Collecting guide: 5 reasons watch collectors love the Rolex Daytona

Locating the allure of a watch with an illustrious and glamorous sporting past — featuring notable examples offered at Christie’s, including the iconic ‘Paul Newman’

A Paul Newman Rolex Daytona, 1969, and a Rolex Daytona, circa 1989

Left, Rolex, Daytona, ref. 6263/6239 Paul Newman, case number: 2’197’870. Sold for CHF 989,000 on 10 November 2013 at Christie’s in Geneva. Right, Rolex Daytona, ref. 16520, case number: L282949. Sold for CHF 75,600 on 9 May 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva

A proud history in motorsport at Daytona Beach

Rolex and Daytona are two evocative names that came together decades before the first Daytona Reference 6239 began production in 1963. In the early 1930s, most watches were tested on the wrists of athletes and adventurers, and not exclusively in hi-tech laboratories as they are today. Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf, however, recognised the advertising potential of motorsport, and signed a contract with the racing driver Sir Malcolm Campbell.

Rolex. A stainless steel automatic chronograph wristwatch with bracelet. Daytona model, ref. 116520, case no. D649006, circa 2005. Sold for CHF21,420 on 13 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva on 13 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

On 7 March 1935, Campbell set one of his final records on the sand track at Daytona Beach, increasing the world land speed record to 445.472 kmh. He would later improve this record one more time, but not at Daytona. Years later, in 1991, Rolex became the main sponsor of the 24 Hours of Daytona race at Daytona International Speedway.

Iconic owners

A product gains credibility if it is worn by a figure celebrated for being authentic — particularly if there is no payment involved. When the actress Joanne Woodward gave her husband, Paul Newman, a Daytona as a lucky charm in 1968, it marked the beginning of the actor’s enduring affection for the brand. At that time, Newman was not under contract to Rolex as an ambassador, yet he and the Rolex Daytona formed an unbeatable promotional duo.

Rolex. A stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with ‘Paul Newman panda’ dial and bracelet. Daytona model, ref. 6263, case no. 2’804’018, circa 1971. Sold for CHF428,400 on 13 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

The atypical, and much rarer, dial now associated with the ‘Paul Newman’ differs in small ways from the traditional Daytona dial: Art Deco numerals, hash marks ending in a square at the end, and a small notch between the outer minute track and the centre of the dial. These little differences mark the ‘Paul Newman’ out as one of the most desirable vintage watches in the world.

Examples include the reference 6241 with a ‘champagne’ dial, the 6239 tricolour ‘Exotic’ dial, reverse panda configuration; the 6241 ‘John Player Special’ and the 6264 ‘lemon’ dial with fully tropical chapter ring and registers.

The reliability of its movement

One thing has been and remains consistent for all the movements used by Rolex for its chronographs: outstanding reliability. Technically, however, the movements used for the first Daytona watches lagged behind other chronograph movements of the time. It was not until 1988 — more than 20 years after the launch of the Daytona — that Rolex decided to improve the highly successful ‘Zenith’ automatic calibre, El Primero, making it one of the best automatic chronographs of its time.

Rolex. A stainless steel automatic chronograph wristwatch with ‘Four Lines’ dial and bracelet. Daytona model, ref. 16520, case no. L506824, circa 1989

Twelve years later, in 2000, Rolex launched the first chronograph movement built in-house in the company’s history.

Simple yet perfectly balanced design

The Rolex Daytona’s simple yet perfectly balanced design is virtually unmatched in any other chronograph model. Strong contrasting colours, from the main to the subsidiary dials, in a superbly composed gold or steel case, make this watch irresistible.

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Rolex. An 18k gold chronograph wristwatch with diamond-set pavé bezel, diamond and sapphire set dial and bracelet, made for the Sultanate of Oman. Daytona model, ref. 6269, case no. 8’761’105, circa 1985. Sold for CHF1,134,000 on 13 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

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Rolex. An 18k white gold, diamond and sapphire-set automatic chronograph wristwatch. Daytona model, ref. 116599, case no. Z921037, circa 2006. Sold for CHF81,900 on 13 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

Jewelled and coloured-dial Daytonas show that it is possible to combine a sports watch with gemstones. Today, Daytonas are available in almost every material and design — such as the turquoise dial ref. 116509 or blue sodalite hardstone dial ref. 116519 — while still reflecting their origins.

Appreciation in value

It is often claimed that Daytona watches were initially slow to sell, which is true to some extent. Certainly, the watches did not sell as well as today’s Daytonas, but it should be noted that far fewer watches with manual calibres were produced.

Rolex. A ‘New Old Stock’ stainless steel automatic chronograph wristwatch with bracelet. Daytona model, ref. 116500LN, circa 2022. Sold for CHF44,100 on 13 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

Now, of course, it is highly desirable to own such a watch — especially one that continues to rise in price due to its rarity.

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