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The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, more popularly known as the Rolex Daytona, is widely considered as the most iconic and recognizable chronograph.
Launched in 1963, the Rolex Daytona was developed to meet the needs of professional race car drivers for a highly reliable tool, to measure elapsed time and calculate average speeds. The watch is named after Daytona, Florida, where passion for speed and racing developed in the early 20th century.
The Rolex Daytona has a long and colorful history, and a wide range of models that make collecting interesting and enjoyable. Due to its timeless design, it eventually gained fans beyond the racing circuit. Vintage Rolex Daytona models have consistently broken auction records, and waitlists for modern references have stayed consistent. Today, there is no other watch more pursued by collectors than the Rolex Daytona.
Many view the Rolex Daytona as the "Rolex chronograph", but the brand actually began producing chronograph watches in the 1930s. These early models were enclosed in conventional watch cases and not Rolex’s signature Oyster case, and only had single push buttons to start, stop and reset the timepiece.
During WWII, Rolex introduced its first Oyster-cased chronograph. This was followed by the ref 6234 in 1955 – a manual wind chronograph with the tachymeter scale on the inner ring. These models would become the basis of the Rolex Daytona.
Rolex became the official timekeeper of the Daytona International Speedway in 1962. To mark the occasion, the first Cosmograph model, the ref 6239 was nicknamed the "Daytona" to emphasize the brand’s affiliation with the prestigious race.
Created expressly for race car drivers, the 6239 had a larger tachymeter scale engraved on the metal bezel to enhance the legibility of the dial.
It wasn’t until 1965 that the "Daytona" name finally appeared also on the dial. In the same year, Rolex introduced the now iconic "exotic dial". Produced by Singer, a well-known manufacturer of watch dials during the era, it had distinct features such as Art Deco fonts and block hour markers.
The "exotic dials" eventually found a fan in movie star and racing enthusiast Paul Newman. He was gifted by his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, with a rare ref 6239 fitted with an "exotic" dial, which he would often be photographed with.
Its association with Paul Newman, the cult appeal of "exotic dials", coupled with the strong return of wristwatch collecting in the late 1980s, elevated the Daytona to become one of the most famous and collectible watches of all time.
Rolex continued to innovate and improve on the Daytona in the following decades.
In 1988, they introduced the second generation of the Daytona, the 16500 series. They introduced several novelties that we continue to see today, such as the larger 40 mm case diameter, the sapphire crystal that replaced the Plexiglas. This generation bridged that Daytona from the vintage to the contemporary era.
In 2000, after years of development, Rolex introduced the first Rolex Daytona powered by an in-house movement – the ref 116520 equipped with the Caliber 4130. This model marked the third and current generation of the Rolex Daytona with six-digit references.
Today, Rolex Daytona watches from every era remain highly sought after, whether brand new or pre-owned.
The Rolex Daytona is the ultimate luxury watch for those with a passion for driving and speed. Regardless of age or era, all Rolex Daytona watches are sports chronographs used to measure elapsed time and calculate average speeds. The features of the Rolex Daytona has evolved through the decades, but the following components remain:
The Rolex Daytona has always had a tachymeter scale, which is used to measure speed based on time traveled over a fixed distance. It appeared on the Rolex Daytona’s dial in earlier models, and was eventually transferred to the bezel to improve the dial’s legibility.
The material used for the tachymeter bezel also evolved through the years. The inaugural model, ref 6234, had a sister reference that had a black acrylic bezel.
In second generation Rolex Daytonas, the only option was tachymeter bezels made in metal. For the third generation of watches, Rolex introduced Cerachrom ceramic bezels, which are highly resistant to scratching and fading.
There are also rare and exclusive model references fitted with gem-set bezels, wherein the iconic tachymetric scale is swapped out for diamonds or other precious gems.
Rolex’s first chronograph wristwatches had single push buttons on the side to start, stop and reset a separate second hand.
It was in 1965 that Rolex fitted screw down elements to the pushers on the Daytona, to improve water resistance and robustness. These would eventually become integral to the design.
The Rolex Daytona’s chronograph complication is activated by pushers that screw down when they are not in use. One press to start, stop or reset the chronograph produces a crisp, clear click.
The Rolex Daytona has two upper, contrasting subdials at 3 and 9 o’clock. The one at 3 o’clock registers the minutes, while the one at 9 o’clock registers the hours. The subdial at 6 o’clock indicates the running small seconds of the watch.
Before the year 2000s, the running seconds sub-dial was at the 9 o’clock position. It was moved down to the 6 o’clock spot to give the dial a better balance along its vertical axis.
Lastly, all Rolex Daytona models are equipped with three-link Oyster bracelets, either in stainless steel, steel and gold, solid gold, or platinum. The only exception to these are 18k gold references that are fitted with either leather straps or Oysterflex rubber bracelets with matching 18k gold clasps.
The Rolex Daytona has been manufactured by Rolex since 1963, with three generations into which all references fall under. Below are the defining characteristics of each generation:
FIRST GENERATION (1963 – 1988)
Reference Numbers: 6239, 6241, 6240, 6262, 6264, 6265, 6263 and 6269 / 6270
Movements: Valjoux 72, Valjoux 722, Valjoux 727
The original series of the Rolex Daytona had four-digit reference numbers and manual-wind movements. The movement sets this generation apart from the two succeeding series, which had self-wound movements. It was also during this generation that screw-down pushers and tachymeter bezels were introduced.
SECOND GENERATION (1988 – 1999)
Reference Numbers: 16520, 16523, 16528, 16518, 16568, 16519, 16588, 16589, 16559 and 16598
Movements: Caliber 4030
The second generation of the Rolex Daytona used five-digit reference numbers, and were the first to be equipped with self-winding movements. This generation is considered to be the transition of the Rolex Daytona from the vintage era to the modern era.
It was during this period that the following improvements were introduced:
These changes put the Daytona towards a contemporary standard. However, the movement has yet to become completely in-house, as the Caliber 4130 was based on the Zenith El Primero’s Caliber 400 movement.
THIRD GENERATION (2000 – present)
Reference Numbers: 116500, 116503, 116515, 116505, 116508, 116518, 116519, 116509, 116506
Movements: Caliber 4130
The third generation of the Rolex Daytona was introduced in 2000, and remains in production today. This generation makes use of six-digit reference numbers, and were the first to be equipped with Rolex’s in-house chronograph movement, the Caliber 4130.
The series introduced the following features that we see in Rolex Daytona today:
The table below shows the complete list of Rolex Daytona references through the years, from vintage 4 and 5-digit references, to the modern 6-digit models. Beginning with the 5-digit references, Rolex introduced a reference number system that indicates the model type, metal, and bezel color of the watch.
|REFERENCE NUMBER||YEAR PRODUCED||MATERIAL|
|6239||1963 – 1969||Steel, 14k Gold, 18k Gold|
|6241||1965 – 1969||Steel, 14k Gold, 18k Gold|
|6240||1965 – 1969||Steel,|
|6262||1970 – 1971||Steel, 14k Gold, 18k Gold|
|6264||1970 – 1971||Steel, 14k Gold, 18k Gold|
|6265||1971 – 1988||Steel, 14k Gold, 18k Gold|
|6263||1971 – 1988||Steel, 14k Gold, 18k Gold|
|6269 / 6270||1980 - 1989||18k gold|
|16523||1988||Stainless Steel, Yellow Gold|
|16568||1994||Yellow Gold, Diamond Bezel|
|16568 EMRO||1996||Yellow Gold, Emerald Bezel|
|16588 SAFU||1997||Yellow Gold, Pink Sapphire Bezel|
|16589 BRIL||1997||White Gold, Diamond Bezel|
|16589 SAPH||1997||White Gold, Blue Sapphire Bezel|
|16589 RUBI||1997||White Gold, Ruby Bezel|
|16559 SAPH||1998||White Gold, Blue Sapphire Bezel|
|16559 RUBI||1999||White Gold, Ruby Bezel|
|16559 SACO||1999||White Gold, Red Sapphire Bezel|
|16598 EMRO||1999||Yellow Gold, Emerald Bezel|
|REFERENCE NUMBER||YEAR PRODUCED||MATERIAL|
|116523||2000||Stainless Steel, Yellow Gold|
|116598 SACO||2004||Yellow Gold|
|116599 4RU||2009||White Gold|
|116589 RBR||2009||White Gold|
|116515 LN||2011||Everose Gold|
|116598 RBOW||2012||Yellow Gold|
|116599 RBOW||2012||White Gold|
|116500 LN||2016||Stainless Steel|
|116503||2016||Stainless Steel, Yellow Gold|
|116518 LN||2017||Yellow Gold|
|116519 LN||2017||White Gold|
|116515 LN||2017||Everose Gold|
|116595 RBOW||2018||Everose Gold|
|116578 SACO||2019||Yellow Gold|
|116588 SACO||2019||Yellow Gold|
|116588 TBR||2019||Yellow Gold|
The Rolex Daytona is the most famous chronograph watch of all time, and one of Rolex’s best-selling models. Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about the Rolex Daytona.
The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is the brand's chronograph watch, introduced in 1963. It is characterized by a tachymeter bezel, screw down pushers, and three chronograph sub-dials.
Because of the great demand for Rolex Daytona watches, they have become a target for counterfeiters. Each Rolex watch is made to the highest standards, and with top quality materials. If even a minute detail comes across as shoddy, you can be certain that it’s not the real deal.
When buying any luxury watch, it is essential to do research on your chosen model and reference. If you are familiar with its most minute details, then you can more easily spot a fake. Your best defense against buying a fake timepiece is to purchase your watch from a reputable and trusted dealer, who can provide a guarantee of authenticity on the watch.
Rolex Daytona watches are difficult to come by because they are made with limited production runs. This is especially true for the earliest Daytona models. Because the Rolex Daytona wasn’t popular then, production numbers were also low.
Rolex Daytona watches are also known to have years-long waitlists. When a Rolex Daytona is introduced to the market, authorized dealers usually have a roster of clients who have reserved their slot to get the timepiece. This is where buying pre-owned presents many advantages – it opens up your options to include previous versions, limited editions, and even discontinued styles.
Your watch has to be wound before being worn for the first time, or if it has stopped. To wind the watch, unscrew the winding crown until it pops out of its position and is free from the threads securing it onto the case. Then, turn it several times clockwise or away from you. At least 25 turns are recommended for adequate partial winding. The watch will stay wound automatically as long as it is worn on the wrist.