The Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona is revered as the ultimate ‘Driver’s Watch’, and for good reason. Created in 1963 for professional racing drivers, its tachymetric bezel measures elapsed time and reads average speeds. It continues to be the ultimate sports chronograph yet, Rolex only sold 500 of their original chronographs a year.
The track-inspired timepiece collection began life in 1955 with the Swiss brand’s first-ever chronograph, Reference 6234. While it didn’t prove popular among watch enthusiasts, professional racing car drivers and crews were huge admirers. They respected the watch’s accuracy for measuring lap times and the robustness of its oyster case.
The Rolex Oyster watches were actually lauded in the motor racing world as far back as the 1930s. One of its biggest fans, and wearers, was Sir Malcolm Campbell, a prolific winner of the early Daytona races. He was also the first person to reach 300 miles-per-hour in a motor vehicle and held many early land-speed records.
Sir Malcolm Campbell Land Speed Record (1935)
A year after becoming the official timekeeper for the Daytona 500 race, Rolex updated their chronograph collection when releasing the Rolex Cosmograph, Reference 6239. The name was inspired by the Us’s space race programme that was increasingly prominent in the 1960s.
Within a year, the timepiece was officially called The Daytona. These early models came in a Standard version, with a black and silver dial. The Exotic version featured a black with white and cream dial. The screw-down pushers were introduced in 1965.
The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona enjoyed increased sales during this decade but sales raced on to another level following the release of the blockbuster film, Winning.
Legendary Hollywood actor, Paul Newman, starred as a racing driver who wore a Cosmograph Daytona. His co-star, and wife, Joanne Woodward gifted him an Exotic version of the watch after filming as he went on to indulge his new hobby as a racing driver.
Inscribed on the back of it was the simple, yet touching message: ‘Drive Carefully - Me’.
Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman Official Trailer 1 (2015) - Documentary HD
This association took the Rolex timepiece to new heights. As well as featuring prominently in the movie, it was also seen by the wider public on many of the promotional material, such as posters. The movie was popular worldwide and demand for the watch was huge.
Paul Newman went on to drive professionally, alongside his great acting career. He won notable races during his two decades of racing, always wearing that Exotic Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. This association is why watch collectors started calling the timepiece the Paul Newman Daytona.
It was also in this period, the mid-1980s, that self-winding movement watches were gaining in popularity. The Cosmograph Daytona still featured a manual winding movement, created by Valjou. In 1988, Rolex replaced this with a new, self-winding movement from Zenith Perpetual Movement and the Reference 62520 was created.
Other significant changes included a sapphire crystal and an increased case-size from the original 37mm to 44mm. Demand for this updated chronograph outstripped supply, with waiting lists of up to three years for a new timepiece. This further enhanced its status.
Different designs were added to the collection, including gold and silver variants but, the next major update to this iconic Rolex collection came in 2000. The brand scrapped third-party movement, replacing it with Rolex’s own Calibre 4130, a self-winding mechanical chronograph movement.
The new movement incorporated fewer components than a standard chronograph, thereby enhancing the watch’s reliability. It also saves space, making it possible to house a large mainspring, delivering a power reserve of 72 hours. The timepiece became even more reliable and easier to service.
It not only became the new standard, it’s still used in Cosmograph Daytonas today. For the 50th anniversary of their chronograph, Rolex released a new Platinum Daytona featuring a brown bezel made of Cerachrom. The high-tech material was developed by Rolex and is corrosion resistant, virtually scratchproof and the colour is unaffected by UV rays.
Rolex’s iconic chronograph began life as a little known racing driver tool but went on to become the ultimate, stylish and cool luxury accessory. And just for good measure, Paul Newman’s personal Exotic Daytona sold at auction in 2017 for a record breaking $17.8m.
It’s been quite a journey so far, one that seems far from ending for The Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona.
External Sources (Click on links below):