Five reasons Rolex collectors love the Daytona

How the iconic ‘Paul Newman’ has become synonymous with the Daytona’s sporting heritage, and why the model ranks in the top tier of watch collecting — featuring notable examples offered at Christie’s

Rolex. A chronograph with Paul Newman dial, circa 1968, and a stainless steel automatic chronograph with, circa 1997

Left: Rolex. An extremely rare 18k gold chronograph wristwatch with ‘Paul Newman’ dial and bracelet, circa 1968. Daytona model, ref. 6241, case no. 1’757’887. Sold for CHF 1,071,000 on 9 May 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva. Right: Rolex. An extremely rare stainless-steel automatic chronograph wristwatch with ‘no Daytona’ dial and bracelet, circa 1997. Daytona model, ref. 16520, case no. U161780. Sold for CHF 36,540 on 14 May 2024 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. An extremely rare 14k gold chronograph wristwatch with tobacco-brown ‘tropical’ registers and bracelet, circa 1971. Retailed by Tiffany & Co., ref. 6264, case no. 2’802’738. Sold for CHF 365,400 on 14 May 2024 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 Rolex 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 Daytona formed an unbeatable promotional duo.

Rolex. An extremely rare and probably unique stainless-steel chronograph wristwatch with ‘Paul Newman’ dial and bracelet, circa 1970. Made for the Peruvian Air Force, ref. 6262, case no. 2’414’010. Sold for CHF 302,400 on 14 May 2024 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: it has 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.

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.

Jewelled and coloured-dial Daytonas show that it is possible to add gemstones to a sports watch. Today, Daytonas are available in a dazzling range of materials and designs — such as the turquoise dial ref. 116509 or the blue sodalite hardstone dial ref. 116519 — while remaining true to their sporting origins.

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Appreciation in value

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

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

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