6265, ‘Big Red’ Cosmograph Daytona, Steel
A ref. 6265 ‘Big Red’ Cosmograph Daytona, the last of the manually wound Daytonas. Here with early production ‘floating’ Daytona text, this is arguably the most photogenic non-Paul Newman Daytona dial configuration. A 5.6m case serial dates this example to 1978. A completely original example with beautiful cream tritium, all dial pips intact, Valjoux 727, mark 2 pushers, on a matching 78350/571 bracelet.
As the last of the manually wound Daytonas, the ref. 6265 represents something of a culmination for vintage Rolex collectors. This was where Rolex had perfected the recipe, the reference that saw the Daytona script first find its way wrapped around the lower subdial in red. It's genesis for modern Daytona design DNA. For that and its many historic ties to the golden era of motorsport, it is one of the most highly collected Rolex chronographs. But this isn’t any 6265, it’s a Big Red.
The name Daytona first appeared in the ref. 6239 and up under the Cosmograph line, in order to market the Cosmograph as a racing tool after a failed attempt at calling it the ‘Le Mans’ in Europe. In 1964 Rolex officially sponsored Daytona International Speedway and the 24 Hours of Daytona (later the 24 Hours of Le Mans as well, coming full circle). It was a means of entering the US market with bravado and it worked. What followed was an evolution on success, as Rolex introduced Oyster cases to their chronographs with screw down pushers. Not satisfied, Rolex upgraded the Valjoux 722 to a 727, where the balance was changed, giving a beat rate of 21000 vph instead of 18000 vph which made it meaningfully more precise. Though it was tied inextricably to racing, the Daytona was never a strong seller in period. In fact, it wasn’t until the automatic Zenith calibre took over that collectors took notice. All of this is to say that manual Daytonas aren’t actually as mass produced as one might think, relative to other professional models. It’s a familiar story to watch enthusiasts, but in-period unpopularity breeds rarity and collectability further down the road.
Those early years all led to this apogee, undoubtedly the most photogenic dial of this generation, the Big Red. So named for its beloved Daytona text, which extends past the 11 and 1 marks on either side of the 6 o’clock hour totalizer, this is easily the most recognizable non-Paul Newman reference. Moreover, if you look closely at this dial, you’ll note that the Daytona script is what collectors call floating. Early production Big Red dials had their red Daytona script placed slightly higher above the 6 o’clock hour totalizer, as this example from 1978 does.
It’s impossible to mention the Daytona and not briefly mention Paul Newman. The sale of his Daytona, then the most expensive wristwatch sale result ever, carried up the entire market. But interestingly, and it’s not often discussed, Paul Newman actually wore a non-Paul Newman Big Red also. In fact, he wore one for longer than the dial which bears his name. That watch was auctioned by Phillips in 2020 at 5.5M USD. Without the exotic dial frills, it’s just that bit more discreet, particularly in black. As watch god John Mayer once famously said of the black 6263 (bakelite bezel, otherwise same watch), ‘It’s the only vintage Daytona you’ll ever need, if you wore this out, people would go yeah, that guy knows what he’s doing.’
The 6265 represents many different things to many different collectors. To some, it is a crowning jewel after decades of collecting, the ultimate non-Paul Newman manual Daytona. To others, it’s a watch that was won over grueling endurance racing events, synonymous with grit and determination. To others still, it is simply one of the most recognizable objects of luxury, garish though that description is. To us, the 6265 is the Daytona that set a foundation for all that was to come. It is integral to Rolex history, has much associated with it through its many accomplishments, and is today in the twilight of one of the most dramatic narrative arcs a single reference could ever enjoy. It’s not a manual Rolex chronograph, it’s the manual Rolex chronograph.
This example presents in excellent overall condition. The dial is unrestored with no visible damage. All printed text is very clear. There are light signs of ageing in the whites of the registers. All tritium pips are still present, with an even cream tone that is matched in the handset. The dial is correctly signed 'T SWISS T'. The floating red 'DAYTONA' script is perfect. Its case presents light and even surface wear commensurate with age. It bears full lugs, though the case has seen a very light polish. Reference and case serial engravings are deep. The steel bezel has a few light touches but no significant bashes, same of its acrylic crystal. Pushers are the correct mark 2 variant. It comes on a matching 11-link 78350 bracelet with 571 endlinks. The Valjoux 727 was serviced in late 2022.