The history of the Rolex Daytona

Sir Malcolm Campbell broke the land speed record five times, all of them on Florida’s Daytona beach. As I wrote in my other post about the history of the Rolex Oyster he was was the first man to break the 300 miles per hour barrier. On his arm he wore a Rolex Oyster. The need for a precise instrument to measure lap times while racing became important, so here comes the story about the Rolex “Cosmograph” Daytona.

The early beginning of the Rolex Daytona

The first Rolex Chronograph was introduced in 1955, reference 6234. This reference was produced for 6 years between 1955-1961. It had both a “tachymetre” and a “telemetre” scale. The first one is the one that is significant for the Rolex Daytona.

But it’s the second series of the reference 6238 that came after the 6234 which is called the Pre-Daytona. The telemeter scale was removed while the tachometer scale was still on the dial. The heart of the watch was the Valjoux caliber 72 chronograph movement which was customized by Rolex and renamed 72 B.

In 1963 Rolex introduced the first Cosmograph model, the reference 6239. The main difference between reference 6239 and 6238 was the tachometer scale engraved on the bezel.

Rolex Cosmograph 6239

Rolex Cosmograph 6239

This Rolex Chronograph was not immediately referred to as the Daytona. It was actually referred to as the Le Mans in some advertisements before finally going with the legendary Daytona name.

Rolex Le Mans chronograph

Old Rolex ad for the Le Mans Chronograph

The Different Eras of the Rolex Daytona

Two years later, in 1965, the Daytona name appeared on the dial as well. However the name ‘Daytona’ was not always printed on the dial until in the following reference 6240 equipped with screw down pushers. The Oyster name appeared between Rolex and Cosmograph. The reference 6240 are among the rarest Daytona ever produced. The reference 6241 was another version with a black plastic bezel with push-down buttons. And it’s from this reference the word Daytona will be officially printed on the dial.

Rolex ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona era

You have probably heard of the Rolex ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona if you know your Daytona. Paul Newman was never an actual Rolex ambassador but he was a Rolex enthusiast and over the years it has become common to identify any Rolex Daytona with exotic dial as “The Paul Newman Daytona”, due to Paul’s love for the Rolex Daytona. A Paul Newman dial must be fitted in a reference 6239, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264 or 6265 installed by Rolex as original. The Paul Newman Daytona’s are today very sought after by collectors. When it was released it was actually not a direct hit and it could lay on the dealers shelves for years. Today a Paul Newman Daytona can auction for as much as $2,000,000 US dollars.

The Zenith era

The first self-winding (Automatic) Daytona was introduced in 1988 with the caliber 4030. This movement was based on the famous Zenith El Primero 400 caliber. At that time it was considered the best automatic chronograph movement available.

Rolex Calibre 4030

Rolex Calibre 4030

The movement was not the only change that Rolex did to the Daytona with the 165xx series. The case diameter increased from 37 mm to 40 mm and a sapphire crystal was installed. The screw-down pushers was now your only option.

The success of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona reference 16520 was great. A limited production (due to limited supply from Zenith) and the strong demand made the watch very popular.

In 1991 Rolex produced a very special series of 10 examples of the Daytona in yellow gold with a mesmerizing blue dial. This special edition is often referred to as “The Chairman Daytona” since it was intended as a gift for Rolex directors.

Rolex Daytona 16528

Rolex Daytona 16528 “Chairman Daytona”

Meanwhile they were enjoying the success of the 165xx series, Rolex started working on a new in-house movement with less components (and better power reserve) making it much easier to service. The new Rolex Daytona Cosmograph collection with the Calibre 4130, was launched during the Baselworld exhibition in 2000.

The ceramic Daytona

In 2011 Rolex launched the Daytona reference 116515 introducing the ceramic bezel. The same ceramic bezel, together with the ice blue dial that is significant with Rolex watches in platinum, was used in 2013 for the Daytona Cosmograph Platinum. This model was released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Daytona. In 2016 Rolex finally decided to launch the 116500 in steel. This model is highly sought after and will be for a long time, the 116500 replaced the now discontinued Rolex Daytona reference 116520 .


The Rolex Daytona in stainless steel with the ceramic bezel is highly sought after. You might have to wait a couple of years to get your own timepiece. Since the demand is so high you will actually have to pay a couple of thousands of dollars more to get your hands on one right away.

The Daytona in stainless steel, ref. 116500, that was released last year


The Daytona is truly a successful model released by Rolex. But the funny thing is that the early references were not as popular as you might imagine. It was quite expensive for the time being and as I mentioned earlier they could lay on the dealers shelves for years. Thanks to the vintage trend that has been strong for a couple of years now with the increasing demand for vintage Rolex watches the low production numbers has made the Daytona one of the most popular models to collect. There are quite many different references to choose from with a lot of different dial setups etc.

The constant demand together with limited supply will make it a desirable model for many years to come.

Last but not least, here comes a couple of my personal favorites (yes I like precious metals and diamonds). Whats your personal favorite Daytona of all time? Let me know in the comments below! 

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One Comment

  • Mr Richard F Wise says:

    Two of my favourite watches are the Rolex Daytona 16528 and the Rolex Daytona 116508 both to me beautiful pieces of miniature metal works art which capture the essence of watch making.

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