While the first watch that comes to mind when you think about a vintage Daytona watch is probably the venerable Rolex model, the Heuer Daytona is one of the more interesting Heuer Chronographs from the 1970s.
Introduced in 1976, the Daytona is in some ways the beginning of the end- one of the last all-new series launched to use the Chronomatic movement, Heuer’s own automatic chronograph calibre. The generation of models that followed the Daytona, such as the Kentucky, Pasadena and second series Montreal began to use Valjoux’s 7750 movement, a calibre that is still offered by TAG Heuer today as the Calibre 16.
The design of the Daytona was a bold choice for the time. To help with this article, we spoke exclusively with TAG Heuer Honorary Chairman Jack Heuer, who was CEO of Heuer at the time that the Daytona was launched.
Jack told us that he wanted to get away from the look of the Carrera and Monaco and offer something distinctly new. In fact, a close look at the case of the Daytona shows that its looks were inspired by a radical Heuer watch introduced just one year before…one that might surprise you.
And what about the fact that Rolex already had a Daytona- did they object?
“Rolex did not object, actually we had to register ‘Heuer Daytona’ and Rolex had to register ‘Rolex Daytona’ for its brand protection.”
– Jack Heuer
In fact, the Daytona name was used regularly throughout the period, including the famous Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona. The name comes from the Daytona International Speedway, at Daytona Beach Florida. The track is the home of the famous Daytona 500 mile race, as well as hosting an annual 24-hour race held on the combined oval and road track.
The Daytona offers a brushed 39mm stainless steel case (the same size as the contemporary Carrera), with the chronograph pushers on the right hand side and the crown on the left- the trademark calling card of the Chronomatic- powered Heuers.
One of the distinguishing features of the watch is the integrated steel bracelet, meaning there is no leather strap options. The Daytona was not the only Heuer steel model with an integrated bracelet, with the watch sharing several elements of its design with the Heuer Cortina (below) that followed a year later in 1977. Both watches share a very similar dial (only the shape of the sub-dial hands differing) , the same movement, similar case size and an integrated bracelet.
Look familiar? It’s the same “pebble” shape and case finish as the radical 1975 Heuer Chronosplit (below), albeit with a traditional mechanical movement, rather than the LED/ LCD movement of the Chronosplit. Both watches also have a steel bracelet that is designed to be an extension of the case.
In fact, perhaps the only square part of the Daytona’s case are the sharp edges of the two chronograph pushers- the same design as those used on the Monaco, Carrera, Autavia and other Calibre 11/ 12/ 14/ 15 watches.
The distinguishing feature of the Daytona’s dial is the subtle dégradé finish, meaning that the centre of the dial is a lighter colour that gradually becomes darker as you move towards the outer edge.
There were two colour options- dark Blue and Fume (“Smoke”) (both shown below- although note that the Fume model has incorrect hands- both the central chronograph hand and two sub-dial hands).
As mentioned above, the Daytona was only sold on a stainless steel bracelet. These integrated bracelets look good, but can be fragile at the point where the bracelet meets the case, leaving few options for owners if they break.
The bracelet is fitted with an adjustable clasp. meaning that you can make small adjustments to the bracelet without removing links- simply move the anchoring point of the bracelet along one of the pin holes you see below. It’s a simple system, but a very useful one.
Keen observers will notice that this is a rare example of the Calibre 12 that features all silver components, whereas most Calibre 12s feature Gold coloured plates and bridges. Our good friend Abel Court (take a look here if you are not familiar with Abel’s work) who took these photos, estimates that he has seen only ten Silver-coloured Calibre 12 movements over the last 10 years.
Heuer Daytona Ref 110.203B
The Blue Daytona is the most common- and most coveted- model, with the beautiful dark blue dial contrasting with the stainless steel case and hands. Both dial colours offer a Black inner tachy flange, which frames the dial neatly.
Heuer Daytona Ref 110.203F
Collecting the Daytona
The Heuer Daytona remained part of the Heuer range from 1976 through to 1980 when both dial colours were discontinued. Despite the attractive looks, Jack Heuer tells us that the Daytona was “certainly not a flop, but not a major success either“. It suffered from the low-priced quartz competitors, just as with all mechanical watches in the late 1970s.
The main problem is the condition of the dial and hands. Notice that one of the Blue watches in the story looks to have creamy Orange hands and hour markers (such as the example above)- despite this appearance both parts were White when new. It’s not an unattractive patina, but for some reason the hands on the Daytona seem to suffer from ageing more than most vintage Heuers.
It’s not clear whether the culprit here is the flush-fit plexi crystal not being as airtight as it should be, or whether there were issues with the dials as they were manufactured.
Either way, watches that suffer from these issues are not unattractive, but it does make finding a perfect example very difficult. If you can find a Daytona in good condition, then it makes a great addition to any Heuer collection, and offers great value for money relative to some of the better known vintage Heuers.
A big thanks to the vintage Heuer community for sharing the great photos in this post- Abel Court and David Devos for their Blue Daytonas. Thanks also to Jack Heuer for taking the time to talk about the Daytona.