rolex cosmograph daytona

Is It Worth It: Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

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.

The 1927 Rolex ad with Mercedes Gleitze

The 1927 Rolex ad with Mercedes Gleitze

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.

A Rolex Cellini

A Rolex Cellini

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.

Vintage Rolex chronograph

Vintage Rolex chronograph

The "pre-Daytona" chronograph

The “pre-Daytona” chronograph

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.

A poster of the Winning! movie

A poster of the Winning! movie

Created in 1963, it became an icon when Paul Newman wore it in the 1969 racing movie Winning!

The first Daytona chronograph

The first Daytona chronograph

One of the first Daytona ads

One of the first Daytona ads

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.”)

Rolex Daytona with "exotic dials" - the famous "Paul Newman" dials

Rolex Daytona with “exotic dials” – the famous “Paul Newman” 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.

Daytona with PN dial and screw-down chrono pushers

Daytona with PN dial and screw-down chrono pushers

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.

The "new" Daytona in 2 versions

The “new” Daytona in 2 versions

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.

Ad for one of the most beautiful versions of the new Daytona

Ad for one of the most beautiful versions of the new Daytona

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.

The Platinum Cosmograph Daytona with Cerachrom bezel

The Platinum Cosmograph Daytona with Cerachrom bezel

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.

The Omega Speedmaster Professional "Moonwatch"

The Omega Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch”

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?

Time to compare

Time to compare

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

Summary
Is It Worth It: Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
Article Name
Is It Worth It: Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
Description
Should you splurge on the iconic Rolex Cosmograph Daytona? Explore the pros and cons of this iconic timepiece.
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Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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15 replies
  1. Andrew Gregg says:

    Greetings,

    Question really is: “Is it worth it to you?”

    Wearing a fine wristwatch carries advantages that a basic time keeper does not.

    Self-confidence, assurance, stylishness, and, if the watch resulted as a gift or inheritance, a lasting memory of the giver.

    In 1974, my Dad gave me a Submariner identical to his as a high school graduation present. I wore it almost every day until his death forty years later. In his memory, I bought a President model, and have worn it since.

    When abroad, I wear Dad’s 1953 Hamilton, and always remember him wearing it when I was small.

    A guy’s choice in wristwatches signify much more than practicality, prestige, or pretense.

    My watches not only keep time, they keep me close to my dad who influenced me in so many significant ways.

    With every best wish,

    Andrew Gregg,
    Palm Springs, CA

    Reply
  2. Mike says:

    When it comes to watches in general – its always a question of “is it worth it?” There are so many brands & models its hard to say what is ‘best’ or ‘worth it’ – but a good portion of one’s decision making will be coming down to money. Can you afford spending this much on a device that will do the same for $50? Or maybe a better question is, should you? In the last couple of years I took an interest in horology, there is so much information to absorb its like being in school all over again.

    I got myself a Hamilton Khaki automatic, it has an ETA 2824-2 movement, sapphire crystal front&back, a decent bracelet (more on that later) and overall, my watch in particular keeps excellent time. So currently, the $500 or so its valued at, is sufficient for me, is a Rolex at $5000, 10 times better? Probably not. Eventually I would like to get a higher end watch, not sure what at the moment though, was looking at a Omega Planet Ocean.

    My only real dissatisfaction with the watch is the quality of the steel that is on the bracelet, it scratches like you wouldn’t believe (relatively speaking), I wear mine every day for work (in retail) so it gets used a lot. But I still think the amount of scratches it accumulates is unacceptable. Perhaps the Rolex’s 904L steel is better for this aspect – but that’s not worth an additional $4500 to me, at least not yet.

    One other major factor to consider when buying an expensive watch is the servicing costs, which I don’t think many people take into consideration, which any mechanical watch will eventually need in order to function without problems. While I don’t know what the service costs on a Rolex will be, I am quite confident it will be significantly more than a standard ETA movement, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if one servicing cost as much as my Hamilton watch.

    Reply
  3. W. ADAM MANDELBAUM says:

    I have a sixties gold Jaeger Lecoultre that is a dead ringer for the Cellini, and it cost HUNDREDS of dollars, not thousands. Point being, smart vintage shoppers can have luxury on their wrists without it costing an arm and a leg.

    Reply
  4. Anders says:

    This is a great article concerning some specific watches.
    I am fortunate enough to be able to own several very nice classic time pieces. I would like to chime in on the “worth it” angle. I have a 1970s Rolex Airking. With its lack of complications, it is in my opinion it is among the most refined timepieces ever made. I have another watch that I bought for a single dollar, a quartz junker that doesn’t even have a second hand. It is however a classic shape and lovely colour.
    I gets compliments every singe time I wear the junker. Even from other watch geeks, until inspect closer to see the manufacturer is Formica.
    My point is one should be more concerned about wearing an appropriate watch for the occasion and choosing refined over flashy. Why in the world would I wear a dive watch (or a chronograph) to the opera house? Am I timing the arias? Of course this is only my opinion. One can wear what they want when they want to wear it. It would be helpful to know when a person is asserting thier personality as a quirk.
    A watch says a lot about a gent’s personality. So personally, I tend away from complications. Life has enough of them.

    Reply
    • William Brown says:

      Cellini watches are classic, elegant timepieces. Awesome value if you get one used, and they are a Rolex: built to Rolex standards. I love the Cellini line: make mine Prince!

      Reply
  5. Paul Beach says:

    Raphael, I’m pleased to see that you do not endorse any chronograph with business attire. Chronographs do have their sports uses but I do not regard them in any way as a dress watch (although some people do). With dress attire the chunkiness and sports functions seem inappropriate, and cannot compare with the elegance of a proper dress watch. And as for Divers watches, as far as I am concerned, they should never be seen above the water.

    Reply
    • William Brown says:

      There are precious few chronographs that look great with a suit, and the Daytona isn’t one of them. A few that come to mind are: IWC Portuguese, Chronoswiss Klassik, and Omega Seamaster chronographs from the ’60’s: all yellow gold on a leather strap, of course.

      Reply
  6. Simon says:

    Rolex might be good at making quality watches, but they are even better at marketing. $86,000 for a watch? Insane.

    You are paying for all that expensive advertising you see at Formula 1 Grand Prix races and in glassy magazines.

    Reply
  7. D L Sayers says:

    “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”
    GG is disagreeing with itself here. The Black Tie Watch guide says “If you must check the time, do so inconspicuously by excusing yourself and going to the restroom, or a quiet area of the establishment such as an empty hallway or even outside . . . Whenever possible, wear a pocket watch instead of a wristwatch
    Which is correct?

    Reply
  8. R.Exnicios says:

    I think people who wear a rolex or any other high end watch want to be notice, which is ok for them. I could have had my dad’s oyster rolex if i wanted it, but i don’t need a watch that defines me. I wear a early hamilton wind-up tank watch, which looks great anywear i go. Yes it ia a wind-up, but heck it only takes a couple of minutes to do every morning, and to me it is less expensive to own that a rolex and the money i save is better spent on more important things that fostering my self worth, but that is just me! To me how you feel on the inside goes a long way on how you look on the outside. I do not let the watch define me, i define the watch.

    Reply
  9. Vinilo1969 says:

    In April 1998, I purchased a red. 16520 Rolex Daytona in stainless steel with a white dial, marking my twentieth year of ownership. I bought it on a Hawaii trip where I proposed to my girlfriend and I wore it on our wedding day – yes, with a tuxedo! The watch has been always reliable and accurate and I wear it almost daily. I could never sell it – although the market value is now four to five times what I paid – it will stay in my possession without regret and I say it was worth it.

    Reply

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