clutch now also allows the stop-seconds hand to start smoothly. The chronograph functions are controlled by a ratchet wheel, as with Zenith’s predecessor. The design has also changed slightly with this development: The rotating second has moved from nine to six, and the minute and hour hand eyes are positioned slightly above the centre axis. In addition, Rolex certified the new automatic models as COSC chronometers and also showed this on the dial: since 2015, not only the “Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona” but also the “Superlative Officially Certified Chronometer” has been displayed there. There is also a new internal precision standard: the fully assembled watch is subjected to a series of strict Rolex tests. The requirements are said to be more than twice as strict as those of the COSC. In addition, it comes with an international guarantee of a full five years.
The Next Generation
At Baselworld 2016, Rolex presented two new stainless steel versions of the popular classic: the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona is available with a white or black dial, while the company continues to rely on strong contrast for perfect legibility. New, however, are the black totalizer circles and the black Cerachrom Monobloc ceramic bezel. This is a tribute to the Daytona version of 1965, whose black bezel, however, was made of Plexiglas. The price for the new versions is around 11,300 euros each.
In 2017 Rolex introduced the Daytona in yellow, white and Everose gold. The typical characteristics have been adopted. The current starting prices for the version with Oysterflex ribbon are approx. 25,000 Euro for yellow gold, 26,150 Euro for white gold and 26,150 Euro for Everose gold. For the models with precious metal ribbons you have to reckon with another 7,000 to 8,000 Euro surcharge. Those who like it even more luxurious and extravagant should take a closer look at the star of this year’s Baselworld. This time Rolex presented an extra noble Daytona model with a diamond dial. The case of the rose gold watch is set with 56 diamonds, instead of the tachymeter scale 36 sapphires in rainbow colours adorn the bezel, the hour indices were also replaced by 11 sapphires. In spite of the precious stones, however, the watch’s functionality has not been compromised: the watch is water-resistant up to 100 metres, hour and minute hands are blue luminous and the strap comes with a high-quality Oysterlock safety folding clasp. This piece of jewellery is sure to impress even the most demanding Rolex fans.
Especially after the last decades it has to be said that Rolex always comes up with something new regarding the Cosmograph Daytona in order to surprise fans and collectors positively – and still remain true to the core of the classic. For more than half a century, this has certainly not been an easy task. But the Swiss have managed to maintain the balance between innovation and consistency and not to disappoint their followers. Among confirmed Rolex fans there is already for some time completely its own technical language with special terms and idioms: For example, the term “racing dial” refers to a dial of the model in white gold. The corresponding version was produced between 2009 and 2016. If the term “Inverted Six” is used, this refers to a leaf variant of the automatic models. Until the mid-90s, the six in the hour totalizer was oriented towards the middle, i.e. reversed. But who is still surprised by the fuss surrounding this model series? The Daytona is a real phenomenon and a watchstone that has become an indispensable part of the watch industry. And so it will probably be preserved for a long time to come as a model example of the best Swiss watchmaking artistry.
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