The Rolex Daytona is somewhat of a ‘unicorn’ in the luxury watch world, but what exactly is it that makes it so unique? Today we’re taking a look at the history of the Rolex Daytona, what makes it tick, and what are the chances of getting hold of one?
The history of the Rolex Daytona
Named after the famous Daytona International Speedway, it’s been a favourite amongst those with a need for speed for decades whether professional racer or enthusiast.
Though several “pre-Daytona” watches are similar to the Cosmograph Daytona, like the 3335 Chronograph from WW2 and the subsequent Oyster Chronograph (6234), it wasn’t until 1963 that the first official Cosmograph Daytona (6239) was released. Though it wasn’t initially called that. Early ads referred to it as the Le Mans and it came with a price tag of $210 (£150).
Rolex were the official timekeepers at Daytona speedway just one year prior, at this time, only drivers could get a hold of the new ‘Daytona’ timepiece. The watch featured an upgraded tachometer scale capable of tracking 300 units per hour (previously 200).
How has Daytona changed over the years?
Much has changed in the subsequent 58 years. There’s been quite a few subtle changes to be honest and a couple of big ones.
When the original Rolex Daytona was released, the word Cosmograph was etched underneath the Rolex logo. Then, in 1965, just two years later, Rolex decided to display Daytona on the dial. It’s usually found in large red print near the bottom subdial, or in smaller lettering under the word Cosmograph.
In the seventies, the Sigma dial markings were launched to mark the official use of gold on swiss watches, over the following years, we saw many different dial options:
Paul Newman Dial
– Probably one of the most iconic designs, this special edition model featured contrasting outer seconds, larger hour markers and a differing ‘Art Deco-style’ font on the subdials. Paul Newman himself wore one of these watches which recently sold for $17.8m (£12.6m)
– For a brief time in the seventies, the famous “big red” Daytona was removed but then reintroduced shortly after, the ones that were re-released are now referred to as the Musketeer Dials as the Daytona comes in three options; red, white and black.
– 1988 was a big year for the Daytona. The word Cosmograph was now etched separately from the other three lines of text above and subsequently became a more valuable timepiece than its predecessors. Rolex also launched the self-winding Zenith El Primero movement which managed to conserve more power in the battery of the watch.
The ‘Inverted 6’ Dial
– Some Daytonas from the late eighties to the year 2000 show an inverted ‘6’ on the subdial and is a more valuable version.
Finally, in 2000, Rolex made the biggest change to the Daytona yet. They developed a new in-house movement, it was still an automatic chronograph, but the power reserve was increased to 72 hours. To this day, this movement is solely used on the Daytona model. Alongside the new movement, new hour markers were made and the top subdials were positioned slightly higher than before.
What makes the Rolex Daytona so valuable?
It’s a classic case of supply and demand and the Rolex Daytona is seldom supplied. Usually to purchase this watch you need to be in very good standing with the retailer (a.k.a you have to spend a lot of money with them).
Surprisingly, when the Daytona was first launched, it wasn’t that popular and so Rolex tailored their supply accordingly. Of course, over the years, appreciation grew for the watch, especially after the Paul Newman collaboration too, which saw demand skyrocket.
Additionally, the exclusive movement is more complex to create meaning that even if Rolex increases production, they can only increase it so much, due to the added time required to build such a model.
Although Rolex never reveals production numbers for each model, it’s widely accepted in the community that to this day fewer Daytonas are made compared to other models.
How long is the Rolex Daytona waiting list?
Now, this depends on who you speak to. Each Rolex watch is individually crafted and the Daytona is no different. They’re in very limited supply across all Rolex dealers and because of this, many stores choose to save them only for their most premium clients.
Some people have said that they’ve waited as long as ten years for the watch and still haven’t got a callback, whereas if you’re an A-lister or a very good customer, rumour dictates that you’ll get prioritised.
Of course, if you want to try and skip the waitlist, you could look at getting a second-hand model from pawnbrokers or at auction. We imagine getting a Daytona would be difficult, but not impossible.
What’s the difference between the Rolex Daytona and the Rolex Submariner?
The Rolex Daytona is designed for those who love speed; race car drivers and driving enthusiasts with sports cars. Whereas the Rolex Submariner caters to a different lifestyle; diving and other underwater pursuits.
The Rolex Daytona, like other Rolex models, is waterproof up to 100m and the Rolex Submariner offers waterproof capabilities up to 300m.
Aesthetically too, you can see that there’s a huge difference, with the Daytona measuring speed on its bezel and the Submariner designed to measure time to assist with dives. The Submariner had higher contrasting features and larger numbers for better visibility in the ocean. It also isn’t a chronograph like the Daytona. They have similar power reserves but the Daytona just beats the Submariner by 2 hours.
Which is the best Rolex Daytona model to buy?
There are currently several variations of the Rolex Daytona with casing available in Oystersteel, Oystersteel and gold, pink gold, yellow gold, white gold and platinum. From there you also have varying dials to choose from. Platinum, of course, is the most prestigious option with price only available on request. It also features the signature ice blue dial which is exclusive to their platinum products. If you’re concerned with budget, the Oystersteel options come in at £10,000. In terms of functionality of the watch, all the Rolex Daytona models have the same features, the extra price you’re paying for some models is purely down to the precious metals used on the bracelet and casing and the exclusivity of the ice blue dial if upgrading to platinum.