The Daytona has been Rolex’s flagship sport model since 1963. Originally designed for racing drivers, the Cosmograph Daytona features a highly accurate chronograph, a large easy-to-read dial, and an eternal legacy of cool. The Daytona was famously a favorite of actor and racing legend Paul Newman. Today, models from his era are now highly desirable in the pre-owned market. Buying a Rolex Daytona watch means owning one of the most coveted models produced by the brand. View our collection of exceptional used Rolex Daytona watches for sale today.
Between 1904 and 1935, fourteen world land speed records were set in Daytona Beach, Florida. Over time, the area built a reputation in the racing industry as the world capital of speed. By the 1960s, the city became a destination for sporting events, like the famous Daytona 500 and the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race.
Just a few years after the first Daytona 500 in 1959, Rolex started their sponsorship of the 24 Hours of Daytona. The race has since been renamed the Rolex 24 at Daytona. In tandem with the partnership, Rolex developed a namesake collection in honor of the legendary city.
Rolex had first started developing a line of mechanical chronographs decades prior. However, the introduction of the Daytona marked the brand’s first official collection of chronographs. They initially released models in 1963 under the name Cosmograph. The debut Cosmograph, Reference 6239 introduced a number of firsts for the brand. It was the first model to feature what’s called a panda dial. The style showcases inverse colors for the chronograph registers. It was also Rolex’s first model to display a tachymeter scale engraved on the bezel instead of printed on the dial. Two years later in 1965, the iconic Daytona signature appeared on that dial, and the collection was officially born.
In addition to receiving the official Daytona name, the Daytona models featured another important update from the Cosmograph. The Cosmograph models came equipped with pump-style pushers. Instead, the Daytona debuted an all-new screw-down style pusher in the initial Reference 6240. The design changes not only created a new look but also helped to increase the model’s water resistance.
The Daytona took time to become the highly coveted and beloved model we know today. It first gained recognition after receiving an endorsement from the legendary racecar driver and actor Paul Newman. Subsequently, the early Daytona models of the 1960s and 70s are called the Paul Newman series. They’re most notable because of their solid-colored dials with contrasting subdials and an outer minute track. Today, these Paul Newman Daytona models are incredibly rare and valuable in the pre-owned market. In 2017, one went up for auction and became the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at $17.8 million.
Later in the 1970s, Rolex began to make adjustments to the Daytona’s design. The most significant modification was to the appearance of the dial. They phased out the iconic Paul Newman dials and transitioned to the silver and black dials associated with more modern variations of the Daytona. By the 1980s, Rolex had continued to implement further updates to the Daytona, this time to the movement. Early models housed a manual Valjoux-sourced chronograph caliber. As the model evolved, Rolex knew they needed to upgrade the movement to an automatic chronograph. When they began development, Zenith approached them to collaborate on the movement. Rolex agreed if and only if Zenith would revive the iconic El Primero movement. It took six years for Zenith to present their first design, and Rolex quickly came back with nearly 200 modifications. Two years later in 1988, the movement finally met Rolex’s standards, and they released the first automatic Daytona.
With the launch of the all-new 16500 series, watch enthusiasts began to consider the Daytona a collector’s timepiece. In addition to the new movement, the models featured a larger case size, the addition of a sapphire crystal, a lacquered and glossier dial as opposed to the original matte finish, and applied metal hour markers treated with a luminous material. By the 1990s, the model had become more popular than ever before.
At the turn of the new millennium, Rolex introduced another exciting update to the Daytona at the annual Baselworld exhibition. The new model, the Reference 116520, housed Rolex’s first in-house chronograph, the Caliber 4130. However, with this exciting new release came the retirement of the 16500 series. Although the new in-house movement was a hit, the El Primero models remained highly sought after in the pre-owned market.
Video: Rolex Daytona History
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