In 1963 Rolex launched a new-generation chronograph, the Cosmograph, later named Daytona to mark the brand’s link, as Official Timepiece, with the Daytona International Speedway in Florida.
The new Cosmograph dedicated to racing drivers clearly deserved its place among the Professional watches, a category created by Rolex 10 years previously, in 1953, with models such as the Explorer dedicated to explorers and mountaineers, or the Submariner specially designed for deep-sea diving.
The singular name invented by Rolex immediately marked it out as a very different new model with an equally innovative style. The chronograph counters stood out clearly on the dial thanks to their strongly contrasting color: black on a light colored dial or light colored on a black dial. The tachymetric scale – a graduation allowing the measurement of average speeds over a given distance using the chronograph seconds hand – was moved from the dial to the circumference of the bezel, opening up and simplifying the dial. Dictated by functional considerations these features made the chronograph functions far more legible – one of the challenges of the time. They also gave the Cosmograph a technical and sporty look making it instantly recognizable.
The Cosmograph was part of a long Rolex tradition in chronographs. The brand launched its first models with counters in 1933, which were often equipped with other functions on the dial such as a tachymetric scale for measuring speed, a telemetric scale to track distance, or a pulsometer to measure heart rate. The first chronograph equipped with a waterproof Oyster case appeared in 1939. From its launch, the Cosmograph featured the Oyster case invented by Rolex in 1926 – robust and waterproof thanks to the screw-down case back and winding crown – as well as a solid metal bracelet. The watch also featured a manually wound mechanical movement reputed for its reliability and precision. No brand had yet been able to overcome the technical hurdle of producing a self-winding chronograph.
New dials were introduced, expanding the range in the early years. One special version would become famous as the so-called Paul Newman dial, since the renowned American film star – who was also a racing driver and an icon of masculine style – regularly wore a Daytona with that particular dial. The design of his favorite dial increased legibility of the chronograph functions under difficult race conditions. It was characterized by the seconds track around the dial on a band of the same contrasting color as the three counters. The graduations, in certain cases, were inscribed in red. The counters themselves were differentiated by squares on the markers to facilitate reading.
The Cosmograph evolved in 1965 with the launch of a version that introduced screw-down chronograph pushers instead of the pump pushers found on the original model. The screw-down pushers brought the finishing touch to the Oyster concept, and prevented the pushers from being manipulated accidentally. In testimony to its reinforced waterproofness, the name Oyster was inscribed on all the dials in addition to Cosmograph. Another new feature came in the form of a black Plexiglas insert for the tachymetric bezel. The white graduation increased legibility yet again.
An additional inscription appeared on some dials during the new Rolex chronograph’s early years on the market: Daytona. Initially limited to watches for the American market, it was most probably added at the request of the Rolex affiliate in the united States to mark the brand’s link, as Official Timepiece, with the Daytona International Speedway in Florida, and to symbolize the model’s close connection with the world of motor racing.
The name gradually began to be inscribed on every Cosmograph dial, finally taking on its current form in an arc with red lettering above the counter at six o’clock. Rolex’s chronograph, the Oyster Cosmograph Daytona, also became available in an 18 carat yellow gold version, certified as a chronometer. And these gold versions bore the famous phrase Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified on their dial, a rare achievement for a chronograph.
In 1988, the Daytona became self-winding. The brand opted for a quality, commercially available chronograph movement (the Zenith El Primero), which it then significantly modified to meet its own requirements, replacing more than 50 per cent of the components with parts specifically designed for Rolex Daytona movements. The model’s update went far beyond technical features. The redesigned aesthetics formed the basis of the Cosmograph Daytona’s imposing and elegant appearance today. The diameter of its Oyster case was increased from 36 to 40 mm and included shoulders to protect the crown. The tachymetric bezel in metal was made wider and engraved with a 400-unit graduated scale. New hands, new hour markers, new counters within banded circles: the dial was modernized, while preserving its inimitable style and its signature Daytona in red letters.
As a backdrop to the launch of an entirely new interpretation of the Cosmograph Daytona, it is difficult to imagine a more symbolic event than that of entering a new millennium. Introduced by Rolex in the year 2000, this new model – like the first Cosmograph in its time – embodied the chronograph of the future. Its aesthetics remained deliberately faithful to the codes of the 1988 Cosmograph Daytona, perfecting the iconic and distinctive design of the original, and its subtly sculpted strong lines and balanced ergonomics. In 1963 the Rolex chronograph had innovated with radically new aesthetics that enhanced the legibility of its functions. However, the innovations in the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona for the new millennium essentially lie inside the case.
This model has a new-generation self-winding chronograph movement – calibre 4130 – specially designed for the Cosmograph Daytona and entirely manufactured in-house. A masterpiece of engineering and micromechanics, replete with innovative and patented technical solutions, this high-performance movement has set a new standard for luxury self-winding chronographs in terms of robustness, reliability, efficiency and precision, as well as for ease of maintenance. Caliber 4130’s performance stems particularly from the use of a vertical clutch to activate the chronograph function, instead of the traditional lateral clutch. This new solution functions on the principle of two discs one above the other which work together by direct friction contact and offers significant advantages – extremely precise starting and stopping of the perfectly smooth running chronograph seconds hand as soon as the pusher is pressed; and the ability of the chronograph to function for long periods of time with no negative impact on the precision of the watch.
With Rolex caliber 4130 engineers managed to reduce the number of components for the chronograph mechanism by 60 per cent. They particularly simplified the minute and hour counter systems – traditionally two distinct mechanisms situated on each side of the movement – by integrating them into a single module judiciously placed on one side of the movement with an off-center clutch. A patented solution that reduces from five to one the number of adjustments by excentric screws required regulating the chronograph. It also saves space, making it possible to house a larger mainspring and thereby extend the power reserve to 72 hours, instead of the previous 50. The mainspring, the powerhouse of the watch, can be replaced without the whole movement having to be disassembled, thanks to the independent self-winding module that is easily removed to access the barrel. Additionally, the efficiency of the self-winding mechanism has been substantially enhanced, notably with a system of new-generation reversing wheels that allow more efficient bidirectional winding.
The oscillator, the strategic heart of the watch and guarantor of its precision, also took advantage of telling innovations. A larger balance wheel, equipped with the Rolex micrometric regulating system via Microstella nuts, contributes to the movement’s precision. In keeping with the architecture of Rolex calibers, it is held in place by a traversing balance bridge, fixed at both sides to improve resistance to shocks and vibrations. But one of the most spectacular developments introduced on the oscillator of the new Cosmograph Daytona is the Parachrom hairspring. Developed, patented and entirely manufactured by Rolex in an alloy of niobium and zirconium, the Parachrom hairspring has exceptional qualities that greatly increase the precision of the movement by significantly enhancing its resistance to disturbances. It is also insensitive to magnetic fields, extremely stable when exposed to temperature variations and is unaffected by the thousands of small shocks a watch is subjected to in daily wear, while remaining up to 10 times more precise than a traditional hairspring.
Two discreet details on the dial show that the watch was fitted with the new more powerful movement. First, the horizontal positioning of both chronograph counters – the small-seconds was moved from its usual position at 9 o’clock to the bottom of the dial at 6 o’clock. Secondly, the fact that the minute and hour counters are aligned slightly above the center of the dial, an aesthetic signature that enhances the visual balance of the dial and underlines the meticulous attention to detail so typical of Rolex. Contrary to its predecessors, no additional new inscription appears on the dial of the new Cosmograph Daytona.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAYTONA!
Fifty years after its creation the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is the first Oyster model in the Professional range to be offered in platinum, the noblest of precious metals, fitted for the occasion with an ice blue dial, exclusive to Rolex platinum models. It is also equipped with a new developed monobloc Cerachrom bezel, an exclusive Rolex innovation with exceptional resistance properties and incomparable aesthetics.
The brand’s approach, nonetheless, has remained unchanged over the last 50 years: to strive to design and manufacture the chronograph, which corresponds to its demands of quality and function and to perpetuate the Daytona’s legend.
I agree … What a cool watch! What a cool story!
But you guys at Rolex please allow me, a watch-aficionado & -blogger, one single question: Why did you not present a redesigned brand new Daytona for its 50th anniversary? The year 2013 would have been a good occasion …