Yes, it is named after a race. And a place, to be exact. The Daytona Beach in Florida, known for its long and unwinding stretch of tightly packed sand, had been the location of choice for countless motor races since 1903.
In fact, many world land speed records were broken there. Although urban redevelopment and sand deterioration in the 1950s has since deemed the legendary track unusable, Daytona’s reputation as the ‘Capital Of Land Speed Records’ lives on. In 1959, a new track was built, known as the Daytona International Speedway, and now plays host to NASCAR races, as well as the ‘Rolex 24 at Daytona’ race, one of the world’s best-known endurance races.
It was born in the same year as The Beatles. The year was 1963, and the Fab Four was exploding globally, with the release of their debut album Please, Please Me. That same year, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona wrote its way into horological folklore with the launch of the first model. The watch was a follow-up to the Rolex Oyster Chronograph Ref. 6234. The Daytona naming reference took place in 1965, after winners of the Daytona Continental race received the watches along with their trophies, and the watch brand decided to etch the association in stone.
That first watch set the blueprint. It was the Ref. 6239 (above) and although it ceased production in 1967, the aesthetics and performance ethos of the timepiece continue to define generations of Daytona to come. The watch differed from the earlier Rolex Oyster Chronographs most notably with the tachymeter scale, which has been repositioned to the bezel from the dial’s inner flange. The Ref. 6239 also featured contrast chronograph sub-dials, a look that ranks among the most desirable for the Rolex Daytona.
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The other collectible Daytona besides the ‘Paul Newman’. While the merits of the Paul Newman models are well-documented (read about it here), there is another family of Daytonas that is known to get collectors in a tizzy. It is the reference 16500 series that started in 1988, which housed a self-winding movement based on the Zenith El Primero 400 calibre. To adapt the movement to Rolex’s specifications, however (mainly to optimise performance and reliability), the mechanism was customised with a new escapement to reduce Zenith’s famous high-frequency oscillation at 36,000 vph to a more manageable 28,800 vph.
It continues to surprise. The Cosmograph Daytona is not a mere throwback treat. While fans continue to clamour for the watch, given its familiar virtues, the collection hasn’t stopped evolving.
In 2000, the collection gained more mechanical muscle when it was fitted with the then-newly developed in-house Calibre 4130, with 72-hour power reserve, enlarged balance wheel, and paramagnetic Parachrom balance spring.
And then, there was the introduction of the monobloc Cerachrom bezel, first in chestnut brown in 2013 for its 50th anniversary model, and more recently in 2016, in the highly popular steel-cased references.