Rolex Daytona Retrospective Chapter 1
The Daytona has been Rolex’s flagship chronograph watch for almost 60 years now, debuting in 1963. Over the decades, Rolex has made three distinct generations of the Daytona, each defined by the type of movement that powers the watches.
The first generation, which is the topic of this first chapter of our Daytona Retrospective, is comprised of the hand-wound Daytona watches made from 1963 until 1988. While all Rolex Daytona chronographs are valuable and sought after by watch enthusiasts, vintage Rolex Daytona references are some of the most collectible watches in the market—particularly those that are furnished with the so-called “Paul Newman” dials.
In this retrospective, we’ll cover the origins of the Daytona collection, outline the watches’ design characteristics, provide details about all nine references, discuss Paul Newman dials, and offer some advice about collecting vintage Daytonas.
Table of Contents:
- Brief History of the Manually Wound Cosmograph Daytona
- Vintage Rolex Daytona Design Characteristic
- What Are Paul Newman Daytonas?
- Vintage Rolex Daytona References
- How To Use a Vintage Hand Wound Rolex Daytona
Brief History of the Manually Wound Cosmograph Daytona
Rolex introduced the Cosmograph in 1963 as the brand’s chronograph model. While Rolex had already made a few chronograph models prior to that, they were not known by a specific name (such as the Submariner, GMT-Master, or Datejust) but rather just by reference number. The Cosmograph was the first time that Rolex added a name to its chronograph watch.
Interestingly, the watch was not immediately known as the Cosmograph Daytona just yet. In fact, in a vintage Cosmograph ad, Rolex states: “It’s called Le Mans” (after the famed endurance car race in France). However, later that year, Rolex changed its mind and renamed the chronograph the Cosmograph Daytona to highlight the watchmaker’s partnership with the Daytona Speedway racetrack in Florida. This was a clever way to support Rolex’s push into the American market.
Whether Le Mans or Daytona, what was clear from the start was Rolex’s approach to position the Cosmograph as the ultimate racing chronograph. Today, Rolex’s chronograph is simply known as the Daytona.
Rolex "Pre-Daytona" Stainless Steel Chronograph Grey Dial Ref. 6238
Vintage Rolex Daytona Design Characteristics
From 1963 until 1988, Rolex made a total of nine Daytona references. While each of these references has its own variations (which we’ll go into later), there are a handful of design traits that remain constant with all vintage Daytona models.
- 37.5mm cases
- Two chronograph pushers on the right of the case, flanking the winding crown
- Tachymeter scales on the bezels
- Three central hands on the dial: hour, minute, chronograph
- Three counters on the dial: 30-minute at 3 o’clock, 12-hour at 6 o’clock, running seconds at 9 o’clock
- Three-link Oyster bracelets
- Hand wound Valjoux-based movement
While the vast majority of vintage Daytona watches were made from stainless steel, Rolex did also make some in 14k and 18k yellow gold. It’s important to note that these manual wound Daytona chronographs were not successful for Rolex; they were slow sellers. As a result, Rolex simply did not make that many of them, which helps to explain why some Daytona references are so rare to find in today’s vintage market.
What Are Paul Newman Daytonas?
When discussing vintage Rolex Daytona watches, one topic inevitably comes up — Paul Newman Daytonas. So what is a Rolex Daytona Paul Newman? The Paul Newman nickname refers to vintage Daytona watches fitted with a special type of dial style, which Rolex officially called “exotic dials.” They have this distinct nickname because Paul Newman himself (who was a superstar actor, famous racecar driver, and generous philanthropist) was often seen with a Daytona on his wrist furnished with an exotic dial.
When you compare a standard Daytona dial with a Paul Newman Daytona dial, the differences are apparent. Specifically, here are some key differences between the two:
- Paul Newman Dials have Art Deco-style fonts on the trio of subdials
- Paul Newman Dials have hash marks with square tips on the trio of subdials
- Paul Newman Dials have 15/30/45/60 numerals on the 9 o’clock subdial while standard dials only have 20/40/60 numerals
- Paul Newman Dials have a stepped-minute track around the periphery of the dial that’s a different color than the main dial color, which adds a nice bold frame
- Paul Newman Dials have much smaller square/rectangular indexes at the hours compared to the longer batons of the standard dials
So why do Paul Newman dials matter in the world of vintage Rolex Daytona watches? That’s because Paul Newman Daytona watches are generally more valuable than ones with standard dials. In short, if you have the same reference and one has an exotic dial and one doesn’t, the former will likely cost much more than the latter.
Daytona watches with exotic dials were not popular and did not sell well; therefore, Rolex did not produce many of them. That limited production has translated to a smaller supply of Paul Newman Daytona watches available today, and that rarity in turn fuels the demand for these special vintage watches.
What’s more, in 2017, Paul Newman’s very own Daytona ref. 6239 with a “Paul Newman” dial came up for auction and sold for a record-breaking $17.8 million. It became the most expensive watch ever sold at that time (the record has since been broken) and raised the profile of the already coveted vintage Paul Newman Daytona watches to a whole new level.
Rolex Daytona Ref. 6239
Vintage Rolex Daytona References
Rolex produced Daytona chronographs with manual wound movements for a total of 25 years (1963 until 1988). During that time, nine Daytona references were made. However, two of them are exceptionally rare gem-set gold Daytona models that weren’t part of the regular catalog.
So generally speaking, the vintage Daytona lineup includes seven main references.
Rolex Daytona ref. 6239 & ref. 6241
The very first Daytona reference was the 6239, launched in 1963. The Daytona ref. 6239 is characterized by its pump-style chronograph pushers and metal bezel engraved with a tachymeter scale. Rolex made the watch available in stainless steel and yellow gold (14k and 18k gold), in addition to the choice between standard and exotic dials.
A few years later in 1965, Rolex released the Daytona ref. 6241, which was almost identical to the Daytona 6239 except that it had a black acrylic bezel with a printed tachymeter scale. It too was available in steel or yellow gold, as well as with standard or exotic dials.
Both references run on Rolex 722 (based on Valjoux 72) manual winding movements, which beats at a frequency of 18,000 vibrations per hour.
Rolex stopped the production of both the Daytona ref. 6239 and Daytona ref. 6241 around 1969.
It’s estimated that Rolex made 13,700 stainless steel Daytona ref. 6239 watches and around 300 gold Daytona ref. 6239 watches. Of those, it’s estimated that anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 were fitted with “Paul Newman” (aka exotic) dials.
It’s estimated that Rolex made 2,250 stainless steel Daytona ref. 6241 watches and 750 gold Daytona ref. 6241 watches.
Rolex Daytona 6241 "Paul Newman"
Rolex Daytona ref. 6240
Another Daytona reference that was made around the same time as the two references we listed above was the Daytona ref. 6240. However, this model is typically seen as a prototype rather than a regular production model.
A notable design trait for the Daytona ref. 6240 is that these models featured screw-down chronograph pushers (instead of the previous pump pusher ones) to improve the watch case’s water resistance. Due to the improved water resistance, the Daytona ref. 6240 is the first Daytona to include the “Oyster” inscription on the dial. (Oyster is what Rolex calls its waterproof cases.)
The Daytona 6240 was exclusively made in stainless steel and was also powered by the Rolex 722/Valjoux 72 movement. While there have been some examples fitted with Paul Newman dials found in the market, they are extremely rare. The approximate production years of the Daytona 6240 was from 1965 to 1969.
Rolex Daytona ref. 6262 & 6264
To replace the original Daytona references 6239 and 6241, Rolex released the Daytona references 6262 and 6264 in 1970. These two newer versions looked very similar to their predecessors, including the pump pushers, yet they housed a new higher-beat movement inside. Powering the Daytona 6262 and 6264 watches is the Rolex Valjoux 727 caliber, which beats at a frequency of 21,600 vibrations per hour.
The Daytona ref. 6262 features a metal bezel engraved with a tachymeter scale while the Daytona ref. 6264 features a black acrylic bezel with a printed tachymeter scale. Rolex offered both models in steel and yellow gold, in addition to exotic and standard dials.
These two transitional models were produced for a very short time — by some accounts, for one year only.
It’s estimated that Rolex made around 9,000 stainless steel Daytona ref. 6262 watches and 9,000 stainless steel Daytona ref. 6264 watches. On the other hand, it’s estimated that Rolex only made a few dozen gold Daytona ref. 6262 and 6264 watches.
Rolex Daytona ref. 6265 & 6263
Around 1971, Rolex launched what would become the longest-running Daytona references to appear in the company’s catalog, the 6265 and 6263. It seems at this point Rolex had settled on all the best design traits for its flagship chronograph.
For instance, these had screw-down chronograph pushers and high-beat Rolex Valjoux 727 movements. What’s more, these Oyster versions of the vintage Daytona eventually had their crowns upgraded from a Twinlock winding crown to a Triplock winding crown for even better water resistance. Finally, some select gold models of the 6265 and 6263 had the “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” inscription on the dial, which hadn’t appeared on previous Daytona chronographs.
The Daytona ref. 6265 features a metal bezel engraved with a tachymeter scale while the Daytona ref. 6263 features a black acrylic bezel with a printed tachymeter scale. Yet again, both references were made in steel and gold, along with exotic dials and standard dials.
Rolex produced the Oyster case Daytona 6265 and 6263 chronographs up until 1988, after which the entire collection was redesigned and re-launched as a line of larger automatic chronographs.
Since the Daytona 6265 and 6263 models were in production for almost two decades (1971 – 1988), the production numbers are much higher than previous Daytona references. It’s estimated that Rolex made 24,000 examples of each of the Daytona 6265 and 6263 in stainless steel and 2,000 examples of each of the Daytona 6265 and 6263 in gold.
Rolex Daytona Cosmograph Reverse Panda Sigma Dial Ref. 6265
Rolex Daytona ref. 6269 & 6270
The Daytona references 6269 and 6270 models were not regular production watches but very special releases made sometime in the 1980s and in exceedingly small quantities. They’re both solid yellow gold Daytona watches with diamond-set bezels and diamond pavé dials.
How To Use a Vintage Hand-Wound Rolex Daytona
Since four-digit Daytona references are manual winding chronographs, they have to be hand-wound regularly to keep them running. Winding it once a day, at approximately the same time is ideal.
How to Wind Vintage Rolex Daytona
- Continuously turn the winding crown clockwise about 20 to 40 times until you feel some resistance, then stop winding
- The watch is now fully wound
How to Set the Time On a Vintage Rolex Daytona
- Unscrew the winding crown
- Pull out the crown
- Turn the winding crown to advance the hour and minute hands
- Set the time accordingly
- Push the crown back into the case, ensuring that you screw it back properly
How to Use the Chronograph On a Vintage Rolex Daytona
- The chronograph start pusher is located above the winding crown while the stop and restart pusher is located below the winding crown
- On Daytona models with screw-down chronograph pushers, the pushers have to be unscrewed before they can be used
- Start the chronograph hand by pressing on the upper pusher
- Stop the chronograph hand by pressing on the below pusher
- Reset the chronograph hand back to zero by pressing on the below pusher
- On Daytona models with screw-down chronograph pushers, make sure the pushers are screwed back in place after you have finished using the chronograph function
On a vintage Daytona, the running seconds hand subdial is located at the 9 o’clock position. The minute chronograph counter is located at the 3 o’clock position and the hour chronograph counter is located at the 6 o’clock position. Therefore, when the central chronograph hand is activated, you can keep track of how many minutes and hours (up to 12 hours) have elapsed by looking at the hour and minute counters.