Dream Daytonas – Then and Now 

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When one of your friends is nice enough to hand over the keys to his new stainless and ceramic Daytona, you jump at the chance to take it out for a test drive. And where does one go with arguably the most enviable Daytona of the moment on his wrist? How about to a friend’s apartment who has a mint condition vintage Daytona parked in his garage.

A few days before this-two man GTG, I thought to myself “I should turn this meetup into a feature on Watch Patina…”

I was excited to photograph these two side by side with my real camera – not just my iPhone. To my knowledge, no photos exist of the ref. 6263 and ref. 116500 next to each other… And as far as what I would write about – I knew I didn’t want to cover the usual fare you read in a watch review: a watch’s measurements, a breakdown of its movement, the state-of-the-art materials it’s made from, its bevy of complications, etc. I wanted to just describe my gut reactions from the sheer joy of wearing and being around them.

Needless to say this was a helluva day for me. And while I don’t own a Daytona yet, the impression these two left on me will hold me over until I do…

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I consider myself a purist when it comes to Rolex, so I didn’t give the talk-of-the-town Daytona much of a chance against its older and wiser relative to win me over. No paparazzi photo of it – or review I read – had made me wanting to get in the line forming around the block.

I ate my words as soon as I put it on… The first thing that got me was the dial. It’s not porcelain, but it’s damn sure rich in color. The white is the brightest shade of white I’ve ever laid eyes on – made even more striking when contrasted against the black outer tracks of the sub dials. Ladies and gentleman, if “panda dial” were added to Webster’s, this dial should be in the running for the definition.

The other feature that drives home the panda dial effect is the black-ish Cerachrom bezel. While I refuse to talk technical about the ingredients or processes used to manufacture it, I will say this: The ceramic bezel, especially this one, is a game changer. In terms of robustness, the ceramic bezel is doing for Rolexes today what the sapphire crystal did for Rolexes back in the ’80s. I didn’t test out whether it’s truly scratch-proof, but considering that its aesthetics reminded me of a polished slab of marble, I’ll take Rolex’s word that it’s pretty tough. And I call the bezel color “black-ish” because it’s somewhat iridescent – the black chameleon-ing to a hazy grey tone depending on the time of day and angle you’re looking at it from.

I was wearing long sleeves the morning I picked up this watch; I immediately wanted to roll them up and stare at my wrist all day…

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And then I tried on the venerable 6263… Right after I firmly pressed the clasp closed and rotated my wrist 180 degrees to take in the “Big Red” “Daytona” logo, it hit me what wearing it felt like: It was like slipping on an old baseball glove. It had that broken-in feel of something well-loved for ages. And not only did it feel old, but it looked old too. But not in the scratched-up with a dilapidated bracelet way – this example is probably one of the best condition 6263s out there. What I mean by “it looked old too” is that the parts it’s composed of, like the bakelite in the bezel, are clearly from an era when watch designers didn’t rely on CAD programs.

Another bygone part adding to the charm of the 6263 is its plastic crystal. Depending on the angle of viewing, the semi-domed acrylic crystal distorts the dial – making the sub dials wavy – like how a fun house mirror morphs a person.

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I can’t remember the last time I walked into an authorized dealer and found a Rolex I’d actually consider buying. The modern Explorers come close, but alas, the Explorer II is too big for my wrist and I’m way too much of a purist to bite on the 39mm Explorer – in my book it’s got to be 36mm. But, my friends, I’m happy to say, with the advent of the new Daytona, there’s finally a modern Rolex I’d buy. Too bad I’ll never see it for sale in a display case…

And speaking of availability, we enthusiasts and collectors have been informed by those in the know that our patience will be tested when it comes to landing the all-new Daytona. Does that mean production will be low? I’m kinda hoping so… This Daytona is special; I don’t wanna see it on everyone’s wrist – like its predecessor the ref. 116520 seems to be.

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In my opinion, it’s hard to find fault with the 6263 – or any manual-wind Daytona for that matter. Besides their timeless design, they have a storied history that captures the hearts and minds of collectors: the race it was named after, the men who wore it, the decades it’s from…

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Before I wrap up, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include remarks from the owners of these Daytonas. When I returned the ceramic Daytona to its rightful owner I had a tear in my eye… As I reluctantly handed it back to him I asked simply “what do you think?” His answer was short, but to me, it spoke volumes. “It’s just so easy,” he told me. I took that to mean compared to wearing vintage, which does require a little more vigilance. And also, it’s a Daytona, so it’s not too difficult to get along with…

After wearing the 116500 for the better part of twelve hours, I came to the conclusion that its look is a tribute to multiple generations of Daytonas. The black bezel is clearly an homage to the bakelite inserts found on 6240s, 6241s, 6264s – and as you see here – 6263s. And the outer tracks of the sub dials are a throwback to the Zenith Daytonas of the late ’80 and ’90s.

I defer my final observation of the 37-years-young Daytona 6263 to its owner who provided a simple answer, but to me, one with deep meaning. “It’s not like I wear it every day, but when I do, I feel extra special about it,” was his summation. We watch junkies are jaded. We sometimes think vintage Rolexes grow on trees because we see them all the time on Instagram and coming up for auction. The fact is, watches like this 6263, especially ones in top-condition like this one, are a privilege to be around, let alone to own.

4 thoughts on “Dream Daytonas – Then and Now 

  1. Great article Nick and couldn’t agree more! Daytonas are a grail of mine ever since I know myself as a person and like watches. These side by side photos are amazing and gives us a great deal of comparison and you can understand why Daytona is what is it today, timeless design, easy of use and read…just an amazing piece that is worth in anyone’s collection…that’s for sure!

    Cheers my friend!
    Pedro (IG: Paguiarneto)

    Like

  2. Nick:

    As usual, you have taken word-smithing to a new level when it comes to horologic discussions!

    These 2 Daytonas really are grail watches for many of us time-keeper minions. I would be honored to own be the care-taker of either one of these…like many, it will take more than my tax refund to make it happen!

    Be safe my friend,

    John B

    Like

    • John — thanks for always reading! Wait until you read next week’s Daytona story; you’re gonna appreciate it for sure. Such a hard decision to make if I could only have one… I’d probably go vintage – mid ’80s. I’m lucky to know some great guys with unreal Daytonas. Come to Chicago and I’ll introduce you to them all!

      Like

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