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ROLEX BLOG

The Ultimate Guide to Rolex Daytona Nicknames | Bob’s Watches

May 25, 2021

BY Paul Altieri

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If you make any kind of a study of Rolex watches, and especially the vintage models, you will very quickly run across the brand’s ‘Rolexicon’. This is the unofficial language often used by collectors – an exhaustive list of jargon that gives nicknames to both certain aspects of a watch, as well as to specific references themselves to help identify them among the crowd.

Most often, these informal labels are drawn from either the watch’s colors, an unusual or noteworthy trait in the model’s design, or even its association with a famous person (real or fictional). Among the numerous legendary watches produced by the Crown, one that has garnered far more than its fair share of unsanctioned epithets over its near 60-years in the business is the Rolex Daytona.

From extremely modest beginnings, Rolex’s racing chronograph has exploded in popularity over the last couple of decades and it is now considered one of the most important sports watches of all time. Beloved by every Rolex around the globe, the Cosmograph Daytona’s catalog of nicknames is an extensive one, ranging from the particularly obscure to possibly the best-known of them all.

Below, we have compiled a list of the most common ones, along with explaining how they came about, which references they relate to, how much you can expect to pay for them, and even where you might be able to spot them in pop culture.

Click here for our Ultimate Buying Guide on the Rolex Daytona.

Daytona

Rolex Daytona Nickname Guide Pre-Daytona

Pre-Daytona

– The Watch: Rolex Chronograph ref. 6238

– Price Range: $40,000 – $300,000+

– Seen In: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

This one is a bit of a cheat, since it isn’t actually a real Daytona but rather the Daytona’s predecessor. Rolex had been producing chronographs from as early as the 1940s before the first Cosmograph Daytona arrived in 1963, with the reference 6239 – and even then, it took a few years before the ‘Daytona’ name would actually start appearing on dials.

Technically speaking, any mechanical chronograph made by Rolex prior 1963 could be considered a ‘Pre-Daytona’ but for collectors, the ref. 6238 is the model that springs to mind whenever they hear the nickname. Additionally, some experts also see it as more an older sibling rather than a precursor, given that the ref. 6238 ran concurrently with the ref. 6239 until the former was entirely withdrawn in 1967.

Regardless, the reference 6238 is the watch that put much of what would define the first Daytona into place. There is the case (36mm rather than the ref. 6239’s 37mm), the plain stick hands, the tri-compax sub-dial layout and the two pump pushers flanking the winding crown. It even used the same movement, the manually winding Valjoux 72. The main difference is the tachymeter scale, which is printed on the periphery of the dial instead of engraved on the external bezel.

Available in 14k and 18k gold as well as stainless steel, it is estimated that only around 2,000 total examples were produced, including the one worn by George Lazenby in his only portrayal as James Bond in the 1969 film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Solo

– The Watch: Rolex Daytona ref. 6240

– Price Range: $140,000+

As with many of Rolex’s sports watches, the early years of the Daytona were pretty frantic, with references introduced and retired relatively quickly as different elements were given a fine-tuning. Launched in 1965 and discontinued in 1969, the ref. 6240 was initially produced as a prototype and was the first of its kind to feature screw-down pushers. Therefore it is also the first to be truly water-resistant and so, the first to feature the word ‘Oyster’ on its dial.

However, in its earliest days, the Daytona wasn’t called the Daytona but merely the Cosmograph (the name possibly chosen to appeal to NASA, who were looking for a standard-issue chronograph for space missions at the time). Consequently, there are a number of different examples of the ref. 6240 with various lines of text on the dial – some with ‘Cosmograph Daytona’ printed on them, others with just ‘Cosmograph’ appearing, and some (known colloquially as the Solo) that have just ‘Rolex’ with no other identifiers at all.

The reference 6240 is an especially rare watch in the first place, and the Solo models are obviously rarer still. Only around 1,800 examples are suspected to be in circulation, making each one massively sought after, highly expensive, and extremely collectible.

Rolex Daytona Nickname Guide Big Red

Big Red

– The Watch: Rolex Daytona ref. 6263, ref. 6265 (from 1975)

– Price Range: $90,000 – $150,000+

The Big Red is one of the most recognized vintage Daytona nicknames. It takes its name from the extra-large, red font used for the word ‘Daytona’ that curves around the top of the lower sub-dial. Found on the silver and black dial versions of some examples of the ref. 6263 and ref. 6265, the Big Red Daytona watches first emerged from around 1975 and added an extra-large pop of color to an otherwise subdued face.

Interestingly, you will find echoes of the Big Red feature on the current Daytona models. Regardless of metal type of configuration, all of the current production Rolex Daytona watches have the model’s name picked out in bold red letters red.

Double Swiss Underline

– The Watch: Rolex Daytona ref. 6239 (MK1 Dials)

– Price Range: $40,000 – $300,000+

Again harking back to the very early days, before the Daytona officially adopted its name, we find what are known as the Double Swiss Underline dials. When the debut Cosmograph reference was released in 1963, Rolex’s dial manufacturer assumed the new model would adhere to the same proportions as the ref. 6238 Pre-Daytona.

However, the bezel on the ref. 6239 was thicker than the one on the older watch, meaning the lowest part, where the word ‘SWISS’ was stamped below the six o’clock index, was mostly covered. Therefore, Rolex was forced to print it a second time, a little higher up, to be visible. Consequently, if you look carefully, you are able to see both ‘Swiss’ signatures.

Often used to designate the type of luminescence used on the hands and hour markers, the word ‘Swiss’ typically indicates the material is radium. However, by the time the ref. 6239 was being produced, the hazards of radium were becoming well known and the brand swapped the radioactive substance for tritium (also radioactive but at a much lower and much safer level). Although not confirmed, many experts believe that the small line drawn under the word ‘Cosmograph’ at the top of the dial was included to indicate the change in luminous material – hence the examples with these two feature dials are known as Double Swiss Underline dials.

Unicorn

– The Watch: Rolex Daytona ref. 6265 (piece unique)

– Price Range: $5.9m

As its name suggests, the Unicorn is an absolute one-off creation. Believed to be the only white gold manually-winding Daytona in existence, the very special example of the ref. 6265 was made in 1970 and eventually came into the possession of renowned collector and watch aficionado John Goldberger.

Interestingly, the white gold Unicorn Daytona is fitted with a stainless steel winding crown as Rolex did not produce one in white gold at the time that the unique piece was ordered. John Goldberger decided to sell the watch in 2018, where it became the second most expensive Rolex ever sold when the hammer dropped at $5.9m – with all proceeds going to the charity, Children Action.

Rolex Zenith Daytona Nickname Guide

Zenith Daytona

– The Watch: Rolex Daytona (second generation)

– Price Range: $15,000 – $150,000+

– Seen In: Thunderheart

At the far more affordable end of the Daytona scale, away from the ultra-rare and mega-expensive, we find the so-called Zenith Daytona watches. This name is now so well known that it is important to point out it isn’t actually an official term. It is used by collectors for the entire second generation of the watch – those fitted with the highly reworked El Primero self-winding movement from Swiss brand Zenith.

After some heavy alterations that included dropping the frequency and replacing or modifying about half the total components, the Zenith El Primero movement was renamed the Rolex Caliber 4030 and fitted inside the newly reworked 40mm models of the Daytona, hitting the market in 1988 and completely transforming the fortunes of Rolex’s chronograph watch.

The Zenith Daytona was Rolex’s first self-winding chronograph watch but it was also the brand’s last model to ever be fitted with a third-party movement. Similarly, it also marked the introduction of sapphire crystals, crown-guards, and a 40mm case diameter – all features that still define the Daytona watches that Rolex produces today. Despite its important place in the collection’s history, the Zenith generation represents the gateway into Daytona ownership (at least for now), with prices starting at around $15,000 for the two-tone steel and gold models.

Oyster Sotto / RCO

– The Watch: Rolex Daytona ref. 6263 (MKI and MKII Exotic Dials)

– Price Range: $250,000 – $1,000,000+

There’s rare and then there is ultra rare. ‘Oyster Sotto’ (taken from the Italian meaning ‘Oyster Underneath’) describes certain examples of the reverse Panda, Paul Newman versions of the ref. 6263 that date to around 1969. The black dial watches with white registers differ from standard run Daytona models of the era (and even to the white dial Paul Newman ref. 6263) in the order of their wording. Whereas the three lines of text, one on top of the other, would normally read ‘Rolex / Oyster / Cosmograph’ (ROC), on this particular variation, it is restructured to read ‘Rolex / Cosmograph / Oyster’ – giving it its second nickname, RCO.

The reason is that the dials were originally intended for the ref. 6262 and 6264 that lack screw-down chronograph pushers and that only read ‘Rolex Cosmograph’ on their dials. The ‘Oyster’ text was added later to signify the ref. 6263’s screw-down pusher design and greater water resistance. As of now, fewer than a dozen Oyster Sotto models have surfaced at auction, with some examples bringing in more than $1m.

Big Eyes / Lycia Naff

– The Watch: Rolex Daytona ref. 6263, ref. 6265 (from 1972-1975)

– Price Range: $90,000 – $150,000+

Another oddity from the Rolex Daytona’s first decade, the ‘Big Eye’ dial is found on first run examples of the ref. 6263 and ref. 6265, which are basically the same watch with the exception of the former having a black acrylic bezel and the latter having a metallic bezel. Both references came and went at the same time, starting in 1969 and retired in 1988. However, the examples produced in the 3 million serial number range, from around 1972 to 1975, were given slightly thicker rims on the sub-dials, making them look a bit larger.

As a result, not only did they garner the nickname Big Eyes, but there was also no room for the ‘Daytona’ text, which was left off the dial completely. The watch’s second, less well-known nickname, ‘Lycia Naff’ is in reference to the actress who played Mary in 1990’s Total Recall, the female alien with three…well, you know.

Rolex Daytona Nickname Guide Paul Newman Dial

Paul Newman Daytona

– The Watch: Rolex Daytona ref. 6239, ref. 6241, ref. 6262, ref. 6264, ref. 6265, ref. 6263 (Exotic Dials)

– Price Range: $250,000 – $17.8m

– Seen In: Crazy Rich Asians; Winning

We can’t go any further without bringing up undoubtedly the most famous nickname, not just in vintage Rolex collecting, but in vintage watch collecting as a whole. What we now call the ‘Paul Newman’ dials were once known simply as Exotic Dials, made by longtime Rolex dial manufacturer Singer and fitted sparingly to the original generation of the manually-winding Daytona references.

The unusual, tri-color faces – either a light color main dial with black sub counters (Panda) or a black dial with white totalizers (Reverse Panda), often with a red minute track and Art Deco-style numerals were significantly less popular than the standard dials and as a result, they made up only about 1 in 20 of all the Daytona watches produced.

However, it is the fact that one of those happened to be sold to Joanne Woodward (the wife of Hollywood legend, Paul Newman) who would give the ref. 6239 to Newman as a gift to mark the start of his motor racing career that has ultimately led to the unbelievable present-day success of the watch. Ever since the movie star was pictured wearing his on the cover of an Italian magazine, these ‘Exotic dial’ Daytona watches have been on a course towards becoming the single most desirable form of the Daytona possible.

These days, buying even the least costly version of a Paul Newman Daytona now means parting with sums well into the six-figure territory. That sounds like a lot until you learn that the original watch belonging to Newman himself is currently the most expensive Rolex watch ever sold, fetching $17.8m at an auction in 2017.

Oyster Split

– The Watch: Rolex Daytona ref. 6263/8, ref. 6265/8

– Price Range: $100,000 – $250,000

Another fantastically rare variant of the Rolex Daytona, and another that got its nickname through the placing of text on the dial, ‘Oyster Split’ refers to a small number of yellow gold cased versions of the ref. 6263/8 and ref. 6265/8 (the ‘8’ indicates the precious metal used) that have their dial text divided into two sections. In the early 1970s, Rolex decided to ensure all gold Daytona watches were chronometer rated and started including its own ‘Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified’ (SCOC) script at the 12 o’clock, underneath the same ‘Rolex’ and ‘Oyster’ text found on steel models.

On a handful of black dial examples, those four lines have a noticeable gap between the SCOC designation at the bottom, and the ‘Rolex’ and ‘Oyster’ text at the top. To call these watches scarce is a real understatement. Only around 100 pieces of the ref. 6263/8 and ref. 6265/8 were produced each year, and experts believe the Oyster Split specimens were confined to the MK1 dials that were little more than an experiment by Rolex. To date, only two of the ref. 6263/8 watches have surfaced publicly and while the ref. 6265/8 is believed to be more plentiful, no exact number for either reference is known. Regardless, these are two absolute grails among the vintage collecting community, with prices running as high as $250,000.

John Player Special

– The Watch: Rolex Daytona ref. 6241/8, ref. 6264/8

– Price Range: $300,000 – $1.5m

One of those nicknames that came about because of a color scheme, ‘John Player Special’ is another term associated specifically with certain yellow gold models of the Daytona. Like the Oyster Split, the John Player Special (JPS) was confined to just two different references, the ref. 6241/8 and ref. 6264/8, each with Paul Newman dials.

The yellow gold case and matching gold chronograph registers against the all-black dial and black bezel, is reminiscent of the livery used by the Lotus Formula 1 cars of the 1970s (a team sponsored by Imperial Tobacco that produced the John Player & Sons cigarette label). Due to having a similar color profile and both being from the world of automobile racing, the ‘John Player Special’ nickname simply stuck.

Interestingly, the numerals on the standard seconds chronograph counter are marked 15, 30, 45, 60 on the JPS, rather than 20, 40, 60 as on regular versions. On the basis that only a few hundred gold versions of either reference was made in the first place, and the Exotic dial variants were even scarcer still, it gives you some idea of just how valuable these watches are now. For example, there are thought to be only 400 ref. 6241 Daytona watches left in the wild of any type, with the JPS making up only a tiny fraction of those available. As for the ref. 6264/8, the last time one came up for auction was in 2020, when it sold at Sotheby’s for around $1.5m.

Rolex Daytona Nickname Guide Patrizzi Dial

Patrizzi

– The Watch: Rolex Daytona ref. 16520

– Price Range: $30,000 – $70,000

Patrizzi dial Daytona watches are an especially obscure sect. They are named after Osvaldo Patrizzi, famed Italian collector and founder of auction house Antiquorum, who was the first to notice this particular phenomenon. On some examples of the steel ref. 16520 Zenith Daytonas, the silver rings around the watch’s chronograph registers have started to darken and turn brown.

At the time, Rolex was using an organic varnish called Zapon, and it was only discovered after the fact to have provided insufficient coverage to the dial. After a number of years, the natural shortcomings of the material itself have caused the sub-dials to oxidize after being exposed to sunlight, triggering the color change.

There are two factors that make the Patrizzi dials so desirable. The first is that oxidation only affects certain versions of the ref. 16520 (typically the black Mark IV dials issued between 1994 and 1995), which makes them fairly rare. Secondly, the effect doesn’t stabilize but only increases as time progresses, leaving each example as a unique specimen – and nothing excites a vintage watch fanatic more than a true one-of-a-kind piece. Despite its collectibility, prices for this unusual Rolex Daytona variation are not outrageous and you can pick one up starting at around $30,000.

Rainbow

– The Watch: Rolex Daytona ref. 116598RBOW, ref. 116599RBOW, ref. 116595RBOW

– Price Range: $250,000+

– Worn By: Post Malone, John Mayer, Adam Levine, Kevin Hart, Mark Wahlberg, Miley Cyrus, Patrick Mahomes, Anthony Davis, Antoine Griezmann, Samuel Eto’o

This last Rolex Daytona nickname on our list is more of an officially unofficial nickname, in that Rolex more or less spell the word out in the watch’s reference number. The so-called Rainbow Daytona watches get their name from the stunning arrangement of 36 baguette-cut, color graduated sapphires set into their bezels. Starting with orange at the top, the hues shift through a seamless transition of yellow, green, blue, and violet. In addition to each one being the perfect shade to lead into its neighboring stone, all are absolutely uniform in size, shape, and quality.

No longer in production and never actually part of the brand’s standard catalog, Rolex released three versions of the Rainbow Daytona. The yellow and white gold models arrived first in 2012, while the Everose gold piece came out in 2018. The ref. 116595RBOW Everose edition is somehow even more impressive due to the fact that its hour markers are also sapphires that flawlessly mirror the tint of the adjacent gemstones on the bezel, while the yellow and white gold examples have square-cut diamond indexes.

All of the Rainbow Daytona models had sub-dials finished in what Rolex calls ‘Gold Crystal’ – an alloy of the precious metal that has been crystallized to give it an asymmetric pattern, with each variant having its crystal gold chronograph registers in the same color of gold as the case. Only made in tiny numbers and representing some of the most outlandish examples of any Rolex watch, the Rainbow Daytona is now extremely expensive on the open market, with the point of entry now at more than a quarter of a million dollars.

Rolex Rainbow Daytona Nickname Guide

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