Hans Wilsdorf created the iconic Rolex brand in 1905, the same time period when German and American automobiles were developing and becoming important industries. As both the Rolex watch and racing grew in popularity, their paths intertwined in a way that would last for decades. The Rolex Daytona represents the pinnacle of the intersection between Rolex and racing.
The relationship began when Sir Malcom Campbell (The Speed King) caught the attention of Hans Wilsdorf. Campbell set many land-speed records both in Europe and at the emerging American racetrack called Daytona Beach. This beach sand track was a novelty that garnered more attention as Campbell set more records there. Wilsdorf wanted Campbell to be the Rolex Ambassador, which he did for many years. This partnership solidified the image and importance of the Rolex Daytona.
Rolex Daytona Original Series
The original series was produced in small batch starting in 1963. This model has a four-digit reference number and manual wind movement. This distinguishes the original series from the latter two, which are self-winding. These first versions are the rarest and the most valued collectibles of the Rolex Daytona watches. The manual wind movement, manufactured by Valjoux, has proven to be extremely reliable and exceptionally accurate. The model underwent slight updates and changes in features over the decades, such as the “Oyster” model that had enhanced water resistance. The word “Daytona” was first added to the Rolex watch below the 12 o’clock Rolex signature in 1964.
Rolex Daytona Second Series
The original series was in short supply and high demand by the 1990s, which led Rolex to introduce a second series. This new series of Rolex watch used a modified automatic winding movement. The second series uses a sapphire crystal instead of the original acrylic crystal. The case diameter is slightly larger, the dials are glossy instead of matte, and the outer track has a contrasting color. The second series of the Rolex Daytona watch utilizes a five-digit reference number, which is of note for collectors.
Rolex Daytona Third Series
In 2000, came the third and most recent series. This series has a six-digit model reference number. Visually, the differences are slight. Close examination of the dial will show slight changes in the positioning of the sub-dials. The six-digit Daytonas are certified self-winding. Rolex sponsored the 24 Hours of Daytona Car Race (later known as the Rolex 24), and the watch was named after the race.
Daytona “Paul Newman” Dial
While the inspiration for Rolex Daytona came from multiple racecar drivers and enthusiasts, it was Paul Newman who became one of the most famous faces for the watch. His wife Joanne Woodward gave him a Rolex Daytona when he began racing in 1972, allegedly. His watch had the “exotic” dial, which was slow to sell at the time and produced in small quantities of 2,000-3,000. Newman reportedly wore his watch every day. He was even photographed wearing it for a 1972 book about his life. Later in life, Newman purchased a second series Rolex Daytona watch and gave his first watch to his daughter’s boyfriend. He wore the watch for many years and later decided to sell the timepiece. The original Paul Newman watch made history when it was sold at auction. In 2017, Paul Newman’s Rolex watch impressively sold for an incredible $17.75 million US dollars. This makes it the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction.
Rolex La Montoya
Artisans de Geneve paired with Rolex to create a one-of-a-kind timepiece for Juan Pablo Montoya. They produced just 50 of this skeletonized version of the Rolex Daytona.
It took more than two years of research and development for La Montoya to finally see the light of day. A hundred craftsmen from all over Switzerland, among the best, and sharing the same goal : that the sporty skeleton version of the iconic Rolex Daytona model stands up to its unwavering and timeless reputation, all while providing exceptional detail and execution.
It takes hundreds of hours of work to produce each of these watches which are a work of art. The watch is currently sold out so be sure to look for a model at auction!
Rolex and car racing forged a partnership that has endured for nearly a century. We look forward to whatever the next series of Rolex Daytona watches bring. To learn more about exquisite timepieces like the Rolex watch, see our article about the limited edition Tiffany square watch.