It’s cold, its dark outside, British winter is upon us so what better to discuss than a glorious vintage Rolex Daytona 6263 that has spent its life soaking up the sun in order to turn its sub-dials from their original black, to a flawless natural shade of chocolate brown.
Fades like this are known as “Tropical”.
As a vintage Rolex nerd, I’m declaring “perfect patina” on this one.
Although the Daytona in any of its references is now one of Rolexes most sought after models with waiting lists for current variants spanning into the decades and prices soaring way above retail, in its formative years, it was not a popular beast. In fact, it was decidedly unpopular.
Through the fifties and into the sixties, Rolex was producing Submariners, Explorers and GMT Masters as part of its “Professional” ranges along with the Date-just and Day-Date.
These were watches with a clear purpose whether that was diving, travelling, or simply robust daily wearers.
In that period, the chronograph was a bit of an odd duck that hadn’t really found its place either in the market, or in buyers hearts.
Rumour even has it that dealers occasionally resorted to giving these pieces away as gifts to buyers of their gold watches, such was the desire to move stock that was sitting unloved in windows. Yikes.
In 1963 Rolex launched the Cosmograph, a new chronograph model now known as the “Pre-Daytona”
At the end of 1964 and into 65 there came an addition to the dial - DAYTONA
What happened in between the Cosmograph and the Daytona?
The Omega Speedmaster, which beat the Rolex Cosmograph, as well as some competition from other brands, and became qualified by NASA which closed the moon door on the Cosmograph.
Omega won the space race fair and square so Rolex, although already beginning to involve itself with motor racing really started to concentrate on the sport and the Cosmograph Daytona’s place timing it.
Amusingly enough for spectators, the rivalry between the brands is still going strong today, most notably the bickering over the deep sea.
Rolex launched the Deepsea in 2008, waterproof to 3900 metres.
2012 James Cameron takes it down the Mariana Trench
2014 Rolex release the James Cameron or “D-Blue” to commemorate.
2019 Omega beats Camerons dive by 12 metres and releases the “Ultra Deep” which boasts 6000 metres WR
2022 Rolex release the new Deepsea Challenge in titanium with a water resistance of 11,000 metres.
Your move, Omega.
Anyway, I seem to have gone off on a tangent so back to the races.
1965 saw the release of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, as Rolex had shifted its sights from the space-race and on to the tracks of Daytona Beach, speedway and NASCAR.
1971 saw the introduction of the 6263 which is the reference I have in hand, and which was in production until 1987.
Its a 37mm stainless steel manual wind valjoux chronograph with a screw down crown and pushers.
Its predecessor the 6262 had pump pushers and WR of 50 metres, the 6263 with its screw down tweaks and upgrades took water resistance to 100m which is where the Daytona still stands today.
Point of note, don’t assume water resistance on vintage watches, safest bet is to not get them wet unless they’ve been pressure tested and you’re confident. Otherwise, it could end in tears.
The 6263 had a number of dial types such as the “Big Red” which featured the DAYTONA print in bold red letters above the sub-dial at 6 and also the most well known and extortionate dial variant, the panda “Paul Newman” configuration with square block markers around the sub-dials.
Newman himself wore a reference 6239 with pump pushers which sold at auction in 2017 for $17.8 million dollars, but his name is now used to describe the very particular dial design seen in a number of Daytona references.
The 6263 we’re looking at today features a sunburst silvered dial, and what would have been black sub-dials that are now enjoying the tropical fade to chocolate.
This particular type of fade is specific to long term exposure to heat and sunlight combined with a flaw in manufacturing.
Dials in the 50s-70s used a particular paint that was supposed to be UV resistant, as it turns out, the opposite was true and over time it was UV that caused what is effectively a discolouration under certain conditions.
Rolex became aware of this years later when the dials began to turn, and remedied this with a change of paint mix and shock horror, dial replacements during service. The end result of this is that there aren’t many tropical or faded dials about, and collectors go absolutely nuts about them.
Black dials turning to chocolate isn’t the only end result of the heat, sun and paint “oh whoops” combinations.
There are also Submariners and Datejusts which started life as blue dials that have turned into a stunning violet purple shades, explorer 2’s which have switched from crisp polar white to an eggshell cream, and GMT root-beers which are exhibiting flashes of red and green.
These flawed pieces have achieved cult like status with collectors, and that’s before we even start discussing spider-web and stardust dials which equally share the flawed is beauty strange place in the world of watch collecting.
I have to say, the effects of ageing on these pieces are utterly gorgeous, particularly on this Daytona.
The patina is even across the sub-dials and the sun-ray silvered dial is otherwise unmarked and pairs beautifully to create a mellow vintage vibe along with the eggshell tritium lume plots. To me, it’s a vintage grail.
Combine that dial with a sharp case, fat lugs, and a state of utter originality and we arrive at a point where I really need a lie down with a hot flannel.
There’s a lot to be said for modern watches, they’re robust, sit at their technical peaks, and fit perfectly in todays world but sometimes you want to enjoy “the old world” when watchmaking was exciting and in a constant state of evolution, where battles were fought between brands over things we take for granted today like the space race and exploration of the world and oceans around us.
I think thats part of the allure of vintage pieces, they’re a nod to nostalgia and to simpler times where people used their watches and loved them rather than storing them away in case a mark decreased investment value.
Either way, no longer the one that nobody wants, the vintage Daytona has achieved a cult following that it never saw in its early days, and it deserves it.
If you’re interested in old watches with their rattly bracelets and conservative sizing and would like to see more of our vintage stock, fire us a message.