- The Cosmograph Daytona is one of the most highly sought-after Rolex watches, fetching $48,000 on average.
- Its name comes from the Daytona International Speedway, home of the Rolex 24 endurance motor race.
- Each year’s Rolex 24 winner recieves a Cosmograph, which has experienced some changes over the years.
In 1962, the inaugural running of the Daytona Continental vaulted Daytona, Florida to the pinnacle of international motorsport. The grueling 24-hour motor race put the the event on par with the storied round-the-clock endurance competition at Le Mans.
A year later, Rolex introduced a new model of the Cosmograph, which it dubbed “Daytona” in homage to the race itself and the long history of automotive accomplishments on the hard-packed sand of Florida’s panhandle beaches.
Rolex soon became the official timepiece of Daytona, and winners of the 24-hour race — now known as the Rolex 24 — were awarded with a specially engraved Cosmograph. Here’s a look at how the iconic watch has changed over the years to become one of the most coveted timepieces in the world.
1963 – The Original
The original Cosmograph Daytona featured a high-contrast face for better legibility. The tachymetric scale was moved to the outer bezel, enabling the wearer to use the second hand to measure average speeds over a given distance.
The Paul Newman
No history of the Daytona would be complete without a mention of the most coveted model of all, a special edition favored by Hollywood actor and racing driver Paul Newman. One collector made history in 2017 when they bought one of Paul Newman’s personal Daytona Reference 6239 watches for a jaw-dropping $17.8 million.
1965 – The Oyster
In 1965, screw-down pushers replaced the simple press-down ones on the original, preventing accidental bumps and securing the case against water, earning Rolex’s “Oyster” designation. A black plexiglass bezel was fitted to improve legibility.
1988 – The Perpetual
In a rejection of the move toward quartz in prior decades, Rolex doubled down on its commitment to mechanical perfection. For the 1988 edition of the Cosmograph, Rolex added a self-winding movement, earning it the official Swiss designation of chronometer, attesting to its superior precision. The designers also increased the case size from 36mm to 40mm, added a set of “shoulders” to protect the stem, and returned to the original metallic bezel.
2000 – A New Movement
The 1988 version proved so popular that Rolex left the design unchanged in the 2000 series – on the outside, at least. Inside, the engineers had replaced the 4030 mechanism with a completely redesigned 4130 movement, which required 60% fewer components and added the ability to increase the power reserve from 50 hours to 72. For an additional flourish, the name Daytona was engraved on the oscillating weight.
2016 – A Modern Masterpiece
Rolex unveiled the current iteration of the Daytona in 2016. The aesthetics harkened back to the 1965 version, but instead of plexiglass (which was known to fade under UV exposure), Rolex engineers developed a process to bind platinum on a ceramic bezel.
A Trophy to Wear
Scott Pruett, who is tied with Hurley Haywood for the most wins at the Rolex 24 with five apiece, summed up the significance of the Rolex Daytona for drivers:
“My Daytona watches will always bring back many fond memories,” he said. “Rolex and Daytona are inextricably linked. To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever. Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level. Every driver who competes at Daytona is racing for the ultimate reward – a Rolex watch.”
He continued: “If you win a trophy, it sits in your trophy case. However, when you win a Daytona, with ‘Winner’ engraved on the back, there’s nothing more special. There’s no current driver or past driver who wouldn’t say the most memorable thing you can take away from this race is the watch.”