A brief history of vintage Rolex Chronographs with a focus on the pre-Daytona reference 6234.
Rolex began producing its first wristwatch chronographs in the mid-1930s. The first years of production were a true laboratory of ideas. These first wrist chronographs were produced in a huge variety of versions, differing in the shape of the case, the caliber used, the type of pushers, hands and dials.
Those chronographs were often adapted to the needs of the customer, the market, the place of sale, and even for famous stores all over the world. Some rare specimens bore the name of the authorized Rolex dealer who sold the watch to the final customer, a fact that is absolutely unthinkable today.
The very first references were produced along the stylistic lines of the pocket watch and featured a single-button chronograph, hinged gold cases, porcelain dials, thin Art Deco-style baton hands and onion winding crowns.
The pocket watch heritage was soon abandoned and Rolex began experimenting and adopting new shapes and styles. Cases became more extravagant, the monopusher chronograph system was abandoned, pushers changed shape from olive to square, hinge backs were replaced by snap casebacks, spring lugs were used for the bracelet.
It is the opinion of many enthusiasts that real watchmaking masterpieces were produced in this period. Just think of iconic references and today highly sought after by collectors such as the references 2508, 3330, 3835. If in excellent condition and all correct in their components, those early Rolex chronographs can reach extremely important prices at international auctions.
An important step in the development of Rolex chronographs was the introduction of the Oyster case in the late 1930s. The Oyster case represents a milestone in the history of contemporary watchmaking. Invented by Rolex in 1926, it was the world’s first waterproof case for a wristwatch, thanks to the patented system in which the bezel, caseback and winding crown are screwed onto the case.
There are different references of Rolex’s pre-Daytona chronographs with Oyster cases, each with its unique and unrepeatable characteristics. One of the very first references equipped with an Oyster case is certainly the 3525, named “Barilotto” due to the shape of the monobloc case and produced for about 10 years in different materials and numerous variants.
In chronological order, references 4500, 6034, 6234, 6238 are some of the most known Oyster case chronograph. Reference 4500 was the first in which Rolex adopted the iconic “Tonneau” case shape that characterized all subsequent pre-Daytona references, as well as the Daytona itself. The reference 6034 was instead the first to use a 3-piece case instead of a monobloc case like the previous Oyster-cased chronographs. The 6238 was the last pre-Daytona model produced.
The Rolex Chronograph reference 6234 is undoubtedly one of the most sought-after pre-Daytona models among collectors. It was produced for only about 6 years, from 1956 to 1961, when it was replaced by the reference 6238, the last pre-Daytona model before the introduction of the reference 6239.
The reference 6234 is an exceptionally rare pre-Daytona model, as several Rolex vintage experts agree that the total production is estimated at only 2300 pieces in steel and less than 150 in 14k or 18k yellow gold.
The main features of this rare Rolex chronograph are the 36mm Oyster case with screw-down caseback, the pump pushers and the Valjoux 72 hand-wound movement. Also important is the fact that the tachymeter scale is printed on the dial and not engraved on the bezel, as is the case with all Daytona references from 6239 onwards. The 6234 was produced with a variety of dial types, differing by both final sales market and production year.
Very few examples of reference 6234 were made, and even fewer have survived in exceptional condition to this day. These watches often have poorly polished cases and damaged dials. This is not the case with the present specimen. It is surprisingly very well preserved and in excellent overall condition. The case is most likely unpolished and retains the original factory proportions with strong and sharp lugs.
The dial shows no major signs of aging, the caliber is in perfect condition, and the caseback screws down perfectly.
Note that the main feature of this specimen is the correspondence between the dial with telemetric and tachymetric scales in Miles (typical of pre-Daytonas sold in the United States) and the movement marked ROW. The latter is present in all watches sold in the United States during the production period of this 6234.
All components are correct and original to the production period, including the dial, the Rolex signed Valjoux 72 caliber, and the 6234 signed caseback.
Serial Number 534,XXX, Year 1960.