The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is an officially certified, self-winding chronometer wristwatch with chronograph functions. Rolex was a sponsor of the 24 Hours of Daytona race at the time, and named its new chronograph watch after that famous race.
Introduced in 1961 using a Valjoux 72 manual-wind 3-register chronograph movement, the Cosmograph, Cosmograph Daytona and Oyster Cosmograph Daytona were produced continuously until 1988. Relatively unpopular, they were replaced by a bigger Daytona featuring self-winding movements, using a slightly modified version of Zenith's El Primero caliber, under the name Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph. In 2000 Rolex replaced the Zenith movement with a 3-register chronograph movement entirely of its own design, the Rolex 4130 caliber (model number: 116520). Due to its limited production and increasing popularity, the stainless steel Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is considered a rare watch to own.
The Cosmograph Daytona is one of the most expensive watches marketed enough to be readily recognised by non-enthusiasts, and is often worn for this reason, The Daytona comes in several models, these can be identified by the colour of the watch face, the type of metal used, and the type of strap, these include, white gold strap with white face; and stainless steel strap with black face amongst others.
Although Rolex continues to manufacture a version of the "Daytona" to the present time, the rarest versions of the Rolex Daytona are the first versions, the 6238, 6239, 6240, 6241, 6262, 6263 6264 and 6265 References, made from 1961 to 1987, and now out of production. Another rare version known as the 6269, there are only 15 known models of the 6269. The 6238, 6239, 6241 and 6262 References were the first versions, and were not "Oyster" versions, they did not have a screw down winding crown or screw down timing buttons. The movement used was a manual wind Valjoux cal. 72, named the Rolex Cal. 722. The 6263, 6264 and 6265 References were produced commencing 1970, were Oyster versions with screw down crown and screw down timing buttons. The movement used remained based on the manual wind Valjoux cal. 72, but with some refinements, and was called the Rolex Cal. 727. These Daytonas are the original Rolex Daytona watches, and are very rare and very collectible. The movement has proven to be exceptionally reliable and accurate. In fact, the Cal. 727 was certified as a chronometer in some cases.
The most rare Daytonas are those with the so-called "Paul Newman" dial. The appearance differences between a Paul Newman dial and a normal Daytona dial of the time are subtle and often unnoticeable to the untrained eye. First, to be authentic, a Paul Newman dial must be in a Reference 6239, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264 or 6265 watch, installed by Rolex Geneva as original. All of these References had acrylic domed crystals. Once this simple provenance has been determined, the easiest visual way for the layman to determine a Paul Newman dial from a normal Daytona dial is in the sub-dials (the dials that are the opposite or contrasting color of the main dial). The sub-dials of a Paul Newman dial has block markers instead of lines, will have crosshairs across each sub-dial meeting at centre (the normal Daytona dial does not), and the minutes sub-dial placed at 9:00 is marked at 15, 30, 45 and 60, whereas a normal Daytona dial is marked at 20, 40 and 60. The dial may or may not have the word "Daytona" written on the dial above the hour sub-dial located at 6:00. The dial came in four color and layout combinations, and was installed as an option by Rolex on the Daytona line of watches in the Reference 6239, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264 or 6265 watches. The watch has been out of production since the early 1970s, and Rolex is not able to supply any replacement version of it.
It is said that Paul Newman wore his Rolex Daytona watch until his death in 2008, and had done so since 1972, the watch having been given to him by his wife, Joanne Woodward, when Newman took up automobile racing.
The original Daytona watches were not in demand when produced, and were available for little money, but have gained rapid esteem in the collector milieu and today are known as the "Holy Grail" of collectible watches and fetch astronomical prices at auction, purchased by avid collectors in the know and other cognoscenti.