The Complete History Of
The Rolex Daytona Cosmograph
Part 1: Rolex Racing History
With many of the Rolex history stories on Jake's Rolex World, I tend to work on them over the years. It seems, as time goes by, I keep discovering new insight and tidbits, which include photos, marketing material and video.
In the future, I plan to go much more into depth on the history of Rolex's most sought after and illusive, and enigmatic watch models–The Rolex Daytona Cosmograph.
Photo Credit: Bernhard
For many years, it was impossible to purchase a new stainless Rolex Daytona from an authorized Rolex Dealer (AD). If you walked into an AD and asked if they had a stainless steel Rolex Daytona for sale, they would kind of smile at you and say "I would put you on the waiting list, but it is up to a 3 year wait so we stopped taking orders."
The supreme irony is Rolex has not published a single advertisement for the stainless steel Rolex Daytona for many, many decades. How could it be possible that a watch that is never advertised could have such a long waiting list and often sell new at a huge premium over list price?
The other supreme irony is that for the first few decades of the stainless steel Rolex Daytona models career, Rolex could not give them away!?! It was not uncommon for a stainless steel Paul Newman Exotic Dial Daytona to sit on an AD's shelf for 5 or more years!!!
Fast forward to today, and a vintage Rolex Daytona model an AD could not sell for $210 is now worth between $15,000 and $250,000!!!!!
Rolex In The Racing World
Man & His Machines
Rolex was founded in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf. Around the same time, the German and American automobile industries were also coming to life. There are many parallels between fine automobiles and fine watches, and the relationship between Rolex and auto racing is amazing.
The Zenith between Rolex and Racing is summed up in the Rolex Daytona, and in order to best understand why, we must explore history. World fascination with the auto really began after World War I, as did mankind's fascination with the wristwatch.
The was a very famous auto racer named Sir Malcolm Campbell who really popularized auto racing. Sir Malcolm Campbell was known as The Speed King. Back in 2009, I wrote a super extensive story about Sir Malcolm Campbell which I highly recommend you read.
Sir Malcolm Campbell is picture above and below. He had an amazing career and set many, many land-speed records in his famous Blue Bird race cars. Sir Malcolm Campbell was British, but he used to come over to the United States, to Daytona Beach, Florida where he kept setting one world speed record after another. It seems a little strange today, but back then he would set these records driving on the actual beach, on the sand, as pictured below.
Rolex and Hans Wilsdorf were extremely impressed with Sir Malcolm Campbell's achievements and lifestyle, and in many ways believed he symbolized the Rolex lifestyle, so he became Rolex's first real Ambassador. It is true, Mercedes Glietze was Rolex's first brand Ambasador, but she really only represented Rolex for one event or record, whereas Sir Malcolm Campbell's Ambassadorship lasted for many years, and Rolex even came out with a Malcolm Campbell Rolex model.
Sir Malcolm Campbell continued to shatter one world speed record after another and we see the 1935 program below from Daytona Beach, Florida, with him on the cover.
Founder of NASCAR
William France Sr., is a key character in the history of the Rolex Daytona and he is pictured below in the Rolex NASCAR ad from 1960. William France grew up in Maryland and when he was a kid, he did not attend school, instead he raced laps in his family Model T Ford.
William France was highly familiar with Sir Malcolm Campbell, and his career at Daytona Beach where he kept shattering land/speed records. At age 26, in 1935 William France decided to move to Daytona Beach, Florida to pursue his racing career, because Daytona was the epicenter for speed demons and car racers in the United States.
The challenges is that in 1935, Malcolm Campbell decided to leave Daytona Beach because the track was getting way to worn and developed to many holes. Malcolm Campbell decided to move to Bonneville Salt Flats in late 1935. In doing so, the city of Daytona Beach lost its major showcase opportunity. Daytona Beach city officials were flustered, but dedicated to maintaining Daytona as the winter hub or epicenter of American racing.
In early 1936, the world first Stock-Car race was held on the Daytona Beach Road Course. The race was 78 laps and 250 miles (400km) long. A Stock-Car art the time was considered to by a family sedan, and had to be sanctioned by AAA (American Automobile Association). The only Stock-Cars allowed to compete at the time were 1935 or 1936 models.
William France took over the newfangled Daytona Beach race in 1938. He not only only raced in the event but accepted the job of managing the course. From 1938 to 1941 William France continued to race and manage the Daytona race.
William France Rolex Zephyr Ad from 1960 pictured above
1963 Daytona 500 Winner
Racing legend, Junior Johnson is pictured below on February 24, 1963 an he appears to be wearing the Rolex Zephyr watch, advertised in the Rolex ad pictured above. Junior Johnson won the 1963 Daytona 500.
Rolex Chronograph: Grandfather Of The Rolex Daytona
The Rolex Chronograph Reference 6234 was introduced in 1955–coincidentally, the same years Rolex introduced the Rolex GMT Master.
The Rolex Chronograph Reference 6234 was made from 1955 to 1961, and during those 6 years Rolex averaged approximately 500 per year. The Reference 6234 is the great grandfather of the modern stainless steel Rolex Daytona, and in many ways has the same vibe, although in many other ways, it's remarkably different. For instance, it lacks an automatic movement, so it requires manual winding.
Rolex originally registered the name "Cosmograph" in 1953, and it was first placed on a watch dial in 1956 on a complicated Moonphase. Rolex historically used the word "Chronograph" on the dial of their chronograph watches and then one day in the late 1960s they changed it from Rolex Chronograph to Rolex Cosmograph.
Rolex Chronographs with the "Cosmograph" designation appeared with and without the Daytona designation up through the early 1980s.
The two Rolex Chronographs [Reference 6263] pictured above are identical in every way except the one on the right has a Daytona Designation on the dial and the one on the left does not.
Some sources speculate that in 1962 Rolex first used the "Daytona" designation on a watch to capitalize upon the quickly increasing popularity of NASCAR racing. NASCAR racing used supped-up stock cars that were basically turned into Hot-Rods or Muscle Cars, but I have not been able to confirm this as a fact.
1964 Le Mans Rolex Chronograph
This next image was published in 1964 when Rolex decided to associate its chronograph race-car watch with a world-class race. In particular, the Le Mans race in France. What!?!?!? The Rolex Daytona that everybody knows and loves was almost named The Rolex Le Mans Chronograph!?!?!?
Yes, and here is the extremely rare ad for The Rolex Le Mans Chronograph from 1964 to prove it:
1964 Rolex Le Mans Prototype Ad Courtesy of David Concannon Collection
This ad originally appeared in the Sebring Race Program from 1964 on page 56. The Sebring International Raceway, is a race track located in the U.S.A., in central Florida, about 123 miles south-west from Daytona Beach International Raceway, Florida, which today holds an endurance race that is 12 hours long, and Le Mans is the oldest endurance race, held in France, which dates back to 1923, and just like "The Rolex 24 At Daytona" today, the "24 Hours A Le Mans" is an endurance race.
1965 Rolex Daytona Chronograph
A Classic Rolex Icon Is Born
In early 1965, Rolex published the following advertisement which tied together the Rolex Chronograph with racing, but did not go so far as to use the name "Daytona."
Later in 1965. Rolex Rolex re-introduced the same Rolex Chronograph as the Rolex Daytona Chronograph!!!
1965 Rolex Daytona Chronograph Ad Courtesy of David Concannon Collection
So what was the genesis of this Rolex naming confusion with the Rolex Le Mans and why would Rolex introduce a watch model named the "Rolex Le Mans Chronograph" in 1964, and the next year, in 1965, reintroduce it as the "Rolex Daytona?" It is difficult to confirm of certain. Some people say
I don't know and the best I can do is try to take an educated guess!?! My best guess is that they planned to call it the "Le Mans Chronograph" but were not able to get the naming rights, or maybe upon reflection, they decided "Rolex Daytona" sounded better.
It also crosses my mind that perhaps with their strong affiliation with the record-breaking Speed-King, Sir Malcolm Campbell who broke so many world-speed records on Daytona Beach, that they decided to use Daytona as a tribute to his amazing legacy.
It also stand to reason that since Le Mans is the oldest and most prestigious endurance race that it was their first choice, but maybe upon reflection, Rolex realized that since the American economy was booming and the European economy was still recovering from the devastating effects of World War II, it made more sense to go with an American icon!?!
Who know, perhaps one day, we will have an exact answer to this question, but in the mean-time that is my best guess, albeit a simple one.
Whatever the reason was for sticking with the Rolex Daytona it sure was a good one, despite the fact it would take Rolex decades to make it pay-off.
This would not be the first or last time Rolex would try out a name, and then change it significantly. In 1955 they had an ad for what was and is now the Rolex "Submariner" which they briefly re-named the Rolex "Skin Diver." At one point in the mid 1950s Rolex also called the Submariner model the "Sub-Auqa."
Another irony with this 1964 Rolex ad is that it was published with the Rolex Chronograph upside down. This ad appeared at the beginning of the Andre Heiniger era of leadership at Rolex. Hans Wilsdorf passed away in 1960 leaving Rene-Paul Jeanneret as the acting director of Rolex until Andre Heiniger stepped in in 1963 to become the Director General of Rolex.
1963 was a huge year of change for Rolex where more change occurred than during any other era. For instance, crown guards were added to the sports models, depth ratings increased and dials started changing.
Paul Newman Dayotona
Rolex Yachtmaster Chronograph Protoype
In 1967 Rolex first toyed around with the idea of making a Rolex Yachtmaster model, but unlike the Rolex Yachtmaster we all know that came along many decades later, this prototype was a Rolex Chronograph which not only had a YACHT MASTER designation, but also had the proprietary, trademark Rolex COSMOGRAPH designation in place of the generic Chronograph designation.
Rolex has a propensity to use and re-use names until they get the balance just right, and in another twist of fate, the 6062 Rolex Moonphase was the first to sport the trademark Rolex COSMOGRAPH designation, despite the fact is was not a Chronograph!!!
1967 Rolex YACHT MASTER Prototype Photo on Fatstrap Courtesy of John Goldberger
One of the neat things that becomes apparent about Rolex design and marketing history, is Rolex experimented profusely with names and design styles. Essentially, Rolex through everything at the wall, and simply waited to see what stuck. I am looking forward to publishing this upcoming series on the Rolex Daytona which will be a lot of fun and offer much insight into what makes Rolex tick, literally and figuratively!!!!
1970 Rolex Daytona Cosmograph Brochure
Modern White Gold Rolex Daytona Ad
2011 Rolex Ad
Today, Tom Kristensen is the new face of Rolex racing and we see him featured below in this 2011 Rolex Daytona magazine ad.
To View Part 2 of The Complete History Of The Rolex Daytona Cosmograph click here.