One watch that is always holds a deal of aura about it is the Rolex Daytona, and not a week goes by at the shop where I'm not asked about it. So, for the uninitiated, I'll take a few moments to explain what it is, and why it's so revered in the watch world.
The current Daytona comes in three basic forms: in stainless steel, in steel and 18Ct yellow gold and 18Ct gold (yellow, white and rose). It's a chronograph watch (a watch with a stopwatch function), comes on either the Oyster bracelet or a leather strap (only on the 18Ct models), and is quite a good looking watch by anyone's standards. The steel model starts at £6170, the two tone at just under the £9000 mark, the 18Ct models go for £19000, and if you want added diamonds and the like, the price keeps going up and up. However, the steel one is the one I'm going to focus on, as it is this one that is the Daytona.
The steel Daytona, ref. 116520, has a reputation as one of the hardest watches to buy new in the world. It's not due to the cost, but rather the huge waiting lists. I'm currently 40th on the waiting list at the shop, and at the current rate of Daytonas coming into stock, I have another 9 years to wait. Wherever you go in the UK, you'll get told there's a huge waiting list, and I don't know how many people I've seen walk out dejected when I tell them this. For the casual observer, there's nothing too fancy about it: it has an excellent movement inside it (the cal. 4130), but doesn't have features that you can't find on any other number of luxury watches. I can appreciate that the hype is a little bewildering, but I now have to put on my historian's hat to explain it all for you.
Let's cut back to the 1960s - insert whatever nostalgic recollections or conceptions you have here - and find a watch. The one we're after is the original Daytona, the ref. 6241 in particular.
If we were to ask the manager of the Rolex dealership how well this Daytona was selling, he's probably respond that it was a complete dead weight. Zero popularity, and highly unloved. Now we need to fast forward to Italy in the 1980s, which is where Daytona-mania really took off. All it needed was to be featured on the front page of an Italian fashion magazine to spark a rush to snap up this watch, especially that with the fabled "Paul Newman" exotic dial, as shown in the above picture. The desire for the Daytona spread around the world, with vintage pieces commanding huge prices at auction, and current models flying out of dealerships like proverbial hot cakes. The Daytona had become an icon.
Prices today, even with the recent financial crisis, still remain high - not so long ago, a 6241 sold at auction for a staggering Aus$80000. Let me remind you that this was for a 40 year old, steel manual wind chronograph, with a notoriously dodgy bracelet. Don't get me wrong, it's a lovely looking watch, but it's silly money for what it is. It doesn't even have an in-house Rolex movement, it uses a Valjoux 72 movement instead.
So let me get back to the current model: whilst it's difficult to get hold of brand new, it'll never be a collector's piece - it is, these days, a relatively common watch. You don't have to look too hard to find someone wearing one - Sir Alan Sugar, numerous football players, your run of the mill businessman, they'll have one strapped to their wrist. I think the thrill of getting a Daytona is trying to track one down - although I'm on the list for one, I'm not even sure if I want one any more. I think Rolex have better watches in their line up for less than the £6170 asking price of the Daytona, and I'd definitely want to look at those before a Daytona.
Then we have the prickly problem of the Daytona's biggest rival (at least in my eyes): The Omega Speedmaster Professional. There are plenty of similarities between the two: both launched at around the same time (the Speedy in 1957, the Daytona a couple of years after), both used manual wind movements, even aesthetically they were quite similar.
What's so special about this watch? The Speedmaster is the first and only watch worn on the moon, as well as the only watch that was NASA flight certified. When NASA were testing several chronographs for the Apollo programme, the Speedmaster was the only one that could withstand every single test thrown at it, beating several other chronographs, including the Rolex Daytona. Whilst vintage pieces do fetch handsome prices these days, the current model (pretty much the same watch as you could buy 40 years ago, albeit with a different manual wind movement and a much improved bracelet) is nowhere near as popular as the Daytona. It's a quarter of the price of a Daytona as well: you can walk away with a brand new Speedy Pro for £2090 retail, plus a little bit of discount too.
So, to get back to my original question, is the Rolex Daytona worth it? Well, for many it has a glittering alure, and I can see where they come from. I just personally think there are watches with more interesting backgrounds that can be had for a lot lot less, without the wait. If you buy a Daytona, you'll be getting a great watch in it's own right, but I often feel that the hype is a little unjustified.