If there’s ever been a story of zero to hero, it’s that of the Rolex daytona panda eyes fake watches. Unloved and unwanted, selling barely 500 units annually in its formative years, the Rolex Daytona has grown to become one of the most coveted watches of all time, commanding year-long waiting lists and astonishing residuals. The question is, how did that happen? This is the journey that turned Rolex’s loser of a David into a hulking great Goliath.
The Sixties was the decade of the sports chronograph. Jack Heuer’s appointment as CEO of Heuer guided the launch of the Autavia in 1962 and the Carrera in 1963. Omega’s Speedmaster was among the first to the game, introduced at the tail end of the Fifties. But the chronograph was no new invention; seen as early as 1816 in Louis Moinet’s astronomical pocket watch, and in smaller wristwatch form at the beginning of the 20th century, the chronograph was old news. In fact, Rolex itself had been making chronograph watches since the 1930s. What had changed, though, was time itself – post war, the Sixties boomed with wealth and glamour, and with it came speed. Motor racing, the sport of gentlemen, was now enjoyable on a global scale, and it was that thrill of speed that attracted a new breed of timekeepers: the sports chronograph.
Chronograph watches up until then — even Rolex’s own — were styled with reserved, subtle taste, but that was no fit for the roaring engines and gleaming paint of the world’s fastest racing machines. Jack Heuer knew what he was doing; early on, he set his sights on the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula 1, tasking friend and racing driver Jo Siffert to distribute his watches among the paddock, earning Heuer the title of first non-motorsport sponsor in F1. Omega, however, had set its sights on even faster machinery; with Kennedy’s 1962 speech delivering the promise of putting man on the moon, there was another prize to be had: becoming the official watch of NASA.
When Rolex daytona series stainless steel case replica watches released it’s first sporty chronograph in 1963, the ref. 6239, it too had its eyes turned to the stars. Reviving a name previously used for the ref. 6062 moonphase (a complication that defines the literal meaning of cosmography, the general study of the universe), the new chronograph was called “Cosmograph.” Like Omega’s Speedmaster, it was large, tough, and clear, precisely what was required for use in space. It was the right move for Rolex; the Fifties had defined Rolex as a manufacturer of watches for professionals, the Submariner, GMT-Master, and Milgauss all fulfilling a dedicated role for a specific profession. Having NASA select the Rolex Cosmograph to be the watch taken to the moon would be the full house.
But it wasn’t to be. The Rolex Daytona cheap fake watches did not perform as well as Omega’s Speedmaster during NASA’s testing, plus astronaut Walter Schirra had already proven the Omega’s suitability when he took his own aboard Sigma 7 for the pre-Apollo Mercury-Atlas 8 mission. Rolex had missed out on the big one, and it needed to regroup. Heuer was doing well with motorsport, and Rolex had connections there too. F1 was taken – and would remain so until 2013, when Rolex finally secured sponsorship rights – but there were others. The solution came in 1964 with the emergence of one of America’s greatest racing series: NASCAR.