6 Key Models in Rolex Daytona History
Rolex has produced iconic and remarkable watches that are sought after by collectors and casual wearers alike. However, it can be said that there is no other watch more pursued by collectors than the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona.
Launched in 1963, the Daytona has a long, colorful history and a wide range of models that make it so interesting to collect and delve into. Let’s trace the story of the Daytona with six milestone models:
BEGINNINGS OF THE ROLEX DAYTONA
Many consider the Rolex Daytona as synonymous to “Rolex chronograph”, but the brand actually started producing chronograph watches as early as the 1930s. In that decade, Rolex produced chronograph wristwatches with single push buttons to start, stop, and reset the watch.
In 1955, Rolex introduced a manual-wind chronograph with the Oyster case, ref 6234. It also featured a tachymeter scale on the outer ring and a telemeter scale on the inner ring. These early iterations would become the basis of the Daytona.
KEY MODELS OF THE ROLEX DAYTONA
Predecessors of the Rolex Daytona. From left: 1930’s Rolex Chronograph / Rolex Chronograph ref 6234 / and the Pre-Daytona Chronograph ref 6238 (photos: Christies)
ref 6238 | Pre-Daytona Chronograph (1960)
The “Pre-Daytona” ref 6238 is considered the father of the Rolex Daytona, as this is where is started to take its now iconic form.
This is where the contemporary aesthetic of the Daytona started to take shape: monochromatic dials, baton hands, and the removal of the telemeter scale (used to measure distances) resulted in a cleaner look. It was powered by the The Valjoux Calibre 72 chronograph movement.
This model did not yet have the Oyster case nor the screw-down crown and buttons. In production until 1967, it coincided with the its updated version, ref 6239.
First iterations of the Rolex Daytona. from left: Rolex Daytona ref 6239 / Rolex Daytona ref 6239 with Daytona text / and Rolex Daytona ref 6240 with screw-down pushers
ref 6239 | the very first Rolex Daytona (1963)
The reference 6239 is the very first Rolex Daytona. Even though it wasn’t even called a Daytona then, this model marked the period where chronographs were categorized and named.
Eventually, Rolex’s sponsorship of the 24 hour race at the Daytona International Speedway led to it being named the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona in 1964. The following year, the name “Daytona” finally appeared on the dial.
Why is this considered the first Daytona?
Changes made to this model gave it the sporty, ruggedly elegant look that the Daytona has become famous for:
- Rolex switched to inverse colors for sub-dials, from the ref 6238’s entirely monochromatic dial
- The tachymeter scale was moved from the edge of the dial, onto the bezel
- Initially, the bezel was graduated up to 300 units / hour. Later on, it was changed to 200 units / hour
The Exotic Dial. Rolex Daytona ref 6239 with an exotic dial, or matching outer track and sub-dials. (photo: Christies)
In 1965, Rolex also introduced the sought after exotic dial.
Produced by Singer, a well-known watch dial manufacturer of the era, the exotic dials had very distinctive features:
- An outer track and matching sub-dials
- Block hour markers instead of lines
- Sub-dials with cross-hairs that point to its center
- And the seconds sub-dial beside 9 o’clock marked at 15-30-45-60 (instead of 20-40-60 in the standard models)
Also noticeable is the Art Déco font used for the sub-dials.
Originally considered undesirable, the exotic dials gained popularity through legendary actor and racer Paul Newman. He wore the design in every appearance, that it eventually became known as the “Paul Newman” dial. It has since become sought after by collectors; and even more valuable than standard dial Rolex Daytonas.
ref 6240 | The screw-in push button
Even with all the updates to the ref 6239, it still used pump-style pushers that offer less water resistance. In 1967, Rolex introduced ref 6240, this time with screw-down style pushers. These held the two pushers in place, thus increasing water resistance and earning Daytona the “Oyster” on its dial.
The functional design of these pushers have become an integral part of the Rolex Daytona’s design DNA, and can still be found in the Daytona models of today.
The Zenith Daytona. Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Zenith Movement Watch ref 16520
ref 16250 | Self-winding movement or the “Zenith Daytona”
The next generation of Rolex Daytona watches would be introduced in 1988, on its 25th anniversary. This marked the first real change in the production of the Daytona – the use of a self-winding movement, Caliber 4030.
It took Rolex two-decades before updating the Daytona with an automatic caliber. The manually wound movement was actually a weakness of the Daytona, especially during the quartz crisis.The series also came with a number of important updates, that bridged the Daytona from the vintage period to the contemporary era.
- The case size increased to 40mm
- The hour markers changed from blocks to elongated arrow head markers
- The sub-dials changed from fully contrasting color to just a contrasting timing track
All these changes put the Daytona up to a modern standard; however, the movement was still not completely in-house, but rather one based on Zenith El Primero’s Caliber 400 movement. And while it was heavily modified by Rolex before integrating it into the watch, they were still reliant on a third-party.
Steel vs Cerachrom Bezel. Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ref 116520 and Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ref 116500LN with Cerachrom bezel
ref 116520 | In-house Calibre 4130
In the year 2000, Rolex finally introduced the long-awaited ref 116250 – the first Daytona to have a true in-house movement, the Caliber 4130.
The movement was designed to run efficiently on the simplest manner possible. Whereas Caliber 4030 has two separate mechanisms running the minute and hour chronographs, Caliber 4130 combined them in a single module. This was done with the watch’s future serviceability in mind – and makes the Caliber 4130 a favorite among watch repairers.
Cerachrom Bezel. A bold iteration of the sought after Cerachrom bezel Rolex Daytona – the Rolex Daytona Yellow Gold Ceramic Bezel Rubber Strap Watch.
ref 116500LN | Cerachrom Bezel
In 2016, Rolex introduced the ref 116500LN Daytona model – one that ignited excitement among collectors. The watch incorporates the Cerachrom ceramic bezel into the stainless steel model.
While it has the same technical capabilities as its predecessor, the use of the Cerachrom, Rolex’s proprietary ceramic compound, made it less prone to scratching and fading and gave it an edgier look.The ref 116500LN became the most talked about watch of 2016 and until today, has a very long waiting list.
With a 56-year long history, it’s amazing to see how far the Daytona has come – and how it still very in demand, after all these years.
SEE MORE OF THE WATCHES IN OUR VIDEO:
PHOTO CREDITS: Photos of 1930’s Rolex Chronograph, Rolex Chronograph ref 6234, Pre-Daytona Chronograph ref 6238, Rolex Daytona ref 6239 with an exotic dial, and Rolex Daytona ref 6240 from Christie’s.