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Rolex Daytona History

rolex1The Rolex Daytona is turning 50, and of all the collectible vintage Rolex watches on the market is probably the best known and most sought-after. Today, Daytonas are one of the most popular brands of Rolex sports watches and the company’s only chronograph, but vintage Daytonas, particularly the stainless steel model, are still considered by many to be more desirable than a new model. What makes the older Daytonas so special? What is the history of this fascinating timepiece?

From Simple Beginnings . . .
The Daytona emerged in the 1960s as a sporting model of the chronograph with an external tachymeter scale on the bezel as well as an Oyster case. Previously, sport chronographs from Rolex, now called pre-Daytonas, had the tachymeter printed on the dial. The prominent external tachymeter allowed for easier speed timing, and the use of this car by sports car and race car drivers gave rise to its name, hearkening to the Daytona Beach racetrack.
Between 1961 and 1991, Daytona featured a manual-wind wheel chronograph movement dubbed the Valjoux 72. The rarest of all Daytonas, the Paul Newman Series, feature this hand-wound movement, making manual wind a very sought-after quality among Daytona collectors. The Paul Newman specifically has an exotic dial with a solid-color offset dial contrasted with subdials and an outer minute track. Finding one of these rare watches is not easy. The best place to start is by searching vintage watch dealers such as Bob’s Watches, who carry a vast selection of second hand Rolex watches.

And Today . . .
Of all the Daytona collectible models, the Paul Newman series is probably the most valuable. The actor’s wife supposedly bought the one he was photographed wearing for many years, making this Daytona one of the most desirable of collector’s watches.
Oddly, one of the reasons for the Paul Newman popularity is that people of the time did not like the watch itself, calling it ugly. Therefore, very few were produced, making this a rare Rolex indeed.
The Paul Newman exotic dials were dropped in the 1970s, leaving the silver and black dials that are far more common today. However, these versions of the Daytona still retained the Valjoux 72-caliber movement and the small 37 mm case.
In the late 1980’s, people began to see the older Daytonas, particularly the Paul Newman version, as collector’s items, a trend that drove up prices. In 1991, Rolex introduced a new Daytona version with a 40mm case and automatic winding Zenith El Primero movement. Today, the tradition of automatic winding movement and a stainless steel case continues to drive Daytona as one of the most popular Rolex models.


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