To many collectors, Rolex Daytona Chronograph Replica Watch are grouped into two categories – Daytonas and “others.” And while Rolex has been making chronographs since the 1930s (we told you about one of the very first right here), it wasn’t until 1963 that the line of watches was categorized and named – and Daytona wasn’t its first name. The original concept for this racing-inspired watch was The Rolex LeMans, and you can even find early advertising copy where the watch you see above – a true Mark I Daytona – is called LeMans. Needless to say, the name didn’t stick, as Rolex’s push into the American market and into official sponsorship of the 24 hour race at Daytona led to the naming of the reference 6239 Cosmograph as the Daytona. That didn’t happen until 1964, and the watch in question here was produced in 1963, but we’ll still call it a Daytona because it launched the reference, and thus the entire Daytona line.
I tend to think that the best way to understand an icon of today – you know the types of watches I’m talking about, the Speedmasters, Submariners, and Rolex Daytona Replica Watch Oaks of the world – is to take a look at the earliest iterations, at the watches that left the factory first and set the overall tone for a particular model that would change wristwatches forever. So, just like I did for the AP Royal Oak “A-Series” here, I now present you with a detailed look at the earliest examples of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. I’ll tell you what to look for when examining early models and how to spot the only 50 year old Daytonas out there. I’ll be honest, this was a really fun article to write and I think you’ll love it. This is old school ‘Dinkee goodness.
But what made the 6239 so different from the 6238? As Paul previously told you, it was the first time Rolex used inverse colors for sub-dials – all previous Rolex chrono dials were completely monochromatic. Also, the tachymeter scale – used for measuring distance over time (aka, speed) was moved from the dial to the bezel. May not seem like much, but it was a big deal, and these two traits made for a much more interesting, aggressive look when the 6239 hit the market. These are still traits of the Daytona today, but we’re here to talk about the specifics that make a Mark I (one that was produced in 1963) so special.
Notice anything special about the bezel on this 1963 6239? First, it is graduated to 300 units per hour. This trait alone isn’t unique to the 1963 Daytona – Rolex marked its Daytona bezels to 300 till about 1967, at which point it was dropped to 200. But what is unique about these earliest bezels is the fact that it is marked at 275, and the bezel is “hashed” the entire way around.
To see what I mean, here is a picture of a later reference 6239 from 1967, still with a 300 bezel, but not with this rare MK1 hashed bezel found only on the 1963 Daytona:
Image via 10PastTen
And another look at the MK1 bezel:
Image via ShearTime
These super early bezels only came on the very first Rolex Daytona Replica, and even if you can find a 1963 Daytona, there is a strong chance that the this 275 bezel is long-gone. But, to me, a Mark I Daytona isn’t complete without this bezel. We don’t know why the hashed bezel was only used on the earliest examples, but it is fair to assume that the busy appearance actually made it difficult to read, so it was simplified.
The Devil Is In The Details (Of The Dial)
But, even more important than the bezel is, of course, the original 1963 Daytona dial. From the images above you may have noticed one or two traits that are unique to the earliest Cosmographs. First, there is no “Daytona” signature anywhere on the dial. That didn’t come till the following year. Instead, under “Rolex Cosmograph” is a small hashmark, or “underline,” in silver.
What this underline means has never been verified by Rolex, but there are some educated guesses out there. Many believe it was to signify the transition from radioactive radium luminous material to tritium. In this post on the Vintage Rolex Forum, you can see that those dials with underlines display much lower radiation levels than those without. It should be noted that underlines are found on not just early Cosmographs, but also Explorers, Submariners, and GMTs. They are typically found on watches ranging from late 1962 to early 1964, with 1963 (the year the Reference 6239 Cosmograph was introduced) accounting for the majority of them. I should also say the underline means a lot for the collectability of all Rolex models, but even more so on the Daytona, because it is only found on the very earliest models. But the weirdness of the 1963 Cosmograph doesn’t end there.
Down at six o’clock you will see a “Swiss” signature. No big deal, right? Sure, but if you look a little closer you see there is actually another “Swiss” signature even further down on the dial. In most cases, you can JUST see the top of it if you look down on the watch from above.
Image via John Goldberger
Here’s another look:
Here is a look at a Mark I Daytona dial outside of the case:
Imaga via 10PastTen
You will occasionally find the double-Swiss signature on other watches from the same period, but like the underline, it is most meaningful on the Cosmographs.
The sub-registers were circular grained with numerals printed right onto the flange. The running seconds hand on the Mark I 6239, along with those on many later 6239s, was actually differently shaped than the chronograph counter hands. While the hands in the minutes and hour counters were thick and pointed, the running seconds hand at 9 o’clock was thin and featured a flat head.
In most cases, the running seconds hand has been replaced. You’ll find this because later Cosmograph Daytonas did away with the differing hands and few watchmakers or collectors ever paid attention to it anyway. And like the running seconds hand, if you pay close attention to the central hours and minutes hands of the Mark I compared to later Daytonas, you will see they are thinner and longer than most. In fact the hour hand almost touches the hour markers. Here is a look at two Mark I Daytonas, the one on the left has the original hands, while the one on the right does not.
The watch on the left has original hands, the one on the right does not.
So, like the bezel, if you want a true Mark I Daytona, I would insist on that thinner, flat sided running seconds hand and the thinner, longer central hands.
And then there is the matter of dial colors. Up until now in this article we’ve primarily shown you the black Mark I Cosmograph. But another trait that is different on this super early 1963 Daytonas is the actual color of the white dial. And notice I said “white,” not “silver”? For this generation ONLY, Rolex’s Cosmograph was made with a matte white dial, that is almost cream colored.
Image via VintageDB
The look is completely different than the silver dial vintage Daytonas we are so used to seeing, and I happen to love the creamy white look to it. It is also very different from the grainy white found on white Paul Newman dials. Here are a few more looks at this rare cream dial only found on the 1963 Rolex reference 6239.
So, as you can see, these early Daytonas feature a few interesting dial traits that really set it apart from the later models. These watches, which we are calling Mark Is, are often also called “Double Swiss Underline” Daytonas, for obvious reasons. It should be noted that while this is the archetype Mark I Daytona, we have seen some watches in this batch of serial numbers that, for example, do not have the underline, or might have the underline but only one “Swiss” signature. For example, this watch (seen below) is indeed a Mark I Daytona by every definition, except it does not feature the underline.
Image via tempusorologi.it
This watch at Tourneau, which they date to 1963 does not have a double-Swiss signature nor an underline, but it does have the correct 275 hashed bezel, and the serial number does put it JUST after the possible range for a Mark I Daytona. Is the dial original? It’s possible. Is it an early replacement? It’s also possible.
So, What Serial Numbers Should I Be Looking For?
All the traits I’ve mentioned above as being important in identifying a Mark I Daytona are predicated by something much more concrete – a particular range of serial numbers in which one should (or COULD) find them. Often times, dealers can generalize a 1963 Daytona with anything that has a serial number under 1,000,000. But, specifically, the watches that bear the special traits such as the double “Swiss” signature and underline dials are in and around the serial number 923,XXX. I don’t know of any Double Swiss Underline Daytonas that have a serial number outside this range, but that doesn’t mean some couldn’t exist.
Image via OnlyVintage.It
When Mismatching Numbers Is A Good Thing
So you know that the serial number should be under 1,000,000 and you know that the case reference should (obviously) be 6239, because that is what denotes a Cosmograph in the first place. But one more interesting trait of these first generation watches is that the case back does not match the case. All case backs of true Mark I Daytonas are marked with the reference 6238, not 6239.
Image via ShearTime
Now that we’ve covered the dial, bezel, and case, it’s time to talk movement. The early 6239s are powered by a basic Valjoux 72 movement, called the 72B by Rolex. You will see “72B” engraved under the balance wheel at the 6 o’clock, and then movement numbers under the balance wheel closer to the center of the movement. Finally, you should see the engraving “ROW” on the balance wheel bridge. This is Rolex USA’s import mark. It is commonly held that the U.S. was the first market to receive the Daytona, so all first generation watches should have this import stamp. That said, it would not be totally implausible that a watch’s bridge would be replaced in the half-century on which it has been on this planet, so an “ROW” stamp on the bridge is certainly a nicety, but I don’t classify it as a must. If it’s missing, it may just mean the watch was serviced and had it replaced.
Lingering In Literature
The Mark I Daytona was only made for a very short period of time in 1963. In fact, it is arguably one of the rarest serially produced Cosmographs, period. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t find it in Rolex literature. It is a Mark I Daytona (without underline) that we see in the Rolex LeMans ad I mentioned above. In this Cosmograph booklet from 1966 (three years after Rolex stopped the production of the cream dial and 275 hash bezel), you can see what are clearly Mark I models as well.
Finally, here is an ad from 1963 that shows three Rolex models – two of which are incredibly rare. At left, you see an “Explorer Dial” Reference 5513. At right, you will see what is very clearly a true Mark I Daytona complete with the hashed bezel and double-swiss underline dial. See what I mean? This is a very rare advertisement showing a very rare watch. It hangs above my desk in the HODINKEE office.
But Do People Care?
So, the watch I just spent like 900 hours describing is cool and rare, but do OTHER people care? That’s a complicated question. Let’s compare the Mark I Daytona to a benchmark in Rolex collecting – the Paul Newman. Paul Newmans start in the high $70,000 or low $80,000 range for a basic 6239 and quickly climb into six figures for mint 6241s, and all those with screw-down pushers. PN Daytona’s are indisputably bad-ass, and the dials are absolutely killer looking. Are they rare? Nope, not really. In fact, they are essentially commodity watches. Whenever you want a Paul Newman, you can find one. Here’s a few dozen. Here’s a few more. Talk to Matt Bain, Eric Ku, Andrew Shear, or any other reputable dealer and they’ll always have one or two to sell you. That’s not a bad thing, but PN’s are not that rare, nor are they historically important (beyond the fact that a super handsome salad-dressing magnate happened to wear one). Now try to find a Mark I 6239 for sale.
You’ll be looking for a while. Believe me, I know, because I looked for well over a year for one in the right condition at the right price. When these watches do come up for sale, something will be off. A later bezel or case back, a movement that isn’t quite right, or a heavily polished case are all norms in the world of the very first Daytona. These watches are RARE. Much more so than your average Paul Newman or other such more costly alternatives.
Did I mention that this is where it all began? THIS IS THE VERY FIRST DAYTONA, PEOPLE.
In the world of collecting, it is always the earliest examples that attract the most attention. Just like the A-Series Royal Oak, the 3700 Nautilus, the Big Crown Submariners, and a dozen other firsts, the Mark I 6239 is the blueprint on which a legacy has been built. To me, that’s much more important than an exotic dial. Do I want a Paul Newman someday? 100%, but that can wait. I also happen to think the double-Swiss underline Daytona is underv….wait…I have to be careful here. I was about to say “undervalued,” but I should qualify that by saying it’s undervalued when compared to the already monstrously overvalued vintage Daytona market. Does it make sense to pay X (where “X” is the $20,000 to $200,000 you will pay for a common reference Cosmograph Daytona) for a watch made of stainless steel using a basic Valjoux movement? Of course it doesn’t (practically speaking), but vintage Rolex is a special entity and in my opinion it should be treated that way. I’ll tackle one very real alternative to the Daytona at 1/10th the price in a follow-up post coming soon (UPDATE: You may read this here, written by Eric Wind)
Again, if you’re going to pay serious money for any Daytona, I tend to think it should be one of historical importance – like, you know, the very first one. But that’s just me, and I fully expect you (collective you, as in every reader of HODINKEE) to throw this in my face the day I buy a Paul Newman Daytona (assuming I can afford it someday).
An incredibly rare Mark I “Double Swiss Undline” Daytona retailed by Tiffany & Co. (image via John Goldberger)
Everybody that knows what it is already has one
So, about the cost. This Mark I Daytona is not a known entity outside the die-hard community. In fact, when I asked a particular dealer friend about how much they should run, he replied, “those are tough sells, because everyone that knows what they are already has one.” They aren’t available in gold, they don’t have Omani crests, and the dials aren’t sexy or easily identifiable from a distance like a Paul Newman. I know a lot of serious Daytona collectors that don’t own one. John Mayer, for example, does not have one, and he loves his Cosmographs.
This is a watch made special by minutiae. But that minutiae would be meaningless if it weren’t for the fact this is the first iteration in a line of watches that would grow to become one of the most important collections from the world’s most important watch company (expect some debate on this one, but I stand behind it). Does the Mark I deserve a significant premium over 6239s made in 1964 and later, just like the Royal Oaks made in 1972 warrant a premium over the “B-Series” watches? It depends what a particular dealer thinks, and it depends what a particular collector will pay. I have seen these watches (in a range of conditions) sell from the high 30s up to mid-70s. I tend to believe the honest price is somewhere in the middle. And though these watches were originally sold in the U.S., the vast majority seem to have migrated to Italy over the last 50 years, which means you are more than likely going to be paying in Euros, which stings us here in the States. The only example to sell at auction was at Christies in 2008, and that closed at $57,651. (UPDATE: Since the original publishing of this article, an example of this watch sold for $296,250)
The only MK I Cosmograph to sell at auction brought just over $57,000 at Christie’s in 2008.
So, I can’t say for sure what you should pay for a double-Swiss underline Daytona, but I will say that I see a stronger interest in the early Daytonas recently (perhaps due to the fact that it celebrated 50 years this year) and to me, I think it’s a must have if you’re looking for early and important watches, or if you just love the Daytona. But, whether you think it’s worth $5,000 or $50,000 above a normal 6239, that’s up to you.
I hope this look at the 1963 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona has shed some light on a watch that, surprisingly, doesn’t get spoken of all that much. Even on Rolex’s official website, where they mention 1963 as the birth year of the Daytona, they actually show Paul Newman from what I’d guess to be 1966 or 67.
In a perfect, and, well, historically precise world, the Paul Newman would be replaced by what I think is an even more interesting and important watch – the true original Daytona – the Mark I Cosmograph with Double-Swiss Underline Dial, 275 hashed bezel, a pre-1 million serial and a 6238 case back.
Consider my breath bated.
I want to extend a special thank you to a few friendly dealers who allowed me to use their images and Rolex replica watches in this post. That includes:
I would like to extend a personal thanks to John Goldberger for his guidance in researching this story.
Stay tuned for a follow-up post on the OTHER 50 year icon in automotive wristwatches – the (TAG) Heuer Carrera!