Rolex Daytona Vintage: how to invest wisely before 2023

The collector's watch market has been chaotic in recent months, with a strong upward trend, admittedly concentrated on few brands and models. We have seen some strong disruptions, i.e., inconsistent price differences within the same brands or models, or even within different generations...

This article has been co-written by Fabrice Gueroux (see his bio), watch & counterfeit expert, and Cyril Derveloy (@cyrilderveloy_41w), co-founder of 41Watch.

Reference 6234 - Reference 6238 - Reference 6239 - Reference 6263 - Reference 6265 - Reference 16520

The market's current behavior is due to both external factors (an influx of liquidity into the market, a move towards tangible assets) and internal factors (the scarcity of new watches during the health crisis, brand strategies, the Royal Oak's anniversary, etc.). The current market can also be explained by the emergence of a new breed of collectors (investors) who have focused on "signature" models, and so by definition, to the detriment of more "specialized" models that require more in-depth knowledge of the market.

Collectors can legitimately raise questions about the strategy to take on in the next coming months in order to combine their passion with a well founded concern to preserve and even valorize their assets.

Investing wisely ?

The right principle when investing in the collector's market (whatever the underlying asset, this principle does not only apply to watches!) is not to give in to any speculative temptations (we cannot repeat it enough), and to concentrate on quality pieces with a real intrinsic value, with a long-term market vision. And of course, don't forget to enjoy yourself!

What is a watch's intrinsic value? It is undeniably the rare and high-quality character of a watch that will differentiate one timepiece from another.

As a rule, a model that has been produced for many years (i.e. in large series) will have less intrinsic value than a model with a more limited production run. You should, be able to distinguish the rarest "sub-series" within the same series. For example, the Rolex Submariner 5513 and 1680 will have been produced over a long stretch of time, but their first years of production (meters first or Submariner Red) are much rarer and hold a higher intrinsic value. Specific years, like transition years, also have a real intrinsic value that will stand out in the long term. For the most recent watches, it will also be important to distinguish whether the watch is still in production, what its approximate production is per year, and when the watch will be pulled out of production ( there has been a lot of speculation about models that are rumored to be pulled out of production).

Image of a Submariner 1680RED dial

Within intrinsic value, there is also a much less tangible and more perceived factor: a product's desirability... This can turn into a long topic, so let's not dwell on it too long, but we can agree that collector's market follows trends that can be either long-lasting or short-lived. The Nautilus (Patek Philippe), Royal Oak (Audemars Piguet) or Daytona (Rolex) families are models that have a strong long-standing appeal (and are likely to stay that way over time).

Image of a Submariner 5513 "Meters First"

Not all models in the categories mentioned above have the same appeal, and a careful analysis is needed to select one model over another.

Why we chose Daytona Chronographs produced before 2000

In today's current market, to develop a coherent collector's (investment) strategy, we have chosen to highlight different Rolex models and the pre-2000 Daytona range that are worth collecting.

What is the logic behind it? The Daytona series has created the market of collector's watch at the end of the eighties.

Image of Antiquorum Catalogue "The Art of Rolex" - January 1992

It is still in production and has a tremendous reputation. The most expensive watch ever sold was a Rolex Daytona that belonged to Paul Newman, for the modest sum of 17 million USD. A third and very relevant point is the fact that Daytonas will be celebrating their 60th anniversary next year (in fact, assuming that the first Daytona is the 6239 model produced from 1963 to 1969). It is likely that both the brand, and the collector's market (auction houses) will try and capitalize on this occasion, which will cause its price to fluctuate.

Lastly, we feel that vintage Rolexes in general and vintage Daytona Rolexes even more so are undeniably underpriced as opposed to modern-day watches and modern Daytona watches.

One explanation is that a new class of investors focused on modern watches has flooded the market, which may (should) eventually stabilize... Let's dare to argue that, in theory, a model such as the all-gold Daytona "Zenith" chronograph (reference 16528) should be worth at least as much as a modern Daytona in the same alloy (reference 116508 or 116505). This is not always the case, even though modern Daytona productions are far superior to vintage Daytonas (even considering green dials or meteorite dials).

Image of a Rolex Daytona "Zenith" 16528 - a reference still undervalued

Rolex is very talented at maintaining the notion of rarity, which may explain, alongside constant demand, the boom in modern watch prices. Let's bet that the market will end up stabilizing itself and catch up with vintage watch prices... at least that's our assumption.

For the sake of example, and to avoid spreading ourselves too thin, let's take five iconic types of models that have proven themselves in the collector's market in the past, with limited production, and significant potentiel to appreciate (for the right specimen):

- Pre-Daytona 6234 & 6238 : (the first of the "4-digit" models that did not have the "Daytona" inscription on their dial). These models are still largely under-priced and not as prominent on the collector's market, and it is important to collect them in good condition.
- Daytona 6239 : the first Daytona, the first "Paul Newman", a collector's item that has proven its worth over the past thirty years.
- Daytona 6263 & 6265 : (the last of the "4 digits"). Successful models in the world of watch collecting that still have great potential.
- Daytona Cosmograph 16520 : Models halfway between vintage and modern with a strong appeal and some very interesting series. A great success in the world of vintage these past 12 months!

In the following paragraphs, we will describe these models, show you how their prices have changed over the past 15 years and explain our vision of the market (medium / long term).

Pre-Daytona Rolex Chronographs (Model references 6234 and 6238)

Rolex chronographs were manufactured before the company decided to call its chronographs "Daytona", including the model references 6234 and 6238, commonly known as "Pre-Daytona".

Reference 6234 was produced over a 6-year period from 1955 to 1961. Taking into account an average production of about 500 references per year (total average of 2300 steel models for 150 models in 14k and 18k gold), we can say that this watch is a rare and highly prized piece by collectors today. It was produced in both a white and black dial version, the black one being the rarest as it accounts for about 10% of production. This model still has radium luminophores and it is very difficult to find this chronograph with all its radium indexes in perfect condition.

Model 6238 was produced between 1962 and 1967. This reference is also considered rare, with approximately 2,500 pieces produced within six years and again a significant difference between the white vs. black dial production as well as the steel, 14k gold, and 18k gold versions.

The purpose of this chart is to illustrate how the watch's value has trended over time. It is an average estimated on a standard model and does not take into account factors that could substantially increase its value (rare dials, gold version...).

Our investing thesis: A chronograph that has been a bit ignored for years, but which has all the makings of a Daytona design, meaning it has great historical significance. We are convinced that this model, in addition to its charm, has a real potential. Provided that the model on which we set our heart remains intact, which remains a challenge.

Our investing thesis: This model is perhaps more popular than its predecessor because of its slightly more modern design. It is a (very) rare piece, especially with a black dial, which we find to be very underpriced. Again, make sure you examine the watch’s integrity. For a 60 year old watch, it's not impossible for the luminescent studs to have been altered or that the bracelet is loose. You should instead pay attention its overall condition before taking the plunge. Considering that this model is now significantly cheaper than other 4-digit Daytonas (while undeniably rarer), the theory would be that there it will catch-up at some point. In any case, the 6238 remains a very nice model with plenty of history…

Image of ref. 6234
Image of ref. 6238 with a white dial

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona chronographs

Reference model 6239, the first Cosmograph

In 1962, Rolex became the first official timekeeper of the Daytona racetrack (Florida, USA), one year before launching the Cosmograph Reference 6239. That same year, Rolex named it the "Daytona" to be associated with the prestigious racetrack. This timepiece was specifically designed for race car drivers, which explains why the tachymeter scale on the bezel is larger than the majority of competing chronographs.

Actor Paul Newman, who was also a famous race car driver, never left his 6239 when he was racing (as the legend has it). It was in the early 1980s that collectors gave this watch, equipped with the famous "exotic" dial, the nickname "The Paul Newman Rolex". Such an association gave this model a huge rise in value, with some auction catalogs in the 80s listing amounts between 3,000 and 4,000 dollars, when a more conventional version was traded 500$ less.

In this article, we'll only focus on the steel version with a non-exotic dial. A more complete article on the "Paul Newman" was written by us and is available here below...

Review of Daytona 6239 "PN"

Our investing thesis: A historic chronograph that has always retained its status as a safe bet. This reference is definitely one of those watches that has survived the watch market's ups and downs on a steady basis and continues to be, an obvious investment in our opinion. Like many of the brand's chronographs, some dials are rarer than others and as a result, require a certain amount of expertise to secure a substantial investment.

Image of ref. 6239

Reference 6263, with bakelite bezel

Produced from 1971 to 1987, it is one of the most sought-after models but also one of the most produced along with the 16520. This reference comes with screwed pushers ( for which there are 3 versions), and it is powered by the caliber 727.

The model is equipped with a bakelite graduated bezel 50-200 units per hour. The first series was made with a folding bracelet 7835. From 1977 Rolex marketed a new reinforced bracelet under reference 78350. The 14K gold model also was available with a jubilee bracelet.

The 6263 is available in steel, 18K gold and 14K gold. The 14K gold is much more resistant than the 18K gold, especially when it comes to scratches.

Complete review of ref. 6263

Our investing thesis : The Daytona 6263, especially the Big Red version, is a reliable timepiece that withstands market fluctuations. While it is still possible to find them in nice condition, we strongly advise you to focus on the best quality, a strategy that will pay off in the long run.

Image of ref. 6263

Reference 6265, with steel bezel

Reference 6265 was produced from 1971 to 1987 with the three different screwed pushers, and is powered by the caliber 727.

The design is equipped with a steel bezel (unlike the 6263 bakelite bezel) graduated from 50 to 200 units per hour.

Like reference 6263, reference 6265 is available in steel, 18K gold and 14K gold. The 14K gold version being the rarest. The first series were made with a folded link bracelet 7835. Around 1977, Rolex marketed a new armored bracelet under reference 78350. Note: the steel version called "Paul Newman" only existed with a white dial on this reference.

Complete review of ref. 6265

Our investing thesis : The change in the Daytona 6265's prices has always been strongly correlated to the Daytona 6263, for a very simple reason: the two models are almost identical except for their bezel, bakelite for the 6263, and steel for the 6265. In "booming" markets, there is a greater difference between the 6263 and 6265 than in tighter markets. Our advice would be to lean more towards the 6265 where the price gap is the largest (of course, one in good quality).

Image of ref. 6265
Image of the first watches that attracted collectors ref. 6263 & 6265

Reference 16520 with Zenith caliber

Introduced in 1988 with a going price at €2,451, this generation of watches will be inlcuded in the catalog for 12 years until the year 2000 with a last registered price of €4,629. The model was completely redesigned with an automatic winding caliber and a sapphire crystal that guarantees water resistance up to 100 meters. These are the first "modern" Daytona chronographs and the last ones without a caliber entirely manufactured by Rolex.

The tachymeter bezel is now only found in steel or precious metal. It went through several changes which came to be named type 1, type 2 and type 3 in terms of graduation.

Image of full gold versions "Daytona Zenith" sold during the Antiqurum 1992

The evolutions of ref. 16520

Prices vary depending on the " 6 inversed ", " Patrizzi ", " 4 lines ", and " Floating Dial " versions..., so we'll be refering to an average price that doesn't have any particularity of having a "collector's special exception".

Our investing thesis: The Daytona Zenith dials are of special importance to collectors. They can significantly determine the model's worth, depending on their rarity. For us, Zeniths have been under-priced for a very long time, and even if their come back in the last 12 months has been considerable, there is still room for improvement. Our advice to you is that you shouldn't compromise on quality in any way, as there are some very nice pieces out there today (some New Old Stock even), and to concentrate on the rarest series possible.

Image of ref. 16520

We hope that these few lines have been a source of inspiration in guiding you towards your next investment choice in the world of watch collecting, We also hope our suggestion to go for vintage Daytona models pays off. We remain at your disposal to exchange ideas and advise you at any time.

Discover our Rolex Daytona vintage catalogue

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