The Rolex Daytona celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and is the subject of a new exhibition in Paris so lets take a moment to reflect on this legendary watch. If Rolex is the best known brand in the world of watches, then the most famous chronograph is undoubtedly the Daytona model. This year Rolex is celebrating fifty years of its history marked by a passion for speed and sports cars.
Created in 1963 , the story of this model involves the story of a watch, a race and a man. The Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona won its titles of nobility on racetracks with its reliability and performance and became the most famous and most sought after chronograph in the world.
The Rolex Daytona Cosmograph Legend
From Daytona Beach to the Le Mans 24 Hours of Paul Newman and Tom Kristensen , the “Daytona” is inseparable from the world of motor sports and the passion for speed . This watch legend speaks of adrenaline and transcendence of design and emotion, and tells of a watchmaking history of innovation.
Ties with Motorsport were not new for Rolex at the time of the Daytona’s inception. In fact, in 1935, when the British driver Malcolm Campbell, known as The Speed King, set the land speed record of 484 kmh in his rocket car Bluebird, he was wearing a Rolex on his wrist … He also broke many world-speed records on Daytona Beach too..
In 1962 a new three hour car race was inaugurated in Florida at the “Daytona International Speedway” circuit and a partnership with Rolex was formed. In the following year racing drivers and fans heard that Rolex had developed a new model called the “Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph” which featured a chronograph movement and a tachymeter scale engraved on the bezel used for measuring speed in miles and kilometers per hour.
Rolex’s intention was to associate this new model with a world class motor race and initially upon release it was known as the “Rolex Le Mans Chronograph”, however later in 1965 Rolex re-introduced the same Chronograph model under the new name: “Rolex Daytona Chronograph”.
There has been a great deal of speculation, but no clear answer, as to why the Daytona started out as the Le Mans chronograph. The Le Mans race being the most famous of all it was understandable that Rolex would choose to associate with it. Some people believe there may have been copyright issues involving the Le Mans name, while others think that it was simply because “Rolex Daytona “sounded better than “Le Mans Chronograph” – and they have a point. Another theory is that because of their strong affiliation with Speed-King, Sir Malcolm Campbell who broke so many world-speed records on Daytona Beach, they decided to use the Daytona name as a tribute to his amazing legacy.
So to the man that everyone associates with the Daytona. Paul Newman one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1960’s was also crazy about motor racing and would remain a car fanatic until the end of his life. For the 1969 Indianapolis 500 racing film “Winning” Newman appeared on screen wearing the Daytona thus adding to the chronographs myth. Furthermore Newman decided to not only act the role of race driver but to do the driving himself and in 1972 he made his debut in the Indianapolis 500 race.
Just before the race, his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, offered him a Daytona with three words engraved on its back: “Drive slowly. Joanne.” It is said that he wore this watch until his death in 2008, and rather surprisingly its the model 6263 with Black dial and white registers not the model everyone calls the “Paul Newman Daytona”. However no one seems to know the reasons -including Newman himself- why it was the model with dials in either black (with white registers), or cream (with black registers), with square markers within the registers that became known as the “Paul Newman Daytona”.
In fact the name is rather an oxymoron since Newman was a huge Rolex Daytona fan and owned at least five different models which he wore throughout his life. Interestingly the term ‘Paul Newman Daytona’ was invented by collectors and has never been officially used by Rolex. Nevertheless this model (pictured below), has become the “Holy Grail” of collectible watches and fetches considerable prices at auction and watch aficionados dream of acquiring it in its original, or, failing that, in a later version.
The American actor added the finishing touch to the legend in 1973 appearing on the cover of Italian fashion magazine Moda wearing the Rolex Daytona and further cementing his association with it. Newman pushed his passion for motorsport even further and created his own team and his greatest accomplishment as a driver was finishing second-place in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979, driving a Porsche 935. Even at age 80 he again returned to the Daytona International Speedway and set yet another record by being the oldest driver to ever compete in the race.
Rolex has evolved the Daytona over the years, never losing sight of its roots and original style. The initial series lasted from 1963 to the late 1980’s with small variations such as the introduction of screwed pushers on the side of the housing in 1965. This first series became iconic and lasted till the second took over in 1988. This used a modified Zenith “El Primero” automatic winding movement which Rolex purchased for the Daytona and then modified from 36,000VPH to 28,800VPH and made a few other subtle changes. This series lasted from 1988 to 2000 which is when the Daytona really gained its cult status.
Finally the third series, introduced in 2000 used in-house movements. With this series a new chapter in the saga of the Daytona was written with the arrival of high-tech and very elegant variations, introducing new terms in the dictionary of horology: Everose, Cerachrom and Parachrom. These three terms correspond to the innovative construction materials of the housing (Everose), bezel (Cerachrom) and spring (Parachrom).
So to this year and for the iconic model’s 50th anniversary, Rolex released a solid platinum version with an “ice blue” dial matched with a brown ceramic bezel and chronograph subdials. Also to mark the event of its 50th anniversary an exhibition on the Rolex Daytona has just opened at the Bon Marché in Paris and will go on till October 26.