Daytona: From Speed Races To Mythic Chronographs
Cars & motorsport

Daytona: From Speed Races To Mythic Chronographs

Episode 1 - A genuine icon in the watchmaking universe, the Rolex Chronograph in the Oyster range, often referred to by enthusiasts as simply the “Daytona”, is this year celebrating fifty years of a tremendous history in which the passion for speed and the world of racing cars have come together.

By Vincent Daveau

Such a prestigious anniversary was well worth commemorating with a trip back in time to the origins of the legend. As we delve back into the history of this, the most highly sought-after, timepiece in the world, we see how all the different refinements proposed by Rolex over the years have been a permanent source of fascination for fans of fine watchmaking engineering. We have ignition! 

The beginning of the Daytona myth

Everything has a beginning, and for the Rolex Daytona Cosmograph Chronograph, that beginning took place on the beach of the same name in Florida. To get an idea of the public’s enthusiastic reception of this steel timekeeper, let us go back to the 1930s. The chronograph did not exist back then, but pure speed fans were already aware of the possibilities offered by the long dense sandy beach at Daytona (35 km long) when it came to beating land speed records at a time when road surfaces were so poor. Between 1904 and 1935, the then thriving American and European automobile industries were developing cars that delivered enough power for their drivers to show their true capabilities. Daytona beach was used as a test bench and the world speed record was beaten fourteen times on this sandy beach during the period in question. The name Daytona spread over the world and European drivers came to try their hand on this strip of sand weathered by the Atlantic Ocean. The venue’s reputation spread and so it automatically became the world speed capital before its success was matched by that of the Salt flats in Bonneville, Utah.

The race for speed achieved its apogee when British-born Sir Malcolm Campbell clocked up the record speed of 445 km/h in March 1935 with his car named Bluebird. Just for the anecdote, the man that all motor car mechanics to this day regard as the king of speed on four wheels, was already wearing a Rolex wristwatch as early as 1930. Although the speed records went on to be broken, the tradition in the motor racing world had found its ideal venue and the races continued on the beach, sometimes with epic results, until 1959, the year that one of the first super speedways in the world was built.

At the heart of a legend

The first Rolex Oyster chronograph came into being in 1939. It was fitted with the water-resistant Oyster case invented by Rolex in 1926. The Cosmograph also features the famous Oyster case, both sturdily built and water-resistant thanks to its screw-down winding crown and back, and sporting a solid metallic bracelet. At a time when the automatic chronograph represents a technical challenge to which no other brand has yet risen, it is fitted with a mechanical movement with manual winding renowned for its reliability and precision.

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