Rolex was not among the chronograph pioneers, choosing to focus their energies on the Oyster and the Perpetual. However the success of these watches propelled Rolex to be in the position of being the “sportsman’s” watch and sportsmen demand a chronograph.
Instead of developing their own movement Rolex chose to use the Valjoux movement. It was available in three sizes and they were all simple one button chronographs. These allowed the user to time one continuous event.
This one button chronograph was popular but the more it was used the more obvious its limitations were. Customers demanded the ability to stop the watch intermittently which was of course impossible without resetting the time. It was not until the late 1930’s that anything changed with the arrival of the two button chronograph. This was a major breakthrough and now allowed people to stop the watch to take necessary breaks and than restart it on the same time as when they left off. A football referee could stop the watch each time a ball went out an then get an accurate 45 minutes play.
At the end of the 1930’s the “Zerograph” was produced in very limited quantities. The watch model 3462 marked an important turning point for Rolex as it was the first watch to feature the Oyster crown and is now extremely sort after.
The first true Oyster chronograph was the model 4500, which never sold in huge quantities as it was released during World War II. The 6232 and the 3668 models followed but proved just as unpopular. Both new models used the 13″ Valjoux movement and had just a thirty minute register. While Rolex in 1942 had introduced an hour recorder it was a snap on back it would be another seven years before the Oyster case and the three button chronograph would be brought together in the form of the 5034. During the next fifteen years the 5034 changed into the 6034, which then became the 6234. This in turn became the 6238 and then finally evolved into the 6239.
These changes although little by little had inspired Rolex to revive the previously shelved name the “Cosmograph”. The only difference between the 6239 and the 6238 was that on the 6239 the bezel was engraved with tachymeter graduations rather than having them on the dial.
The last major changes to the manual wind chronograph came in the late 1970’s when Rolex introduced the 6263 model. This was the first model to have truly waterproof pushers. The earlier Oyster Chronographs had simple round pushers with internal gaskets as the only sealing mechanism.
The screw down pushers were added to stop people pressing the buttons, whilst submerged in water. The locking function also prevented the chronograph being activated inadvertently. The new 6263 started life as being waterproof to 165 feet, ten years later it was capable of twice that depth (100 meters) The 6263 is unusual in the fact that the quality of the movement depended on which case you had. The steel chronograph movements were not timed to a chronometer standard.
Despite the innovative design it was not until 1986 when the popularity of the Daytona started to increase, reaching its zenith with a particular Daytona model, the “Paul Newman”. This model featured square markers on the subsidiary dials, and an outer track the same colour as the subsidiary dials. Although the origins of this nickname for the dial are obscure this is the easiest term to refer to this watch. This unusual dial colourful and deco in appearance was only in production for a short period of time form its introduction in 1970.
Rolex watches finally released the new version of the Daytona in 1991. They had abandoned the workhorse Valjoux movement in favour of the Zenith movement. The new dials featured large subsidiary dials and had an inner track in a contrasting colour. Dial colours included black, white, champagne and each watch had “Daytona” in red on the dial and they all had screw-down pushers.
The stainless steel Daytona has become one of the most sought after watches of all time. Because there were higher profit margins in the gold and mixed metal watches there was a shortage of the steel one as there just were not enough being produced.
Rolex’s latest addition to the Daytona hysteria was launched at the end of 2000. The 116520 which like the rest of Rolex’s models has an extra 1 prefix to differentiate it from the others. There have been a few dial refinements but the main difference is the fact that Rolex are now using an in house movement instead of the old Zenith one.
The Daytona’s popularity can only be said to be growing.