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I feel a little like a screaming sports radio host drunk on recency bias for suggesting this, but Rolex may have just put out its most important limited-edition watch in a very long time. Over the weekend, during the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, the Crown dropped a special version of its highly-coveted Rolex Daytona, which pays tribute to both the race’s 100th anniversary and one of the watchmaker’s most prized vintage pieces. Here are three little details that make this watch so special.
The ‘24’ in the 9 o’clock subdial
From a technical standpoint, that small-but-mighty ‘24’ represents the biggest differentiator for this new Rolex. For full context: The Daytona is a chronograph, meaning its subdials are designed to record segments of time the way a stopwatch would. The one at 9 o’clock ticks off the hours and your garden-variety Daytona can handle up to 12 hours. However, that won’t do for a race that’s literally got 24 Hours in the name. So Rolex slightly modified its new movement, which it just remade for a suite of new Daytonas released in March, so that it can track time for a full 24 hours.
Now, most collectors won’t actually need that type of functionality, but these are the types of details that watch lovers go nuts for. Consider the “Zenith” dial Daytonas, which have become collectible in part because a ‘6’ on one of the watch’s subdials is upside down (these are known as “Inverted 6” Daytonas). Much like that swinging ‘6,’ the ‘24’ on this new Daytona signifies not just that this watch is a special edition but that it’s technically superior, too.
The nods to Paul Newman
No collector looms larger in vintage Rolex collecting—and watch collecting in general—than Daytona-lover Newman. Two of the actor’s Daytonas sold for $1,079,500 and $1,143,000 just last Friday. This watch features several touches that seem to reference one of Newman’s most-worn watches.
For starters, the dial layout resembles Newman’s famous “Big Red” Daytona, which sold for $5.48 million at auction in 2020. Again, those subdials are an important piece in decoding the magnitude of this new watch. While most modern Daytonas use rings in secondary colors for the subdials, this piece has them in full white. “Standing out against the bright black dial are intense white counters whose graphic design is inspired by a traditional Rolex dial,” Rolex wrote in a statement.
Pay close attention to the font here, too. The retro-looking type doesn’t match what we see on the new Daytonas released in March. Instead, its font is taken directly from the aforementioned “Big Red.” It’s further proof that in watch design as in salad dressing, you can’t go wrong sticking with Newman’s Own. Further tying all these elements together is the fact that Newman participated in the 1979 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
Seeing (a little) red
Another standout detail that differentiates this watch from all other Daytonas? The ‘100’ written in red on the bezel. This detail is more straightforward: It marks the100th anniversary of the endurance race in Le Mans—a small, IYKYK touch that instantly grail-ifies this Daytona.
We are in the golden age of special-edition watches. Over the past several years, few models have been more important and sought-after than luxury sport watches like Patek Philippe’s Nautilus and Rolex’s Daytona. Thus far, there’s been perhaps no hotter watch this decade than Patek’s Tiffany-blue dial Nautilus. With this latest Daytona, however, it feels like Rolex has finally released a true contender for that crown. Given its simultaneous nods to the brand’s long history in racing and some of its most coveted vintage watches, this new Daytona feels destined to become one of Rolex’s most coveted modern watches.