19.10.2022 - Rolex

How the Rolex Daytona became an icon

It’s the watch of dreams. A universally recognised status symbol. 

And chances are if you have the cash to spare you’ve probably already got one…

Yes, it’s the Rolex Daytona.

Up there with the Submariner for in-demand watches, the Daytona is steeped in history.

Here’s a little about how it rose to fame.

In the beginning….

Rolex’s driving history dates all the way back to 1935, when Sir Malcolm Campbell – while wearing a Rolex Oyster watch – set the world land speed record (276 mph) at Daytona Beach. In all the adverts following his win, Campbell praised the watch’s resilience to vibrations.

In 1955 Rolex introduced a manual-wind chronograph in an oyster case which can be considered a precursor of the Daytona we know today.

The Rolex Oyster Chronograph reference 6234 featured a tachometer scale on the outer ring and a telemeter scale for distances on the inner ring. Around 2,300 stainless steel and fewer than 150 gold models in black or white dials were created during the next six years.

The idea was that the watch would suit the needs of drivers who could then accurately measure average speeds up to 400 km per hour. 

Neither Cosmograph nor Daytona appeared on the dial; the watch was simply labelled ‘Chronograph’.

Rolex later added the name ‘Daytona’ to the dial of the iconic chronograph, for racing drivers to mark its connection with the speedway. 

By 1967, the Daytona signature had migrated to the top of the 6 o’clock sub-dial, where it has remained ever since.

The Daytona is now without doubt, the most important watch in the motor racing space. Even the winning driver at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is awarded one of the watches.

How did the watch gain popularity?

As with most things, popular culture is to blame!

Actor Paul Newman was gifted a Cosmograph Daytona by his wife Joanna Woodward – and his affiliation with it made him an early influencer! He was snapped wearing his reference 6239 – which was a fairly unpopular model at the time – and it became known as the Paul Newman.

But he wasn’t just a great actor, he was also an outstandingly successful race car driver – hence the connection!

And he was so popular at the time that his 1968 watch sold at auction for $15.5 million by a bidder on the phone, making it at the time, the most expensive watch ever sold at auction.


During the late 1960s, self-winding watches became fashionable with watch collectors, with Rolex discarding its manual-winding Valjoux movement in favour of a self-winding Zenith mechanism.

This new watch was referenced as the 16520 Daytona, and demand for this watch, with a larger case of 40mm, went through the roof.

During 1992 Rolex released its debut yellow gold Daytona, followed by a white gold version five years on. A platinum edition was launched to coincide with the watch’s golden anniversary in 2013.

And now…. 

The Daytona should technically be Oystersteel (stainless steel), as was the case originally. 

Now much more an everyday wear watch yet coveted collector’s timepiece, more versions are now available. These include Oystersteel and 18-carat gold, pink gold, yellow gold, white gold, or platinum.  Also, whilst they originally measured 37 mm, modern Daytonas have a 40 mm diameter.

The classic bracelet choice is Rolex’s Oyster flat three-piece but since 2017, the brand has offered its patented Oysterflex bracelet, secured with the Oysterlock safety clasp.

Many celebrities including Kevin Hart, John Mayer, Victoria Beckham and Adam Levine own various Daytona models, showing the design is still sought-after, all these years later.

Need help to find a Daytona? Call the Luxe Watches team today!