The Rolex Daytona is easily one of the most sought-after chronographs. I freely admit that I dreamed of owning this watch as a kid, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Once I could finally afford it, it took me a while to get my hands on one. While buying one was complicated in the past, it can seem nearly impossible today.
Over the years, Rolex has made various versions of the beloved Daytona. While they all look rather similar, small changes make each edition particularly interesting to collectors. Most of these models had limited production runs, making them especially exclusive today. In a world of mass production, it can be difficult to find something truly unique. As they say, the journey is the reward, and searching for that one special timepiece is an important part of being a watch lover. In the case of the Daytona, it’s about finding the right dial. So, what versions are out there and where do their nicknames come from?
The 4 or 5 Liner: Between 1988 and 1993, the Daytona ref. 16520 featured 4 lines of text on its dial. In 1993, Rolex added a fifth line reading “Officially Certified.” As a result, these timepieces are identified by the number of lines of text on their dials.
Big Red: Two Daytona models with some of the longest production runs are the ref. 6263 and ref. 6265. These models are nearly identical except for their bezels: One has an acrylic inlay, while the other is solid steel. However, what makes later models of both references stand out is the large red “Daytona” inscription above the subdial at 6 o’clock.
Double Swiss: This dial is unique to the vintage 9239/6238 Mark I Daytona. These watches have the word “Swiss” twice on their dials: Once above the minute track at 6 o’clock and another smaller inscription just below it. Timepieces with this dial are extremely rare and high on many collectors’ wish lists.
Floating Cosmograph: This design is yet another example of how small changes in text or layout can result in higher demand for a particular model. While modern Rolex Daytonas come with 5 lines of text, certain ref. 16520 pieces have the “Cosmograph” line slightly lower on their dials, hence the name floating cosmograph.
Inverted 6: This is yet another ref. 16520, a.k.a. the Zenith Daytona. As the name implies, these models feature an inverted 6 on their dials, specifically within the subdial at 6 o’clock. That small detail makes this Daytona truly one of a kind.
John Player Special: Back when smoking was fashionable, Rolex produced around 300 copies of the Daytona ref. 6241 with a black and gold dial. John Player Special was a British tobacco and cigarette company whose signature colors were also black and gold. Rolex fans were quick to make the connection between the watch and brand, giving this dial its nickname.
Oyster Sotto: The Oyster Sotto ref. 6263 is among the rarest Daytona models. The Italian word sottotranslates to “under” and refers to the fact that the word “Oyster” comes beneath the “Cosmograph” inscription on the dial. It’s estimated that only 20 copies of this timepiece exist today.
Patrizzi: We mentioned that flaws can sometimes lead to increased prices. The Rolex Daytona Patrizzi is one such timepiece. Some Daytona ref. 16520 models with a black dial had subdials coated with an organic varnish that turned dark brown over time. Despite this “imperfection,” Mr. Partizzi (who discovered the flaw) was able to auction his timepiece off for double its original price.
Porcelain Dial: The porcelain dial is only found on the earliest Rolex Daytonas with the reference number 16520. These dials were made with lacquer and are extremely rare today.
Underline: Sometimes the only way to tell certain models apart is the presence of a thin line. This feature appears on several Rolex models, including a few vintage Daytonas. The Daytona Underline was only made in the early 1960s and has a thin line below the word “Cosmograph.”