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There are not many watches of the Rolex brand which stand out among the other models in such a way that a whole book is dedicated to them. For Daytona fans, however, this is not a surprise – as there is a lot to discover in the history of Daytona watches.

The Cosmograph Daytona was launched in 1963 and initially designed primarily for professional racing drivers, but quickly became a widely popular icon. The Daytona's success story began on Paul Newman's wrist before making itself a name over the next years, particularly through its technical specifications. From its beginnings in the 1960s until 1987, the Daytona was manufactured exclusively with manual winding. From 1988 to 2000, Rolex switched to automatic movements, which resulted in the legendary Zenith Daytona with the calibre 4030. What most people do not know: This transformation also affected the dials of the Daytona and led to numerous variations.

Four Rolex Daytona stainless steel watches with white dials

Early Daytona dials

When we talk about the Daytona "Paul Newman", we are referring particularly to the reference 6239 with either a black or a white dial and contrasting totalizers and inlay. The main difference between these early models are the pushers which can be either screwed in or not. The dial designs of the early Daytona models with screw-in pushers, in particular, are very complex and rich in variations, as can be seen, for example, in the Ref. 6240 manufactured from 1965 to around 1969. It was the first Daytona with an Oyster case, which guaranteed the water-resistance of the watch. However, the variations that appear most often have neither the word "Daytona" nor "Oyster" on the dial. This variant can be found on the Ref. 6240 with the serial numbers 1.2 to 1.6. The minimalistic version of these models is known as the "Solo" dial, which only has the lettering "Rolex" and can be found among the serial numbers from 1.2 to 1.4. Another extremely rare version of the Ref. 6240 features the so-called "ROC" dial with the inscription "Rolex Oyster Cosmograph". Cosmograph is a neologism developed by Rolex in order to differentiate its chronographs from those of the competitors.

Sigma, Big Red and Paul Newman dial

The other early models with screw-in pushers, such as the Ref. 6263 and Ref. 6265, which Rolex sold from 1971 to 1988, have an exciting history as well. In terms of the material, these watches differ only in their bezel. The Ref. 6265 has a stainless steel or gold bezel, while the Ref. 6263 has a black acrylic bezel. Here too, numerous dial variants can be found, of which we would like to introduce the three most prominent: The dials are the same:

  1. Let's start with the "Sigma" dial, which is occasionally also called "Goute à prior". Here the "T Swiss T" lettering at 6 o'clock is limited by two small sigma signs (σ). This variation can be found especially in the earlier models of the 70s.

  2. The famous "Big Red" version was found on the black and silver dials of the Ref. 6263 from 1975 onwards, with the Daytona logo in red above the totalizer at 6 o'clock. Again, there are some variations. The lettering may vary in size, which is why it is referred to in this context as the "Big Red Daytona" and the "Small Red Daytona". The distance between the lettering and the totalizer is also a reason for further differentiation. On the so-called "Big Red Floating" dials the lettering is further away from the totalizer compared to other versions.

  3. Last but not least, the "Paul Newman" dial should be mentioned here, which is also commonly known as the "Exotic" dial. In terms of colour, the totalizers are always in contrast to the dial. Therefore, the dials are often called "Panda" (white dial, black totalizers) or "Reverse Panda" (black dial, white totalizers). The indices on the totalizers are designed in art deco style. In addition, the minute totalizer at 9 o'clock includes the division into 15, 30, 45 and 60 seconds instead of the 20-40-60 marking.

Besides the Daytonas with screw-in pushers, so-called "Pump Push-Down" buttons were used on the Ref. 6239, Ref. 6241, Ref. 6262 and Ref. 6264. At this time, the dials were more consistent and mainly produced as two-tone and Paul Newman. Another special feature is that although the models are equipped with an Oyster case, the water-resistance is not specified, which is why the "Oyster" lettering on the dial is missing.

Rolex Daytona 116520 watch with white dial and steel bezel

Special Daytona dials: Mark I to VIII

With the introduction of automatic movements, the dials of the Daytona changed as well. Many of these variations are only minimal and not important for the majority of the wearers. For watch collectors and fans, however, these differences are crucial and models of this kind are therefore highly sought after.

Dial Production period Characteristics
MK I 1987 – 1988 "Floating Cosmograph", also called "Floating Dial" because the word "Cosmograph" is placed with spacing to the rest of the lettering
MK II 1989 – 1990 "4 Liner", because the fifth line ("officially certified") is missing in the lettering
MK III 1990 – 1991 From Mark I to Mark IV: Number 6 on the hour totalizer is reversed, as for example on the Ref. 16520 from 1991 (changes later with Mark V dials)
MK IV 1991 – 1993 Lettering is similar to Mark III, but without serifs
MK V 1993 – 1998 The number 6 on the hour totalizer is rotated by 180 degrees and is now in the correct position
MK VI 1998 – 1999 Tritium is used as luminous material on indices, "Cosmograph" lettering is positioned at the same level as the upper edge of the totalizers on the right and left
MK VII 1999 – 2000 Change from tritium to non-radioactive Super-LumiNova as the fluorescent material
MK VIII from 2000 Smaller distance between the words "Oyster" and "Perpetual", red Daytona writing ends exactly at the height of the 1-hour-index on the hour counter

Rolex Daytona 116520 stainless steel watch with black dial

Rarities: Daytona dials with production errors

In other industries, production errors are usually considered to be flaws that result in a significant reduction in value and price. In the watch industry, however, the opposite is often the case. Models with flaws are highly coveted by watch collectors and often sell for record prices at auctions. Among such rare items there are also some special Daytona dials.

Patrizzi dials

Especially the Mark IV versions with black dials are in great demand today and bring in almost double the sales revenue compared to their siblings with white dials. This is due to the fact that between 1994 and 1995 the models with the Ref. 16520 were painted with a special organic lacquer called Zapon. The problem was that the paint did not cover the entire totalizers. Over time, the silver edges of the totalizers started to oxidize and turned into a brown colour tone. Models with this special dial were named after their discoverer, Osvaldo Patrizzi, and are particularly popular among collectors. Even today, the effect remains.

Cream dials

The partially varnished totalizers were not the only production flaw in the history of Daytona dials that caused a big hype about a certain model. The Daytona with the Ref. 116520, which was launched in 2000 with Rolex's own Calibre 4130, also achieved great popularity. But this time it affected the white models. In the first two years after the model was launched, the white dial faded to a cream-coloured tone and thus established the name of the "Cream" dials.

Post-Zenith dials

Leaving aside the cream dials, the contrast between the totalizers and the dial was much weaker on the Ref. 116520. The regular Panda look was not as popular anymore and the Reverse Panda with black totalizers on a white dial appeared on models like the Ref. 116523 and the Ref. 116518. The new dials shift the contrast to the time indices of the totalizers with black or white outlines. This creates a harmonious design and gives the Daytona a modern touch.