Rolex’s Cosmograph Daytona went from languishing on shelves, to becoming the most popular watch in the world.

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The Cosmograph daytona was originally a watch Rolex that could not sell. Paul Newman’s Daytona was the first watch to sell at auction. For several years, new models are difficult to find without long wait lists. This complete guide will take you through the history of the Rolex Daytona (old or new), and show you the key developments.

Terms of Rolex Daytona

This is an official name for the Daytona models by Rolex. It is located below the Rolex logo, name, and location under 12 o’clock (mostly).

Was added to the dials in the early 60s, shortly after Rolex became official timekeeper for the Daytona Florida raceway. It can be large above the subdial at 6 o’clock, or smaller under “Cosmograph.” Globally, “Daytona”, or “Cosmograph,” has been replaced by “Daytona.” This may seem strange to some who are familiar with the terminology.

This threaded locking mechanism is used on the chronograph activators. It improves waterproofness. Although technically superior, many people prefer non-threaded pushers for aesthetic or functional reasons.

This dial variant features a contrasting outer second track, larger markers, and an art-deco numeral font on the subdials. Singer manufactured this dial, which was originally called an “exotic dial” in Rolex’s catalog.

This is the more traditional Rolex-esque dial, with applied markers and sub-dial markings that are relatively subtle.

Some collectors refer models with large red “Daytonas” above the 6-o’clock subdial to “Big Red.” An dial with red is not necessarily a Paul Newman dial.

When Rolex removed the red from the Daytona in early 1970s, they quickly restored it. These dials have the resurrected Red and are called Musketeer dials by some collectors. They have three colors, red, white, black, a distinction that was not possible with dials without the red. A Musketeer dial is any dial with three colors. The usage of the term varies. (For the record though, there were actually only four Musketeers.

Some Swiss watch companies adopted the sigma symbol in the 1970s to signify a watch’s official use of gold. An otherwise regular production Daytona or Rolex can be enhanced by a Sigma dial.

Since 1988, the word “Cosmograph”, was separated from the three lines of text below it by a space. These “Floating” dials, which are more rare than those that came soon after (which lacked space), can be a little more expensive. Although not all Daytonas from this era have floating dials they are common.

A few Daytonas dating back to the late 1980s and up to 2000 have the subdial 6 at 6 o’clock inverted so it reads like a 9. Inverted 6s can increase the price of the watch.

NOTE: We tried to be as exact as possible regarding watch diameters. Despite the abundance of information on Daytona references there are many discrepancies. Without measuring each reference individually with a micrometer it is nearly impossible to verify the sizing. To maintain accuracy, we have consulted as many sources possible.

Chronological History of Rolex Daytona

During WWII

Rolex has a variety of chronographs that are available in Oyster cases. These chronographs are extremely rare and in excellent condition, but they were not commercially profitable.

1954/55-1961 Oyster Chronograph ref. 6234

Reference 6234 “Pre-Daytona”

  • 36mm
  • Steel and gold cases
  • Silver dial or black dial
  • Also called Oyster Chronograph, both the 6234 and the 6234 featured neither “Daytona”, nor “Cosmograph” on the dials
  • Telemeter, tachymeter, applied dagger indexes; leaf hands
  • Unthreaded pumps (and therefore not achieving full Oyster waterproofness).
  • Valjoux 72A handwound Movement, which Rolex would continue using in their chronographs up to 1988
  • About 2,000 copies were produced
  • Often sells for as high as $30,000+ today

Early 1960s-1968: Oyster Chronograph ref. 6238

Reference 6238 “Pre-Daytona”

  • 36mm
  • Case for steel, 14K or 18K gold
  • Silver dials, black dials or dark grey dials; rarer version available with blue and red multiscale
  • The 6238 was simply named Rolex Chronograph and featured neither “Cosmograph”, nor “Daytona” on its dial.
  • Baton hands with faceted hour markers and luminous hour plots
  • Unthreaded pumps (which do not achieve full Oyster waterproofness).
  • Valjoux 72 movement
  • Sometimes sells for as high as $30,000+ today

1962: Daytona Speedway Official Timekeeper

1962: Rolex is appointed Official Timekeeper for the Daytona Speedway, Florida. This partnership would lead to great success for the Rolex Chronograph.

1963: The Cosmograph Is Born

Reference 623

  • 36.5mm
  • Labeled “Rolex Cosmograph”, under the 12-o’clock logo
  • “Daytona”, which appears above the subdial at 6 o’clock, is below the “Rolex Cosmograph” or none on older versions (pre-1965).
  • Valjoux 72 movement
  • Unthreaded pumps (limited water resistance).

1963: The Cosmograph Is Born

Reference 623

  • 36.5mm
  • Labeled “Rolex Cosmograph”, under the 12-o’clock logo
  • “Daytona”, which appears above the subdial at 6 o’clock, is below the “Rolex Cosmograph” or none on older versions (pre-1965).
  • Valjoux 72 movement
  • Unthreaded pumps (limited water resistance).

Standard Dial Variant (above).

  • 36.5mm
  • Black dial or white dial
  • Stainless steel, 14K and 18K yellow gold cases
  • Stick markers
  • More subdued line markers and text in subdials
  • The dial’s outer edge has a bare track called -Seconds. It lacks contrast background

“Paul Newman” Dial Variant (above).

  • 36.5mm
  • Rolex calls these “exotic dials”.
  • Stainless steel, 14K and 18K yellow gold cases
  • Red text “Daytona”, but not on the earliest models
  • Art deco-esque Arabic indices, sub-registers with dots markers
  • Contrasting seconds track at outer edge of dial with red markings

NOTE: Paul Newman wore the 6239 reference, but subsequent references can also have a Paul Newman dial. The name is also acceptable for such references. For a standard dial, prices start at the low end of the range and can rise to the hundreds of thousands for Newman. However, higher prices are possible for more expensive pieces or in gold.

1965:

Refer 6240

  • 37.5mm
  • Valjoux cal. 722 movement
  • Stainless steel case
  • Standard dial variants typically show “Daytona”, under “Cosmograph”, rarest versions feature only Rolex signatures without “Oyster
    Cosmograph” (called “Solo”Dial).
  • The Paul Newman dial is the same as 6239 (see below) and can be set to “Daytona” in “Cosmograph”, on certain examples
  • First model with screw down pushers for waterproofness
  • Engraved black acrylic bezel for the tachymeter
  • There were approximately 1,700 copies made
  • Prices start at around $50,000, with some very nice examples going up to six figures.

NOTE: Rolex didn’t introduce a significant new movement in Daytona until 1988. Rolex increased the speed of its manual winding Valjoux 72 motor from 18,000 beats per hour to 21,600 beats/minute from 1970-1972, increasing precision and reducing the tradeoff power reserve. This modified movement was installed by Rolex in the 6264 between 1970 and 1972.

1965/6:

Reference 624

  • 37.5mm
  • Valjoux cal. 727 movement
  • Unthreaded pump pushers
  • Stainless steel, 14K (extremely scarce) or 18K gold (rare).
  • Standard or Paul Newman dials
  • Acrylic bezel
  • In production from 1969 to roughly 3,000 pieces
  • Prices up to six figures

1969:

Reference 6263

  • 37.5mm
  • Valjoux cal. 727 movement
  • Black acrylic engraved Tachymeter bezel
  • Screw-down pushing (and, therefore, better waterproofness).
  • Stainless steel, 14K and 18K gold cases (roughly 2,000 examples of gold produced)
  • Available with standard dial or Paul Newman dial (lacks rouge).
  • The “Daytona” text can be found above the 6-o’clock subdial, under “Cosmograph”, on either dial variant or not at all on a standard dial
  • Threaded pushers with black acrylic bezel (similar in appearance to 6240).
  • Chronometer-certified movements introduced around this time in certain examples (early 1970s)
  • In production until 1987
  • Prices start at $80,000+

NOTE: In the early 1970s Rolex started certifying gold Daytona models for chronometers.

Reference 6265

  • 37mm
  • Valjoux cal. 727 movement
  • Stainless steel, 14K and 18K gold cases (and possibly a unique white gold example).
  • Stainless steel, gold tachymeter scale dial bezel with black fill
  • Screw-down pushing (and, therefore, better waterproofness).
  • Standard dial, with minor variations such as “Big Red” variant. Paul Newman dial with traditional Panda layout and no “Daytonas” above 6 o’clock.
  • In production until 1987
  • Prices aren’t as outrageous as the 6264 but start at well over $50,000 and go up from there

1970/71

Reference 6262

  • 37mm
  • Valjoux cal. 727 movement
  • Engraved steel bezel
  • Unthreaded pump pushers
  • Stainless steel, 14K and 18K gold cases
  • Available with either a Paul Newman dial, or a standard dial
  • Due to Rolex’s use of older cases, sometimes stamped with 6239 on the case back
  • Only produced in 1970/71 (exceptionally rare).
  • Prices start at $100,000

The 1970s

Refer 6264

  • 37mm
  • Valjoux cal. 727 movement
  • Stainless steel, 14K and 18K gold cases (total steel production possible only 1,700 examples).
  • Printed black acrylic scale bezel with unthreaded pushers. (Note: This is the first reference to use this combination and the last to include pump pushers.
  • Available with either a Paul Newman dial, or a standard dial
  • Versions by Paul Newman have minor variations. Some models have color-coordinated second track markings, while others may have red. (Note: Sometimes Newman dials from this era with red are called Musketeer Dials).
  • Produced in the early 1970s for just three years and is one of the rarest Daytonas
  • Prices well into six figures

1988-2000

Rolex introduced a new Daytona in 1988 that included a selfwinding Zenith El Primero motor. Rolex reduced the speed to 28,800 vph (from 36,600) and gave it the name caliber 4040. This increased power reserve allowed for longer service intervals. An automatic movement was used to keep up with quartz movements which were then a major concern.

The cal. The cal. Rolex increased the size of its case to 40mm to accommodate the new movement. This is where it remains to this day. The Daytona was a huge success. There were even waiting lists of up to three years.

Reference 16520

  • 40mm
  • Automatic movement Caliber 4040 based on Zenith El Primero
  • Stainless steel case
  • White dial or black dial
  • Steel bezel, three variations in different forms over time
  • Screw-down Pushers
  • Sapphire crystal
  • Five different dial variations over time
  • Production between 1988 and 2000
  • Prices begin around $20,000

References: 16523 & 165228
Similar to 16520, but with:

  • Solid gold (16528) or two-tone yellow and gold bracelets (16523)
  • Porcelain dial available in black, gold or white (blue was created, but not sold commercially).
  • 4 lines of text
  • “Daytona” above 6-o’clock subdial in red
  • Prices start at $13,000+ for a 16523, and $28,000+ if you have a 165228.

Rolex introduced an in-house movement to the Daytona in response to high demand. The caliber 4130 was an automatic chronograph movement that used column wheel activators, similar to the Zenith, and increased the power reserve by 72 hours. Rolex continued to improve the 4130’s components and materials over the years, creating yet more collector obsessions for the future.

Notable Visual Differences:
Sub-Dial Lift: Although the watch’s design didn’t change with the new movement much, it is easy to see a 4130-loaded Daytona. The sub-dials are slightly elevated above the equator.

  • Sub-Dial Swap : The sub-dial moved from the 9-o’clock position to the 6-o’clock position.
  • New Hour Markers. Another sign that you are looking at a modern Daytona is the larger, more lume-filled hour markers. They take on an arrow shape.

Note that Serial numbers from this era are the same but with a “1” after them, , so the 16520 becomes 116520. Although the prices are the lowest in the pre-owned market they are still quite high due to strong demand, especially after the 2016 release of the 116500 with Ceracrom bezel.

Rolex created more luxurious versions of the Daytona as watch collectors grew and global markets opened up. Over time, technical improvements to the movement, bezel and other parts of the watch have been made. These are just a few of the most recent and current references, which together represent the latest developments over the past decade.

It is extremely difficult to buy a new production model in steel in a Rolex authorized dealership if you are not a client in good standing.

Refer to 116520

  • 40mm case
  • Case and bracelet made of oystersteel
  • In-House Rolex Cal. 4130 movement with modern materials and vertical clutch
  • Steel bezel
  • Production 2000-2016
  • Prices begin around $18,000+

Refer to 116500LN: Current Steel Daytona

  • 40mm case
  • Oystersteel construction throughout the case and bracelet (folding Oysterlock safety latch with Easylink 5mm extension link).
  • In-House Rolex Cal. 4130 movement with modern materials and vertical clutch
  • Ceramic bezel of Ceracrom with engraved tachymeter
  • Current steel production model
  • MSRP: $13,150

Refer to 116503: Current Two-Tone Daytonas

  • 40mm case
  • Rolesor Gold and Steel Construction throughout the case and bracelet
  • Gold bezel
  • In-House caliber4130 movement with many modern materials
  • MSRP: $17,400 (yellow gold); $19,350 (with diamonds)

Reference 116509 & 116505 – The Current All Gold Daytonas

  • Rolex’s Everose rose gold body (116515), yellow gold (116518), or white gold (116519).
  • Case and bracelet in 18k Gold
  • In-House caliber4130 movement with many modern materials
  • MSRP: $39.350 (116509 White Gold), $39.350 (116505 Everose), and $36,650 (116508 Yellow Gold).

Reference 116515 & 116518

  • Rolex’s Everose rose gold body (116515), yellow gold (116518), or white gold (116519).
  • Rubber strap fully integrated into the lugs
  • In-House caliber4130 movement with many modern materials
  • MSRP: $29,000.00 (rose and white gold), $28,500 (yellow).

Reference 116506 – The Platinum Daytona

  • Bracelet and case in Platinum
  • Brown ceramic bezel
  • Ice blue dial (two variants)
  • In-house caliber 4340 movement
  • Upon request, -MSRP

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