Left, Rolex Daytona, Ref. 62636239, Paul Newman model, case no. 2197870, manufactured in 1969. 37.5 mm diameter. Sold for CHF 989,000 on 10 November 2013 at Christie’s in Geneva.

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’

  • 1
  • 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 Daytona, Ref. 6239, Case No. 1090519, circa 1964. A rare and early stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with bracelet. Case 36 mm diameter. Estimate CHF 69,300 on 9 May 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva

Rolex Daytona, Ref. 6239, Case No. 1'090'519, circa 1964. A rare and early stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with bracelet. Case: 36 mm diameter. Estimate: CHF 69,300 on 9 May 2022 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.

  • 2
  • 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 Daytona, Ref. 6241, Case No. 1757887, circa 1968. An exceptional and extremely rare 18ct gold chronograph wristwatch with ‘champagne Paul Newman’ dial and bracelet. Case 37.5 mm diameter. Sold for CHF 1,071,000 on 9 May 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva

Rolex Daytona, Ref. 6241, Case No. 1'757'887, circa 1968. An exceptional and extremely rare 18ct gold chronograph wristwatch with ‘champagne Paul Newman’ dial and bracelet. Case: 37.5 mm diameter. Sold for CHF 1,071,000 on 9 May 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva

Rolex, Cosmograph, Daytona, Paul Newman model, Ref. 6264, Case No. 2357384, circa 1970. An exceptionally rare and highly important 18ct gold chronograph wristwatch with tropical lemon Paul Newman dial and bracelet. Case 37.5 mm diameter. Sold for CHF 1,254,000 on 9 May 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva

Rolex, Cosmograph, Daytona, Paul Newman model, Ref. 6264, Case No. 2'357'384, circa 1970. An exceptionally rare and highly important 18ct gold chronograph wristwatch with 'tropical lemon Paul Newman' dial and bracelet. Case: 37.5 mm diameter. Sold for CHF 1,254,000 on 9 May 2022 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 (above left) with a ‘champagne Paul Newman’ dial — comparable in rarity to the reference 6241 ‘John Player Special’ — and the 6264 ‘lemon Paul Newman’ dial (above right) with fully tropical chapter ring and registers.

  • 3
  • 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 Daytona, Ref. 16520, Case No. L282949, circa 1989. A rare and attractive stainless steel automatic chronograph wristwatch with bracelet and floating cosmograph dial. Case 40 mm diameter. Sold for CHF 75,650 on 9 May 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva

Rolex Daytona, Ref. 16520, Case No. L282949, circa 1989. A rare and attractive stainless steel automatic chronograph wristwatch with bracelet and 'floating' cosmograph dial. Case: 40 mm diameter. Sold for CHF 75,650 on 9 May 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva

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

  • 4
  • 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.

Rolex, Cosmograph, Daytona, Ref. 6269, Case No. 8852644, circa 1985. An exceptional and extremely rare 18ct gold chronograph wristwatch with diamond-set bezel and pavé diamond and sapphire-set dial. Case 37.5 mm diameter. Sold for CHF 1,614,000 on 9 May 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva

Rolex, Cosmograph, Daytona, Ref. 6269, Case No. 8'852'644, circa 1985. An exceptional and extremely rare 18ct gold chronograph wristwatch with diamond-set bezel and pavé diamond and sapphire-set dial. Case: 37.5 mm diameter. Sold for CHF 1,614,000 on 9 May 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva

Daytonas such as the jewelled reference 6269 (above) show that it is possible to combine a sports watch with gemstones. Today, Daytonas are available in almost every material and design — a prime example being the turquoise dial 116509 — while still reflecting their origins.

  • 5
  • 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 Daytona, Paul Newman model, Ref. 6262, Case No. 2621469, circa 1971. A rare and attractive stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with Paul Newman dial and bracelet. Case 36 mm diameter. Sold for CHF 239,400 on 9 May 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva

Rolex Daytona, Paul Newman model, Ref. 6262, Case No. 2'621'469, circa 1971. A rare and attractive stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with Paul Newman dial and bracelet. Case: 36 mm diameter. Sold for CHF 239,400 on 9 May 2022 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.