You are here

Daytona gets its ceramic bezel

While many watch fans saw it coming this year, the lack of surprise hasn't made the new Daytona any less desirable.
Friday, August 26, 2016 - 05:50
BT_20160826_PDAYTONA4_2421034.jpg
The early Rolex chronographs were not called Cosmograph Daytona but simply Rolex chronographs. Instead of steel bracelets, most of them had leather straps. Above: Cosmograph Daytona 116500LN 2016 model.
BT_20160826_PDAYTONA4_2421034.jpg
Cosmograph Daytona 1988.
BT_20160826_PDAYTONA4_2421034.jpg
Cosmograph Daytona Paul Newman Dial
BT_20160826_PDAYTONA4_2421034.jpg
Cosmograph Daytona 1963
BT_20160826_PDAYTONA4_2421034.jpg
Cosmograph Daytona 1965

ROLEX'S steel Daytona chronograph finally got its ceramic bezel this year - nearly a decade after the brand introduced it. All of Rolex's sports and professional models have already gone ceramic. Even the rose gold and platinum versions of this iconic chronograph were given the ceramic rim on their cases. So it was a matter of time before the stainless steel model of the Cosmograph Daytona was fitted with the hard and scratch-proof bezel. While many watch fans saw it coming this year, the lack of surprise hasn't made the new Daytona any less desirable.

The first shipment of the watch was not expected until after July - although reportedly a few well-connected collectors got the first few pieces earlier. But the word was already out that most buyers would have to pay a premium price of S$40,000 - more than two times the retail price of around S$17,000 - for the new Daytona, or wait five years for it.

The well-known singer-songwriter John Mayer, among the lucky few who already own one, has put a street price of US$30,000 on the new chronograph, which is reminiscent of the 1965 model and comes in a white or black dial with the black ceramic bezel.

As expected, the watches which subsequently arrived quickly flew off the shelves. One major retailer on Orchard Road claims he sold two pieces of the new Daytona for S$50,000. But most of the watch boutiques in the central shopping district cleared their stocks at premium prices of S$25,000-S$28,000.

At People's Park shopping complex, the new Daytona was snapped up at S$26,000-S$30,000. Buyers got a better deal with parallel importers - quite a few are located in shopping malls - paying around S$23,000 for the watch.

"The Daytona has always commanded a premium price," says one dealer at People's Park. "The premium for the latest model is the highest so far."

Apart from the ceramic bezel, which replaces the 1965 Plexiglas and the more recent steel rim, the new Daytona is more reliable and accurate. The Superlative Chronometer certification on it says the whole watch, not just the movement, passed the tougher tests which Rolex put it through.

Rolex introduced the tougher drill last year because the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute, COSC, focused only on the movement, and because it wanted to raise the quality of its watches.

Thus the new Daytona's precision is in the order of -2/+2 seconds per day, twice that required of an official chronometer.

Rolex would know how to make a better chronograph by now. It produced its first in 1933, more than 80 years ago, and would have learnt a lot since then. Also, Rolex could adapt the improvements made in its other watch models for the Daytona.

The early Rolex chronographs were not called Cosmograph Daytona but simply Rolex chronographs. Instead of steel bracelets, most of them had leather straps. And they often had other functions on the dial - a tachymetric scale for measuring speed, a telemetric scale to track distance, or a pulsometer to check heart beat.

They were also not waterproof. The Oyster waterproof case didn't appear until 1926 and, even then, it was only used on the Rolex chronographs in 1939.

Yet, the chronographs didn't earn the "Oyster" inscription on their dials until 1965, when the screw-down chronograph pushers replaced the earlier models' pump pushers to provide the case full protection against the risk of water running into the case.

It appears that the chronograph model has always been among the last to be fitted with the improvements made at Rolex. It took even longer to go automatic - in 1988, when Rolex equipped the Daytona with a modification of Zenith's highly respected El Primero movement. Before that, the Rolex chronographs were powered by a hand-wound Valjoux-based movement.

Rolex only introduced its own in-house automatic chronograph movement in 2000. With the switch to a self-winding movement in 1988, the size of the Oyster case housing the Rolex chronograph movement was expanded from 36mm to 40mm.

The Cosmograph Daytona made its debut in 1963. It was initially known as the "Cosmograph" because of the fascination with space travel at the time when it was launched. "Daytona" was added in the following year after Rolex sponsored the annual 24-hour car race at Daytona Beach in Florida.

But the Daytona - the name for all Rolex chronographs produced since 1963 - only really became famous after it was spotted on the wrist of actor Paul Newman, a racer himself.