The Daytona is one of the most iconic chronographs of the world, and also, represents one of the most sought-after watches from Rolex as well.
Its name is directly linked to its most famous owner, Paul Newman, who wore a reference 6239 during a well-liked movie, “Winning.” The watch was a gift from his wife Joanne Woodard, and in 2017 it grabbed the attention of the news for the astronomical amount that it reached at auction: 17.75 million USD, which made it back then the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at an auction.
The Pre-Daytona models
The story of the Daytona began officially in 1963, but the first chronograph of the House of the Crown dates from 1955. It was the reference 6234, the precursor of the Cosmograph Daytona.
The reference 6234 was manufactured up to 1961.
It mounted a Valjoux movement, which gave it the typical 3-6-9 arrangement of the sub-dials that later characterized the Daytona. However, it lacked the signature bezel of the later models: it displayed an inner telemeter and tachymeter scale directly on the dial.
The stainless steel models of this rare chronograph start at around $45,000.
The watch that replaced it, launched in 1960 and manufactured until 1968, was the reference 6238.
It is almost universally considered by the watch community to be the real “Pre-Daytona.” It featured a more massive case of 37 mm, baton hands, and applied indices on a simple, elegant silver dial. Importantly, this watch featured only the racing-oriented tachymeter scale, still on the dial.
The 6238 mounted the Valjoux 72 movement that Rolex renamed 72B and after 1965, 722.
Like the 6234, this reference did not have an Oyster case, so it was not water-resistant.
Stainless steel versions of this watch start from a tad less than $30,000, but there are some rare versions in yellow gold that command prices from around $100,000 upwards.
The first watch bearing the Cosmograph name was the reference 6239, which debuted in 1963.
Still devoid of the Oyster case, which instead arrived two years later, the 6239 was the first model to display all of the typical elements of the Daytona, like the tachymeter scale engraved on the metallic outer bezel with the “units per hour” text etched on it at one o’clock.
This model also displayed the iconic sub-dials in contrasting color, either black on white or silver on black (respectively called Panda and Reverse Panda).
Its first name was “Le Mans: it acquired the “Daytona” name only in 1965, which would be written on the dial over the six o'clock subdial from then onwards.
This watch was available in stainless steel, with prices starting from approximately $55,000.
The Early Daytona models
The reference 6240 was the first Cosmograph model to have an Oyster case with a screw-down crown and waterproof pushers.
It was introduced in 1965 and manufactured for four years only, up to 1969, making it one of the most sought-after versions by collectors, especially since Rolex also offered the “Paul Newman” model in this series, featuring a so-called tropical dial in a cream color and black subdials.
The bezel featured a black plastic insert, similar to the one used in the Submariner, and the “units per hour” text went down at three o’clock.
The stainless steel version of this watch starts from around $70,000 and easily climbs up into the hundreds of thousands for the models with a rare tropical dial, like the Paul Newman’s.
The reference 6241 was very similar to the 6240, but had pump pushers instead of the screwed-in ones, making it not water-resistant.
However, this issue does not compromise its value, which is often higher than a comparable 6240, starting from around $95,000 for the stainless steel model, and reaching the several hundreds of thousands for the rare gold ones.
In 1970 and 1971, the company launched four different Cosmograph Daytona references using an updated caliber, the 727.
The “even” Ref. 6262 and Ref. 6264 were produced from 1970 to 1972 with pump pushers and engraved metal or black plastic bezels, respectively, while the “odd” Ref. 6263 and Ref. 6265, which were waterproof, debuted in 1971 and were manufactured up to 1987. Of the latter two, the 6263 mounted the plastic bezel, while the 6265 had the engraved metal bezel.
The 6262 and 6264 in stainless steel start from around $65,000, and easily cross the six figures, especially for the rare gold versions.
The 6263 and 6265 are a bit more affordable, starting from the higher end of the $50,000s upwards, with the plastic-bezel variants a bit more expensive than the corresponding metal-fitted ones.
The gold versions of these timepieces start from around $100,000.
The Daytona 16500 family
In 1988, Rolex changed the Cosmograph Daytona line with the launch of the new 16500 family, in a larger size (40 mm) and mounting a sapphire glass.
Rolex equipped these models with a modified version of the excellent automatic Zenith El Primero caliber, extensively modified by the company, and renamed it caliber 4030. This movement was installed until the debut of the new line in 2000.
These new references returned to the engraved metal bezel and screw-down pushers and crown, protected by two crown guards.
The base model was the Ref. 16520, in stainless steel, but the company also produced other versions, specifically the two-tone Ref. 16523 and the all-gold Ref. 16528, both with Oyster bracelets.
Also, it made the Ref. 16518 in yellow gold and Ref. 16519 in white gold with a leather strap.
The stainless steel Ref. 16520 with a bracelet starts from a tad less than $19,000.
The bimetal Ref. 16523 with a bracelet is more affordable, starting at about $12,000.
The yellow gold Ref. 16528 with a bracelet is not much more expensive than the steel version, starting at $22,000.
The yellow gold Ref. 16518 with a wristband starts from around $17,000.
The white gold Ref. 16519 with a wristband is a bit more expensive, starting from $21,000.
The Daytona 116500 family
In 2000, Rolex replaced the El Primero-derived movement with a modern, optimized in-house caliber, the 4130, which was less complex and thinner than the El Primero-derived one, making the watches thinner. The 116500 series is the latest edition of the Daytona, which is still in production today in its different references.
The base model of this family is the Ref. 116520, with a stainless steel case and an Oyster bracelet, starting from around $16,000.
The Ref. 116503, with a Rolesor (steel and yellow gold) case and an Oyster bracelet, start from around $15,000.
The Ref. 116505, with an Everose case (a proprietary alloy of 18-karat pink gold that combines gold, copper, and a small amount of platinum) and featuring an Oyster bracelet, starts from around $30,000.
The Ref. 116515, with an Everose case and a leather or Oysterflex strap, starts from around $24,000.
The Ref. 116506, with a platinum case and an Oyster bracelet, starts from around $68,000.
The Ref. 116508 and Ref. 116528, both featuring a yellow gold case and an Oyster bracelet, start from around $30,000.
The Ref. 116518, with a yellow gold case and leather or Oysterflex strap, starts from around $18,000.
The Ref. 116509, with a white gold case and an Oyster bracelet, starts from around $23,000.
The Ref. 116519, with a white gold case and a leather or Oysterflex strap, starts from around $19,000.
The Ref. 116589, with a white gold case, bezel set with diamonds, and a leather or Oysterflex strap, starts from around $36,000.
The Ref. 116599, with a white gold case, a bezel and case set with diamonds, and a leather or Oysterflex strap, starts from around $38,000.
The Ref. 116598 is the top end of the Daytona line and is available in two main versions, plus other limited editions.
All the versions share a gold case with diamonds and a gem-set bezel.
The Leopard features a leopard-textured dial, a garnet-studded bezel, and a leather wristband adorned with a leopard print. It starts from around $50,000.
The Rainbow has a black dial, with diamond indices, and a gem-studded bezel creating a rainbow-patterned effect.
It starts at around $250,000.