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The Timelessness of the Chronograph Daytona

June 8, 2018

BY Paul Altieri

chronograph daytona watch

Rolex Daytona

There are legendary wristwatches in the timepiece market; and then there are icons born of ingenious micromechanics, flawless aesthetics, incomparable functionality, and an aura of mystique that makes it matchless.  One such chronograph celebrated its 50th anniversary just a few years back, but is just as important today: the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona.

rolex watches

A Variety of Modern Watches Currently Offered By Rolex

Rolex introduced its Professional series of wristwatches in 1953, which included the Explorer for explorers and mountaineers, and the Submariner designed exclusively for deep sea diving.

Rolex Daytona Race

In 1963 a new chronograph was introduced to the Professional series designed to celebrate the profession of race car driving: the Cosmograph – later named Daytona after its official designation as the Official Timepiece of the Daytona International Speedway in Florida.  The invention of the Cosmograph name by Rolex indicated that this newly-introduced model was a leap in craftsmanship and design for the company, and the results revealed unprecedented engineering and artistry in timekeeping design.

vintage daytona 6239

The Vintage Rolex Daytona 6239 Big Red

One of the most noticeable innovations came through the contrasting color schemes between the counters and the dial, with either black on white, or white on black, allowing easier readability.  In addition, the tachymeter scale – permitting wearers to measure average speeds over a given distance – inscribed around the circumference of the bezel gave the dial a more pronounced aesthetic.

daytona rolex movement

A close-up of the Rolex Chronograph Daytona Watch Movement

The manually-wound mechanical movement of Rolexes had always been praised for their precision and reliability, and the introduction of new dials further enhanced the mass appeal of the Cosmograph.  One specific dial that earned considerable attention was the one preferred by Paul Newman, a dial made famous due to the Hollywood star and race car enthusiast wearing that particular Daytona model regularly.

Rolex Daytona 6265 FAB Movement

Rolex Daytona 6265 FAB Movement

In 1965 new modifications were introduced, including screw-down pushers, instead of pump pushers from the original, further solidifying the waterproof Oyster concept.  The names “Oyster” and “Cosmograph” appeared inscribed on all of the dials, and a black Plexiglass insert for the tachymetric bezel made visibility even more profound.  Initially “Daytona” was inscribed on some dials exclusively within the U.S. market, before eventually making its way on the dial of every Cosmograph model.  The Oyster Cosmograph also became available in an 18 carat yellow gold version with the now iconic “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” on the dial.

The Cosmograph Daytona took a major innovative leap in 1988 by becoming self-winding.  Quartz watches had most recently become available in other timepieces, but Rolex stuck with the intricate mechanical movements it had been producing since its formation.  They chose the most reliable chronograph movement (Zenith El Primero) they could find and then replaced nearly 50% of the mechanics with components designed exclusively for the Cosmograph Daytona.  Aside from technical ingenuity, the newly-designed features brought out the immediacy and elegance of its aesthetics.  The Oyster case was increased from 36 to 40 mm, shoulders were inserted to help protect the crown, the tachymetric bezel was made wider, new hands, new hour markers, and new counters within banded circles all became part of the newly-introduced model.

daytona 116520

The Daytona 116520 Introduced in 2000

Never one to rest on its laurels, Rolex entered the new millennium with its newest 2000 model, and the results did not disappoint.  With a clear nod to the traditional aesthetics of the 1988 Cosmograph Daytona (distinctively solid lines and designs that perfectly balanced form and functionality), the truly groundbreaking achievements made with the Chronograph Daytona lie within the mechanics underneath.

daytona 116520 dial

Rolex Reference 116520

The Calibre 4130 marked a new achievement in self-winding chronograph movements, which was specifically designed for the Cosmograph Daytona and manufactured exclusively in-house.  This new movement marked an unprecedented achievement in engineering and design, producing a self-winding chronograph unequaled in durability, efficiency, precision and reliability.  The engineers behind the Calbre 4130 were able to cut the mechanism components by 60%, increasing space and making it possible to support a larger mainspring that helps extend power reserve from 50 to 72 hours.

The Chronograph Daytona is one of Rolexes most stunning creations

Just a few years later at Baselworld 2016, Rolex would release another reference in the already esteemed Chronograph Daytona line: the 116500. Easily one of Rolex’s most popular watches to date, the premiums on this watch continue to rise. It is a testament to the firm foundation of design and functionality Rolex has built its brand on.

In addition to the sexy Cerachrom bezel they rolled out in 2016, Rolex equipped the calibre 4130 with a Paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring, creating an accuracy of -2/+2 seconds per day.  What’s more, is the calibre 4130 is also developed to accommodate a Cerachrom Tachymeter bezel and chronograph functions.

Whether you’re looking into purchasing a vintage Daytona to add to your collection, or you have your eyes on one of their sleek and shiny new expressions, the fact remains: the Rolex Daytona is truly a timeless classic.





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