Rolex Cosmograph Daytona… the name alone makes the hearts of watch lovers all over the world beat faster. The historic racing chronograph has become an absolute cult object in its 55 years of work, and together with the Rolex Submariner it is probably the watch manufacturer’s number one icon today.
At Baselworld 2018, Rolex unveiled the latest special Daytona model, a Rainbow version studded with gemstones. A year earlier, three equally extravagant Daytona models had seen the light of the showrooms. All three in gold and for the first time with the sporty Oysterflex bracelet.
Origin and namesake of the watch
The Cosmograph Daytona takes its name from the American speed mecca Daytona in Florida, of course. Already at the beginning of the last century, speed races were held here on the beach, which regularly attracted attention with new records. The hard sandy beach of Daytona-Beach was considered the ideal race track, on which between 1903 and 1935 about 80 official records were set. One of the most successful racing drivers was the British world record holder Sir Malcom Campbell.
Daytona legend Campbell was also Rolex’s first motorsport testimonial. Since the early 1930s, the racing driver wore a Rolex Oyster in his record attempts and was impressed by the watch’s exceptional shock and vibration resistance.
Until the mid-1950s, races were held on Daytona Beach, including the legendary Stock Car races, on an oval course, half on the beach and half on a narrow course parallel to the water. In 1948, NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, was founded here. As the urban development of the area and the deterioration of the sandy track became increasingly problematic for the beach races, it was finally decided to build a permanent race track with hard ground. And so in 1959 the “Daytona International Speedway” was opened, at that time America’s fastest course and one of the first “Superspeedways” in the world.
A fascinating video about the history of the Daytona:
Since the early 1960s Rolex has been regularly mentioned as the official timekeeper of the Daytona International Speedway. In 1992, the company became the title sponsor of the race, which is now called “Rolex 24 At Daytona”. The world’s best racers have been fighting for the coveted trophy since then, a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona of course! Besides the “24 Heures du Mans”, this spectacular and extremely demanding endurance race is the only top-class sports car race in the world in which drivers and cars have to withstand the limit for 24 hours.
The watch and its development
In 1963, Rolex presented the “Cosmograph” chronograph, specially developed for racing drivers. The company had already registered this name 10 years earlier and from 1955 Rolex was already building chronographs such as the Reference 6234, nowadays highly sought-after so-called Pre-Daytona models. However, neither Cosmograph nor Daytona were on the dial for the time being.
Rolex added the name”Daytona” shortly after the introduction of the watch to illustrate the connection to the famous race, in which it was already active as official timekeeper. This probably took place at the request of the American Rolex subsidiary and was initially only applied to watches intended for the US market. Gradually, however, all the watches were given the red, semicircular”Daytona” lettering above the six o’clock totalizer.
The special feature of the watch was the tachymeter scale on the bezel. This graduation made it possible to measure average speeds for certain distances using the chronograph second hand. She also gave the Daytona its characteristic, technical and sporty style.
A special version of the Daytona was launched around the mid-1960s… and should become the most sought-after collector’s watch ever. To improve the readability of the chronograph function under racing conditions, its dial on a band on the outer edge was equipped with a minute scale. Their totalizers, in the same contrast colour as the band at the outer edge, were also provided with striking “block indices”.
This watch found an enthusiastic fan in the famous American actor and racing driver Paul Newman and the term “Paul Newman dial” was coined. Models of these references have long been in great demand among watch lovers, with a very special model recently changing hands. A Reference 6239 from the actor’s private collection was auctioned on 26.10.2017 for the record price of 17,752,500 US dollars and is now the most expensive wristwatch in the world.
1965 the Cosmograph Daytona makes an important development leap. From now on, the watch is equipped with screwed chronograph pushers and thus, similar to the Oyster models, has high water-resistance. As a result, the “Oyster” inscription was added to the “Cosmograph” on the dial. As a further innovation, the tachymeter bezel of the watch is fitted with a black Plexiglas disc, the white graduation of which is intended to improve readability.
At the end of the 1980s, when quartz technology had generally become established, Rolex decided on the next major development. In 1988, the Cosmograph Daytona became an automatic watch. In the search for a high-quality self-winding chronograph movement available on the market, Zenith’s El Primero movement was chosen. Rolex replaced various components of the movement and reduced the balance frequency from 36,000 to 28,800 vibrations per hour, which resulted in an increased power reserve and longer service intervals.
The new Caliber 4030 was subjected to strict tests in order to obtain the official COSC chronometer certification for highest accuracy. From this time on, the “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” dial could be read. The design of the watch has also been revised. At 40 millimetres, Rolex enlarged the Oyster case of the Daytona by 4 millimetres and also gave it crown protection on this occasion. The tachymeter bezel has been widened and its engraved scale has now received 400 units. In addition, the watch was given new hands and indices, as well as the edged totalizers known to this day.
The year 2000 brought the next big Daytona coup: Rolex presented the Caliber 4130, its completely self-developed chronograph movement, making the Cosmograph Daytona the perfect manufacture watch. Thanks to its vertical clutch, the high-performance calibre with 72 hours of autonomy now offers a jerk-free start of the stop second hand.
To mark its 50th anniversary, Rolex is launching a platinum version with a brown ceramic bezel in 2013. The current stainless steel versions of the Cosmograph Daytona, the reference 116500LN, will then be presented at Baselworld 2016. The two new models, with black or white dial, are now also equipped with the new Cerachrom monoblock bezel, which was first used on an Everose Gold Daytona in 2011.
This video shows the latest models compared to their predecessor:
Continuously updated article, originally put online in November 2017.