The Rolex Daytona is by far one of Rolex’s most popular and iconic watches. From famous wearers like Paul Newman to the average wearer, the Rolex Daytona offers a timeless and functional design. For 50 years, since its introduction in 1963, Rolex has been tweaking and improving its popular Daytona design, evolving it subtly and only when necessary. For both collectors and the average wearer, the Dayton offers aesthetic and functional value, as well as a link with Rolex’s rich past.
If one were to ask an experienced watch collector or dealer which watch they would keep above all others, they would most likely discard the more expensive models for the Rolex Daytona. Designed to be worn daily, its Oyster case is built to last. Since 1939, Rolex’s Oyster case not only offers pleasing aesthetical value, but also the best protection. Its look and versatile style can be worn for nearly any occasion, from formal to a day off.
The Daytona features a robust movement equipped with a highly useful chronograph complication.
For the collector, it is important to know that the Daytona holds its value, and is an excellent item for selling to dealers or collectors. Another factor that might peak a collector’s interest is the relative rarity of the Daytona. It is difficult to buy the Daytona new, with most interested parties being placed on a long waiting list that can stretch up to five years.
The Daytona has seen a long history as one of Rolex’s most prized creations. First launched in 1963, the Daytona is a direct decedent of the first Cosmograph chronograph released by Rolex. The 1963 model introduced two important changes to the watch. The first was the use of inverse color schemes for the main dial and subsidiary dials. This resulted in a variant with a black dial and white sub-dials, or the reverse, featuring a white dial and black sub-dials. This created a much sportier look compared with the other monochromatic watches created by Rolex. Considering the Daytona was created with racing drivers in mind, a sporty look is what was needed. The second major change was the removal of the printed tachymetric scale from the dial’s outer circumference, and moving it to the bezel. This change was made to make the scale more legible.
1964 saw a big change to the Daytona line. That year, Rolex introduced the Daytona signature on the Cosmograph's dial, signifying the brand’s sponsorship of the annual 24 Hours of Daytona race held in Daytona Beach, Florida. The timepiece was officially labeled the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Though Rolex had already sponsored the race for two years, it was now official. The original Daytonas featured the signature under the 12 o’clock mark, but was moved in 1967 to appear above the sub-dial at 6 o’clock.
The next significant evolution came in shortly after, in 1965. Rolex introduced new screw-down chronograph pushers in place of pump pushers. Attempting to appeal to a wider range of sportsmen, the screw down pushers provided an increase in water resistance.
Despite its sporty look and features, the Daytona did not sell well at first. Until 1988, the Daytona remained a manual-winding watch, featuring a Valjoux-sourced chronograph caliber ticking. Because most buyers preferred ease and accuracy, the hassle of winding the watch daily to keep it running saw little demand.
Seeing the poor sales of the Daytona, Rolex introduced a self-winding Daytona, the reference 16520 using a movement based on the Zenith Caliber 400, in 1988. The Zenith was selected because it was the only self-winding chronograph movement that met Rolex’s high quality standards. Despite meeting Rolex’s standards, the Zenith was still extensively modified. One of these modifications introduced a new escapement with a much larger, freely sprung balance and balance spring with Breguet overcoil. Though more costly, it was the preferred configuration as it offered the highest accuracy. The date function was removed, offering a cleaner appearance. Rolex also added a reduction in the balance's oscillation rate from 36,000 beats per hour to a more relaxed 28,800 beats per hour. Though less beats per hour may seem undesirable, it is actually an ingenious move, as it requires much less frequent service. Once the modifications had been made, the Daytona retained about 50% of Zenith’s original parts, resulting in a new piece: the Rolex caliber 4030.
A later variation in the design introduced sapphire crystal and other beautiful aesthetic changes. The Oyster case, for example, grew from 37 mm to 40 mm, but still retained its strength and visual appeal. The surfaces of the dials also changed, featuring a new lacquered and glossy look as opposed to the old matte and metallic look. The watch was also adorned with applied metal hour markers inlaid with luminous material, adding an extra level of luxury. The sub-dials were also highlighted, changed to feature a thin outer track of an opposing color and a metallic edge.
Influenced by Rolex’s other sports inspired watches, like the Submariner and Explorer, the Daytona quickly evolved from a useful tool to a visually impressive and functional piece of craftsmanship.
With the discontinuation of the manually wound Daytonas coupled with the release of a new line of a self-winding version, made both instantly popular. Collectors now saw the discontinuation of the manually winding watches as a new market for collection. The new model was also a collector’s piece, as it was made in small quantities.
The only problem with the 1988 design for the Rolex Dayton was that a good portion of it was not a Rolex in-house design. However, by 2000 this was changed. The newly designed caliber 4130 was entirely designed and manufactured by Rolex. Thus, the Daytona once again became a 100% Rolex watch.
In 2013, the Daytona was again evolved. Fifty years after its creation, the Cosmograph Daytona is the first Oyster model in the Professional range to be offered in platinum. It is fitted with an ice blue dial, exclusive to Rolex platinum models. It is also equipped with a spectacular monobloc Cerachrom bezel, which offers exceptional resistance to scratching, as well as offers a brilliant and aesthetical look.