Family Tree: Rolex Pre-Daytona, how an icon is born

Would you ever have thought that the history of the Rolex Pre-Daytona was one of the most curious and fascinating in watchmaking history? Starting by defining the meaning of Pre-Daytona, this expression designates the waterproof chronographs made by Rolex before the advent of the Daytona, i.e. before 1963.

These watches already delineate the stylistic code that Rolex will adopt to create its famous model, which takes up numerous traits of the case, dial and movement. The temporal collocation ranges from 1950 to 1963, a few years in which references that are today considered timeless classics succeeded each other.

The “Super Oyster” crown found on most Rolex pre-Daytona. The Watch Boutique collection.

Rolex 5034

The first model belonging to the Pre-Daytona series is the 5034, which appeared in Rolex catalogs for only one year, in 1949. This reference preserves a very particular fascination, dictated by its rarity and by the style that is configured as a trait d’union between the old and the new production. As far as rarity is concerned, the 5034 is one of the most sought-after chronographs in the world of collectors and, at the same time, almost impossible to find.

Rolex produced only 24 examples, perfectly divided between yellow and pink gold. The 5034 represents the first Rolex chronograph to combine a three-counter chronograph, a feature common to all Pre-Daytona models, with an Oyster case. The few examples that have appeared on the market so far bear a white dial with a grené finish and a double tachymeter and telemetric scale, giving the watch a decidedly sporty and modern feel.

Rolex 5034 in yellow gold
A Rolex 5034 in yellow gold. Credits: OnlyVintage

The caliber of choice is the Valjoux 72, a movement widely used on both Pre-Daytona and Daytona models. Considering the extreme rarity, very few auctions have been held, the last of which dates back to 2020, at the well-known Phillips auction house.

Rolex 6034

With the advent of the new decade, Rolex decided to formalize the stylistic features of the previous reference 5034, introducing a new model produced on a larger scale, the 6034. In fact, this reference also presents a so-called monobloc case, that is, made in two pieces with the bezel attached to the case and screw-down case back.

Produced both in gold and in steel, the reference 6034 shows an incredible variety of dials, especially in terms of colors, scales and indexes. Another contiguity with the reference 5034, can be found in the inscription “anti-magnetic” at 6 o’clock, which emphasizes the properties of the movement, a feature not taken for granted at the time. Although the exact amount of production of the 6034 is not certain, we can say that it is around 3700 pieces.
A certainly large production run, especially for the time, but still derisory compared to today’s numbers.

As for every vintage timepiece, also in this case the quotations can undergo sensational fluctuations, depending on the configuration and conditions of the watch. In recent years, we have witnessed a rise in interest on the part of collectors towards Pre-Daytonas, with particular reference to exceptional examples. Today, the most sought-after configurations are the steel case with black dial and the gold cases. The latter are much rarer than those in steel on which most production has been concentrated and there are only a few dozen units. The caliber adopted is the classic Valjoux 72 modified by Rolex to adapt it to its quality standards.

Over the years, auctions have given us several noteworthy 6034s, the most important of which was sold by Christie’s in 2017 for 552,000 francs, setting a record still unbeaten for the reference. It was a 6034 with a steel case and black dial, which over time has completely turned brown, a feature that is extremely appreciated by collectors. In 2012, Christie’s again offered a 6034 in gold in exceptional condition, which fetched 155,000 francs.

Rolex 6032

The 6032, which also adopts the monobloc case, represents one of the most unusual references ever produced by Rolex. In fact, in addition to the limited production numbers, this reference does not feature the usual Valjoux 72, but a Valjoux 23. This makes it the only Pre-Daytona, along with the later reference 6232, to have a dial with only two chronograph counters. Regarding the unbelievable rarity of this model, we observe how, net of about 13 examples never made, only 4 have appeared on the market over the years.

Rolex 6032 made in 13 examples
Rolex 6032 in pink gold. Credits: Le Monde Edmond.

Rolex 6234

Introduced in 1955, the reference 6234 embodies the modernization of the 6034, of which it retains many stylistic traits with one fundamental difference. As a matter of fact, with the presentation of this model, Rolex abandons the monobloc case to move towards a three-body case with bezel and case separated from each other. Production of the 6234 ended in 1961, with the advent of the Daytona’s closest relative, the reference 6238. Like the 6034, the 6234 was also produced in relatively large numbers and the latter probably represents the most classic and definitive version of the Pre-Daytona.

The metals in which it was declined are steel, yellow gold and rose gold. Once again, there is a clear prevalence of the steel models, with the gold ones radiating a charm and elegance of another era and being extremely desired by collectors. In addition to the gold cases, another particularly popular configuration is the stainless steel case with black dial, which has been very popular in recent years.

The 6234 is equipped with the Valjoux caliber 72, named R72, which is a key part of Rolex’s history. In 2020, Phillips included a gold example in magnificent condition in its catalog that received a standing ovation from the collector world, with a final price of 554,000 francs. The same year, a version with a steel case and black dial was auctioned, which was also well received by the market with a final adjudication of 412,000 francs.

Rolex 6234 black dial
A Rolex 6234 with black dial. Credits: Phillips

Rolex 6232

Together with the aforementioned reference 6032, the 6232 represents an exception in the world of Pre-Daytona. In fact, it is equipped with a Valjoux caliber 23, instead of the classic Valjoux 72 and presents only two chronograph counters on the dial. When describing Pre-Daytona, one might think that the term “rarity” is abused, but in this case we cannot avoid to use it. As for the references 5034 and 6032, also the 6232 is part of those models produced with an almost experimental logic, perhaps to test the market and therefore limited to very few units.

Rolex 6232 pink gold
A Rolex 6232 in pink gold. Credits: Christies

As for the 6232, only two examples are known, both in rose gold, against a total production of about 12 pieces. It is an almost unique object, even if practically identical to its twin 6234, therefore an object for connoisseurs. Such a low circulation, has meant that this reference remained for many years a sort of mirage for most enthusiasts. However, in 2020, Phillips unveiled a perfectly preserved specimen that gave many collectors the opportunity to acquire a virtually extinct timepiece. The final listing of 740,000 francs reflects the incredible inherent rarity of the reference.

Rolex 6238

As mentioned just above, the reference 6238 embodies the closest parent of the Daytona, so much so that for a time they were produced simultaneously. It represents the ultimate evolution of the Pre-Daytona models and formed the basis on which Rolex worked to create a modern and functional chronograph. The 6238 was presented in 1962 and remained in the catalog until 1969 with a total production of about 3,600 units.

The models belonging to the very first production inherited the dials of the previous references, distinguished by multicolored chronograph scales and applied indexes. However, Rolex soon implements a more modern and functional style, through the adoption of a more “sober” silver, grey or black dial. The caliber fitted on the reference 6238 is the Valjoux 72b, which will also equip the first models of the Daytona. It is a basic Valjoux movement, to which Rolex has made some technical and aesthetic modifications, in order to improve its precision and finish.

In spite of the abundant number of copies, there are some particularly rare and sought-after configurations, above all those in gold and those in steel with a black dial. As has often been the case within the Pre-Daytona family, gold remains an infinitely rarer metal than steel, confirming the purely sporty nature of these models. To date, finding an example in perfect condition is no easy task, which becomes nearly impossible when considering the aforementioned configurations. In 2019, Phillips offered a very rare 6238 in steel with black dial, which considering also the exceptional state of preservation reached 250,000 francs.

The birth and evolution of the Pre-Daytona family is part of what is considered the golden age in which Rolex gave birth to masterpieces that today reside in the Olympus of collecting. The study of Pre-Daytona watches, besides gratifying the eyes, allows one to fully understand the history of the Brand and how it came to conceive one of the most iconic timepieces of all time.

Moreover, they allow us to understand the evolution of market needs and the practical requirements of customers, to whom Rolex has always tried to provide the most appropriate object possible.
Like Rolex, we at TheWatchBoutique are always on the lookout for the best pieces for our customers, so don’t hesitate to visit our Rolex Collection or contact us, so that together we can find the perfect timepiece for you.

written by Lorenzo Rabbiosi

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