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History of the Rolex Daytona

The history of the Rolex Daytona is inexorably tied to the development of the automobile and subsequently auto racing in the US. The 1930’s was an amazing era for the automobile – mass production technology leaped forward and the motor car captured the imagination of Americans.

British “Speed King” Sir Malcolm Campbell broke five land speed records – five of which were on Florida’s Daytona beach. He was the first man to break the 300 miles per hour barrier, and did so wearing a Rolex Oyster. As auto racing grew, so did the need for a timepiece which could measure speed and time laps. Rolex had been producing wrist chronographs since the early 1930’s and by the end of the decade they launched the first Oyster Chronograph, with an Oyster waterproof case and a tachymeter scale on outer dial – a first step in developing a robust and precise tool watch useful for the auto racing world.

Auto racing and motor sports continued to grow and develop in the US over the next several decades, giving birth to endurance racing. In 1962, Daytona International Speedway launch the inaugural “24 Hours of Daytona” – an event which would become the world’s premier endurance racing event. One year later in 1963 Rolex launches their first Cosmograph chronograph featuring a tachymetric scale moved from the inner dial to the bezel, improving legibility. By 1966 Rolex would famously add the word “Daytona” to the dial, and the Rolex Daytona would become a coveted prize awarded to each winner of the 24 hours of Daytona as well as being the Official Timepiece of the Daytona International Speedway.

Further cementing The Rolex Daytona’s place in racing history is the long list noted racing celebrities who wore and have been associated with the Rolex Daytona including Paul Newman, Sir Jackie Stewart, and Tom Kristensen to name a few. Today, the Rolex remains an often rare and coveted prize for enthusiasts of both auto racing and fine luxury watches.

1963 Rolex introduces the first Cosmograph with a Tachymetric scale engraved on the bezel.
1965 Rolex adds screw-down push buttons and a metal bezel with a black plastic insert to the Cosmograph (Reference 6240).
1966 Rolex produces the first “Daytona” variant of the Cosmograph as a Reference 6241 available in stainless steel, as well as 14 ant 18 ct. gold.  Both the 6240 Cosmograph and the 6241 Cosmograph Daytona would be produced until 1969.
1970 Rolex introduces two new Cosmograph Daytona models – Reference 6262 and Reference 6264 (available in stainless steel, 14 and 18ct gold).  Reference 6262 had a graduated bezel with 200 units per hour.
1971 Rolex introduces the Cosmograph Daytona References 6263 and 6269 with screw-down push buttons.
1988 Rolex introduces the new Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona Chronometer Reference 16520 in stainless steel featuring a 40mm case and sapphire crystal. and the new Zenith El Primero 400 based Rolex caliber 4030.
1992 Rolex introduces the new Reference 16518 Daytona in yellow gold with a leather strap.
2000 Rolex introduces their new entirely in-house produced chronograph caliber 4130 and with it launches the Cosmograph Daytona Reference 116520 in stainless steel.  A white gold model, (Reference 116519) yellow gold model (Reference 1166518), and bi-metal (gold and stainless steel Reference 116523) all receive the new in house chronograph caliber.
2011 Rolex introduces a new Daytona Reference 116515with a pink gold 40mm case and a Cerachrom bezel.

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