Rolex in retrospect: The Cosmograph Daytona and its beautiful synchrony of time and track

Speed Record, Malcolm Campbell, 1935 / © Rolex

What is it to be a person at 59? You’re at the brink of the magic number, reflecting on life, and reaping the fruits of your labor. It’s when you decide to pull back and slow down, as you watch the new generations bask in your wisdom and the inspiration you gave them. It isn’t the same with a watch, especially a watch like the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. It may have turned 59 this year and may have celebrated its finest days on the racetrack, and even hung out with the most recognizable faces in the history of the world. But it is not done. The legendary timepiece continues bringing forth some of the most stellar watches to grace horological gatherings. We take a look at some of the most celebrated milestones in the life of the Rolex Daytona and celebrate its illustrious journey.

Sir Malcolm Campbell / © Rolex

1930 – The Oyster before the pearl
The Rolex Oyster has made its mark in the annals of horology for over a century. Way back in 1930, Sir Malcolm Campbell broke numerous land speed records, even becoming the first man to break the 300mph (482 kmph) land speed record on his Bluebird. The momentous task was performed at the Bonneville Salt Flats and he donned the Rolex Oyster on his wrist. Sir Campbell could well be credited as the pioneer of Rolex’s journey into racing. The legend even telegrammed Rolex in 1933 with the message, “Rolex watch worn yesterday during record attempt and still going splendidly notwithstanding rough usage received.”.

daytona beach 1955 / © Rolex © ISC archives via getty images

1963 – Forged for the racetrack
Born into motorsport and for motorsport, the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona was conceived in 1963 and has made its mark in the world of racing. It borrowed its name from the city of Daytona Beach in Florida, which itself has been the mecca of racing culture since the early 20th century. Such was the belief of Rolex in the racing DNA of the watch that they created one of their finest creations and one of the world’s best chronographs around the famed circuit.

First Cosmograph Daytona 1963 / © Rolex/ Jean-Daniel Meyer

1963 – From tool to track
It was only in 1963 that the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona came into being with its celebrated mechanical chronograph movement that could measure time intervals, calculate average speeds, and more. The tachymetric scale on the bezel of the watch made it possible, much to the fascination of aficionados.

Inscription On The Case Back Of The Watch Awarded To The Winner Inscription On The Case Back Of The Watch Awarded To The Winner / © Rolex, Steve Cooper

1968 – Strengthening the reputation of speed
British racer, Vic Elford, won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and was presented the Cosmograph Daytona, traditionally to the winner. This only served in making the timepiece even more coveted.

Rolex Testimonee Sir Jackie Stewart Wearing His Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph / Daytona © Rolex, Thomas Laisné

1969 – Sir Jackie’s faithful companion
Sir Jackie Steward is regarded as one of the most legendary figures in the world of modern racing. His penchant for achieving racing standards that focused on driver safety is the reason many drivers owe their careers to him. He participated in 99 Formula 1 races and won 27 of them. He was world champion in 1969, 1971, and 1973, with 43 podium finishes. Nearly all his triumphs were in the company of his trusted Rolex, which is why he was designated as the Grand Marshal of the 50th Anniversary Edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The Cosmograph Daytona With What Is Known As The ‘Paul Newman’ Dial / © Rolex, Jean-Daniel Meyer

1972 – Paul Newman’s muse
Actress Joanne Woodward gifted her husband, Paul Newman, a Cosmograph Daytona, with the words ‘DRIVE CAREFULLY ME’ engraved on the back. This was to herald the legendary actor’s entry into racing. He completed his first professional race in 1972 and went on to win four Sports Car Club of America championships. He even participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing second in the 1979 installment. The watch has been on display at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and has a dial that has been christened after him.

Cosmograph Daytona, 1988 / ©Rolex,Jean-Daniel Meyer

1988 – The self-winder
Here’s a milestone that wasn’t the best period for some Rolex puritans because the brand introduced a self-winding movement to the mix. It took some adaptation but also graced the world with the 40mm case.

2022 Rolex 24 At Daytona Trophy And The Engraved Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona Presented To The Winners Of The Race / © Rolex, Stephan Cooper

1992 – A 24-hour obsession
In 1992, Rolex was chosen as the Title Sponsor of the 24 Hours of Daytona event. The event has since come to be known as Rolex 24. The event also flags off the motorsport season in the US and is known as ‘The Rolex’.

First Cosmograph Daytona Equipped With The 4130 Movement, 2000 / © Rolex, Jean-Daniel Meyer / Calibre 4130 / © Rolex, Jean-Daniel Meyer

2000 – Going in-house
The 2000 Daytona was a landmark launch was the first in-house movement that came armed with a Parachrom hairspring, which was manufactured by Rolex. The latter was 10 times more precise, being a composite of niobium, zirconium, and oxygen, and could boldly wither shocks and magnetic fields.

The Start Of The 24 Hours Of Le Mans 2021 / © Rolex/ Jad Sherif

2001 – 24 Hours of Le Mans
It was only befitting for Rolex to be associated with 24 Hours of Le Mans, the oldest and most iconic endurance race. The coming together of both brands took place in 2001, when Rolex supported the event as the Official Timepiece. A common factor between the Rolex Daytona and the the Le Mans race is Tom Kristensen, the only racer to have won the legendary race nine times. In fact, the year 2022 marks the 25th anniversary since his first victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Kristensen has been a Rolex Testimonee since 2010. In this period, he has been the World Champion in 2013 and officiated as Grand Marshal at the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Start Of The 24 Hours Of Le Mans 2022 / © Rolex, Adam Warne

“Motor sport is all about getting the best out of your machine through optimization and technology, and anyone who is interested in that is also interested in mechanical watches,” says Kristensen. “Ask anyone in the motor sports world to name a watch and the first to be mentioned is bound to be the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. It has a history and class around it that everyone trying to aim for the top in motor sport understands and respects. Each driver wants to win ‘his’ Rolex Daytona.”

24 Hours of Le Mans is contested by 60 cars, each with teams of 3 drivers, fighting it out to the finish over a 13.6-kilometer course. The winning team is one that covers the maximum distance in 24 hours.

Cosmograph Daytona, 2016 Credits / © Rolex, Alain Costa

2016 – Hello ceramic!
Rolex substituted its famous steel bezel for Cerachrom, the company’s proprietary ceramic compound. This sent waves of excitement among fans and also encouraged bolder, classier designs.

Cosmograph Daytona – 18 Ct Everose Gold / © Rolex, Alain Costa

2018 – Rainbow Daytona
Taking on more hues and gleams from its inspired consumer base, the Rainbow Daytona was produced in a limited quantity and quickly went out of production. It has, however, been one of the most stand-out designs from the Swiss watchmakers to date.

Cosmograph Daytona
/ ©Rolex

2021 – Three avatars, one legend
Rolex presented three exclusive versions of the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona in 2021, setting an even higher benchmark in the world of horology and luxury sports accessories. All three timepieces are made from metallic meteorite (which is literally from outer space). They sport black chronograph counters at 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock. The metallic meteorite has been derived from an asteroid that exploded millions of years before today. It requires a special chemical treatment to be worked upon since it is challenging to work with.

In retrospect
The Rolex Daytona has become one of the most recognizable three-sub-dial watches in the world. Every other timepiece that bathes in its shadow is measured, gauge-for-gauge, with the timeless timepiece. It takes a special blend of customer and brand loyalty to enter the sweet spot between absolute luxury and rugged sturdiness, a reason why something from the Crown has become synonymous with sports timekeeping.

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