- By Isabella Proia
Often in the early production runs of Rolex references, the intrepid collector can find a number of curious eccentricities – whether on the dial, the bezel, or even the chronograph pushers. Rolex’s tendency to experiment with designs to understand market tastes has resulted in these early variations becoming prized amongst today’s collectors. They are exciting watches to collect as they illustrate Rolex’s iterative design process and provide a glimpse into the brand’s secretive production history. Instead of discarding these early variants until they found the right combination, Rolex often offered them for sale and then moved on to another iteration.
The reference 6239, the first Cosmograph Daytona introduced into Rolex’s product line, was launched in 1963, and scholars generally agree that the earliest 6239s began around the serial number 922’900. The earliest 6239s had no Daytona logo on the dial, with the commonly accepted reasoning being that Rolex wanted to capitalize on society’s fascination with space travel, but also to concentrate their marketing efforts on a specific geographic location. That first full year of production, 1964, Rolex sponsored both the French Le Mans and the American Daytona motor sport endurance races. Indeed, the Cosmograph was initially marketed as the ‘Le Mans’, but Rolex quickly switched gears and settled on the American ‘Daytona’ product name, which would soon begin appearing on dials. The earliest dials with the ‘Daytona’ designation are rare and highly coveted, as they are printed in a smaller script, centered below the ‘Cosmograph’ designation closer to the middle of the dial. This separated appearance has given way to the term “floating” or “suspended” as a descriptor for these dials.
Offered in the December 10th GAME CHANGERS sale in New York is lot 24, a reference 6239 bearing the serial number 1’195’997 and the coveted “floating” Daytona designation, printed in white against the black grené dial. The serial number dates the watch to 1964, absolutely correct for this configuration. This exceptional example retains its original and early tachymeter bezel, calibrated for 300 units per hour, and is remarkably well-preserved with its original factory finishing preserved throughout the case.
Soon after the release of the reference 6239, Rolex unveiled its fraternal twin, the reference 6241, virtually identical except for a black acrylic bezel with white tachymeter scale instead of the metal bezel with engraved tachymeter scale. The most celebrated iterations of the reference 6241 are fitted with a white exotic “Paul Newman” dial, manufactured by Singer and bearing a bright red “Daytona” designation above the 12-hour counter. However the existence of certain, non-exotic “Cherry Logo” Daytonas indicate that Rolex was experimenting with the red designation concurrent with the exotic dial variations.
Also appearing in the December New York GAME CHANGERS sale is lot 57, a reference 6241 with silver dial, bearing the serial number 1’767’498, dating the watch to 1967, and displaying a remarkable and hardly ever seen “Cherry” logo. The sunburst silver finishing of the dial captures the eye immediately, with its clean and spacious layout reflecting incident light beautifully. The eye then drifts down to the bright red “Daytona” designation, the printing slightly raised with delicate serifs on each letter. This is the most outstanding feature of the watch, one that wouldn’t be seen again on a non-Paul Newman Daytona until the “Big Red” variants of the later references 6263 and 6265. The printing is most similar to the red Daytona designation found on the exotic dial Paul Newman Daytona. An examination of the serial numbers of various 6241s shows that this “Cherry” 6241 was being cased alongside, likely the same timeframe, as “Paul Newman” 6241s with similar red text. Consigned by the family of the original owner, our research shows the current reference 6241 is the earliest known 6241 to appear with the “Cherry” Daytona logo designation.
Originality, rarity, exceptional preservation – these are all qualities sought after in the pursuit of a great Daytona. Both of these early examples bear characteristics that distinguish them from later iterations of the Cosmograph Daytona, and their fantastic, original condition enhances that enduring appeal.