The Rolex Daytona is one of the world’s most iconic timepieces and has fetched millions at auction, but what is it about this particular piece that sets it apart from all other luxury watches?
The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is a Racing Watch
The timepiece was initially released to commemorate the brand’s new title as the Official Timekeeper of the Daytona International Speedway in 1962.
Although similar pieces existed prior to this, they are not marked as a Cosmograph nor a Daytona.
About 500 of the earlier Reference 6234 per year were released from 1955 through 1961 and a great many of these are still around, though they’re often a source of confusion for collectors because some place them in the same bracket as Daytonas even though they were created before the era.
These will bear the reference number under the strap lugs and are better-referred to as pre-Daytonas.
“Cosmograph” is a Rolex-Specific Chronograph
Even though the Reference 6234 chronograph looks and functions similar to a Daytona, it has a major difference. The tachymeter is on the dial.
When Rolex moved it to the bezel, they used the novel name of “Cosmograph,” rather than calling it a chronograph. While seemingly an odd choice, it had previously been associated with their moon phase pieces, so the shift wasn’t all that unusual.
Bear in mind, the name emerged when America was in a space travel craze, so the moniker captures a bit of the time period’s essence.
This is also part of the timepiece’s history as a racing watch. By using the chronograph, or stopwatch, functions, the wearer can identify how much time it took for a vehicle to travel a specific distance, and then use the tachymeter to identify the rate of speed.
The Rolex Daytona has Been Released in Three Distinct Waves
First-generation Rolex Daytona watches emerged in 1963 and they are hand-wound, utilizing a Valjoux Calibre 72.
These are known as the Cosmograph Reference 6239, and like predecessors, do not bear the name “Daytona.” At the time, they were actually nicknamed after the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, and referred to as a “Le Mans.” Early models predate Oyster, or the brand’s waterproofing measures, though some versions from 1965 and after are Oyster watches.
Most of the first round are considered panda dials as well, featuring high-contrast dials and sub-dials, though a few exotic variants were created too.
The Paul Newman Daytona is from this first wave and it also hosts an “exotic” dial. We’ll explore it a bit more in just a moment.
The second wave of the model was released in 1988. These pieces look and function similar to the first wave, but have a self-winding movement produced by Zenith.
It’s the Calibre 3019PHC, which means these pieces share the same heart as Zenith’s El Primero. Actually, it’s the Rolex Daytona which can be credited with “saving” Zenith, as the company had previously moved to quartz and ordered everything related to their mechanical movements destroyed.
An astute engineer dismantled the equipment, but hid it in an attic instead. The company did not fare well after this and may well have reached financial ruin if Rolex didn’t express an interest in purchasing the movement from them.
However, the condition was that it needed to be the Calibre 3019PHC; something Zenith could not have provided if the initial engineer had done as he was told.
Zenith won the ten-year contract, which is why we have their self-winding movements in the second wave of Rolex Daytonas. The second series also moved away from acrylic crystal to sapphire crystal and enlarged the case from 37mm to 40mm.
Pieces from this period, though host the panda pattern, are typically one color or very close to it, though a contrasting outer track is present.
The third series leverages an in-house movement; Calibre 4130. Though they look very similar to predecessors, the running seconds sub-dial is at the six instead of nine and, instead of having the sub-dials perfectly aligned with the six and nine, they’re slightly higher.
By the time the third wave began emerging, Rolex knew it was on to something, so the brand limited quantities of specific variants to ensure demand superseded supply.
As such, there are waiting lists of two years or more for certain pieces when purchasing new.
The Paul Newman Rolex Daytona is the Most Well-Known
Actor Paul Newman received a Rolex Daytona with an exotic dial from his wife Joanne Woodward.
She had it engraved with the phrase “Drive Carefully” and signed off on the note as “Me.”
Newman loved racing and wore the piece while he engaged in his favorite pastime, plus was photographed wearing it for the cover of his book. The press increased popularity of the model, and the term “Paul Newman Daytona” was born as a colloquial term to denote any Rolex Daytona with an exotic dial.
It’s also worth noting that these are in short supply. It’s rumored just 1-in-20 released is an exotic, which makes them some of the rarest pieces around. In 2017, Newman’s personal watch sold for a record-breaking $17.8 million at auction.
Find a Rolex Daytona to Make Your Own
Collectors appreciate the heritage associated with the Rolex Daytona. The scarcity of timepieces also helps them hold their value or increase in value more often than most.
Plus, there are many variants of the timepiece now, offering materials and style to suit any tastes. If one of these classic timepieces is in your future, browse our selection of Rolex Daytonas and other fine watches today.
Our catalogue is updated regularly, so bookmark it and be the first to know when your favorite pieces arrive!D
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