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From 0 to 60: The Rolex Daytona

The Daytona is another member of the Rolex family. Sporty and functional, it's an icon of this Swiss manufacturer and was popularized by actor and racecar driver Paul Newman. It is one of the most coveted timepieces among watch enthusiasts.

Highlights

  • One of the most famous chronographs (stopwatches) worldwide
  • High-quality chronometer: in-house caliber 4130
  • Available in stainless steel, gold, or platinum
  • Popular with celebrities and athletes
  • Coveted collector's model: the Paul Newman Daytona

An Icon Among Chronographs

Rolex introduced the Cosmograph Daytona to the market in 1963, one year after the first long-distance car race took place in Daytona. The chronograph watch was named after the famous racetrack in Daytona Beach, Florida, and is an anomaly for the Geneva-based brand most known for prestigious watches with three hands. Some of the manufacturer's most famous models are the Submariner and the Datejust.
When the Daytona premiered in 1963, its dial featured the word "Chronograph." Starting in 1965, designers added the word "Cosmograph," and later that year "Daytona" was also added. Cosmograph refers to the fact that Rolex would have gladly built the official "Moonwatch" for NASA. The term has been registered under their name since 1953. The watch eventually became the perfect racing timepiece, and the winners of the Daytona Continental races received a Cosmograph Daytona as their prize.

What to Look for in a Rolex Daytona

Are you looking for one of the most well-known chronographs there is? If so, the Rolex Daytona is the right watch for you. Join the ranks of fellow Rolex fans such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Niki Lauda, or Paul Newman, who've all worn Rolex chronographs. Collectors even named certain models after Newman, a successful racecar driver and horse racer. The characteristic feature of this timepiece is a contrasting seconds ring on the edge of the dial. Models from the 1960s with reference number 6239 regularly sell at auctions for more than 100,000 euros. However, not all of the watches are more than six figures. You can buy a pre-worn Cosmograph Daytona for around 8,000 euros, and a new model for around 10,000. The bicolor stainless steel and 18-karat yellow gold models are in this price range as well. Watches made from solid gold cost 20,000 euros or more, and the platinum models are around 45,000 euros.

Buying Tips

  • Available in stainless steel, gold and stainless steel, solid gold, or platinum
  • Prices for used watches start around 8,000 euros
  • Rare collector's pieces: reference number 6239 Paul Newman (costs more than 100,000 euros)
  • Powered by the in-house caliber 4130 since 2001
  • Leather or three-piece link band

Alternatives from Other Brands

Paul Newman and the Rolex Daytona

Actor and racing driver Paul Newman is one of the most well-known Rolex Daytona wearers. This watch with three subdials, two pushers, and a tachymetric scale on its bezel enthralled Newman. The model with reference number 6239 was a particular favorite of his during the late 1960s. He wore his Rolex Daytona during races, which only added to its fame. Models with a contrasting seconds ring on the dial were nicknamed "Paul Newman" by collectors in the 1980s. These versions are treasured by watch enthusiasts and sell for astronomical prices at auctions, sometimes reaching the six-figure range. The original Newman chronograph featured a white dial with three black subdials and large, easy-to-read Arabic numerals. Even more coveted are the last models which featured manual winding calibers from the 70s. Christie's auctioned off one of these watches in 2013 for nearly one million Swiss francs.

Racing Watches

The designers developed the Daytona for racecar drivers. The original version of the watch included a chronograph function which measured periods of up to 12 hours. The dial was well laid out and easy to read, with a 30-minute counter at the three o'clock position and a small seconds counter at the nine o'clock position. The tachymetric scale on the bezel allowed the wearer to measure average speed over a certain distance. Unlike other manufacturers, Rolex engraved a much larger scale on the bezel, which was made of stainless steel at the time.
The 1960s Daytona was powered by the manual winding caliber Valjoux 72. Production of the manual winding watches ended in 1976, when Rolex presented the first automatic Daytona watches. The Geneva-based manufacturer introduced further improvements to their chronographs at Baselworld 1988. The automatic chronographs presented there were powered by the caliber 4030. This movement is based on the El Primero watch by Zenith, which vibrates at 336,000 alternations per hour (A/h). Rolex watchmakers didn't like this higher frequency of 5 Hz, nor the El Primero's date display. Therefore, they completely reworked the Zenith caliber. The design engineers ended up rebuilding almost half of the movement's components. For example, the balance wheel now oscillates at 28,000 A/h. The well-known Breguet spiral was also added to the caliber. The movement is regulated via the usual Rolex system of Microstella nuts, which are located on the inner side of the now larger balance wheel. This is unlike most standard movements, which are regulated via a so-called regulator. The steel versions were the most sought after, resulting in incredibly long waiting lists. They're still just as popular today.

New Calibers for the New Century

The Daytona with reference number 116520 was one of the highlights of Baselworld 2001. The stainless steel watch featured the in-house automatic caliber 4130. The first chronograph movement from Rolex premiered a year earlier in the gold version of Daytona. The movement has a diameter of 30.5 mm and is 6.5 mm thick. It features 44 ruby jewel bearings and its balance wheel vibrates at 28,800 A/h. The small second hand stays still even while the time is being set. The movement has an impressive power reserve of 72 hours when the chronograph is off and 66 hours when it's on. The balance wheel and escape wheel are protected from jolts by the Kif shock protection system from KIF Parechoc. Since 2005, the balance spring has been unaffected by magnetic fields thanks to Rolex's patented Parachrom hairspring, developed in-house.
The design of the Daytona has barely changed in the 21st century. The case is identical to its predecessor; only the dial has been altered slightly and adapted to fit the in-house chronograph movement. The small second hand is now located at six o'clock, while on the "El Primero" Daytona it was at the nine o'clock position. For the watch's 50-year anniversary in 2013, Rolex introduced a platinum version with a brown Cerachrom ceramic bezel. This complements the stainless steel and bicolor models perfectly. The bicolor Daytonas feature bezels, pushers, and crowns made of yellow gold, as well as gold middle links on the bracelets.

Technical Highlights

  • Powered by the in-house caliber 4130 since 2001
  • Balance wheel frequency: 28,800 alternations per hour
  • Set the time to the exact second thanks to the balance stop
  • 72-hour power reserve
  • Platinum and stainless steel models featuring Cerachrom ceramic bezels since 2013 and 2016, respectively

The Rolex Daytona and the Chronograph Race

The Daytona is on par with chronographs from other manufacturers. Competitors include the Speedmaster by Omega and the Carrera by TAG Heuer. The Speedmaster Professional, also known as the Moonwatch, is one of the Daytona's biggest rivals and part of the Speedmaster collection. This Omega watch was originally developed for car racing, but ended up finding its way to the moon. It was the official watch of NASA and accompanied Buzz Aldrin when he stepped foot on the moon in 1969.
A TAG Heuer watch was the first Swiss watch to make it to space. In 1962, with a Heuer watch on his wrist, the astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth. The most well-known chronographs from this La Chaux-de-Fonds-based company include the Carrera, which Heuer introduced in 1963. The watch was named after the Rallye Carrera Panamericana car race. Within a short amount of time, the watch established itself as a worldwide success.

Prestige and Top Quality Precision

The Rolex Daytona unites precision and robustness with precious materials such as gold and platinum. Simultaneously, the watch embodies the feeling and functionality of car racing. After all, there's a reason that racecar driver Jackie Stewart has sworn by Rolex chronographs since 1969. More than any other watch manufacturer, Rolex stands for luxury and prestige. Whoever buys a Rolex has more than just a watch - pieces from this Swiss company are investments. A consistent model range, harmonious designs, and perfect Swiss watchmaking have made this brand a legend adored by both famous personalities and watch lovers alike.

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