Rolex’s longstanding partnership with motorsport dates back to the 1930s when Sir Malcolm Campbell wore his Rolex while doing record speed runs at the famous Daytona Beach. Sir Campbell broke the World Land Speed Record nine times between 1924 and 1935, including five times at Daytona Beach in Florida.
His first land speed record at Daytona Beach was done in his famous Blue Bird, a speed record car which thereafter fetched the first 250 mph pass on the sandy stretch. He then took it up to over 300 mph while speeding at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in 1935, becoming the first person ever recorded to drive an automobile at such a speed.
He addressed an open letter to the manufacture writing, “I have now been using my Rolex Watch for a while, and it is keeping perfect time under somewhat strenuous conditions. I was wearing it on the occasion of the J.C.C. Double 12 Hours Race on Friday and Saturday last, and the vibration which this watch has to withstand during this long period has not upset its time-keeping properties in the least.
I would like to congratulate you on having produced a very first-class watch, suitable for really rough treatment.”
Inspired by the spirit of Hans Wilsdorf, Rolex’s pursuit of perpetual progress and improvement drove it to create watches so precise and reliable, even in the most extreme conditions. The 1930s was an important decade for Rolex, as it embarked on a string of global expeditions where the watches were tested in various terrains.
As nature would have it, Daytona Beach became one of the best places for extreme racing. The hard-packed sand served as stable ground, and the smooth surface stretched for miles along the coast.
The unconventional racing location saw racers gather from all over the country, and soon after, the city became synonymous with the sport.
The city’s new-found reputation gave birth to the Daytona International Speedway (DIS) in 1959 with whom Rolex has partnered with ever since. At the time, it was the fastest speedway in the United States, and its construction was of epic proportions.
The sub-4-mile track surrounds a 29-acre man-made lake that serves as the view to over 100,000 spectators. It is home to numerous races, among which includes the Rolex 24 at DAYTONA endurance race.
Perhaps it was being at the right place at the right time – in this case, Rolex at Daytona, where a particular chronograph was to become the most significant timepiece in Rolex’s association with motorsport. Like Sir Malcolm, NASCAR founder Bill France Jr. was also a fond owner of a Rolex and has thus proclaimed that the Swiss manufacture be the official timepiece of DIS.
In homage of their partnership, Rolex introduced a new Cosomograph in 1963 that was noted as the Reference 6239. It was identified as the Daytona watch by name – Daytona was not printed on the dial until a year later.
The design of the Cosmograph Daytona sported contrast counters and a distinctive tachymeter bezel that framed the watch ever so boldly. The watches were known to be undisputedly accurate and reliable, as is the case for every Rolex watch.
The Testimonee programme that Rolex formulated allowed the brand to be more than just a title sponsor or an official timekeeper at these races. It became an annual tradition to award the winning racers a Cosmograph Daytona, complete with a special engraving on the case back.
Thus came the likes of Sir Jackie Stewart and Mark Webber, who were both Formula One legends in their prime, and carry a personal affinity for Rolex through the timepieces they owb. For Sir Stewart, it is a Cosmograph Daytona that signifies one of his many achievements at the Monaco Grand Prix.
He recalls, “It’s nice to have been a champion. I think I still want to be a champion at whatever I do — and that’s still a challenge. When I look at my watch today, I see all of that.
I see the first entry into having something of real quality. It still means as much to me today as it did when I was given it all those years ago in Monaco.
Today, almost 50 years later, the watch reminds me that I was good enough and fast enough to win it.” While Rolex only formed its partnership with Formula One in 2013, there’s no denying that the race’s very nature was akin to the manufacture’s own.
The enduring spirit of motorsport celebrates record holders and innovative designers and engineers, who all come together to test and break their limits no matter the challenges imposed. It’s no different to what Rolex envisions for its watches, be it in on land, in air or sea, as long as performance is at its peak.