The Storied History of the Rolex Daytona in 12 Watches

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Launch Slideshow

Soon after Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf introduced the “Oyster” waterproof watch in 1926, professional swimmer Mercedes Gleitze crossed the English Channel in a highly publicized event – an Oyster watch fastened to her wrist. Rolex has been synonymous with activity and sports ever since. In keeping with this theme, Rolex later introduced their chronographs (popularly used as stopwatches) and the iconic “Daytona” – named for the famous automobile race responsible for the formation of NASCAR. Click ahead for a look at the fascinating story of this timeless watch.

Important Watches
6 December | New York

The Storied History of the Rolex Daytona in 12 Watches

  • Pre-War Chronograph: Rolex, A Rare Stainless Steel Chronograph Wristwatch REF 2508, Circa 1947. Estimate $20,000–40,000.
    Introduced in the mid 1930s, reference 2508 was the first Rolex chronograph wristwatch to feature two registers with two pushers. The present example from the second series features rectangular pushers and has an incredibly well preserved three-piece case with crisp original lines, defined coronet and serial number to the outside case back. 

  • Pre-Daytona: Rolex, A Yellow Gold Anti Magnetic Chronograph Wristwatch With Registers REF 4500, Circa 1948. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    The present lot was formerly in the collection of the legendary musician and guitarist Eric Clapton. Clapton, a serious watch aficionado, is known for his impressive collection of important watches, including several exceptional vintage Rolex pieces.


  • Pre-Daytona: Rolex, A Stainless Steel Anti Magnetic Chronograph Wristwatch With Registers And Bracelet REF 6034, Circa 1952. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
    The reference 6034 figures into the succession of Oyster chronographs Rolex produced from the beginning of the 1950s until the introduction of the Daytona in 1961. Along with other round-button chronographs with three subsidiary dials, such as reference 5034, 6234 and 6238, this model was produced in relatively few numbers as a result of its short production period. The present lot survives with an incredibly well preserved dial, with matching patina to the hands and lume. The text is not faded, crisp and legible, making this example an exceptional piece for discerning collectors.

  • Pre-Daytona: Rolex, A Rare Stainless Steel Chronograph Wristwatch With Registers And Bracelet REF 6238, Circa 1963. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    Introduced in the beginning of the 1960s and available until 1967, the reference 6238 is today known as the "Pre-Daytona." It is regarded as the bridge between the early chronographs of the 1930s–1950s and the vintage Cosmograph Daytonas. The “Pre-Daytona” features a tachometer scale to its dial. With the launch of its successor, the “Daytona” reference 6239, the tachometer was removed from the dial and placed onto the bezel. The new Daytona models were also fitted with dials incorporating a standard base colour with differently coloured subsidiary dials; the “Pre-Daytona” was fitted with a single tone silvered or black dial and a smooth bezel.

  • Paul Newman Daytona: Rolex, A Rare Stainless Steel Chronograph Wristwatch With Registers And Bracelet REF 6239, Circa 1968. Estimate $70,000–120,000.
    The iconic reference 6239 was introduced in the United States in 1963, and available in the US and Europe until 1969. It was the first model fitted with this exotic dial, later coined the Paul Newman dial, distinguished by its fine square markers. The present lot has a well-preserved dial with defined sunken engine turned subsidiary dials, clear white Rolex Cosmograph signature and the red Daytona inscription, perfectly complemented by the red graduations of the outer track. Offered by the original owner, the present lot is a truly exceptional collector's piece.

  • Paul Newman Daytona: Rolex, A Rare Stainless Steel Chronograph Wristwatch With Registers And Bracelet REF 6239, Circa 1969. Estimate $80,000–120,000.
    The iconic reference 6239 was introduced in the United States in 1963, and available in the US and Europe until 1969. It was the first model fitted with this exotic dial, later coined the Paul Newman dial, distinguished by its fine square markers. Much like the previous Paul Newman, Lot 755 , the present lot is beautifully formatted with a white dial, clear black Rolex Cosmograph signature and the red Daytona inscription, perfectly complemented by the red graduations of the outer track.

  • Cosmograph Daytona: Rolex, A Stainless Steel Chronograph Wristwatch With Registers And Bracelet REF 6239, Circa 1964. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    The reference 6239 transferred the tachometer to the bezel, and created the look associated with the Daytona name that continues today. Lot 958 represents an earlier example without the Daytona name to the dial, and shows collectors transitional looks that combined the later 6238 and the early 6239.

  • Cosmograph Daytona: Rolex, A Stainless Steel Chronograph Wristwatch With Registers And Bracelet REF 6263, Circa 1984. Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    The reference 6263 began production in the early 1970s, fitted with a black acrylic bezel, screw down chronograph pushers and a larger winding crown.

  • Cosmograph Daytona: Rolex, A Yellow Gold Chronograph Wristwatch With Registers And Bracelet REF 6265, Circa 1985. Estimate $70,000–120,000.
    The all gold examples of the 6263 and the 6265 Daytonas differentiated themselves not only in material, but also with movements that underwent chronometer certifications. While the 6263 did not state this on the dial, the 6265 had the “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” signed on the dial under the 12.

  • Cosmograph Daytona: Rolex, A Fine Yellow Gold Chronograph Wristwatch With Registers And Bracelet REF 6263, Circa 1979. Estimate $70,000–120,000.
    The Rolex Cosmograph has become one of the most iconic sporting watches of all time. Replacing the 6262 model in 1971, the 6263 was given its own distinctive look with the addition of a black acrylic insert to its bezel and waterproof screw down crown and chronograph pushers. The present lot is available in excellent condition with an original bezel insert, and crisp case hallmarks. The dial is preserved with superior clarity and impeccable definition to the signatures, the deepness of registers, the outer tracking and even the luminescent dots above the indexes.  



    The same family has owned it for two generations, and Sotheby's is pleased to offer it for the first time at auction. This is a rare opportunity to own such an exceptional example of the reference 6263 in yellow gold.

  • Cosmograph Daytona: Rolex, A Stainless Steel Chronograph Wristwatch With Registers And Bracelet REF 6265, Circa 1975. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    The present reference 6265 has a well-preserved, evenly aged dial, with light wear to the subsidiary dials. It is complemented by white gold hands and indexes, symbolised by the “sigma” notation outside the “T SWISS T” designation.

  • Modern Daytona: Rolex, A White Gold Automatic Chronograph Wristwatch With Registers REF 116519, Circa 2007. Estimate $8,000–12,000.
    The firm’s modern iteration of the Rolex Daytona is beautifully made with highly legible indexes and an easy-to-read bezel.

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