The Daytona Saga by William Massena August 11, 2001
by William Massena
August 11, 2001
Few watches compare to the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. It's legendary among enthusiasts. Rolex remains itself an enigma and 'hides' behind the walls of its huge headquarters when questions are asked. Why did the Daytona become such a prized object among collectors and consumers alike? The fascination for the Daytona has continually increased in the past decade, rumors about a new model are abundant, but few know the story behind the myth.
I. The Heritage
The Rolex Cosmograph introduced in 1961 was the first new chronograph model released after the death of Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf in 1960.
Rolex has been manufacturing chronographs since the thirties and many different models were released during, forties and the fifties. Most chronographs were "Anti-magnetic" (protected from daily magnetic influence on the movement) and can be found in oyster cases, non-water resistant models as well as some square shape watches such as the reference 3529. Rolex also added some complications to a few chronographs; the most famous model is the 6036 (produced between 1951 and 1953) which has day, date and month. Some Rolex chronograph prior to the introduction of the Cosmograph had three register subdials, such as this example of the 6234, also known as the "Jean Claude Killy", named after the famous French ski champion (Fig. 2) but historically most had 2 registers.
The Chronographs were not the most popular Rolex models and were produced in limited quantities. Rolex may have been the first sport watch company but could not popularize the chronograph despite the timing utility for racers. In the book "The best of Time, Rolex wristwatches", Dowling and Hess recount that one of the authors could not purchase a Rolex at a discount, except for the chronograph. In my opinion, before the production of less expensive chronograph movements in the late fifties, such as the Valjoux 72, customers regarded chronographs as an overpriced luxury with little practicality. The usefulness of a time interval measuring instrument that did not interfere with the timekeeping of the watch, was reserved to a very few such as doctors, pilots, and sport racers.
The first Cosmograph Daytona was reference 6238 (1961-1967) (fig 3), also known in Italy as the pre-Daytona Cosmograph. It was the last Rolex with a tachometer scale on the dial, and the first watch to bear the name Cosmograph. Later, Rolex retrofitted some of these references with a Daytona dial and bezel.
II. TheCosmograph Daytona models
In 1957, Omega released the Speedmaster which was designed for motor sport lovers, the watch had an outside steel tachometer bezel with large arrow hands and was a manual wind chronograph. The watch was not an immediate success but Omega did not stop improving on the design, and the watch was rapidly updated with straight hands and a black bezel. By the early sixties, the watch had a following among sportsmen and pilots.
Rolex soon followed with the introduction in 1961 of the Rolex Cosmograph (the name had been registered in 1953) 6238, and soon added two new models the 6239 (Fig. 4) and the 6241 (Fig. 5). Most had the added word "Daytona" (around the hour track subsidiary dial at 6 o'clock) but some dials had the word "Daytona" below "Cosmograph" (fig 4 &5). It was named in honor of the famed Daytona car races, a favorite among Hollywood celebrities.
The 6239 & 6241:
These are the early Cosmograph Daytona wristwatches: the 6239 had a metal bezel and the 6241 had a black bezel. The dial configuration for both watches was the same; they could be fitted with a silver dial with black subdials or a black dial with white subdials. An exotic dial could also be fitted for these watches. These early Daytona were fitted with the manual Rolex 722 movement, a Valjoux 72 based movement with a 42 hour power reserve and a classic column wheel design. These two watches were not oyster models because of the regular non-screw chronograph pushers. Rolex soon realized that it needed to release an oyster model.
Rolex first attempt to release an Oyster Cosmograph with screw down chronograph pushers happened in 1965 with the released of the 6240 (Fig. 6), according to Osvaldo Patrizzi, the 6240 was a prototype model, however it lasted 4 years in the Rolex brochure and was replaced by the 6263 (Fig. 7, Fig. 8, & Fig. 9). The major difference between these two watches was that the 6240 were released with the Rolex caliber 722 while the 6263 were fitted with the newer Rolex caliber 727. Also, the 6240 has a thinner minute hand
The 6263 & 6265
Released in 1970, the Rolex Oyster Cosmograph Daytona had the same case diameter of 37mm as its predecessors but was fitted with new screw down chronograph pushers and a new caliber also based on the reliable Valjoux 72, the Rolex 727. The 6263 (Fig. 8 & 9) had a black bezel while the 6265 (fig10 & 11) had a metal bezel. It is interesting to know that many Rolex dealers would switch bezel on these models at the request of the client. Thus, today, we can find these Daytona with a different bezel configuration. Both watches could have a back/white subdials dial or a Silver/Black subdials (also known as Panda with a black bezel, fig 8). These dials had the words "oyster" added below Cosmograph. The Water resistance of the watch was much improved thanks to the screw down pushers but also the wearer could not accidentally push them while diving. These two new references replaced the older 6239 and 6241, however, Rolex still had for a brief period two non screw down Cosmographs in their catalogue.
Also the Gold Daytona had the words "Superlative chronometer. Officially certified" on the dial (Fig. 7).
The 6262 & 6264
These two models were identical to their predecessors and had the regular pushers, however because these were fitted with the new calibre Rolex 727, Rolex gave them new reference numbers, the 6262 and 6264 replaced the 6239 and 6241 respectively. These two new references lasted about 2 years (1970-1972) since they were not as popular as the new screw down references. Why would Rolex release another non-screw pusher? A fact which at first glance seemed puzzling and perhaps even questionable in terms of marketing strategy. However, it reveals that the 6239 and 6241 may have had a following among wearers that needed to activate the chronograph rapidly without having to unscrew the pushers and did not need extra water resistance. Finally, some of them were fitted with the screw down pushers at the request of the retailer or the client.
All these references were also available in 14ct and 18 ct gold case, with and without bracelets except maybe the 6240. Rolex also added a new jewelry Daytona, the 6269.
The 6269 (fig 14) was a gold Cosmograph Daytona with a factory diamonds dial and a factory diamonds bezel. It was probably released in the early 1980's. The watch had limited popularity and was the only type of jewelry Daytona available until the released of the sapphire model in 1988.
The Daytona popularity became a phenomenon when Rolex announced that the previous models were discontinued and that a new model will soon be released. In a matter of months, the Cosmograph Daytona price skyrocketed. The buyers were mostly Italian collectors and dealers. Until 1992, and the devaluation of the lira, the Italian market had mostly contributed to the price inflation of the Daytona. From 1992, the Japanese and American markets had picked up on the Daytona craze and the prices continued to rise.
It is within that context that Rolex released in 1988 the new Daytona 16520 (fig 1). It had a larger 40 mm case a shoulder crown guard and a sapphire crystal. Also, the Daytona 16520 was fitted with the Zenith El Primero 400, renamed Rolex Calibre 4030. It was the first automatic Daytona and the only stainless steel model with was a certified chronometer. Thus the dial had the words "Oyster Perpetual" and "Superlative Chronometer officially certified" added. This model had many dial and case combination from Stainless steel to 18kt White Gold (reference 16519 released in 1997) on a strap, but also 18kt/SS (reference 16523) (fig17) on a bracelet and 18Kt Gold on Bracelet (reference 16528) or a strap (16518) (fig 12).
III. The Exotic dial also known as "Paul Newman"
With the Cosmograph model, Rolex offered an exotic dial as an option. The dial had a red outer track and the subsidiary dials featured square markers. Also, the 9 O'clock subsidiary dial had the minute tracker 15,30,45,60 (Fig. 5) instead of 20,40,60 for the second on the regular dial (Fig. 4). It is also believed that the 6263 and 6265 did not have a red outer track and some did not have the words Daytona around the subsidiary dial at 6 O'clock. Some dismiss the latter exotic dials as an invention of forgers. We believe that indeed the latter dial existed. The Italians collectors quickly nicknamed this exotic dial; "the Paul Newman Daytona". The origin of the name can be traced back to the actor, Paul Newman was wearing that watch during the filming of Winning and also in his private life.
IV. The movements that fitted the Daytona
The Rolex 722 was based on the Valjoux 72. A manual movement of 29,5 mm (13 lignes), 18,000 beats per hour and 17 jewels. The 722 was a very reliable movement and with a Glucydur balance and could be adjusted to 3 positions. The chronograph functions are using a column wheel. It was in use from 1961 to 1970 and fitted the model 6238,6239,6240,6241.
The Rolex 727 was also based on the Valjoux 72 but with a balance oscillation of 21,600 beats per hour. It was adjusted to five positions. Furthermore, the gold references were certified chronometers. Model 6262,6263,6264,6265,6269.
The Rolex 4030 (Fig. 14) was based on the famous automatic Zenith El Primero 400. The movement has a rotor mounted on ball bearing with an autonomy of 40 hours. Rolex made many modifications to the El Primero. The most important are to reduce the balance oscillation from 36,000 beats per hour to 28,800, thus reducing the frequency from 5 Hz to 4 HZ, a Breguet balance spring was added. A Glucydur balance, a Microstella fine adjustment . This is a column wheel chronograph. The movement has a diameter of 30 mm (13.5 lignes), thickness of 6.55 mm and 31 jewels.Model 16520, 16523, 16528,etc…
V. Unusual Daytona
The Precious Daytona
From the early 1980's, Rolex released a jewelry version of the sport Daytona with the reference 6269. With the release of reference 16520, Rolex introduced many different dial and bezel encrusted with precious stones (see table above and Fig. 12). It should be noted that many retailers fitted some watches with after market dials and bezels at the client request.
The double name dials
Jewelers such as Tiffany & Co, Cartier and some other retailers had personalized dials. Also known as double name dials, these Rolex Cosmograph Daytona command a premium among collectors and dealers. One should be careful when buying such a watch since it is easy to add the extra word. The most common double name for the Daytona is "Tiffany and Co".
Arabic numerals were added by Rolex in the early 1990's (Fig. 17) on gold models. Two gold models, references 16518 and 16519 are sold with such dials. Furthermore, one of these dial can be offered in a Mother of pearl option. Thus it could be considered an exotic dial.
Rolex not only customized some of their dials for retailers but also for foreign governments. These Rolex were used for military personnel, the dial sported the logo of the country such as the Iraqi or Egyptian Daytona (Fig. 15) or had engravings in the back of the case such as the Peruvian Air Force Daytona.
The very early version of the 6239 had a bezel calibrated differently than any other Daytona with the units per hours calibrated at 300 instead of 200. The difference exist only for that specific model and can easily be spotted, the "Units per hour" engraving is located at 1 O'clock instead of the usual 3 O'clock. Originally, the Zenith Daytona had a calibration starting at 200, but, since 1992, it has a calibration starting at 400 units per hour (Fig. 17). Finally the 2 models in gold with strap have a slightly different graduation, with triangle indicators and a continuous track. (Fig. 16).
VI. The Daytona 2000
VII. The Daytona Market
In the past decade the value of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona has dramatically increased. These watches were trading at around two thousands dollar in 1988 has quintupled in price by the Year 2,000. It seems that the craze has reach the four corners of the Globe and is not limited to known markets such as the US, Great Britain, Italy and Japan. The difficulty of finding a current version of the stainless steel Rolex Cosmograph at Rolex retailers Worldwide is a proof of the overwhelming success of that watch. The Stainless steel Daytona is the only current production watch in the world that commands a premium over its manufacturer suggested retail price.
The Table above should be used as a guideline as of the "market value" of the watches. It should be used with caution, as prices are volatile. Furthermore, it should be noted that the condition of the watch is the most important factor in evaluating its value. Finally, there are small price discrepancies that still exist depending of the local market. Thus, the reader should look at this table as a reference at a certain point in time and not a price list.
The Daytona seems to have become a cult icon. It is the most talked about and looked after timepiece. It is Hans Wilsdorf legacy to Rolex, most likely to become a failure but, instead it became Rolex biggest success. In 1963, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona failed NASA's tests to become the first watch on the moon but it definitely became the most coveted wristwatch on Earth.
X. Thanks & Credits
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