Hear that sound? It’s actor Paul Newman speeding past you on the racetrack in 1972, Rolex Daytona firmly on his wrist, where it will stay until his death in 2008. The iconic Rolex Daytona watches were inspired by racing car drivers, like Newman and first produced in 1963. Made only in small quantities at first, by the late eighties, the original Rolex Daytona watches had become incredibly rare, and so a second series was created, recognisable by a five digit model number. In 2000 a six digit model number series was released, completing a third series for the popular timepiece and ensuring the watch’s place in timepiece history.
Rolex Daytona watches are Chronograph watches, allowing them to serve double duty as both a watch and a stopwatch – useful for timing the lap you just completed in your Porsche. It also features a bezel with tachymetric scale, allowing drivers to accurately clock speeds of up to 400km an hour. Visually the watch is strong and masculine, with big, easy to read inverted chronograph sundials – this high contrast look again created with racing car drivers in mind, allowing them to quickly glance at, and read their watch as they hurtled around the track at great speed. Moving the tachymeter from the dial to the bezel also enhances this feeling of space and ease of use.
Some Daytonas (a rare few) are prized amongst collectors for featuring what is popularly known as a “Paul Newman” dial because it featured on the watch he always wore, given to him by Joanne Woodward, his girlfriend at the time. This dial is only on Rolex Daytona watches that feature the reference numbers 6239, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264 and 6265. Indeed to you and I, it would be hard to spot, but eagle-eyed collectors will look for one particular feature – the Paul Newman dial has its subdial seconds at 15, 30, 45 and 60, instead of 20, 40 and 60 like a normal Daytona.
Remarkably, in the 60’s when Rolex Daytona watches were first launched, they did not sell very well at all. Only around 200 watches were sold each year, with only 5% of those ‘exotic dials’. The watches were originally priced at $210 (or $1600 in today’s money). Nowadays however, they fetch incredibly high sums, especially for rarer vintage pieces, with some selling for as ‘little’ as $40,000 or into the millions for rarer, diamond-encrusted examples. Even purchased new, Rolex Daytona watches will set you back considerably, however they are not only built to last but built to appreciate in value as they are handed down through the generations.
Although created for Paul Newman, today the Rolex Daytona has a legion of celebrity fans, including Rob Lowe, Channing Tatum, January Jones, Daniel Craig and Elle Macpherson. Available in a huge variety of materials from rose gold to stainless steel with faces varying in color from ice blue to (fittingly) racing car green. Rolex Daytona watches make a big statement about their wearer – here is somebody who has been either willing to track down an incredibly valuable vintage find, or who has the patience to join the Daytona’s incredibly long waiting list. Which ironically, is not something you can ever imagine those with the ‘need for speed’ whom the watch was created for, doing.