July 31st, 2019

The History of Rolex Cosmograph Daytona


Throughout the long and compelling history, Rolex has manufactured many remarkable watches that represent the utmost precision and luxury. However, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is ideally more admired and desired by watch aficionados and collectors across the world. But it was not until nearly 1965 that the term ‘Daytona’ actually appeared on the dial. Let’s us today delve into the illustrious history of the model and know how it became one of the most sought-after Rolex watches both in the retail and pre-owned watch market.

Early Years


Rolex introduced the chronograph reference 6234 in 1955. The watch neither flaunted the name ‘Daytona’ nor ‘Cosmograph’ on its dial. It was labelled simply as ‘Chronograph’. Until 1961, the brand produced nearly 500 of these timepieces every year, when finally Rolex discontinued the reference’s production. While other watch-manufacturers already established themselves as the chronograph specialists in the early 1960s, these ‘Pre-Daytona’ watches were not very successful. However, the early Daytona references are indeed today rare and highly desirable. In fact, the entry-level value of one of these most extraordinary watches with a stainless steel case and the black or silver dial is about £16, 220.

Coining of the Name ‘Daytona’

Daytona is indeed the name of a city in Florida that began alluring motorsport lovers at the beginning of the last century. The fact is that the broad beach of compact and smooth sand made the place perfect for speed record attempts on land. Eventually, the first Stock car race took place on the Daytona Beach Road in 1936. However, in 1958, the venue shifted to the Daytona International Speedway, made by NASCAR or the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. Today, the Daytona International Speedway is the home of the most famous race in NASCAR – the Daytona 500.

Sir Malcolm Campbell of Great Britain was one of the most famous racecar drivers who wore Rolex timepieces on as well as off the racetrack. In 1931, Campbell was known to have written an acknowledgement letter to Rolex, asserting that he was impressed by the durability of his Oyster. Eventually, the brand started to become recognised as a producer of sports watches. During these years, Rolex developed its first chronograph watch using one push button on the side for starting, stopping and resetting a detached second hand.

In 1955, the manufacturer launched a manual wind watch, Reference 6234 in an Oyster case that can be regarded as the predecessor of the Rolex Daytona. However, this Oyster Chronograph features a tachometer scale on the outer ring as well as a telemeter scale on the inner ring for distances. Rolex made nearly 2300 watches in stainless steel and less than 150 pieces in 18ct or 14ct gold from the year 1955 to 1961.

Nonetheless, the original precursor of the Rolex Daytona is the chronograph reference 6238, specifically the second series that is popularly known as ‘Pre-Daytona’. While the first series of watch ref. 6238 was pretty similar to that of the ref. 6234, the second series indeed represented a contemporary style. The second series of the Reference 6238 featured monochromatic dials, faceted hour markers and baton hands. Moreover, other features include the tachometer scale, smooth bezel, 37mm case diameter and Valjoux Calibre 72 movement.

Rolex worked as the official timekeeper of Daytona in 1962 and the following year, the first Rolex Cosmograph model reference 6239 was introduced. The brand nicknamed this particular reference as ‘Daytona’ in the same year for emphasising its association with the prestigious car race. While the watch was made especially keeping racecar drivers in mind, the watch came with a larger tachometer scale on its metal bezel. Indeed, the tachometer scale increased the readability of the dial and was available in silver with black counters or vice-versa.

In 1964, the name ‘Daytona’ first appeared on the dial under the word ‘Cosmograph’. However, the ‘Daytona’ name was later engraved on the top of the sub-dials 6 o’clock by 1967, and it remained there ever since.

Innovations Through the Ages

The tachymeter scale’s relocation to the bezel and the contrasting sub-dial offered the Reference 6239 a much sporty and chunkier look than its predecessors. Ever since the reference 6239 was launched, each Rolex Daytona manufactured by Rolex has had the tachymeter scale on the bezel instead of the dial. However, the Daytona 6239 watch had a celebrity fanatic in the late 1960s. Now, who was the devotee?

Paul Newman was not only an actor but also a successful racecar driver. While he wore his Daytona timepiece during his races, devotees attributed the ‘Paul Newman’ nickname to his style of Daytona in the 1980s. The Paul Newman Rolex Daytona can be distinguished primarily by the contrasting coloured seconds-scale along the periphery of the dial.

However, the Rolex Daytona ref. 6239 watch features pump-style pushers that make it less water resistance in comparison to the screw-down Oyster Daytona. The screw-down Oyster Daytona made a debut with the reference 6240, and the screw-down pushers are one of the leading design attributes that can be yet seen on the modern Rolex Daytona timepieces manufactured today.

The Reference 6240 did not always have the name ‘Daytona’ on its dial. However, besides the screw-down pushers, the watch also debuts a new metal bezel with the plastic insert in black and white numerals.  The ref.6240 watches with the Oyster name in-between ‘Rolex’ and ‘Cosmograph’ are among the rarest Rolex Daytona models ever made.

Like the reference 6240, Rolex introduced the reference 6241 with a black plastic bezel but equipped it with push-down buttons. However, the term ‘Daytona’ began to be printed officially on the dial of the ref. 6241 and also, the subsequent references. Between the year 1970 and 1971, four new Daytona watches were launched in 37mm watchcase, housing the new Calibre 727 movement.

While the reference 6262 and 6264 featured push-down buttons with metal bezel and black plastic bezel respectively, the references 6263 and 6265 adopted the screw-down push buttons. The references 6262 and 6264 were made from 1970 to 1972, whereas the references 6263 and 6265 were produced from 1971 to 1987 in stainless steel and gold. However, the screw-down push buttons along with the more prominent winding crown make the models 6263 and 6265 water-resistant up to 100m.

The Legendary ‘Paul Newman’ Dial


Paul Newman’s first Rolex Daytona watch was the Reference 6263 with an exotic black dial and white sub-dials. During the manufacturing year of this reference, Rolex launched the unique ‘exotic dials’, produced by the famous dial manufacturer of the time - Singer. Paul Newman was gifted the exclusive and rare Cosmograph Daytona 6239 with an ‘exotic’ dial by his wife when he began his career as a racecar driver in 1972.

While the watch was owned and well-documented by the eminent Paul Newman, Rolex Daytona watches with these exotic dials consequently were nicknamed as ‘Paul Newman’ dials. Ever since that, these dials have become significantly more valuable and coveted than the standard dials. However, Paul Newman’s Daytona 6239 watch was sold for nearly £14.6 million in October 2017.

It eventually reinforced the market for both new and pre-owned Daytona timepieces. Thus, if you are looking to ‘sell a vintage Rolex Daytona’ or ‘How to sell your Rolex Daytona watch’ with any desirable or rare characteristics, you are likely to obtain a higher price from any potential watch buyers like at The Luxury Hut. Although Paul Newman was an ambassador of Rolex, he was actually a Rolex enthusiast.

Over the years, any Daytona featuring the exotic dial is commonly identified as the ‘Paul Newman Daytona’. However, the references 6265, 6264, 6263, 6262, 6241 or 6239 ideally feature the original exotic ‘Paul Newman’ dial.

The Self-Winding Movement

In 1988, the Rolex Daytona 16520 watch made its debut, powered by a self-winding movement. The movement was only one of the significant upgrades made to this new reference. However, the watch featured a 40mm watch case, a renovated dial with different hour markers and sub-dials flaunting contrast timing tracks. While the crystal on the Daytona 16520 was fabricated from synthetic sapphire, the crystal on its earlier iterations was made up of acrylic.


However, the self-winding calibre that powered the Daytona ref 16520 was not produced entirely in-house. Instead, the movement was based on the Calibre 400 from Zenith EI Primero. In fact, the Zenith calibre 400 movement was considered as the best automatic movement available in the market at that time. As a result, many watch collectors today refer to this Daytona collection as ‘Zenith Daytona’, and it differentiated them from the later Daytona timepieces with in-house movements. Now:

The fact is that Rolex used to heavily modify the base movement supplied by Zenith for aligning it to the Daytona specifications and for increasing the reliability. The manufacturer either altered or replaced nearly half of its elements. These components were revised to run at a 4 Hz frequency instead of El Primero’s 5 Hz. The vibration per hour was decreased to 28,800 from 36,000. Moreover, while Rolex removed the date function, a new balance and escapement replaced the original ones.

Eventually, it gave rise to the first automatic movement, Calibre 4030 that was housed in one Daytona model. However, Rolex made many changes to its Daytona watches over the years, thereby bringing the collection up to the modern standard. Indeed, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ref. 16520 achieved exceptional success. The limited supply of Zenith’s base movement, limited production and higher demand made the watch much more desirable in the market.

In 1991, Rolex launched a special series of Reference 16528, limited to only ten pieces. The yellow gold watch came with a graduated bezel and galvanised blue dial. This Daytona ref. 16528 is referred often to as the ‘Chairman Daytona’ as it was designed to gift noteworthy Rolex directors.

Also Read: 5 Vintage Rolex Watches That Are Highly Collectable

Contemporary Evolutions

Rolex began working on entirely a new, in-house movement using only 290 components – Calibre 4130. The power reserve of this new movement increased from 54hour to 72hour. At the Baselworld 2000, the new Daytona Cosmograph watches, running on the Calibre 4130, was launched. However, all the new Daytona models had a watch case of 40mm and were also a little bit thinner than its earlier versions. Nearly 12years after the release of Zenith Daytona, the brand launched the Daytona reference 116520 in 2000, equipping it with Rolex’ in-house movement Calibre 4130.

This fully integrated Calibre 4130 was and is yet an expertly accomplished movement that was designed with durability in mind. The movement offers a power reserve up to 72hours. However, Rolex released a platinum version of its iconic Daytona that sported a chocolate brown ceramic bezel to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Dayton in 2013.

In 2016, the manufacturer unveiled the Daytona reference 116500LN also with a black Cerachrom bezel. While this specific reference watch in stainless steel assured a more convenient price point, it became a highly desirable timepiece of the year immediately. Rolex introduced a handful of novelties over the years like the ‘Rainbow Daytona’ in Everose gold was released at the Baselworld 2018. Indeed, Rolex Daytona remained pretty consistent in the market and is one of the world’s most coveted watches to date.

Where should I sell my Rolex watch in London?

The Luxury Hut offers a quick, secure and straightforward way to sell Rolex watches both online and via appointment. We understand both the historical and monetary significance of the watches manufactured by the elite brand – Rolex. Whether you want to ‘sell your Rolex Daytona’, or ‘sell a vintage Rolex Daytona watch’, you are likely to obtain the best possible price of your luxury asset.

With years of experience and substantial knowledge of the changing market prices, we can determine an accurate value of a Rolex watch, be it is a vintage Rolex Daytona or any contemporary model. Thus, to get started with the process of selling, fill up our online form today and receive an initial price quote shortly.

Also Read: Rolex Datejust: The History of the True Industry Icon

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