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A Brief History Of Rolex Daytona

When I first said the word “Daytona”, you may probably think of a watch with two pushers on the side, three subdials on the dial, and a crown on the 12 o'clock position with “Rolex” texted below. However, before Rolex Daytona swept over the watch market, the word “Daytona” was just a racing beach located in Florida. How did all this change all of a sudden? To understand the situation, we will go back to the past, to see the History of the Rolex Daytona.

Rolex In The Racing World

Rolex is intimately associated with racing. When you watch a Formula 1 match you will soon understand, with tracks full of Rolex logos on the side. You just can’t unsee it. But how did Rolex get into the racing world in the first place? To find out, we must go back to the 1930s.

Many famous race car drivers have been intimately associated with Rolex throughout history, including Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Richard Petty. These are men of achievement who always pushed the envelope. However, there was another man with amazing achievement that broke more world land and water speed records than any others in history, who really popularized auto racing and brought Rolex into the racing world, and his name was Sir Malcolm Campbell.

Sir Malcolm Campbell was not an ordinary man or an ordinary race car driver. As a matter of fact, he broke the world land speed record 9 times between 1924 and 1936 with his famous Blue Bird race cars. Sir Malcolm Campbell was British, but he used to go to the United States, Daytona Beach, Florida where he kept setting one world speed record after another. It seems a little strange today but back then he would set these records driving on the actual beach, on the sand, as pictured below.

With Rolex successfully developed the world’s first dive watch in 1926, the Rolex Oyster, which was worn by Mercedes Gleitze around her neck when she swam the English Channel from French to England, also known as the first Englishwoman who swam the English Channel (Mercedes did not make it all the way and was pulled out of the water 7 miles from England, but Hans Wilsdorf ignored the fact that Mercedes did not complete the swim and used her celebrity endorsement to advertise the Rolex Oyster). Soon after this event, Rolex became known for its reliability and durability, with the slogan “Sealed against the elements ” which is loved by many celebrities. One of them is Sir Malcolm Campell.

As we see from the 1930s Rolex Oyster advertisement pictured below, not only did Sir Malcolm Campbell wear a Rolex, but refused to allow Rolex to pay him to wear his Rolex.

The owner of Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf was extremely impressed with Sir Malcolm Campbell’s achievements and lifestyle, and in many ways believed he symbolized the Rolex lifestyle; therefore he became Rolex’s first real ambassador. It’s true Mercedes Glietze was a Rolex’s ambassador too, but she only represented Rolex for one event, whereas Sir Malcolm Campbell’s ambassadorship had lasted for many years, and Rolex even came out with a Sir Malcolm Campbell model, as the one in the picture below.

In 1935, Sir Malcolm Campbell attempted to break the 300 MPH barrier as we see from the program below with him on the cover from Daytona Beach, Florida.

On March 7, 1935, Sir Malcolm continued to break one world speed record after another when he hit 276.82 MPH(442.91 KPH). Before achieving this new record, he ran into complications and had to wait for 5 weeks for the Daytona beach sand to become smooth enough to drive on. He broke his previous record by only 4MPH. Unfortunately, he’s not able to achieve his 300 MPH goal.

In order to achieve his 300 MPH goal, Sir Malcolm Campbell decided to move to Bonneville Salt Flats in late 1935 with the fact that the track of Daytona Beach was getting way too worn and developed too many holes. Therefore, Bonneville Salt Flats would be better for him since it was 159 square miles of flat salt surface located in north-western Utah.

The decision was made because Sir Malcolm Campbell realized that in order to reach up to 300 MPH, it would take a few miles for him to reach the maximum speed. Once he reached the maximum speed, it would take him many miles to slow down. Furthermore, the brakes were not very effective back in the 1930s. Thus he most slowly decelerated by slightly pulling back on the gas pedal, otherwise, the car would instantly burn up if he hit the brakes at 300 MPH.

Soon on September 3, 1935, Sir Malcolm Campbell successfully achieved his goal with him reaching the maximum speed of 301.13 MPH as seen.

After Sir Malcolm Campbell moved to Bonneville Salt Flats, Daytona Beach lost its major showcase opportunity. The officials in the city decided to maintain Daytona Beach as the winter hub and epicenter of American racing.

In 1936, the world’s first Stock Car race was held on Daytona Beach. The race was 78 laps and 400 km long. Two years after, William France took over Daytona Beach, accepted the job of managing the course, and also raced in the event. From 1938 to 1941, William France continued to race and manage Daytona Beach.

William France in the Rolex Zephyr advertisement from 1960 is shown in the picture below:

Rolex Daytona Was Almost Named Rolex Le Mans Chronograph!!!

In 1953, Rolex registered the name “Cosmograph” and was first placed on the Rolex Moonphase watch ref.6062. Rolex originally used the word “Chronograph” for their chronograph watches, but one day around the late 1960s, they decided to change the name from Rolex Chronograph to Rolex Cosmograph.

Some sources speculate that in 1962 Rolex first used the “Daytona” designation on a watch to capitalize upon the quickly increasing popularity of NASCAR racing. NASCAR racing used supped-up stock cars that were basically turned into Hot-Rods or Muscle Cars.

However, in 1964, Rolex decided to associate its chronograph watches with a world-class race. In particular, the Le Mans race in France. Yes, you heard it right, the Rolex Daytona that everybody knows, and loves was almost named The Rolex Le Mans!!! Here’s the extremely rare ad for The Rolex Le Mans Chronograph from 1964.

This ad appeared in the Sebring Race Program from 1964 on page 56. The Sebring International Raceway is a road course auto racing facility located in Sebring, Florida. It is well known for hosting the 12 hours of Sebring. The track is 6 km long and features 17 turns, including long straightaways and challenging corners. It has been in operation since 1950 and has hosted a variety of different types of races, including sports car racing, motorcycle racing and open-wheel racing.

On the other hand, Le Mans is the oldest endurance race in France, dating back to 1923. Breaking only for wars and general strikes. The track is 13.6 km long. In 1955, the track had a number of interesting features, including one of the longest straight sections of any motor racing track available at the time. A 6 km long straight allowed drivers to achieve incredible speeds, making for particularly exciting races. It was the world’s most prestigious endurance race. Cars would compete in repeated laps of the circuit over the course of 24 hours, with the top prize going to the team who traveled the farthest distance within the time limit.

However, in late 1964, Rolex reintroduced the Rolex Daytona Chronograph again as pictured below.

So, what’s the reason why Rolex changed the name to “Rolex Daytona” again instead of keeping using the name “Rolex Le Mans”? It is difficult to confirm for certain but here's my theory.

My first guess is that Rolex has been associated with Daytona for a long time, and also the reason how they got into the racing world in the first place. Their strong affiliation with the Speed King, Sir Malcolm Campbell, who broke so many world speed records on Daytona Beach. Therefore, with no doubt, Rolex used the name “Daytona” instead of “Le Mans”.

Or maybe, in my opinion, they planned to call it the “Daytona Chronograph” instead of “Le Mans Chronograph” because Daytona just sounded better.

It also crosses my mind that perhaps the name “Le Mans” is unlucky to use because of the Le Mans disaster in 1955, the most deadly motor racing crash of all time, which resulted in hundreds of traumatic injuries, Pierre Levegh, and 79 people's deaths.

A newspaper from 1955 about the Le Mans disaster is pictured below.

But who knows, perhaps one day we will have a concrete answer to this question.

This wouldn’t be the first or the last time Rolex would try out a name and then change it significantly. In 1955, they briefly named the Rolex “Submariner” to “Skin Diver”. At one point in the mid-1950s, Rolex also called the Submariner the “Sub-Aqua”.

Daytona Beach in the 1950s:

Daytona track in the late 1960s:

Daytona racetrack in the 1980s:

Daytona race in 2021:

Paul Newman

“The King Of Cool”, aka Paul Newman, was a man who literally was part of the Rolex Daytona. If Paul Newman didn’t wear the Rolex Daytona in 1972, I am sure Rolex Daytona wouldn’t gain the place they have today.

The California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger once said: "Paul Newman was the ultimate cool guy whom men wanted to be like and women adored. He was an American icon, a brilliant actor, a Renaissance man, and a generous but modest philanthropist. He entertained millions in some of Hollywood's most memorable roles ever, and he brightened the lives of many more, especially seriously ill children, through his charitable works. Paul was one of a kind. The beloved film star will be missed by a world of fans and admirers."

Paul Newman’s first Rolex Daytona was given by his wife Joanne Woodward in 1972, the same year as he started his professional racing career as pictured below.

The term “The Paul Newman Daytona” is a bit of an oxymoron. As a matter of fact, it is a Daytona with an exotic dial. The reason it is called “the exotic dial” is because it has a black outer track that runs around the edge of the dial that matches the subdials. Paul Newman was a huge fan, he owned and wore at least 5 different Rolex Daytona in his lifetime.

So where did the term “The Paul Newman Daytona” come from? Some would say the term was the same from overzealous auction houses and vintage Rolex dealers who wanted to charge a premium price for selling the Rolex Daytona. However, as we look at the advertisement by Rolex as shown below, Paul Newman was wearing an exotic dial stainless steel Rolex Daytona on a fat strap. The Rolex he was wearing in the advertisement might be Reference 6241 or 6239 and it is perhaps the image that created the phrase “The Paul Newman Daytona”.

Rolex is renowned for its strategic marketing skills, so the obvious question is whether or not Rolex was so adroit that they were able to create this amazing mystique by associating the Rolex Daytona with Paul Newman? In an interview between Rolex historian, John Brooke and Paul Newman, Paul Newman said he never had any association with Rolex.

Therefore, if Rolex had created this connection quietly, it would’ve made them brilliant marketing geniuses. The other possibility is that it just happened and that later on auction houses grabbed the ball and ran with it.

It is fascinating to realize Paul Newman was deeply inspired by the Rolex Daytona watches and Rolex was equally inspired by Paul Newman as well, it ended up being a perfectly symbiotic relationship.

A Rolex advertisement of Paul Newman from the movie “Winning”

Paul Newman was also known for his devotion to his wife Joanne Woodard and his three girls.

The photo below is from People Magazine, and it was taken in 1963. Racing car legend, Mario Andretti, who was close pals with Paul Newman said, “It was so evident that they were madly in love with other forever”.

However, before Paul Newman met and fell in love with Joanne Woodward, he was married to his first wife, Jackie Witte. They were married in 1949 and divorced in 1958 and had a son and two daughters. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were married on February 2, 1958, and they had three daughters.

In an autobiography written many years later, Paul Newman revealed said that when he divorced his first wife, he “felt guilty as hell”. This somewhat reminded me of my love relationship back in high school, it didn’t end well, and still a thorn in my heart (crying inside ( • ᴖ • 。 ) )

Paul Newman’s acting career spanned 6 decades. He began his acting career by attending The Actor’s Studio in New York City.

The photo above was taken in 1955, the same year James Dean attended The Actor’s Studio. Notice that all the men in the photo are wearing suits with ties and Paul Newman is the only one wearing a T-shirt with white socks and moccasins.

Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid is considered to be one of Paul Newman’s greatest movies in 1969. Robert Redford co-starred with Paul Newman in the movie. It is ironic, because Steve McQueen was originally chosen to star in the movie opposite Paul Newman, but their lawyers could not agree on which star would get top billing. It’s also interesting to mention that the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Il is a big fan of Hollywood, he even started making films himself inspired by Hollywood, it’s likely Kim Jong-Il also watched Paul Newman movies.

The next two photos of Paul Newman were taken just before he passed away in 2008. Of course, he was at the racetrack with his Daytona, Paul Newman had a pure passion for Rolex and Racing.

By the time Paul Newman was 83 years old, I was only 4 years old. Whenever I look at the photos it makes me sad and pitiful. He was still alive when I was born. A legend that only appeared in movies was close yet far away from me. Rest in peace Paul Newman.

Zenith And Rolex

During the year 1988 to 2000, Rolex Daytona watches were outfitted with a reliable movement from Zenith.

The story began in 1988 at Baselworld, Rolex introduced their first self-winding chronograph and the most significant redesign of their sports watch, the automatic Daytona. The 16520 Daytona heralded the introduction of a new 40mm case and a sapphire crystal.

The first self-winding chronograph from Rolex is Zenith powered 165xx. The 165xx series watches have almost doubled in value over the past two or three years.

The Zenith Daytona (left) & The Rolex Daytona (right)

The difference between the Rolex Movement and Zenith Movement is the second hand subdial on the Zenith Movement version is located at the 9:00 position rather than the 6:00 position on the Rolex movement version as pictured above.

Brief Introduction to Every Rolex Daytona Models

Rolex Daytona Reference 6238

Rolex 6238 is considered the precursor of the Rolex Daytona that why people also call it “Pre-Daytona”.

Produced from 1962 to 1968 in stainless steel, 14 kt and 18 kt gold, the last model had a smooth bezel and the tachometer scale printed on the dial.

Rolex Daytona Reference 6239

First released in 1963, the Rolex Cosmograph 6239 initial model became the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. The name “Daytona” was added to the dial about a year after the release. This watch features the classic tachometer scale engraved on the metal bezel unlike the 6238 painted on the dial instead.

In 2017, the renowned Paul Newman’s own Rolex Daytona ref.6239 with exotic dial sold for a record-breaking $17.8 million.

Rolex Daytona 6240

This model is the first Daytona featuring an Oyster case fitted with screw-down pushers and crown for better water resistance. The 6240 was produced as a prototype. Thus there’s only a small quantity of them.

Rolex Daytona Reference 6262

The Rolex 6262 is the most limited watch in the Rolex collection in view of the fact that they produced this model for 1 year only from 1970 to 1971.

Rolex Daytona Reference 6263

The Rolex 6263 also features an Oyster case with screw-down pushers and crown. Some early versions of the 6263 only included the word “Cosmograph” but not “Daytona” as pictured below.

Rolex Daytona 6264

The Rolex 6264 was only produced in a few numbers between 1969 to 1972. The 6264 featured a new caliber Valjoux 727, replacing the previous lower-beat Daytona.

Rolex Daytona Reference 6269

The Rolex 6269 is one of the most special watches in the Rolex Collection. The watch is not only made from 18kt yellow gold, but also completed with diamonds in the bezel and dial. It’s also an Oyster watch. These watches are seriously rare.

Rolex Daytona Reference 6270

There only eight Rolex 6270 were made especially for his majesty Qaboos Bin Said of Oman. The 6270 is a full yellow gold watch with a pave diamond set dial, and baguette diamond bezel.

Rolex Daytona Reference 16520

The Rolex 16520 is Rolex's first automatic Daytona. The watch is also nicknamed the “Zenith Daytona” as the movement is Zenith powered 165xx, a modified Zenith El-Primero based caliber.

Rolex Daytona Reference 116520

The Rolex 116520 was released in 2000. Fitted with an in-house Rolex caliber. It was discontinued in 2016.

Rolex Daytona Reference 116528

The Rolex 116528 is the same concept as the in-house Rolex but made in full yellow gold; some versions of the 116528 feature a red hand. It was produced from 2000 to 2016.

Rolex Daytona Reference 116500

The Rolex 116500 was the first stainless steel Daytona to feature a ceramic bezel. This model was released in 2016 and is still a relatively new model.

Rolex Daytona Reference 126506

Today, on the 60th anniversary of the Rolex Daytona. Rolex released the new model of the Daytona, the 126xx series. The movement of the Daytona was replaced by the new caliber 4131, added its more efficient Chronergy escapement, and added more ball bearings to the rotor. The Daytona is still 40mm and has a 72-hour power reserve. What’s more interesting is, for the first time in history, Rolex has a sapphire case back in their watches. Therefore, we can finally look more closely at the Rolex movement. They also added the Côtes de Genève finishing to the bridges.

The ceramic bezel is the other big change to the look, the bezel is now surrounded by the same metal as the case itself. You might wonder: “Isn't it will be less durable and easier to stretch the bezel?” To answer this, the ceramic doesn't stretch to the edge of the bezel itself. It's a practical measure. Unless you happen to knock a bezel edge pretty hard and shatter the whole thing. Otherwise, everything will be all right.

The hour markers are also smaller, which makes the dial look more like the old Zenith Daytona.


This article was inspired by Thierry Dubois, the owner of LUOXO. When I saw him wearing a Rolex 6238 one day, it suddenly gave me an idea of solving the history of the Rolex Daytona. The reason I called this article “A Brief History of The Rolex Daytona” is because there are so many interesting stories and facts I may or may not discover. Therefore, I will update this article again in the future if I find any new stories <3.

Big thanks to Freya Leung for correcting all my grammar mistakes in this blog.


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