Any collector or vintage watches enthusiast might know and love the Rolex Daytona. Known for its iconic sports watch design and association with motor racing, it's no surprise that this fantastic chronograph has been a favorite among collectors for over a decade. But, as with many iconic designs, the Daytona wasn't created overnight : Like every iconic watch with a long career, it was the result of a gradual evolution over the years. This period leading up to the Daytona's creation is now referred to as the "Pre-Daytona”, the build-up to one of the most popular designs of the 20th century…
Overlooked for a long time, Pre-Daytona chronographs laid the fundation for what would come, and also carried a huge cultural impact on their own. James Bond even wore a customised Pre-Daytona in the movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” : The watch was supposed to have been redesigned to be a compass, so the movie production added a red second hand which would have been the compass hand guiding James Bond !
While other Rolex references can be categorized as “Pre-Daytona”, the 6238 is the model that the Daytona draws from the most, and is also the first reference collectors have in mind when the nickname is mentioned. The reference 6238 started production from 1961 to approximately 1968, and overlaps with the 6239 by a handful of years in the Rolex catalogues while the first Daytona was released in 1963.
The design of the 6238 progresses over its lifespan : The first series is very similar to the reference which precedes it, with leaf hands, diamond applied markers, and even some twin scales around the periphery. The Mk2 features straight hands, faceted baton index markers, and just a single tachymeter scale on the dial. This is often what collectors will picture in their minds when they talk about the Pre-Daytona.
The evolution of the 6238
The 6238 is a very rare bird, and considered a grail for collectors. The production range has been estimated between 2500 to 3000 pieces in steel, 150 in 18k yellow gold and 225 in 14k yellow gold. Regarding the dials, silver would be the most “common”, while black being the rarest of all.
The evolution of the movements is also very important to note here. Initially, when the reference was first introduced to the market, Rolex made the 6238 with 72B Valjoux movements, which was also found in the reference 6234.
As the design of the watch progressed and the second series was released, Rolex switched to a Cal. 722 movement. This change is ultra-significant to understand the development of the “Daytona” line as a whole, as it would be carried over into the first “Daytona” models a few years later.
Tell yourself this watch has laid the foundation of the Daytona we know, and you won’t be far from reality. Whether you’re a crazy collector or just starting out, buying a Pre-Daytona is buying a part of Rolex history and watchmaking in general. Whether it is the case size, the dial, the hands or the smooth bezel, everything about this watch is a great reminder of the golden era of watchmaking, an !