Two of the most recognizable watches in the industry, period; the Rolex Daytona and the Omega Speedmaster have battled for the title of best chronograph in the minds of collectors and the debates of forums. Passionate enthusiasts swear by their favorite watch while maligning collectors of the other as ignorant morons. The truth is that both watches are significant and have played important roles in the industry. Today we will compare the Daytona and Sepedmaster “Ed White” edition to help provide you with the information needed to determine which is for you, and to help gain an appreciation for the other, even if you ultimately decide it isn’t your pick. Let’s dive in.
These watches hardly need introductions but here it goes. In 1955, Rolex introduced a manually-wound chronograph in the brand’s signature “Oyster” case, developing what is ultimately the progenitor to the Daytona. Although not labeled with the name “Daytona” this piece laid the framework for the Daytona family as a whole. Between 1955 and 1961, Rolex made just north of 2300 pieces of this reference 6234 and even fewer in precious metal. Following the 6234, Rolex released the 6238, often referred to by collectors as the “pre-Daytona”. In 1963, Rolex launched the 6239, which became the first “Cosmograph” reference. By 65’ Rolex had added the name Daytona to the dial, giving birth to an icon. In the years since, the Daytona has taken many forms, before settling with a ceramic bezel in its modern package.
Omega’s most recognizable design in history, the Speedmaster, was launched in 1957. The piece was first intended as a racing chronograph for motor sports, although the course of the watch was changed forever several years later. The Speedmaster redefined the history of Omega with Ed White’s famous spacewalk. With a Speedmaster affixed on his wrist, Ed White and his spacewalk were cultural icons, and the watch he wore rose to fame alongside him.
Contemporary Speedmaster Professional models utilize the caliber 1861, a substantial, well-engineered chronograph movement. While this movement is technically impressive and visually beautiful, a subset of enthusiasts have always requested a recreation of the original caliber 321, the movement found inside the Ed White Speedy. The broader collector pool was looking for a stainless steel watch, outfitted with the caliber 321 that would bring a close replication of the original Omega Speedmaster. In 2020 Omega answered with the Omega Speedmaster Caliber 321 “Ed White” Chronograph, a stainless steel chronograph featuring a completely reissued, strikingly accurate replica of the original 3rd generation Omega Speedmaster worn by Ed White on the famous space walk.
The modern Daytona is the flashiest the watch has ever been. The piece truly lives up to its reputation as a luxury chronograph. Polished center links, black bezel, white gold indexes, perfectly finished hands, contrasting subsidiary dial rings, etc, all add pop to the watch. This piece became one of the most wanted watches in the industry overnight, and part and parcel of this reputation was a truly stellar design and excellent legibility. In this case, the black dialed variant of the Ceramic Daytona perfectly matches the bezel, but the subdials contrast, which makes for a striking combination.
Above the 6 o’clock sundial, the word, “Daytona”, is printed in red, as an homage to the “Big Red” Daytona. Each of the rings around the subsidiary dials are snailed, which adds further texture to the already emotive dial. The whole of the case is mirror shined, a level of delicateness that the brand never would have established on any of its vintage offerings, but as a result of the company’s new market positioning as a luxury brand, today, it is fitting for the watch to have been finished in this way.
The stainless steel Speedmaster “Ed White” was designed as a shrine to vintage Omega Speedmasters. As a startlingly well done reissue, the piece is oozing with vintage details. The straight, slightly sloped lug profile is a defining characteristic of the most preliminary examples that distinguishes this model from more contemporary interpretations. Additionally, the bracelet fitted on the “Ed White” is consistent with the original, with polished outer links and brushed center links. This theme is extended to the clasp, which flaunts polished bevels and a brushed main surface. Although the design of the bracelet is consistent with vintage references, it is far more robust than its predecessors. This allows the wearer to enjoy the visual inspiration of the moon era without sacrificing the long-term reliability of the piece.
The “Ed White” Speedmaster also features the “dot over 90” of early Speedmasters, much to the delight of enthusiasts. Similarly, this piece has a stepped dial rather than the flat one that modern Speedmasters have. This hearkens back to the styling of vintage references. This piece also received some very light fauxtina on the indexes.
The Daytona reference 116500 is powered by the automatic winding caliber 4130. The caliber 4130 gives all of the pleasures of modern column-wheel chrono mechanisms, with a really enjoyable tactile response on the pushers. Additionally, this updated movement spec provides 72 hours of power reserve, which far outperforms older generations. While early Daytonas had manually-winding calibers, the automatic calibers of modern times are well suited to daily wear. Daytonas are also quite popular as daily drivers, especially the ceramic variants such as the 116500, so this is fitting. Everything else is pretty standard to a modern Rolex, with a straight-line lever escapement, free sprung Breguet balance spring, and hacking seconds.
For Omega, the “Ed White” Chrono is dominated by its movement, the historic caliber 321. The 321 is based on the Lemania 2310 with a lateral clutch column wheel and slower beat rate. The 2310 has served as the template from which many great brands have built their movements. Notably, the Patek Caliber CH27-70, Vacheron Constantin Caliber 1140 and Breguet 533.3. Omega’s application of the 2310 brought the impressive caliber to a utilitarian tool watch with the birth of the 321. Today, with the reproduction of the 321, Omega has set up specialty workshops where a single watchmaker assembles a single movement one at a time. This exclusivity has inherently capped Omega’s production at about 1000 pieces per year. The caliber 321 is probably Omega’s most famous movement, and now it has been reissued alongside a period- correct timepiece that allows modern enthusiasts to enjoy it.
The divide between these two watches lies in the type of collector. For the vintage enthusiast, the obvious choice is the Omega. The “Ed White” is a gorgeous replica of vintage Omega, perfectly reissued for a modern audience, providing an opportunity to see the famous caliber 321 through the sapphire caseback. The details of the dial and case, alongside the dot over 90 bezel, all make this piece the perfect watch for a vintage lover to explore modern watches. It would be quite cool to own an original Ed White era Speedmaster alongside the modern reissue to demonstrate the continuity within the Speedy line. Regardless, this type of collector would likely have little to no interest in a modern ceramic Daytona, a watch that at its core is sort of antithetical in focus to the 321 Ed White by Omega.
On the flip side, those looking for a trendy watch that will be recognized and appreciated by the general public would likely be left feeling unfulfilled with the Omega. For these collectors, the Daytona is really the only option. It should be noted that ceramic Daytonas are also significantly more expensive in spite of the fact that they are much more common than the 321s. The demand for the Daytona is just multiples of the Omega, especially with the watch being so recognizable in the broader watch collecting and general popular culture.
Each of these pieces is an icon of the industry. A true icon. Not a model that has been slapped with the name “icon” to make it seem attractive. These pieces are two of the most recognizable and ubiquitously appreciated watches the industry has ever produced. These specific references, however, have two distinct missions. These focuses and philosophies should help drive a decision in terms of which is best suited to your taste. Each watch deserves respect for its respective history, beauty, and cultural significance, but ultimately, the choice is up to you. Which do you prefer?