Rolex Daytona History
Rolex offers many impressive and innovative watches, which have evolved greatly over the years to become the iconic timepieces they are today. With exquisite designs and flawless craftsmanship, the renowned designer produces men’s and women’s watches that continue to be ahead of their time. Many of the watches in Rolex’s catalogue have a long and rich history, making them true status symbols compared to other brands.
The Rolex Daytona is one of the most coveted timepieces in the world, widely celebrated by watch lovers and heavily pursued by collectors. Even today, the latest Daytona models remain in huge demand, with many certified retailers subject to multi-year waiting lists for buyers. A practical yet sleek luxury timepiece, its precise chronograph functionality and 100m water resistance make it an exceptional choice to aspire to.
This guide will explore the history of this iconic watch, from its introduction to its latest updates. Read on to learn more about Rolex’s best-loved timeless watches.
When was the Rolex Daytona introduced?
The Rolex Daytona was first introduced in 1963 and was famously named after the Daytona International Speedway in Florida, which was then considered the World Capital of Speed. The brand had been manufacturing high-performing sports watches since the 1930s; making them experienced in creating high-performing designs. The original timepiece (reference 6239) was distinctive due to its tachometer scale, which was engraved on the metal bezel to improve the dial’s legibility.
The modern aesthetic of the Daytona made it a versatile and reliable sports watch that was also suitable for everyday wear. The first edition was available with a black or white dial. Today, the catalogue features various designs, colours and materials to cater to various requirements and tastes. The Daytona has undergone many changes since its first launch and has transformed into the ultimate automatic chronograph wristwatch used by racing drivers and sports enthusiasts.
Evolution of the Rolex Daytona
In 1965, two years after it was first released, Rolex began to feature the ‘Daytona’ name on the dial of the watches, adding to their unique aesthetic. In the same year, they also introduced a new version of the iconic timepiece with a new dial, which became known as ‘Exotic’. This updated design featured sub-dials with cross-hairs which met at the centre of the dial, a matching outer track and block markers instead of lines. The seconds sub-dial positioned at 9 o’clock was also marked at 15, 30, 45 and 60 rather than 20, 40 and 60.
The ‘60s also introduced the Reference 6240, the first Daytona to feature screw-down push buttons. This waterproof chronograph featured the same 37mm diameter as other Daytona models and was only available in stainless steel until 1969, making it one of the rarest ever produced. This was followed by Reference 6241, which has several similarities to Reference 6240 but featured push-down buttons. From this point onwards, the Daytona name became a permanent feature on the dial.
Rolex continued to release new and updated versions of the Daytona throughout the ‘70s, with References 6262 and 6264 manufactured from 1970 to 1971. While the Reference 6262 showcased a metal bezel, and the Reference 6264 a black plastic one, both were available with a black or white dial with push-down buttons.
References 6263 and 6265 were manufactured from 1971 to 1988 and adopted screw-down buttons and a larger winding crown, which created a noticeably thicker appearance than the previous generation. Both were available in premium stainless steel and gold, while each one had a different bezel material to cater to varying tastes.
It was during the ‘70s that the exotic dial became commonly known as the ‘Paul Newman Daytona’ due to the movie star turned racing driver’s love of this particular model. He had often been photographed wearing various Daytona watches over the years. Still, in 1972, he began wearing a rare and exclusive version of the Cosmograph Daytona fitted with an exotic dial on a leather military strap. His wife, Joanne Woodward, gifted this to him, and it became his favourite for many years. References 6239, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264 and 6265 Rolex Daytonas are now some of the most sought-after watches in the world.
The Daytona underwent many upgrades during the ‘80s, many of which helped it evolve into the iconic watch it is today. One notable change came in 1984 when Rolex began producing some examples of the timepiece featuring its popular gold cases which showcased diamond set dials and bezels. This introduced a glamorous element to the otherwise practical sports watch, offering more versatile, statement pieces and broadening the Daytona’s audience.
In 1988, Rolex began manufacturing a new Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona – the Reference 16500 series. The new series showcased three versions: steel (16520), steel and gold (16523) and gold (16528), and offered several improvements compared to previous models. These included increased case diameter from 37mm to 40mm and sapphire crystal replacing the standard Plexiglass.
The most dramatic change made to this series was its new automatic movement, based on the Zenith El Primero 400 Calibre, considered the best automatic chronograph movement on the market. The new movement was aligned to the Daytona specifications to increase its reliability while reducing the need for maintenance. It was named the Calibre 4030 and was the first automatic chronograph movement used in a Daytona watch.
Throughout the ‘90s, Rolex continued to create new and innovative versions of the Daytona. This included an exclusive series showcasing 10 examples of the Reference 16528 in yellow gold with a galvanised blue dial with Soleil details. These stunning timepieces came to be referred to as the Chairman Daytona, as they were originally intended to be a gift for the top directors of Rolex. The watch’s bezel graduated to 400 units per hour, with additional variations being manufactured in the following years.
March of 2000 was a monumental time for Rolex, unveiling the new Daytona Cosmograph collection, housing the Calibre 4130. The new models of the 116500 series were 40mm in diameter and slightly thinner than their predecessors. They also featured various dial changes, including the small seconds counter being moved to the 6 o’clock mark, the sub-dials at 3 and 9 o’clock moving upwards, and the hands and hour markers increasing in size to improve overall readability.
Another key Daytona model is the Reference 116515, launched in 2011. It featured a beautiful pink gold case with a ceramic monobloc bezel and a choice of an white or chocolate dial. Rolex also used the ceramic bezel for the Daytona Cosmograph Platinum, which was released in 2013 to mark 50 years since the launch of the Rolex Daytona. The 50th-anniversary watch showcased a unique ice blue dial and chestnut brown counters.
More notable changes were made to the Daytona in 2016, as Rolex added a Cerchrom bezel to the popular Reference 116500 stainless steel. The new bezel was made from black ceramic, making it corrosion-resistant and virtually scratchproof.
While new luxury-orientated versions have continued to be released since the Daytona’s most recent evolution, its design and functionality have mostly remained consistent. The waitlists to buy any variations are still extremely long, suggesting that The Rolex Daytona remains one of the most exclusive and highly-covered watches.
At Miltons Diamonds, we pride ourselves on providing our customers with an extensive range of preloved Rolex Watches. We offer an exquisite selection of Rolex Daytona watches for you to choose from. Explore our collection today to learn more about this iconic timepiece and choose a design to suit your taste.
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