The Rolex Daytona: How to Authenticate the World’s Most Wanted Watch
Inspired by race car drivers and named for the Florida city whose flat expanse of beach is perfectly suited, and now legendary, for driving at high speeds, the Rolex Daytona is built for precision timing. Its high-accuracy, self-winding chronograph movement and iconic status as the preferred watch of actor and race car enthusiast Paul Newman make it one of Rolex’s best-selling styles.
“The Daytona is very much like the Hermès Birkin of the watch industry, held captive by the retailer until a customer deemed worthy is invited to make the purchase,” says Senior Director of Fine Jewelry & Watches Michael Groffenberger. “They have held their value extremely well and in many cases appreciated over the last 50 years.” Which, of course, makes it a prime style for imitators to fake. We tapped Groffenberger and Watch Specialist Pierce Shortell to break down the allure of the Daytona, which models are most valuable and how to tell the real deal from a fake.
What are the distinguishing elements of a Rolex Daytona?
Shortell: The Rolex Daytona has a tachymeter bezel, chronograph movement and no date. Over the years Rolex has changed the size — the model that most everyone is familiar with is 40mm, but the older versions were 37mm.
What are the differences between Daytona models? Which are the most wanted and most valuable?
Shortell: The Daytona is made in many variations from gold with leather straps to gold on gold bracelets in rose, yellow and white gold. There is an anniversary edition in platinum with a ceramic bezel and models in stainless steel. The most wanted and valuable are always going to be the steel models with either a black or white dial.
Rolex 18k Gold Daytona Chronograph Watch, orig. $37,450, now $17,950
Why is the Daytona the world’s most faked watch?
Shortell: It’s an iconic piece with high secondary market value. Its popularity as a status symbol and the premium it commands in the secondary market make it the perfect piece to make replicas of.
Groffenberger: Its high visibility and popularity has made it an enormous target for counterfeits. In fact, I would say it may be the most counterfeited watch design in the world.
How can you spot a fake Rolex Daytona?
Shortell: The telltale signs of a fake Daytona are improper sub-dial spacing, the inclusion of a date function (there has never been a date version of the piece made), improper font used on the dial, and incorrect sizing. Some fakes use bigger cases than the 40mm case used by Rolex.
Groffenberger: At The RealReal we take authenticity very seriously and our team of experts makes sure that each watch is absolutely perfect before we list it.
How can you tell if a Rolex Daytona has a true Paul Newman dial?
Shortell: The Paul Newman dial has contrasting sub-dials; white dials have black sub-dials and black dials have white sub-dials. The Newman dial also features square hour markers and square marks in all the sub-dials. It is very hard to tell if a watch is an actual Newman Daytona without opening the piece and knowing the provenance though, since people have recently been putting Newman dials on normal vintage Daytonas in order to cash in on the premium Newman Daytonas command.
What is desirable about the later models still in production of the Daytona?
Shortell: The Daytona will always be popular because of its classic chronograph design and the perceived value it has. A Rolex Daytona is the world’s most recognizable watch, which makes it one of the most lusted after pieces in the industry.
Groffenberger: The Daytona is the ultimate watch to covet. Whether it’s an older Paul Newman version, or a piece with a Zenith movement from the 1990s, or the modern Platinum Daytona, it has remained iconic for generations.
Why choose a Daytona over say, a Submariner?
Shortell: I always tell clients to choose a Daytona if they want an elegant sport watch that can be worn in any scenario. It’s sporty enough to wear to the gym but dressy enough to wear with a suit and tie. A Submariner is a diver’s tool. It was designed to use in any adventurous situation you can throw at it from diving to scaling mountains, but it is not as versatile in everyday life as a Daytona.
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