Early in 2013, Rolex became a Global Partner and official timekeeper for Formula One’s 19 races in 19 different countries on five continents. But Rolex’ commitment in motorsports started much earlier, with the legendary chronograph named the Cosmograph Daytona.
by Britta Rossander
It was in 1963 that Rolex introduced the new generation of chronographs, Cosmograph, to measure up to the race drivers’ timekeeping needs.
Rolex was and remains a sponsor of the Rolex 24 on the Daytona Raceway. The city of Daytona, Florida, with the famous long straight beach has arranged motor races since 1903. Until 1935 the hard-packed sand of Daytona Beach was the perfect location for speed record runs and has resulted in 80 official records.
”Daytona Beach is the only place where world speed record attempts are possible. The sand is almost as hard as cement and the beach is long enough to reach high speeds”, said Sir Malcolm Campbell, 1932 Land Speed Record holder with 483 km/h. But in 1936 the petrolheads had to leave the beach and use a new oval racetrack further inland.
Today there have been three series of the Daytona watch so far. The original series, produced in small numbers from 1963 until the late 1980’s, has a four-digit reference number. It took some time, but the watches of the first series eventually became popular and hard to find. A second series entered production in 1988, equipped with Zenith’s movement El Primero. The movements were modified and around half of the components were adapted especially to suit Rolex’ demands. The case also grew from 37 to 40 mm.
This particular series, manufactured from 1988 to 2000, is the range that gave the Rolex Daytona a cult following because of its precision, reliability, status and limited production (the last factor was not universally appreciated). The third series, introduced in 2000, has Rolex’ own in-house movement caliber 4130 and a six-digit reference number. With the caliber 4130, Rolex’ watchmakers and engineers have managed to reduce the number of components for the chronograph mechanism by 60 per cent which makes the watch even more robust and easier to maintain.
Any serious collector must own a Rolex Daytona, and the most desirable model is nicknamed the ”Paul Newman”. Legend has it that Newman wore his Daytona from 1972 until his death in 2008. The watch was a present from his wife, Joanne Woodward, when he got involved with racing as a hobby. Paul Newman wore Rolex before his wife gave him his first Daytona, but he is supposed to later have owned five of the cult chronographs. A ”PN Daytona” comes with an astronomical price tag on today’s second hand market. The number made with the same caliber during the same period is very small.
The anniversary watch for the 50th anniversary is made of polished platinum, has an ice-blue face and a hazelnut colored bezel with the smaller faces in the same color. Many people consider the color combination so sophisticated that many don’t appreciate it, while it’s completely along the lines of Rolex tradition – a watch for the chosen few. The over-the-counter price in Sweden is around 86,700 USD.
The fifty-second Rolex 24 was recently held at Daytona and is considered a new start for auto racing in North America. A complete field of 67 cars in four classes battled for victory in the lovely Florida sunshine. Rolex have been the title sponsor for the race since 1992.
Joie Chitwood III, Daytona International Speedway CEO, pointed out the significance of the event, and the chairman of the International Motorsports Association (IMSA) Jim France, whose father Bill was foresighted enough to build the track in the 1950’s, also emphasized the race’s importance in professional motor sport.
The winning team in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona Raceway was Christian Fittipaldi and João Barbosa (both earlier winners in 2004 and 2010 respectively). The next Rolex 24 race at Daytona will take place January 24-25, 2015.