To truly understand vintage Rolex watches, one has to understand the importance of details. And I don’t just mean a general, sweeping understanding; we are talking about the minutiae of every last speck of paint on the dial and knurl on the pushers. But it’s the pursuit of discovery of these elements that make collecting and researching vintage Rolex so addictive and enthralling. Like a magician who has to focus down into the depths of each move and element of his trick, so the vintage Rolex world requires a devotion to detail.

I’m Only Newman After All

The ‘Paul Newman’ nickname refers to the exotic dials fitted to some Rolex Daytona chronograph watches in the 1960s. The manual wind Daytonas weren’t very well received by the public and so sold slowly and in small numbers. The exotic dialed watches sold even slower! It’s not a very rare watch, but it’s a watch that has gained mythical status over the years. Originally sold in earlier non-waterproof watches with pump pusher chronograph buttons, Rolex eventually released the watch with new waterproof screw down chronograph pushers. Screw pusher ‘Paul Newmans’ are seriously hot at the minute with prices rising at an almost alarming rate. Following the incredible result last for the actual ‘Paul Newman’ watch that was owned by Paul Newman, interest in these exotic dialed vintage Daytonas has spread outside of the esoteric world of vintage watches and into the mainstream investment market.

Paul Newman (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Paul Newman sighting at the Riverside Raceway during the LA Times/Toyota Grand Prix - April 26, 1981 (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona ref. 6239
Paul Newman's "Paul Newman"

The Mark 1 (MK1) always ends up being the best. Admittedly, the first iteration isn’t always the best as improvements are often made through the MKs. Collectors, however, more often than not want the first version as it was usually made in smaller numbers and represents the inception of a line. In vintage Rolex terms, the MK1 is usually king. The MK1 Maxi dial 5513 Submariner has always commanded a premium over later Maxi dials. The first iteration of the Perpetual Daytona reference 16520 with so-called ‘floating’ dial is the one to have and the MK1 ‘Long E’ GMT Master 1675 pips the others. Never is this truer than with the Oyster Newman chronographs.

Push It Real Good

The first waterproof Daytona was the reference 6240. Launched in 1965, Rolex was finally able to put the word Oyster on the dial thanks to the development of chronograph pushers that had a screw mechanism to keep the case hermetically sealed. Rolex had created the Oyster case thanks to their screw-down caseback, the screw-down crown and now the screw-down pushers were part of the waterproof system. The 6240 was a transitional model that transitioned into the references 6263 and 6265, which were released in 1969 and enjoyed a 20-year run.

The Ref. 6240 of 1965 was the first Daytona to get a waterproof Oyster case with screw down pushers. It was replaced by the ref. 6263 in 1969 (Image © Antiquorum)
The Ref. 6240 of 1965 was the first Daytona to get a waterproof Oyster case with screw down pushers. It was replaced by the ref. 6263 in 1969 (Image © Antiquorum)

The Devil Wears Panda

The devil is in the details and there are lots of details to consider with the first Oyster Newman dials. With the introduction of the 6263/5, Singer produced a two-colour panda dial with exotic features that first appeared in watches at around serial 2.08 million. The text on the dial is across three lines and reads ROLEX OYSTER COSMOGRAPH, which sit below an applied Rolex coronet. Scholars and collectors have identified a chronology of three slightly different versions of the text which have been identified as MK1, MK1.5 and MK2. The differences are very subtle and at a passing glance, the casual observer would assume them to all be the same and that’s what makes all this so much fun! Pictures speak a thousand words and Philipp Stahl’s illustrated breakdown highlights the differences very clearly.

Rolex Oyster Cosmograph

The rarer and more desirable MK1 has a much thinner font without the serifs (the small lines/flourishes on the ends of the fonts) on the words OYSTER and COSMOGRAPH. The MK1.5 is also sans serif while the Mk2 had quite obvious serifs. The MKs also saw the introduction of a new typography for the ROLEX font, with the more flared and pronounced front leg of the ‘R’ and heavy serifs on the ‘L’. Small, tiny observations but details that can make the difference of tens of thousands of dollars! And the subtleties don’t stop with the letters, the numbers on the dial have their own code of secrecy. The ’30’ on the minute totalizer has its own unique shape; the asymmetrical 3 with an elongated bottom half’s long sweep almost like a jutting jaw with heavy and unique serifs. And check out the running seconds subdial: the ‘5’s in ‘45’ and ‘15’ – can you see the difference? Look harder. The former looks like it’s had a brick dropped on it!

Newman League

The dial also has hidden and important depths… literally. The black outer seconds track is actually stepped down from the white of the body. And the three sub registers are sunk into the dial. This detail gives the watch a truly three-dimensional quality that can only really be appreciated when holding the watch in your hand. Like a magician’s sleight of hand, with the turn of the wrist in the right light, this dial is like no other. And there’s no illusion, just pure quality vintage goodness. And what better way to frame this monochrome dial? A black plastic bezel. I have always preferred the black bezel of the 6263 over the steel 6265. I know it’s only personal opinion but to me the overall look is more complete and balanced. And the cherry on top of the cake – pale custard-colored lume plots, most of which are perfect on this dial!

Rolex "Paul Newman" Daytona Ref. 6263 (Image © Revolution)
(Image © Revolution)
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