Today, we honor the Rolex 6238 “Pre-Daytona”, a timepiece of understated elegance that shaped the success of its famous successor, the first Daytona 6239.
Rolex reference 6238 “The Black Gilt Pre-Daytona” with black dial and rare gilt writing, in overall mint condition, 1965.
Born in 1960, reference 6238 reflected the changing design direction towards modernity, a path that Rolex was following since the introduction of reference 6034. This is why there are two distinguishing eras within the production of the 6238 which overall lasted until 1968.
The first era of early examples would carry dagger hands as well as a dial with the “Oyster Chronograph” mention under Rolex and “Anti-magnetic” above the 6 o`clock position- all influences by its predecessor, the reference 6234. The second era, would be found with “Chronograph” only and no mention to “Anti-magnetic”. Most importantly though, these later examples would carry for the first time in Rolex history, the famous baton hands whose clean cut design would transmit the modern essence that Rolex longed for. The baton hands established their success also by appearing on the reference 6239 whose introduction in 1963 suggests a simultaneous inspiration for the two references whose production overlapped.
Lastly, a “-T Swiss T-” right below the 6 o’clock position was the indication that Rolex used Tritium and not Radium for its luminescent parts. In fact, the use of Tritium was in effect in the midst of this reference’s production, between 1963-1964. Therefore, some examples carry a transitional dial, which is found in other important references too, simply mentioning “Swiss” which is also correct for this reference and an underline under the Chronograph.
Extraordinary example of Rolex reference 6238 Underline.
Further analyzing the dial, we find different variations with impact on the rarity of the 6238. The most common, made an appearance on the wrist of George Lazenby, the 1969 James Bond, in the movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, bearing a silver dial. This exact specimen was sold at Christie’s in 2003 for 41,000 USD. Right after in terms of dials’ rarity, we find the grey dial, easily misperceived as the silver but much less common and on the top of this pyramid, we find the black dial with a glossy or more mat finish. Two types of writing exist for this reference, the silver and the sought-after gilt writing. At this point it is important to mention that the reference 6238 was predominately produced in steel with less examples in 18 as well as 14 carats gold.
“The steel Pre-Daytona Blue & Red Scales”, a rare specimen featuring blue tachometer and red telemeter scales and -T Swiss T-.
However, the beauty of the 6238 is not found solely on its dial variations but the dial itself. This reference, like most Rolex chronographs before that, carries a detail that would not be found in its famous successor. The tachymeter scale is found printed on the dial, an enriching detail that enhances the beauty of the watch. The sporty mentality of a Rolex chronograph would be for the last time elegantly embraced by an untouched, sharp, shiny bezel, naked for the eye to admire. From the introduction of the Daytona 6239 and after, the tachymeter scale would be found engraved on the bezel which along with the contrasting subdials mark the most important design choices that Rolex made.
In auction terms, a rare example of the reference 6238 in 14 CT gold with black dial, achieved the impressive result of 317,000 CHF in Geneva, May 2015 held by Phillips.
Rolex reference 6238 in 14k yellow gold with rare black dial, 1968. Sold by Phillips in Geneva, May 2015 for 317,000 CHF (approx. 296,500 euros). Discover more at www.phillips.com
The reference 6238, with its perfect 36mm size, is a reference that deserves a spot in the lineage of Rolex chronographs, outside of the Daytona context. It embodies the modernity of the 60s and reflects an effortless elegance with its smooth bezel and sporty character. Undoubtedly, it is an extraordinary specimen that showcases the constant seek of Rolex for design perfection.
Author: Luca Balella