Rolex Shock Drops New Daytona Commemorating 100 Years of LeMans

This weekend marked the 100th running of the 24 hour race of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France, and Rolex took full advantage of the occasion with the release of a new Daytona with a dial that recalls the now famous ‘exotic’ dial, aka Newman dial, of older references. This release is surprising for a few reasons, and may even offer some insight to what we might expect from Rolex moving forward. We’ll get to all that, but in many ways, this is the Daytona that enthusiasts have been asking for since the late ‘80s – it’s the ‘greatest hits’ watch, perfectly capitalizing on the the new Daytona chassis released just earlier this year at Watches & Wonders, which we went hands-on with right here.

First and foremost, Rolex is not in the habit of dropping new releases outside of their regular yearly cadence. We last saw it with the release of the Deepsea Challenge in late 2022, the first commercial Rolex to tout their RLX titanium material. While that watch could be considered something of an outlier, given its rather extreme nature, the Daytona is another story entirely. This new reference, the 126529LN officially, joins the new collection as a regular production model. That reference number ends in four characters that have never appeared together in the Daytona family, the 29 indicating a full white gold case and bracelet, and LN, or Lunette Noir, meaning it sports a black Cerachrom bezel.

Vintage Rolex Daytona reference 6263 with exotic dial

The first Daytona to receive a Cerachrom ceramic bezel was the 50th anniversary reference 116506 back in 2013. It would be another three years before appearing on the steel reference 116500, as well as making the jump to other precious metal references, but only those with Oysterflex straps. This 126529LN is the first full white gold Daytona to receive a Cerachrom bezel, something we had guessed was coming prior to the show in Geneva, but never took shape. Like the platinum Daytona, this is something of a special (though not limited) edition, so whether this means that we’ll see it on more PM Daytona references is still very much up in the air.

The black bezel features an edge of white gold, which is part of the new design language of the Daytona, and it joins a bright black dial with contrasting intense white sub dials. This is finally the reference that nails the 6263 look in a way that every other modern Daytona narrowly misses. What’s more, those sub dials take on the ‘exotic’ appearance of the famous Paul Newman Daytona references, with blocks at the tips of the indexes, and numerals that are presented horizontally throughout. There’s a reason this exact watch was released the weekend of the 24 hour race of Le Mans, and that is the connection to Paul Newman. 

Newman was quite famously an avid racing enthusiast, and achieved a seriously impressive level of success behind the wheel. One highlight of his racing career was the 1979 24 hours of Le Mans, in which he, along with drivers Rolf Stommelen and Dick Barbour, took second place overall, and first in the IMSA GTX class in a Porsche 935.

The Porsche 935 driven by Barbour, Stommelen, and Newman in the 1979 24 hour race at Le Mans

Side note: just behind them, finishing in third place, was the Gr. 5 class Porsche 935 driven by a trio which included the already established watchmaker, Laurent Ferrier, who spent 30 years at Patek Philippe before going on to found his own brand bearing his name. But perhaps the most famous ‘not my day job’ driver appearing in this race was Pink Floyd drummer, Nick Mason, who was among 4 drivers on the roster for Dorset Racing finishing in 18th position with their Lola T297. 

The throughline from the Daytona to Paul Newman is quite clear and well established thanks to a number of his personalized watches coming to auction in recent years, most recently just last week in the Sotheby’s Important Watches Auction. Of course, so-called Newman Daytonas are something of a fixture at big auctions these days, regularly commanding six figure sums, but one thing I hadn’t planned on seeing is Rolex directly referencing this design in a modern Daytona. This generally isn’t a brand that looks to the past for inspiration, but those winds might be changing.

This 126529LN is very much a modern Daytona. The ‘exotic’ dial is not directly recreated, nor are there any real vintage design cues such as tan lume, but the inspiration is certainly clear. This is Rolex bringing a bit of their past into a modern frame, similar to the red Sea-Dweller text on the dial of the 126600, or the 36mm case size returning to the 124270 Explorer. In other words, it doesn’t feel forced. Like those other examples, it feels like a natural extension of the modern reference.

This Daytona directly references the 100th Anniversary of Le Mans in the tachymeter scale etched into the Cerachrom bezel, with the 100 situated near 7 o’clock getting a red infill. It’s a small detail, and the kind of thing we might roll our eyes at were it appearing on an Omega, and I’ll be honest, that’s the same reaction I had on first look. It’s a thing that ties it to a specific time, place, and event, which is kind of the point, but that might not land with everyone. It’s neat, and not entirely necessary, but it’s far from the worst offender when it comes to this stuff. 

A true panda or reverse panda dial offered on a full bracelet Daytona with a black ceramic bezel is that ‘greatest-hits’ configuration I referred to earlier, and the 126529LN is that full package. There are a few potential downsides here, however. First, this is a full precious metal Daytona, so it’s not cheap. In fact, it’s more expensive than even the precious metal bezel equipped references, to the tune of $51,400. But there’s also been a change under the hood, as well. 

You’ll notice that the hour totalizer at 9 o’clock doesn’t add up to 12, like every other Daytona, but rather, to 24. This is a perfect nod to the race itself, and one that doesn’t call as much attention to itself as the red 100 in the bezel. The move to a 24 hour timer is granted thanks to the new caliber 4132 inside, which is based on the new 4131 and includes all the bells and whistles like the Chronergy escapement, Paraflex shock absorbers, and superlative chronometer (+/- 2 seconds/day) accuracy. And yes, it’s visible through an exhibition caseback, another move Rolex introduced earlier this year on the platinum reference.

Whatever your thoughts on the red 100 and open caseback are, it’s a treat to see Rolex acknowledge this part of their history in such an overt manner. This is obviously a handsome watch, and while I’d have personally preferred to see this in a steel case, that would have likely only exacerbated the already obnoxious availability issues with these watches. I do hope this watch paves the way for more executions of the Daytona that include fully contrasting sub dials and ceramic bezel combinations, particularly in steel references, but further, I hope that it gives a hint that Rolex are more aware of their past designs that we might realize. And with the potential release of a new generation of Milgauss on the horizon, it’s happening at a moment none too soon. Rolex.

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent his professional life covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seiko to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.