The Daytona, Pinnacle of 77 years of Chronographs
In The Beginning
The history of Rolex Daytona watches begins with the making of chronographs in 1937. The catalog for that year showed at least five models. The single pusher chronographs with simple start-stop-reset functioning were early models. This went far for usability, but was ultimately limiting. Apparently, the wearer could only time a single unbroken event.
The Two Pusher Scheme
The history of Rolex Daytona shows that Rolex made real gains when they began using the standard two-pusher scheme in the late 1930s. One pusher for starting and stopping, then restarting and stopping again as many times as the user desired.
Production managers could stop the timer for lunch and breaks to get a more precise measure of production. Racers could stop it for pit stops and get a better idea of average speeds, and so on. Also, they could do so without resorting to ancillary calculations to account for breaks in the action.
The first Oyster chronograph, ref. 4500, appeared in the middle of WW II. It was never very popular. Understandably, people focused on other things. Subsequently, two more references followed, the 6232 and the 3668. Unfortunately, the lack of popularity of the 4500 followed. The history of Rolex Daytona highlights a string of references that appeared as Rolex continued their methodical march for continuous improvement. In 1949 the ref. 5034 appeared, with the first use of both a third (hour) register and the oyster case. Between 1949 and 1964, continuous improvement produced the 6034, 6234, 6238, and finally the 6239.
The 6239 resurrected the name “Cosmograph,” which had been abandoned in 1956 with the last moon phase chrono. It also featured the first engraved bezel tachymeter. They printed “Daytona” on some dials. This was a nod to the brand’s new sponsorship of the Daytona 24 hour endurance auto race.
The Paul Newman dials appeared in 1970, with red minute tick marks on a white minute track, and square markers on the sub-dials. Sub-dials were colored in contrast to the dial, in a panda (black sub-dials on white) or reverse panda (white sub-dials on black).
The First Cosmograph
Rolex released the fabled 6263 in the late 1970s. This was the first Cosmograph to have screw down pushers. They touted the Cosmograph was water resistant to 25 feet. However, operating the pushers at depth was flooding watches right and left. Screw down pushers were Rolex’s answer to the problem. When the 6263 was introduced, the water resistance rating jumped to 50 meters . A decade later, the resistance inexplicably increased to 100 meters with no noticeable changes to the watch.
The 6263 saw different specs for different case metals. The 18K gold models received chronometer certification,Even though they were all hand-wound Valjoux 72 movements. Steel cased versions did not. The Rolex hand-crankers to ever be signed “Superlative Chronometer, Officially Certified” were the 18K models.
A Global Evolution
When the Cosmograph’s popularity finally took off in the late 1980s, Rolex took notice. There had developed a gray market of sorts, with people buying every watch they could find in the U.S. and reselling it at a profit in Europe, Italy especially. Rolex briefly shut down production, promising to be back shortly.
In 1991, they released the redesigned Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. They switched to heavily modified Zenith El Primero automatic movements in 1988. They now printed ‘DAYTONA’ in red on all dials. At the same time, the two-tone sub-dials appeared.
Finally, in 2000 Baselworld saw the introduction of calibre 4130. Rolex used this first in-house movement in the Daytona. In development for five years, the 4230 had about 20% fewer parts than its predecessor calibre 4030, and was much easier to service.
Nowadays, the Daytona has gone platinum and ceramic, with a classic and unique chestnut brown Cerachrom ceramic bezel and ice blue dial (a color which Rolex reserves for their platinum watches). Not quite a racer’s or production supervisor’s watch anymore, but inside beats the heart of a timer, pure and simple.
And so there you have it. View these iconic used Rolex Daytona – and most popular – timepieces.