The Rolex “Big Red” Daytona is a legend—plain and simple—and the Rolex 6265 “Big Red” Daytona is an especially sought-after reference in this highly collectible category. Today, we’re going to explore the history, the mechanical ins and outs, and other key details of this coveted Daytona variant.
The ref. 6265 Daytona is a hand-wound chronograph with metal bezel, coming in at just under 38 mm in diameter. In keeping with the “Oyster” insignia on the dial, it features screw-down pushers for water resistance, and a large screw-down crown. The nickname “Big Red,” as you might have guessed from looking at the pictures, comes from the oversized “DAYTONA” label inscribed above the 6 o’clock subdial. It’s not just that the word is printed in red, though; it’s that the font is larger on these vintage models compared with later dials. While other old school Daytona references also boast “Big Red” status, the Ref. 6265 deserves a closer look.
The Rolex Cosmograph—the watch most of us refer to by the Daytona nickname—debuted in 1963 with ref. 6239. While the brand had been producing chronographs since the 1930s, this was the world’s first look at the iconic Cosmograph line. These early examples don’t feature the word “Daytona” anywhere on the dial. In fact, in the very beginning, the brand referred to the watch as “Le Mans,” as a nod to the famous French auto race. It wasn’t until 1964 that “Daytona” was added, just under the words “Rolex Cosmograph.” This was a result of Rolex’s partnership with Florida’s Daytona International Speedway, which had just opened in 1959. Rolex’s sponsorship of the 24 hour race at Daytona was an important push deeper into the American market and further identified the brand with extreme sports.
The 6239 featured pump pushers to operate the chronograph and came in either stainless steel or yellow gold. The engraved tachymeter scale on the metal bezel allows the user to measure racetrack performance. Another important innovation of the 6239 Cosmograph was the use of inverse colors for the subdials—until then, Rolex’s chronograph dials were monochromatic. Not just an elegant design feature, this makes the subdials far more legible—a crucial factor in high speed sports.
Alongside the standard models, Rolex also introduced “exotic dials” (although we know them better today as “Paul Newman” dials) which included a stepped minute track in a contrasting color, stylized subdial indices, and a more precise running seconds counter. Rolex also produced a ref. 6241 version of the Cosmograph that featured a black bezel. The mid-‘60s brought us the ref. 6240 which used screw down chronograph pushers, thereby earning the “Oyster” label signifying water resistance.
Refs. 6262 and 6264, which debuted in the late ‘60s, featured metal and black plexiglass bezels, respectively. The frequency rate of the handwound Valjoux movement inside was upped from 18,000 bph to 21,600 bph. The early 1970s bring us the last of the standard production manual Daytonas—Refs. 6263 (black bezel) and 6265 (metal bezel).
Produced from 1971 to 1988, Ref. 6265 included a slew of performance upgrades that really drove home the idea of this being a sport watch. As mentioned, the screw-down pushers help keep the case water-tight (in the late ‘60s Rolex had gone back to pump pushers, so the return of the screw down pushers is notable). An Oyster Twinlock 700 screw-down winding crown is found on early examples of the watch while later editions feature a larger Triplock 700 crown for improved seal.
Ref. 6265 was produced with a metal bezel—either steel or gold—engraved to 200 units/hour. Numerous dial options were available for the 6265 including several with the very-popular “Red Daytona” label above the six o’clock subdial. It’s worth noting here that there are both “big” and “small” red Daytonas—again, it’s the oversized red font that earns the Big Red its name. Both panda dial and black dial versions of the Big Red are especially beautiful takes on the design.
Inside the case is a handwound Valjoux 727 movement. This caliber was used in Daytona Chronographs between 1969 until around 1987. The more-precise 21,600 vibrations per hour made it even better tool as a watch and chronograph on the racetrack. This improvement was achieved by replacing 15 components, screws, and relating clamps from the preceding caliber 722-1. The spring protecting the hairspring, found on calibers 72 B or 722 and 722-1, was also removed. This change was so helpful that the spring would often be removed from those preceding movements during repair work to improve their precision.
Refs. 6263 and 6265 were the last to feature manual wind movements. You can learn more about the race to develop an automatic chronograph movement in our article “New & Old: The Zenith A386 El Primero Revival, and Its OG Sibling,” right here on The Collective.
For anyone who loves vintage Rolex watches, and especially Daytonas, it’s hard to beat the Big Red Ref. 6265. The look and feel embodies what most of us look for in a decades-old sportwatch. With its big winding crown and bold “Daytona” labeling, there is something hulking and utilitarian about it that blends nicely with the Rolex’s otherwise refined design elements and 37mm case. These beauties are only getting harder to find though, so if you’ve got the means, now might be the time.