A Brief History Of The Rolex Daytona Watch

Collector’s Guides • 07 Oct 2016

A Brief History Of The Rolex Daytona Watch

by Ariel Adams

“Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona” is the formal name of what many people merely refer to as the “Rolex Daytona”, a timepiece with a history as interesting as its popularity.  So why is the Cosmograph Daytona one of the most recognizable and important chronograph wristwatches?

Designed, imaginatively named, and debuted by Rolex in 1933 as the “Cosmograph”, the brand’s first chonographs with counters were often equipped with other functions on the dial such as a tachymetric scale, a telemetric scale, or a pulsometer.  Subsequently in 1939, the Cosmograph was updated with Rolex’s robust and waterproof Oyster case as well as a manually wound mechanical movement reputed for its reliability and precision, at a time when no brand had yet been able to overcome the technical hurdle of producing a self-winding chronograph.

In 1963, Rolex launched a new-generation chronograph, the “Cosmograph Daytona” featured highly legible dials, with either a black or a light-colored dial or a light color on a black dial.  The tachymetric scale moved from the dial to the bezel, therefore allowing clearer reading for average speed calculation.  These functional features addressed one of the challenges of the time – legibility – and the resulting technical and sporty aesthetic instantly propelled it to become the epitome of horological functionality for use in motorsports.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona 1963

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona 1963


In typical Rolex fashion, a long and dedicated process of fine-tuning and technical evolution made it the premier luxury chronograph it is today.  It was as early as 1965 that some notable dial design tweaks, a Plexiglas bezel insert, and the now-standard screw-down chronograph pushers led to the watch many know and love today.

An additional inscription “Daytona” began to appear on some dials during the new Rolex chronograph’s early years.  This was meant to coincide with Rolex’s sponsorship of the famed racetrack, the Daytona International Speedway in Florida, emphasizing its link to motorsports.

The city of Daytona Beach has gone down in history as a birthplace of speed, with motor racing events taking place on its sandy flats as early as 1903, as the very dawn of the era of vehicles propelled by internal combustion.

Land speed records began to break ever-scarier levels between 1928 and 1935 – climbing from 207mph to 276 mph – as race cars fitted with airplane engines tear up the tranquil beach city in Florida.  This place is widely considered in the United States as the “World Centre of Automobile Racing”, joining locations like Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps and Monza in the international motor racing hall of fame.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the traditional stock car races held here from 1936 made for the foundations of NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Racing) in 1948 and the Speed Weeks with “measured mile” drag races were reborn in the same year, where all sorts of American and European sports car manufacturers participated.

Daytona Beach in 1955

Daytona Beach in 1955


Last but not least, the Daytona International Speedway, inaugurated in 1959 and still very much in use today, has aptly been named as “A Temple of Motor Racing”, famed for the 24-hour long endurance race that is one of the most challenging of its kind.

From the first editions of this extremely challenging race under the name “Daytona Continental”, the winners have received a Rolex watch in addition to the trophy.  With the launch of the Cosmograph designed for racing drivers, the Rolex chronograph became the natural prize awarded to the champion.  Not long afterwards, to emphasize the brand’s connection to the American racetrack, Rolex named the model Cosmograph Daytona.

In 1992, Rolex became the title sponsor of the “24 Hours of Daytona”, making official an association that had already become legendary, which is why the race is now known as the “Rolex 24 At Daytona®.

Alongside Rolex’s rise as a key sponsor of important motorsports events, the Cosmograph Daytona wristwatch itself evolved over the decades.  One of the most important developments came in 2000 when Rolex unveiled the new-generation self-winding calibre 4130 chronograph movement which is entirely designed and manufactured in-house.  Replete with innovative and patented technical solutions, this high-performance movement has set a new standard for luxury self-winding chronographs in terms of robustness, reliability, efficiency and precision, as well as for ease of maintenance.  Today, all Cosmograph Daytona watches are still powered by the calibre 4130.

Rolex Calibre 4130

Rolex calibre 4130


And the latest point of its evolution happened this year, when the 904L steel Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona, a true icon among modern luxury watches, was equipped with a new monobloc Cerachrom bezel in high-tech ceramic along with some notable dial design changes.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona


Learn more about the Cosmograph Daytona and motorsports at the Rolex Daytona exhibition, taking place from October 4 – 9.

Open daily at:

VivoCity Central Court B, Level 1
1 Harbourfront Walk
Singapore 098585

For more information, please schedule an appointment with our Sales Consultant here.

Tags: hour glass hour glass singapore rolex rolex singapore rolex watch rolex watch singapore the hour glass

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