[dropcap size=small]F[/dropcap]or over half a century now, the Rolex Daytona has been one of the world’s most recognisable and coveted sports chronographs.

Even its latest iteration, the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona (reference 116500LN) with its distinctive Cerachrom bezel, remains elusive despite being available for sale for about a year now.

Thinking of buying one? Tough luck as demand continues to outstrip supply and the wait list at authorised dealers can stretch to an indefinite number of years.

The situation isn’t too different from 1998 when Rolex broke tradition on the 25th anniversary of the Daytona – a watch that had already gained cult status with its manual winding versions – by launching its first automatic model.

Powered by the caliber 4030 (essentially a modified Zenith El Primero, the most accurate self-winding chronograph movement of its era), the timepiece sold out immediately around the world and collectors were forced to wait for as long as seven years just to get their hands on one.

Today, those first generation automatic Daytona watches – produced for 13 years before being replaced by a new generation of models powered by Rolex’s own in-house movement – are highly-prized and continue to to be sought after by collectors.

Auction house Phillips will display 30 of them in a first-of-its-kind horological art exhibition called Contemporary Watch Portraits. It opened in Geneva before moving to Hong Kong (Mandarin Oriental Hotel) later this month, then London (Phillips’ HQ at Berkeley Square) in July, and New York (Phillips NY Gallery at 450 Park Avenue) in October.

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The exhibition is curated by collector Pucci Papaleo, who is nicknamed Mr Daytona for his scholarly knowledge about the watch; and will feature portraits of the sports chronograph by Italian photographer Fabio Santinelli from his upcoming book Daytona Perpetual.

Papaleo and Santinelli have previously worked on several book projects including Ultimate Rolex Daytona, which is widely considered as the bible of the iconic watch for its authoritative take on the subject. The latter is also behind the photography of several highly successful thematic auctions for Phillips.

The 30 watches on display at the exhibition are all privately owned; and range from sporty stainless steel versions to elegant gold ones. Some of the rarest variants include those set with precious stones, fitted with porcelain dials from the earliest years of production, and retailer-signed examples including models by Tiffany & Co.

Collectors timepiece expert Aurel Bacs, co-founder of Bacs & Russo which acts as Phillips’ exclusive consultant for the auction house’s watch department, says, “Through this first of its kind exhibition, we are very proud to bring to light the significance of Rolex’s first ever self-winding chronograph model, the automatic Cosmograph Daytona.”

He adds, “Decades later, it’s clear the introduction of the automatic Daytona catapulted Rolex’s most desired chronograph model to a mythical status (and) we’re thrilled to showcase some of the world’s finest examples with Pucci Papaleo and the esteemed photographer, Fabio Santinelli through our horological art exhibition, Contemporary Watch Portraits.”

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