One of the most iconic watches ever, the Rolex Daytona became a collector’s piece and a must-have in every watch lover’s list. But we must ask – at $13,600 for the steel model to the $85,700 for the platinum version – is it worth it? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
Rolex started in 1908 producing fine watches, and since 1926 – when they released the first waterproof watch, the “Oyster”, made famous thanks to the famous English Channel crossing by the British swimmer Mercedes Gleitze –, they established the brand as a sports watch.
Yes, they have been producing a “social” model, the Cellini, since the 1970s, but let’s be frank – do you know anyone who owns a Cellini? If you do, congratulations! Almost everyone I know wants a Rolex Oyster, a water-resistant watch.
With the exception of the quartz models, Cellini and Oyster (produced until 2001), Rolex has always been renowned for their automatic winding models. The Cosmograph Daytona was a spin-off of their 1950’s chronograph and we talked about it here.
Created in 1963, it became an icon when Paul Newman wore it in the 1969 racing movie Winning!
The watch that became known as Rolex Cosmograph Daytona “Paul Newman” model got many versions, but the most famous were those with the so-called “Panda” dials – white dial with black subdials and vice-versa, resembling the “bear” eyes. (Rolex called them “exotic dials.”)
Nowadays, those Daytonas sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and their epitome was the recent sale of Paul Newman’s own “Cosmograph Daytona Paul Newman” for the sum of US$ 17.8 MM. Yes, you read right, millions.
In some countries, however – such as in Brazil – the original Rolex Cosmograph Daytona did not sell well. The reason? Well, every Rolex fan was used to their “perpetual” automatic movement, patented in 1931. But the Daytona had a mechanical winding mechanism, a fact that made it stay unsold on dealers’ showcases. Nobody wanted to use a Rolex that had to be wound manually.
Some European collectors began to buy those “new old stock” Daytonas around the world and their prices began to rise in auctions. Small differences in the dials made a watch gain thousands of dollars over their plainer versions. And so the collector fever started.
Later, in 1988, Rolex redesigned the Daytona. First, they replaced the older Valjoux mechanism with a Zenith El Primero self-winding movement, one of the best chronograph mechanisms ever made. It was altered by Rolex to reduce the need for maintenance. Also, instead of the smaller case diameter of the first models (37 mm), now the watch had a 40 mm case, screw-down chronograph pushers and a sapphire crystal instead of a plastic window.
It was the time when the demand for chronographs took off: buyers would wait up to three years for a Daytona because the movement supply was limited by Zenith’s production. Rolex developed their own chronograph movement, the Calibre 4130, releasing the first Cosmograph Daytona with this mechanism in 2000. This decade also saw the launch of many new versions of the iconic watch, such as a steel/gold model (2000), a white gold one (2004), and the Everose pink gold, a metal developed by Rolex and released in 2008. In 2013, celebrating 50 years of the Cosmograph Daytona, Rolex created the Platinum with a ceramic bezel.
Presently, you will find many versions of this watch, with the metal of the case, dial, strap or bracelet making up the possibilities. It is water resistant to 100 meters, an important point for comparison purposes.
But now comes the $64,000 question – or, in the case of the platinum version, the $86,000 question: is it worth it?
The only thing you should not say is, “well, I have a satellite-controlled watch in my pocket and so I don’t need a wristwatch.” Yes, you do have that on your smartphone. But gentlemen should never be impolite by checking the time there during a meeting or at the table; it is too obvious and even offensive to anyone they may be talking to. A subtle glance at a wristwatch is a much better way to check the time.
If your primary reason for wearing a timepiece is that, well, you have literally thousands of options, and many are much cheaper than the steel Daytona. Even if your primary goal is using the chronograph per se at the horse track or at the men’s 100 meters event, you have hundreds of watch models to choose from. Should you go for the Daytona?
What would be the closest competitor for the Rolex Cosmograph? I would say that it would be another iconic watch, the Omega Speedmaster “Moonwatch”. We talked about it here and here.
Presently, the original Moonwatch in stainless steel sells for $5,100 – less than half the Daytona in steel. Omega’s model is slightly larger, with a 42 mm case, but it is water resistant only up to a depth of 50 meters. In terms of chronography, both watches have the same functions: a large seconds hand, and subdials for minutes and hours. Both have luminescent hands and hour markers.
Daytona or Speedmaster?
Both brands have an excellent reputation, even though Rolex has a slight edge over Omega; so, if your motivation is looking for a status symbol, go to Rolex.
Both models have the same chronographic functions. You would have to be very picky to say that the Omega tachymeter goes up to 500 (units per hour) and Rolex’s goes only to 400. I bet you will never have to measure an average speed in excess of 300 mph.
In commercial terms, a Rolex seldom loses value, and sometimes even appreciates over time; if you ever think of selling it in an auction or on eBay, it will sell faster than the Speedmaster, even though this watch will not be as expensive as the Daytona.
If your primary use for the Daytona is a weekend, sports watch, fine. However, if you think of wearing it with a jacket or suit, it will not be as discrete as the Speedmaster, in spite of the latter being 2 mm larger. Actually, I would not endorse any chronograph with a business attire.
Finally, if your main concern is the impact on your budget, you should obviously go for the Omega Speedmaster, at less than half the price of the Rolex Cosmograph.
The final decision will depend on your own evaluation of the arguments we presented above. Rest assured, though, that whatever model you end up buying will be an excellent timepiece, that will give you many years of carefree service.