Rolex Daytona: A History of Excellence

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The Rolex watch dates back to 1905 when a Bavarian businessman named Hans Wilsdorf became fascinated with the idea of creating a watch for men that would be more practical than the pocket watch. Wristwatches in those times, were strictly seen as a feminine timepiece, but Hans Wilsdorf saw beyond this trend and set out to design a wristwatch that was not only attractive but one that would keep time as accurately as a pocket watch.

In search of the perfect wristwatch movement, Wilsdorf took his search to Switzerland where he found the special wristwatch movement that he could design his wristwatches with and market them as the most accurate accurate wristwatches in the world. Wristwatches for men really took off during WWI when it was realized that not only were they more convenient for men in battle, but a necessity.

Just prior to WWI, Wilsdorf’s watches were rewarded a timing certificate and in 1915, he obtained a “Kew A” timing certificate for Rolex watch from the most stringent observatory in the world – a key development in the birth of Rolex. From that moment, Rolex wristwatches were now recognized as being as accurate as the world’s finest pocket watches and Wilsdorf began to assertively market his wristwatches as such.

By the time the war ended, women weren’t the only ones wearing wristwatches. Wristwatches were commonly seen on men too, however, one problem plagued the new timepieces. There were some details to work out like keeping dirt and moisture from getting into the case. Wilsdorf’s solution was to buy the rights to, and patent the first “Oyster” Rolex, creatively named due its new waterproof casing. He introduced this new piece on the late 1926 and now had the beginnings of a real marketable product unlike any other.

Wildorf’s Rolex watches kept growing in functionality and popularity over the years as he added new ideas and devices to his watches that made them more desirable among men and eventually women, too. One of the most popular watches Rolex ever designed, and still remains just as popular today, is the Rolex Daytona.

Precursor to the Rolex Daytona

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1936 marks the first year Daytona, Florida held the first stock car race and Rolex took notice of the need the race car drivers had for a watch to clock their average speeds. Wilsdorf had already introduced a watch that was considered to be a highly reliable chronograph watch with bezel and tachymetric scale. The push single button on the side could start, stop and reset a separate second hand for timing.

It wasn’t until 1955 that Rolex delivered a manual-wind chronograph wristwatch in the waterproof oyster case that began the precursor for the Daytona, reference 6234 which featured a tachometer scale on the outer ring of the face. A telemeter scale situated on the inner ring measured distances. Approximately 2300 of these time pieces were produced in stainless steel while approximately 150 were produced in either 14k or 18k gold.

True father of the Rolex Daytona

Reference 6238 is what collectors refer to as the real father of the Rolex Daytona, or, pre-Daytona, particularly the second series of reference 6238. In this second series, a turn to a more modern style was made that used baton hands, monochromatic dials (silver, black and ardoise), and faceted hour markers were added. Other changes included removing the telemeter scale but leaving the tachometer scale on the dial. Wildorfs designed a smooth bezel and the Valjoux cailbre 72 chronograph movement was customized by Rolex, then renamed from 722 to 72B.

The birth of the Daytona

In 1963, Rolex designed a watch that would meet the needs of professional racecar drivers. Wilsdorf wanted them to be able to accurately measure their average speed up to 400 kilometers or miles, whichever they preferred. It was this year that the Cosmograph Daytona was introduced with a highly reliable chronograph and the bezel with a tachymetric scale that enhanced the legibility of the dial. In the beginning years of producing the 6239, the bezel had been modified to 300 units per hour but later changed to 200 per hour.

The Daytona evolves

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Despite its sporty look and functionality for racers, the Daytona surprisingly didn’t sell well at first. Up until 1988 the Daytona had been a manual-wind watch with the featured Valijoux-sourced chronograph caliber ticker, many buyers wanted an easier way of having the watch keep its accuracy so the demand was short. Due to the short sales, Rolex developed a self-winding version of the Daytona and re-introduced the watch as reference 16520. This time piece used a movement based on the Zenith Caliber 400 because everything about the Zenith was up to Rolex’s high standards it required.

Although the Zenith did meet Rolex’s standards, there were still plenty of modifications that were made to the Daytona and they include:

  • The introduction of a new escapement with larger, freely sprung balance along with a balance spring with Breguet overcoil
  • The date function was removed which gave the face a clearer appearance
  • There was a reduction in the balance’s oscillation rate that went from 36,000 beats per hour down to 28,000 beats per hour. Ultimately this move helped to reduce the need for frequent servicing

After all the modifications were made, the watch retained approximately half of Zenith’s original parts which the end result was a new watch – the Rolex caliber 4030.

Popular Daytona models

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The Daytona has become one of the most popular and iconic watches of all time. Someone who helped propel the Daytona into this popularity status is Paul Newman, one of the biggest movie stars of all time. As a Rolex enthusiast, any of the Rolex Daytona’s with an exotic dial has become a highly sought after Rolex for collectors. 

Popular Daytona models include:

  • Rolex Cosmograph, Reference 6239 “Albino” – A very rare Rolex Daytona
  • Rolex Reference 6240 – In these models, the word Oyster appeared between the words Rolex and Cosmograph which makes these models some of the rarest models ever produced. In one type of reference model 6240 – the word Daytona does not appear on the dial at all, which also makes this a rare model
  • Model number 6262 has a plastic black bezel. The black faced style of 6262 sports the word Daytona in a rare blue color
  • The 6265 model is the standard steel designed but was made with two different dials, one black and the other, a red prototype that was designed in 1979
  • Reference 6263 models is a popular model. This model was designed in both steel with black dial, as well as in 14k yellow gold with an exotic dial
  • Reference model 6263 was designed with a black dial and white sub-dials. This was the first model of Rolex worn by Paul Newman which makes it a popular and sought after model
  • Reference series 16500 came in 1988, a new Oyster perpetual cosmograph Daytona. The new chronograph was available in three separate versions: ref 16520 in steel and ref 16523 in gold, as well as 16528 in gold

Final Thoughts

The Rolex Daytona recently turned 50 years old and it has sailed above and beyond its counterpart watches in the line of Rolex models. It has gone from being just a collectable watch to one of the most desirable and cherished models of Rolexes of all time. There are three main reasons why the Daytona has only increased in value and desirability and they are; great design, rarity and brand equity. These three qualities happen to be seen most in the Daytona as compared to any other models of the Rolex family and they are why the Daytona will continue to be one of the most well-known names in wristwatches, well into the future.


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