An evolution of simplicity, the Rolex Daytona continues to be the epitome of chronograph design since its birth in the sixties.
Rolex wasn’t one of the first manufacturers to produce a chronograph, but being the sportsman’s choice brand, the market demand made it inevitable. Several incarnations of chronograph were produced from the early to mid-twentieth century, using Valjoux movements rather than developing in-house ones.
At first, only a single-button chronograph was available, but the 1930s saw the introduction of the two-button chronograph. Where before the watch could only start, stop and reset in that order, this new movement allowed a pause in the timing before restarting.
The Rolex 3462 ‘Zerograph’ used such a movement, but was only produced in limited quantities due to lack of interest. The follow up 4500 (which saw the introduction of the Oyster case), 6232 and 3668 models also proved unpopular.
It wasn’t until several iterations more and three decades later that Rolex revived the name ‘Cosmograph’ for the 6239 in the early sixties. This was the first version of the iconic watch we see today, partly because of the move of the tachymeter from the chapter ring to the bezel, but predominantly because of the addition of the word ‘Daytona’on the dial, taken from the three-and-a-half mile long Daytona International Speedway in Florida.
The next classic Oyster touch came in the late sixties, when Rolex developed screw-down pushers for the 6240. Early chronograph pushers were only sealed with a gasket, but the screw-down pushers both sealed the watch from water and prevented the pushers being used and breaking that seal when submerged.
The Daytona was revamped to the current shape in 1988 as the 16520 model, when the rugged but not entirely sophisticated Valjoux movement was swapped for a Zenith El Primero. The Zenith movement was tweaked from 36,000 vibrations per hour to 28,800 for a greater power reserve and longer working life. Later, from 2000, when Zenith could no longer provide the volume of movements that Rolex required, an in-house movement was produced for the 116520 model. It became one of the most sought after watches ever.
The most desirable Daytona, however, has to be the exotic ‘Paul Newman’ dial, available through model numbers 6239, 6240, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264 and 6265. Believed to be the watch given to actor Paul Newman by his wife Joanne, the real reason for the popularity of the watch is uncertain. Some say that it was because Paul wore it on the poster for the 1969 movie Winning, and others say it was because Paul wore it on the front cover of a popular Italian magazine.
Either way, the contrasting colour dial and sub-dials, the cross hairs and block markers on each sub-dial, and the contrasting inner track all combine to make it the most desirable Daytona of all.
New or old, the Rolex Daytona is a handsome timepiece and one worthy of the enormous following it generates. Its popularity can only continue growing.
- The 6239, launched in 1963, was the first Rolex chronograph to feature the word ‘Daytona’ on the dial.
- The Daytona is named after the 2.5 mile long Daytona International Speedway in Florida.
- Eric Clapton’s 1971 ‘Albino’ Daytona sold for $505,000 at auction in 2008.
[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]