Hubert Burda Media

Rolex Daytona: The Holy Grail of Chronographs

The world’s most famous chrono is not only an object of unattainable desire, but also the star of this month’s Phillips auction in Geneva.

If you’re after a new Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, be warned that unless you’re fortunate enough to be on extremely good terms with an official retailer – or you’re unusually patient – you might as well forget it.

In fact, it’s been difficult enough to get hold of a new example of the near-legendary chrono – it’s named for the Florida motor speedway – since the late 1980s, when its hand-wound Valjoux movement was replaced by an automatic Zenith El Primero, whose limited availability inevitably restricted supply. Yet even after the El Primero was substituted by the in-house 4130 movement in 2000, demand still far outweighs output. Indeed, the current wait for a stainless-steel Daytona (deemed by the cognoscenti to be the version of this classic tool watch) stands at three years at the very least. Bizarrely, gold, platinum and bejewelled examples are far easier to come by.

That the Daytona is now more covetable than ever is probably down to two things. One is the introduction of a stainless-steel version with a black ceramic bezel in 2016, which drove collectors nuts. The other is the recent sale at auction of the late Hollywood actor and accomplished racing driver Paul Newman’s steel Daytona for a staggering US$17.75 million – and if that isn’t evidence of the Cosmograph’s soaring desirability, then nothing is.

As if to underline the watch’s appeal, a small selection of expertly curated Cosmographs goes on sale in Geneva on May 12. Organised by Phillips and titled The Daytona Ultimatum, the sale brings together 32 historically significant Rolex six-handers of a quality rarely seen before in a single auction, four of which we present here.

Outside of the auction houses, prices for used Daytonas – vintage examples, either hand-wound or Zenith-powered, are so valuable they might as well be hewn from unobtainium – are also rocketing, with steel often commanding higher numbers than gold. Even if you do spot a brand-new model in steel that’s been immediately flipped to the pre-owned market, it’s likely to have been marked up by half as much again compared with the list price – and possibly a good deal more.

The alternatives? Get used to the idea of waiting, befriend a watch dealer, go for gold, or snap up Rolex’s recently announced GMT-Master II Pepsi in Oystersteel. Sure, it may not be a Daytona, but it’s nonetheless a modern classic that we reckon will soon be headed in exactly the same direction as the Daytona: interplanetary.

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