A few weeks ago, Phillips transformed the ground floor of its London office into an unofficial Rolex museum of sorts. The auction house was showing off the incredible watches that comprise “Rolex Milestones: 38 Legendary Watches That Shaped Rolex History,” a thematic sub-auction taking place as a part of Phillips upcoming Hong Kong sale. The watches were all made between the 1920s and the 1980s and have all contributed in some way to the legend that is replica Rolex. To be clear, there isn’t a single watch in that auction that is not deserving of your attention – the catalog was curated by none other than John Goldberger – but my attention was absorbed by this particular chronograph, a tropical reference 6234 in truly unbelievable condition.
You might wonder why this particular watch, of all the lots on offer, caught my eye. It’s pretty simple, actually. I had walked into the room with Rolex’s latest Daytona on my wrist, and, while there is very little common ground between that watch and this 1950s “pre-Daytona” chronograph, the lineage is clearly there and one still feels a sense of paying respect to one’s elders of sorts. Or at least I did.
In some ways, reference 6234 is to the Daytona what the Porsche 356 is to the 911. Behind its elegant and conservative chassis, it announces the arrival of a sports icon. Quality 6234s are extremely rare and highly sought-after. According to the latest estimates, cheap replica Rolex made approximately 2,000 models during the six-year production span, which was between 1955 and 196. Most of these were in stainless steel Oyster cases, with either silver or black dials.
This particular model – a U.S. market import – was made in 1960, approximately one year before Rolex ceased producing the reference entirely and began making the reference 6238, the Daytona’s immediate predecessor. This makes the 6234 the penultimate “Pre-Daytona,” but in reality it’s actually “pre-everything.”
This reference is the last before the debut of baton hands and faceted hour markers, both present in the ref. 6238 and both absolute pillars of the Daytona’s design. It also comes a few years before screw-down pushers, tachymeter bezels, and other traits commonly associated with early Daytonas. It also comes a full decade before any automatic chronograph caliber and is powered by the manually-wound Valjoux 72A movement.
The hours are marked by short darts and luminous dots, the hands are dagger-shaped, and the dial features two scales, a tachymeter and a telemeter. The watch has all the qualities of a sports watch, including magnetic and water resistance down to 200 meters. And, yet, the smaller case proportions, the polished bezel, and some of the more conservatively-styled components create a real generation gap between it and its descendants . It’s much more classic in its presentation, and a lot more compact than future Rolex chronographs as well, at just 36mm in diameter.
What makes this particular model exceedingly special – other than it being the very watch that appears on page 87 of John Goldberger’s book, 100 Superlative Rolex Watches – is its dial. When it comes to cheap fake Rolex, black dials tend to carry much more value than silver dials, if we look at typical market prices. But a black lacquer gilt dial that has turned dark chocolate? It just doesn’t get better than that. Seriously. Only a handful of tropical dial 6234s have ever surfaced on the secondhand market, and boy, does this one look spectacular. The color is uniform and the lume dots are intact. In other words, it has aged “properly.” And the condition of the case and bracelet is the best I’ve ever seen. Every curve, detail, and finish is as it should be. Make no mistake: This is a very, very special watch.
Interestingly, there’s a seemingly similar watch on offer at Antiquorum, but this watch in fact has a tropical ref. 6234 dial presented in a ref. 6238 case. So, obviously, on second glance these watches are almost impossible to compare at all.
Phillips will hold its themed auction, “Rolex Milestones: 38 Legendary Watches That Shaped Rolex History,” on November 28 as part of its larger Hong Kong sale.