Rolex Daytona: A Legendary Love Story


The history behind Rolex Daytona

The Paul Newman Rolex Daytona popularity

The 2023 Daytona update

Neither a watch nor a legend. How can the Newman-Woodward matrimony, cars, and a watch be related? Let's find out in this Rolex-powered love story.

It is easy for watch enthusiasts to fall in love with a watch. It is the case for the Rolex Daytona, fuelled by Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman's romance. Undoubtedly, we love a love story (pun intended), especially between celebrities in a fast and furious saga: Woodward accidentally met Paul Newman on a hot summer afternoon. Walking down the street on a sweltering day, she crossed her agent's workplace. To freshen up, she walked into the air conditioning office. Newman was there. Life was never again the same. They performed together, and although Paul was married then, they couldn't help falling in love.

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward
The legendary couple ©Bob Child/AP

Newman and Woodward married and had one of Hollywood's most memorable relationships. They knew, respected, and loved each other until the end, when Paul Newman died in 2008. They made several films together, and after starring in the movie "Winning", Newman fell in love with car racing. Worried about his safety, Joan gifted him a Rolex Daytona with an emblematic engraving in the back case:

"Drive Carefully Me."

How not to fall in love? This story bridges the iconic Rolex Daytona to a dreamy romance, and that's where our story begins.

Caseback Engraving Rolex Daytona Paul Newman
©A Collected Man

Why is the Rolex Daytona So Famous?

Everyone loves a Hollywood couple, and the Newman-Woodward made the headlines throughout history. Although the legendary Daytona watch was created for endurance racing drivers and named after the Daytona International Speedway in Florida, its popularity is intrinsically related to Paul Newman.

Around 1968, after a car accident, Woodward gifted a Rolex Daytona to Newman, which became part of his identity. Numerous pictures feature Newman wearing his Daytona, which was less popular when Joanne Woodward bought it at Tiffany's New York. Back then, the Rolex Cosmograph watch (a term forged by Rolex to name the tachymeter scale engraved on the bezel instead of printing it on the dial) was way behind its competitors. Although the brand moved into chronograph production and its wristwatch/stopwatch function was well accepted by many, including Enzo Ferrari, initial sales fell behind expectations. The Daytona Ref. 6239 was usually sold at discount prices and forgotten by retailers until it boosted in popularity: Paul Newman, actor and racing driver, was usually spotted wearing it. The second Daytona generation, from 1988, became a huge success. History was in the making, and celebrities like Steve McQueen and Sylvester Stallone were styling a Daytona in no time. 

Actor Paul Newman with the Rolex Daytona at a Car Race March 14, 1981 at Long Beach, California (Photo by Paul Harris/Getty Images)

Paul Newman and his Rolex Daytona at Long Beach, California 

Rolex Daytona's popularity is about its reliability, mechanism, and chronograph features. Still, it is much more about the perception of success. Rolex association with car racing wasn't innocent: it was a bold marketing move to position the brand, fostering a solid emotional positive connection with consumers and defining the brand essence among those with a passion for driving and speed. Having the blue eyes charming American actor wearing the watch was the stepping stone the brand needed to build a reputation for speed, leveraging trust with symbolic coolness and nonchalance embodied by Paul Newman. The fact that he became one of America's most prominent philanthropists also helped.


The Rolex Daytona reference 6239, also known as the Paul Newman Daytona, is the famous Rolex Oyster Cosmograph Daytona sold in a packed room of passionate and excited bidders in New York. The bidding started at 1 million, immediately rose to 10 million, and re-ignited by 15.5 million dollars, ending at a final sale price of $17,752,500. 

Newman owned more Daytona's, gifted by Woodward, already auctioned. Still, as love's first blush, this watch became one of the most expensive wristwatches ever sold at auction, boosting its value and popularity and driving a rise in Rolex prices.

Actor Paul Newman, likely photographed while competing at the NASCAR Permatex 200 Modified race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, on February 15, 1974. (Photo by TV Times/TV Times via Getty Images)
Paul Newman, actor and car racer at Daytona International Speedway, 1974 

Racing up the Rolex history

The undoubted relationship between Rolex and motor sports dates back to the early 20th century, pioneering partnerships pursuing higher sports and watchmaking achievements. Known for its superlative approach, every Rolex exemplifies a commitment to perfection and excellence. It pushes boundaries and finds new ways where old ways still work. Attention to detail and specific features defines Rolex, as one can count on precision, waterproofness, robustness, and comfort, features athletes appreciate and that others also value. Combined with a simple design and mechanical winders, Rolex means autonomy and durability, making it one of the most renowned worldwide brands.

The Rolex Daytona

The story of Daytona started around 1963 when Rolex launched the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph, partnering with Daytona and targeting the US market. At first, the watch was equipped with manual winding. Still, when it became popular in late 1988, Rolex equipped it with the caliber 4030, the first automatic Daytona, adapted from the first self-winding chronograph movement, the Zenith El Primero caliber. The second generation had scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and increased its bezel size to 40mm. Among other iterations, today, Daytona timepieces have an in-house movement, the Caliber 4130, a self-winding chronograph movement.

Rolex Daytona Panda 116500LN

Rolex Daytona Panda 116500LN

Driving the Rolex Daytona details

The Rolex Daytona is a highly sought-after watch, one of the most popular worldwide. It symbolizes luxury, status, performance, and a watch that will only increase in value over time. The Daytona is a large watch with a case diameter of 40mm. It is available in various materials, including stainless steel, yellow gold, white gold, and a gold bezel with sapphires in a rainbow gradation. As a timeless icon, it has an ever-evolving design with different cases and color combinations. It comes on many straps, including stainless steel Oyster bracelets, leather straps, and rubber straps.

Rolex has invested in improving the Daytona specifications, either the movement, the tachymeter, the emblematic dial, or the counters. The dial is typically black or white and features chronograph subdials for hours, minutes, and seconds. The Rolex Daytona is water-resistant to 100 meters and used to have a screw-down crown and case back. Over time, the screw has been enhanced with non-screw-down versions to improve waterproofness.

The most famous reference of the Rolex Daytona is the 116500LN, aka the Panda, for collectors, with Cerachrom ceramic bezel. This model is made of stainless steel and has a black or white dial with a tachymetric scale, three counters, and pushers. Endurance racing drivers love it. Stylish people follow along. Investors succumb. Collectors strive for it. The Rolex Daytona is a water-resistant watch to 100 meters and comes on an Oyster bracelet. It fits a sapphire crystal and the caliber 4130 self-winding automatic chronograph movement. The 'Daytona' red engraving on the dial adds the final touch to this iconic, versatile watch that has made history, defining itself as part of our culture.

Rolex Daytona 2023 Ref. 126500LN
Rolex Daytona 2023 Ref. 126500LN

As culture evolves and cultural traits vary, some icons stand the test of time, reinventing themselves. It is the case for Rolex Daytona, reimagined in 2023, while the brand discontinued several Daytona references, replacing them with the new collection.

Speeding up the official timepiece of the Daytona race, Sebring, or FIA World Endurance Championship, Rolex presented an original version of the legendary chronograph in June 2023 to celebrate the centenary of Le Mans.

The Rolex chronograph was designed for motor racing professionals to measure time intervals or define average speeds. The bezel has a tachymeter, scaling average speed over a given distance based on elapsed time. It goes up to 400 units per hour in any unit to measure speed. The anniversary edition was optimized with a Cerachrom bezel in black ceramic. The tachymetric scale has '100' in red ceramic, evoking the centenary. Inspired by the traditional Rolex dial, this new version has white counters and an improved caliber. The 4130 caliber was optimized, became caliber 4131, and in 2023, it was adapted, becoming the exclusive caliber 4132. This caliber has established itself as one of the best in the world, and the movements are to be counted over twenty-four hours - the race time.


Racing time, Rolex has the reputation of holding one of the most expensive watches in the world. The new Daytona keeps up with its reputation, presenting itself as a cultural and emblematic lifestyle icon while enduring a stable investment commodity, just like the long-lasting passion between the couple that made Hollywood headlines and made the Rolex underdog one of the most sought-after watches in the world.


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