From languishing on the shelves to becoming one of the hottest commodities in the watch market, Rolex’s Daytona has had a wild ride in the industry. The 60-year-old model has lived through its tough days and today garners an attention-grabbing price when you sell the watches.
When it was first released, the Cosmograph Daytona was not particularly popular; hence, Rolex produced them in fewer numbers. However, things changed dramatically after an incident.
Rolex had been making chronographs for decades before the Daytona was born. During WWII, the brand roofed triple-chronographs in Oyster cases, and in the 1950s, it started experimenting with a similar design language that indicated the birth of the Daytona. In 1962, Rolex released the ‘Pre-Daytona’ model with Ref. 6238. And, there started the story of this famous chronograph!
The watch was available in a 36mm yellow gold or stainless steel case with a dark grey, silver or black dial. Ref. 6238 featured baton hands, applied hour markers, pump pushers, luminous hour plots and hand-wound Valjoux 72 movement. This Daytona was a sporty and robust-looking chronograph.
In 1963, Rolex dropped Ref. 6239, ‘the very first official Daytona’ with a tachymeter scale on the bezel, revolutionising the watch game. The watch featured various striking motor sport-themed designs with a contrasting dial and sub-dial to add to its functionality.
While it is now one of the hottest watches in the world, this wasn’t the case always. Not many liked the heavyweight stunner. As a result, the watches were on the shop shelves for years.
The Daytona takes off!
Things changed for the good when Paul Newman endorsed the Daytona by wearing one on his wrist. The famed actor received the Rolex Daytona as a gift from his wife and popularised it by wearing it consistently during his racing career.
Since then, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona has achieved a celebratory status in the brand catalogue and is popular as one of the most desirable Rolex creations. Moreover, many consider Daytona as a smart investment timepiece.
Important Rolex Daytona models from the various eras
- HAND-WOUND ERA
Originally all Rolex Daytona watches were mechanical chronographs that housed the Valjoux cal. 72 or something similar. It had to be wounded every day.
The first-ever official Daytona was the Ref. 6239, housing a 37mm gold or stainless steel case. The dial featured ‘Rolex Cosmograph’ under the 12 o’clock logo on the white or black dial, powered by the hand-wound Valjoux 72 movement. Unlike the previous versions, the later versions of the Ref. 6239 featured ‘Daytona’ written above the 6 o’clock sub-dial or below the Rolex Cosmograph text at 12 o’clock.
Surprisingly, the ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona was also born during the same time. You can find Daytona watches with ‘exotic dials’ (as Rolex calls them) featuring Art Deco-Esque Arabic indices on the sub-dials with dot markers and red ‘Daytona’ text. The dial also had a contrasting red colour seconds track on the outer edge.
After Paul Newman wore one of these ‘exotic dials’, the watch gained fame, giving rise to the moniker ‘Paul Newman Dial’.
The Ref. 6240 came out in 1965 with a 37.5mm stainless steel case and white, silver or black dial. The big deal about this variant was the featuring screw-down pushers, rendering a higher water resistance to the timepiece. The watch housed the Valjoux 722 hand-wound movement and encountered several evolutions.
For example, the regular variants feature ‘Daytona’ under the Cosmograph text. Additionally, there’s a rare version featuring only ‘Rolex’ without Oyster Cosmograph. This is called a ‘Solo’ dial.
This Daytona reference is notable for its short production time spanning three years in the early 70s. It is the last pump pusher-equipped model housed in a 37mm steel or gold case, powered by the Valjoux Cal. 727. The Ref. 6264 featured a black acrylic tachymeter scale which, along with the pump pushers, became the first and the last Daytona reference to sport this unique combination.
The watches produced by Rolex during the Zenith era are highly sought-after by collectors. In 1988, Rolex started using the Zenith-designed El Primero automatic movement. This is one of the first automatic chronograph calibres released in 1969. Rolex labelled the El Primero as the Calibre 4040 and certified it as a chronometer.
Featuring a 40mm stainless steel case with a black or white dial, a steel bezel, sapphire crystal, screw-down pushers, and the Zenith movement Calibre 400, the Ref. 16520 was available in five different dials and three different bezel combinations.
Though the watch made its debut towards the end of the 1980s, it still doesn’t qualify as a ‘vintage’ reference.
Ref. 16523/ 16528
Ref. 16523 came in steel and two-tone gold, while Ref. 16528 came in solid yellow gold. The dials were gold or white, and some came with diamond indices. The word ‘Daytona’ is written in red above the sub-dial at 6 o’clock.
Ref. 16523 marked a milestone in the history of Rolex after featuring the first self-winding movement Calibre 4030, with Zenith ebauche.
The Ref. 16528 featuring a ‘Porcelain’ dial is one the rarest ‘R’ series models based on Zenith’s Calibre 400. It is also one of the most sought-after collector’s watches.
In 2000, Rolex dropped the first Daytona model with an in-house movement, the Calibre 4130, featuring column wheel actuators. It also increased the power reserve to 72 hours. If you look closely into the watch face, you can see that the running seconds moved from 9 to 6 o’clock. Moreover, the Daytona models became much wider with arrow-shaped indices filled with lume.
Ref. 116520 was in production from 2000 to 2016 and was aesthetically pleasing with various subtle changes. The model not just adds ‘1’ before its Reference but also features an in-house Rolex movement. The 40mm stainless steel model had a white or black dial and a fixed steel bezel with a tachymetric scale while offering water resistance of 100m. The watch has an Oyster bracelet that presents an elegant touch to the overall look.
The Ref. 116500LN is the existing Daytona model in Oystersteel that came out in 2016, featuring all the must-have characteristics. This includes screw-down pushers, an in-house Calibre 4130, a cerachrom ceramic bezel with an engraved tachymetric scale, and an Oyster bracelet with an Easylink comfort extension.
The ‘Cerachrom’ bezel is a prominent part of this variant, and the dials have become more complex. Rolex is a master in creating precise dial furniture, and the Ref. 11650LN greatly exhibits that quality. The Swiss watchmaker places everything from an accurate design standpoint, whether the hour indexes with surrounding white-gold, the chronograph sub-dials, the black outer tracks, or the faceted hands.
Rolex design watches to suit a wide range of activities. Built to last, the Cosmograph Daytona models honour people with a knack for speed and driving. They have their timeless aesthetics and distinctive characteristics that set them apart from the rest.
After over 60 years of its existence, the Daytona remains one of the most prominent Rolex models that fetch a high value when you sell your watch. The watches have evolved with time and are available in several metals, leading its way to become one of Rolex’s most-coveted watches.
If the model has piqued your interest, you can always try your hands on the secondary market and get one through a trusted and reliable luxury watch dealer.