Splurge vs. Steal: Rolex Daytona vs. TAG Carrera

Throughout history, the sport of racing and watches have gone hand in hand. Motorsports are dependent on highly accurate timekeeping. At one point, sport and racing chronographs were vital in recording lap times. While this is no longer the case, this style of watch has become emblematic of an era when the sport of racing was at its peak. Since then, two brands have been closely intertwined with the automotive industry: Rolex and TAG Heuer. Rolex got into the game early in the mid-1930s. Famed racer Sir Malcolm Campbell set a new land speed record in 1935 wearing an Oyster Perpetual. However, it was Heuer who became a major player in motorsports by the latter half of the twentieth century. For them, it began with their dashboard chronographs and later transitioned to wristwatches.

An Important Year

1963 was an important year for both Rolex and TAG Heuer. It marked the debut of both the Daytona and the Carrera respectively. The Daytona was Rolex’s first official collection of chronographs. Its creation came shortly after the brand started their sponsorship of the 24 Hours of Daytona race, later renamed the Rolex 24 at Daytona. At the time, TAG Heuer already had a range of Chronographs called the Autavia. However, they felt they needed to offer something new, and the Carrera was born. Upon their initial releases, both models saw much success. To this day, they continue to command attention in both the new and pre-owned markets. The two models share a number of similarities and differences, namely the price. Here, we’ll breakdown everything you need to know about splurging on a Daytona and getting a Carrera for a steal.

The Splurge: The Rolex Daytona


Though the Daytona line launched in 1963, it wasn’t until 1965 that the Daytona name initially appeared on the dial. For two years, the collection was simply the Cosmograph. The first Cosmograph Reference 6239 introduced a number of firsts for Rolex. One of the most notable is the now iconic panda dial. It showcased contrasting black subdials against a white dial. It was also the first model with a tachymeter scale engraved on the bezel instead of printed on the dial.

These early Daytona models of the 1960s and 70s became known as the Paul Newman series after receiving an endorsement from the legendary racecar driver and actor. Toward the end of the 1970s, Rolex started to make changes to the design, making Paul Newman Daytonas obsolete. To this day, they continued to be highly valuable and sought after in the pre-owned market. Instead, Rolex transitioned to the silver and black Daytonas we typically think of today.

Despite the significant changes in aesthetic, the most important update to the Dayonta came in the form of the movement. Early models came equipped with a manual Valjoux-sourced chronograph caliber. However, with the development of the automatic chronograph in 1969, Rolex knew they needed to update the Daytona. Zenith, one of the first creators of the automatic chronograph, soon approached Rolex. Rolex was interested but only if the brand would revive their historic El Primero movement. It took nearly a decade of development along with hundreds of modifications.

Eventually, Zenith presented a design Rolex deemed worthy for the Daytona. In 1988, they debuted the first automatic variation of the model. By the new millennium, the Daytona received another functional improvement. Rolex was beginning to upgrade all its models with in-house movements. In 2000, they released a new Daytona series featuring their own Caliber 4130. Similar to the Paul Newman models, the El Primero Daytonas remain highly coveted and prized in the pre-owned market.

The Steal: The TAG Heuer Carrera

The origins of the Carrera are inextricably linked with one man: Jack Heuer. Jack is the great grandson of the brand’s founder, Eduard Heuer. He’d just taken over the company in 1962 and spurred the creation of the Carrera, beginning with the Reference 2477. Early Carreras featured a completely uniform dial as opposed to one with contrasting chronograph registers. In addition, they housed a Valjoux 72 movement. The Carrera remained one of the most popular models in the brand’s catalog for two decades. Then, its fate began to shift.

Jack Heuer retired in 1982 and with him, the Carrera. Soon, the model grew in popularity and demand in the pre-owned market. Three years later in 1985, another big transition came for the Heuer brand. Techniques d’Avant Garde acquired them, and they officially became TAG Heuer. Instead of seeking to overhaul the company, the new leadership wanted to do just the opposite. They focused on heritage and tradition. They wanted to get back to Heuer’s roots and bring back the Carrera.

TAG Heuer couldn’t bring themselves to revive the Carrera in earnest without the man who’d brought it to life. So, they approached Jack Heuer about returning to relaunch the model. He graciously agreed, and in 1996, the Carrera was reborn. The initial reissue lacked any major aesthetic updates. The brand wanted to make the model as close to the original as possible, from the dial layout to the old Heuer logo. However, it did receive an upgrade under the hood. The new Carrera came equipped with a Lemania 1873 hand-wound caliber. Soon after, TAG Heuer updated the Carrera with an automatic chronograph movement from ETA. Still, it wouldn’t be until 2014 that the brand would introduce their first in-house caliber to the Carrera collection. That year they debuted the Carrera 1887 41mm Chronograph with their new Caliber 1887 movement.

Choosing the Best Model for You

When it comes to choosing between the Daytona and the Carrera, the biggest difference is certainly price. Both models have a very similar aesthetic that stays true to the quintessential sport and racing chronograph. Both brands offer the models in a wide array of metals and style options. In addition, both models now come equipped with an in-house movement. At the end of the day, the Daytona and Carrera stay true to their brand DNA. That means a higher price tag for Rolex and a more attainable price tag for TAG Heuer.

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Caitlyn is the founder of Grey Ghost, a New York City-based boutique content marketing agency with a passion for artists, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and startups. She believes in quality over quantity, creative thinking, and, above all, using language as powerful tool to build lasting connections.

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