Rolex Daytona: An Ever-Changing Icon
Episode 3 - The legendary chronograph, about which much has been written, available early on in steel then very soon afterwards in solid gold (and for the first time in platinum for its 50th anniversary this year), now has a definite chronology established by the brand that brought it into being.
It was therefore launched in 1963, in other words just 50 years ago and one year after the Rolex 24 at Daytona race launched in 1962. The model on show, dating from 1963, sports a black dial with white counters, an engraved outer bezel and non-security ‘mushroom’ push-pieces. As should be the case on all models of this era that you can still find at the auction houses, the steel bracelet has folded metal links, now called the riveted bracelet (very rare to find in good condition). ‘One of the features of this model from the moment it was first created to 1977, was the play on colour contrast between the background of the black or white dial and that of the three counters at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock.
Virtually unchanging in their aesthetics, the Daytonas were to gradually evolve over the years, but would create such a visual impression that, at a distance, a chronograph of any brand featuring a white dial with a black counter or vice versa would be immediately associated with a Rolex. At the time, the mechanical calibre with manual winding used by the workshop, and which featured a chronograph wheel bridge designed by Rolex, was supplied by the Valjoux movement workshop, renowned for the sturdiness and quality of its movements. Those used by Rolex at the time were not certified as chronometers and carried the references cal. 72B (first series) then cal. 722 from 1961 to 1965 and cal. 727 from 1965 to 1988. These timepieces were awarded every year to the winning drivers of the famous Rolex 24 at Daytona with the year of their victory struck into the solid background. However, even at Rolex, which was considered a somewhat static company, changes were taking place. And sometimes even quite quickly. Thus, according to the chronology proposed by Rolex, the Oyster Perpetual Daytona Cosmograph Chronograph of 1965, at this late stage, featured security push-pieces to increase water-resistance. The timepiece also displayed the famous white dial with black counters (or vice versa), which became a kind of hallmark and which was said to have been developed to improve the poor legibility due to the low night-time lighting on the Daytona circuit. Another noteworthy feature is the famous black bezel with black acrylic graduated tachometer reading only up to 200 units per hour. It should also be remembered that, at the time, the bracelets on these models were still riveted and not solid, as the ones found in abundance at auctions.
Dial variations after 1965
With the appearance of the screw-down crown came also the Oyster-inscribed dial (which did not feature on the 1963 version). It would become a widespread feature of the dial in addition to the cosmograph inscription. According to Rolex sources, during this period, an additional inscription appeared on certain dials in the first few years of commercialization for the new Rolex chronograph, namely the term ‘Daytona’. Initially reserved for pieces for the American market, this inscription is thought to have been added at the request of Rolex’s US subsidiary to underline its link with the Daytona International Speedway circuit in Florida as the Official Watch, and to symbolize the model’s strong link with the world of motor-racing.
The Rolex "Daytona" from 1965