The Rolex Daytona: All you need to know
If you’re a watch lover, you probably know that the Daytona is synonymous with being Rolex’s mainstay chronograph. But did you know that Rolex had in fact been manufacturing watches with chronograph complications several decades before the Daytona even existed?
Hold up…before we start, do we even know what a ‘chronograph’ is? Even the self-proclaimed watch lover writing this article had to Google it just to be sure.
“The term ‘chronograph’ means ‘time recorder’ and usually refers to watches with a stopwatch function. Like a stopwatch, you can use a chronograph to measure periods of time. It also displays the time and often the date as well.” - Chrono24
Alright, now that we’ve successfully established what a chronograph is, let’s get back to Daytona History 101.
The first chronographs manufactured by Rolex debuted in the 1930s and were simply stamped with the name ‘Rolex Chronograph’ on their dials up till 1963.
Rolex Chronograph Ref. 6238; Time and Watches
For the next 2 years, Rolex’s chronograph line finally had its own name ‘Cosmograph’ with the introduction of the Reference 6239, one which still exists on the dials of Daytonas that are manufactured today.
Rolex Cosmograph Ref. 6239; Time and Watches
It was only in 1965 when the name ‘Daytona’ finally made its debut, aptly named after the Daytona International Speedway, the home of NASCAR’s prestigious Daytona 500 race of which Rolex was the official timekeeper.
Daytona International Speedway; NASCAR
Significant Design Changes
Other than being the first reference named ‘Cosmograph’, the 6239 had another pivotal design change that is now standard for Daytonas. The 6239 was the first model in which the tachymeter scale was engraved on the bezel to improve dial legibility compared to previous references which had it on the dial.
In the same year that the Daytona name first appeared, Rolex also unveiled the now highly sought after ‘exotic’ dial. Previously considered undesirable when first released, these exotic dial variants now frequently trade well into the six figures. The 3 main features that separate exotic dials from standard dials are an outer track matching the sub-dials which runs around the edge of the dial, sub-dials with block markers and crosshairs that meet in the centre, and a seconds sub-dial with 15, 30, 45 and 60 markers as compared to 20, 40 and 60 on standard dials.
Rolex Daytona 'Exotic Dials'; Time and Watches
The most recent change significant to the Daytona line was the equipping of the Cerachrom bezel in 2011, a long-awaited move considering that some of Rolex’s other sports models such as the Submariner received it prior. Being virtually scratchproof & fadeproof, the Cerachrom bezel proved to be a popular addition especially to the Reference 116500LN ‘Panda’ which was released in 2016 and is still one of the most popular Rolex watches 6 years on.
Rolex Daytona 'Panda'
Certainly the celebrity who is the most intertwined with the legacy of Rolex’s Daytona, the late Paul Newman was not only an actor but also a successful racecar driver who was often photographed sporting a Daytona on his races, perfect for the Daytona which has its roots in racing.
Paul Newman and his Rolex Daytona 'Exotic Dial'; Getty Images, Phillips
In fact, he was so well documented wearing his exotic dial Daytona that in the 1980s, collectors nicknamed it the ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona and it is now the single most sought-after style of Daytona in the market with experts estimating that only 1 in 20 vintage Daytonas were sold with exotic dials.
Also popular with famous celebrities and athletes, the Daytona has been frequently spotted on the wrists of Mark Wahlberg and Michael Jordan amongst many others.
When we talk about current market prices, it is near impossible to find Daytonas on the secondary market that are sold for less than or equal to its original retail price, with popular references often trading hands for multiple times what the original buyer paid at the Rolex AD.
For example, the Reference 116500LN ‘Panda’ has a secondary market value of approximately SGD 60,000 which is a whopping 200% above its retail price of SGD20,040.
Rolex Daytona 'Panda'
In other instances, Daytonas sold at auction have fetched astronomical prices, with the ever so rare Paul Newmans sold well into the 6 to 7 figures. What’s even wilder is that Paul Newman’s personal Daytona broke records at auction when it sold for almost SGD 25 million in just 12 minutes of bidding.
Phillips Auction of Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona
Even though the Daytona has been a familiar line in the Rolex collection for almost 6 decades, its current designs remain predominantly similar to early models less subtle upgrades due to the availability of superior modern materials or to improve its functionality.
Perhaps its this similarity that collectors love, how one can own a piece of modern watchmaking that grants them membership to a relatively small group of individuals who own a piece of Rolex’s rich history.
Nonetheless, the Daytona has attained cult status with waiting lists spanning years for those fortunate enough to be offered one, which is why many are willing to fork out a premium on the secondary market to add a coveted piece to their collection.
If you’re in the market for a Rolex Daytona, do check out our collection here!