The Rolex Daytona made its debut in 1963 and was made popular by actor and racing enthusiast Paul Newman, whose own personal reference 6239 sold at auction in 2017 for a whopping $17.8 million dollars. Featuring a tachymetric scale, 40mm case size, and a wide variety of metal options, the Cosmograph Daytona is one of the most sought after chronographs in the world. As of 2019, the current retail price for the new Rolex Daytona is $12,400.
Introduced in the early nineteen sixty's, the Rolex Daytona has been linked with many other celebtirities such as Jay-Z who wears a model 116500, and John Mayer. As the Submariner conquered the deep sea, so did the Daytona on land. Designed for professional racers, it features a precision chronograph and tachometer bezel which allow accurate measurement of land speeds of up to 400 miles per hour. The model symbolizes Rolex's historical ties to the world of motorsports.
Throughout its 50+ year history, the Daytona has undergone some significant changes. When the Rolex Daytona first made it's debut it was significantly smaller, coming in under 38mm and it featured a hand-wound movement. Today, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona features an in-house automatic movement, sporty ceramic bezel, and measures in at 40mm.
The Rolex Daytona was originally designed as a tool watch for racing drivers and motorsports enthusiasts to accurately keep time while at the racetrack. While the Rolex Daytona was first introduced in 1963, it was not Rolex's first chronograph. Rolex had been manufacturing chronograph wristwatches for decades prior; however it was not until the introduction of the first Cosmograph Daytona (the reference 6239) in 1963 that Rolex’s legendary chronograph would start to take its contemporary form. This reference moved the Daytona's tachymetric scale from the periphery of the dial to the bezel of the watch - a trait that still defines the Rolex Daytona watches that are produced today.
Over the years, the Rolex Daytona has gone through a number of changes and updates, transitioning from a 37mm manual wind precision watch to a state-of-the-art chronograph with a 40mm case diameter and an in-house self-winding mechanical movement.
There are three main generations of Rolex Daytona watches, into which all of the various references can be categorized.
The first generation (four-digit reference numbers) was produced between 1963 and 1988, and consists of the references 6239, 6241, 6240, 6262, 6264, 6263, 6265, 6269, and 6270. These watches have 37mm cases, manual-wind Valjoux movements, and acrylic crystals. It was during the first generation that advancements like screw-down pushers, which significantly improved the overall reliability and waterproofness of the Rolex Daytona.
The second generation (five-digit reference numbers), nicknamed the "Zenith Daytona" was in production between 1988 and 2000, and consists of the references 16520, 16523, 16528, 16518, and 16519. The case diameter for the second generation of Rolex Daytona watches grew to 40mm, and the acrylic crystal was replaced by one made from synthetic sapphire. While the external updates are certainly significant, the biggest change to accompany the second generation of Rolex Daytona watches was the arrival of a self-winding movement, making turning the watch into the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona.
The third generation (six-digit reference numbers) was first introduced in 2000, and still remains in production to this day. While previous generations of Daytona watches are powered by modified Valjoux or Zenith movements, the third Rolex Daytona generation is characterized by the use of Rolex's in-house chronograph movement, and retains many of the same core design traits that were first introduced with the second generation of Daytona watches.
Rolex Daytona watches display the hours, minutes, and seconds; however there has never been a Rolex Daytona reference that has featured either a day or date complication. Additionally, regardless of the specific generation, all Rolex Daytona watches are sports chronographs with two pushers flanking the winding crown, three registers on their dials, and tachymeter scales on their bezels. A chronograph complication is used to measure elapsed time, and when its centrally-mounted seconds hand is used in conjunction with the tachymetric scale on the Daytona’s bezel, wearers can use their watch to measure speeds up to 400 units per hour.
Since its initial introduction in 1963, the Rolex Daytona has always been available in a variety of different materials. The very first Daytona reference was produced in high-quality 904L oystersteel (stainless steel), 14k gold, and 18k gold, and since its introduction, the list of options has only expanded from there. The second generation introduced Rolesor (two-tone, stainless steel and gold) to the Daytona collection, and the third generation expanded to further include platinum and Everose gold models.
Today, the Rolex Daytona is manufactured in stainless steel (with ceramic bezel), Yellow Rolesor (stainless steel and 18k yellow gold), solid 18k gold (yellow gold, white gold, and Everose pink gold), and 950 platinum (with ceramic bezel). Additionally, while most Rolex Daytona watches are sold on matching Oyster bracelets (either stainless steel, two-tone, solid gold, or platinum), certain solid 18k gold Daytona references are fitted with either alligator leather straps or Oysterflex bracelets with matching 18k gold folding clasps.
The bezel of the Rolex Daytona always has a tachymeter scale on it; however like the rest of the Rolex Daytona, the material for its bezel has changed throughout the years. The very first ref. 6239 Rolex Daytona references were fitted with metal (stainless steel or gold) bezels that had their tachymeter scales engraved into them; however shortly after their introduction, the inaugural model was joined by a near-identical sister reference that swapped out the metal bezel for one made from black acrylic. Both metal and acrylic bezels were fitted to Daytona watches throughout the vast majority of the production of the first generation, and it was not until the second generation of Daytona watches that the black acrylic bezel was phased out completely.
Metal tachymeter bezels were the only option for Rolex Daytona watches during production of the second generation; however during production of the third generation of Daytona watches, specifically for the 50th anniversary of the Daytona in 2013, Rolex unveiled a solid platinum version that featured a chocolate brown, monobloc ceramic bezel made from a proprietary material called Cerachrom that is highly resistant to scratching and fading. Three years later, Rolex introduced a new version of the stainless steel Daytona, the reference 116500, which swapped out its stainless steel bezel for an extra durable one one made from the same corrosion resistant ceramic - this time in black Cerachrom rather than chocolate brown.
Since phasing out the stainless steel Daytona bezel in 2016, the tachymeter bezel on all modern Rolex Daytona watches is either constructed from Cerachrom (ceramic) or 18k gold. Additionally, there are also very limited and exclusive Rolex Daytona watches that are fitted with gem-set bezels, like the "Leopard Daytona" or "Rainbow Daytona" which swap out the iconic tachymetric scale for an ultra-luxurious bezel set with diamonds or other brilliant gemstones.
Just like the Rolex Daytona collection itself, the movement used to power Rolex’s iconic chronograph exists in three major generations.
Every reference within the first generation of 37mm Daytona watches is powered by a manual wind movement; however a few different calibers were used. The very first Rolex Daytona watches received the Valjoux 72, which was quickly replaced by the Valjoux 722. By the very end of the 1960s, Rolex changed up the Daytona’s movement yet again, replacing the Valjoux 722 with the more precise Valjoux 727, which brought the frequency up to 21.600 VPH (vibrations per hour), compared to the 18.000 VPH of the previous models.
The second generation of Rolex Daytona movements corresponds with the second generation of Daytona watches with 40mm cases that were based on the ‘El Primero’ Caliber 3019 PHC - a self-winding chronograph movement made by Zenith. This generation marked the first automatic Daytona watches, and although Rolex heavily modified the original Zenith El Primero caliber - having their watchmakers replace roughly 50% of its total components and rename it the Caliber 4030 - this generation is known as the "Zenith Daytona" by many of today's collectors.
The third generation of Rolex Daytona movements was introduced in 2000 and still remains in production today. While Rolex has been selling automatic-winding Daytona watches since the late 1980s, it was only in the year 2000 that the mechanism used to power them became an in-house designed movement: the Caliber 4130.
Designing the entire movement from the ground up for maximum precision and dependability, Rolex simplified the architecture of the Caliber 4130 to incorporate far fewer components than a standard chronograph movement, increasing its overall reliability. With the space that was saved, Rolex was able to use a longer mainspring, which gave the Caliber 4130 movement an increased power reserve of 72 hours. Additionally, Rolex changed the chronograph coupling system from a lateral clutch to a vertical clutch on the Caliber 4130, which eliminates both the loss of amplitude and the “jitter” that occurs with lateral clutch mechanisms when starting or stopping the chronograph complication.
Throughout the last 50 years of the Daytona's production, Rolex has fitted a wide variety of different dials to their iconic chronograph collection, with the majority appearing on their various precious metal models.
The first generation of Daytona watches was most commonly fitted with either white, black, silver, or champagne (gold) colored dials. Most frequently the sub-dials were rendered in a contrasting color - a black dial with white sub-dials, or a white dial with black sub-dials - which has resulted in the "panda dial" and "reverse panda dial" nicknames among modern collectors. However a small handful of vintage Daytona references received all silver dials, earning them the "Albino Daytona" nickname.
Additionally, during production of the first generation of Daytona watches a small number were fitted with "Exotic" dials that featured a stepped minute track in a contrasting color, and an Art Deco style font for the numerals in its sub-dials. Famous Hollywood actor, Paul Newman owned one of these exotic dial Daytona watches, and after being photographed for a magazine cover wearing one, they started to rise in value and popularity, picking up the nickname the “Paul Newman Dial” among vintage Rolex collectors. Although Rolex Daytona watches with these exotic Paul Newman dials were initially rather unpopular upon their release, they are now one of the most valuable and highly coveted timepieces in the entire luxury watch industry, with Paul Newman’s very own "Paul Newman Daytona" selling for $17.8 million dollars at an auction in 2017.
Since the arrival of the second generation of Rolex Daytona watches, stainless steel Daytona models have only been available with either black or white dials. Although dial options for stainless steel Rolex Daytona watches are relatively minimal, there exists near-countless options for Rolex Daytona dials when it comes to the various precious metal references. Among the dial colors that can be found on two-tone, solid gold, and platinum Daytona models, are silver, champagne, blue, green, chocolate brown, pink, and ice blue - plus all of the various stone/material dials like lapiz, meteorite, and mother of pearl. Additionally, the style of hour markers can vary on some of these more elaborate Rolex Daytona dials, and in addition to the classic stick indexes, Rolex Daytona hour markers can include Arabic numerals, Roman numerals, Hindu-Arabic numerals, diamonds, and even rainbow-colored sapphires.
Due to the vast range of differences that can be found on Rolex Daytona watches, prices can differ significantly. Suggested retail prices for stainless steel Rolex Daytona watches start at $12,400 but due to an overwhelming demand for these iconic chronographs, Rolex Daytona used prices can be almost twice as much as retail prices, with values for vintage models reaching well into the six-figure range. Additionally, due to the huge variety of different metals, gemstones, and most importantly - the varying degrees of collectability among the references, the Rolex Daytona price range can span hundreds of thousands of dollars, with certain examples reaching into the millions. Current prices for vintage Daytona models 6263 have risen dramatically with the reference 6263 selling for as high as $85,000 USD, and the reference 6265 at about $50,000 USD.
1903 to 1935 - Daytona Florida becomes known as World Capital of Speed.
1935 - British driver and Rolex Oyster wearer Malcolm Campbell breaks 300 MPH speed barrier at Utah Salt Flats.
1959 - Daytona International Speedway officially opens.
962 - Rolex becomes Official timekeeper of Daytona International Speedway; first Rolex 24 At Daytona race.
1963 - First Rolex Daytona Cosmograph Reference 6239 introduced.
1964 - The word "Daytona" is added below 12 o'clock on the dial.
1965 - Rolex Daytona Reference 6240 introduced which includes "Oyster" features.
1967 - The word "Daytona" moved above 6 o'clock on the dial.
1988 - Second series of self-winding Daytona watches is introduced.
2000 - third series of Daytona introduced 2013 Formula 1 racing.
The Rolex Daytona is one of the most popular watches in the world, and virtually all references - both vintage and modern - enjoy a considerable amount of popularity among today's collectors. There is no such thing as a non-desirable Rolex Daytona; however, some of the most popular references include the following:
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