Rolex Watches Discontinued in the 1960s
The 1950s had seen Rolex in an absolute frenzy of invention, giving us, in short succession, the Submariner, the GMT-Master, the Milgauss, the Explorer and the Day-Date. With a litany of iconic masterpieces like that, nobody would have blamed them for taking their foot off the gas for a while in order to catch their breath.
As the calendar ticked over into the 1960s, a period which also saw a couple of other enduring legends emerge from Geneva, it was more a case of nailing down the final designs of the pieces already in the stable.
Several models had had a fairly turbulent time of it in their early years as Rolex worked on perfecting their features—the Sub especially, which was into its ninth reference by the end of its first decade.
It was a time of clearing the decks of the old to make way for more modern styling, and to address the one glaring omission in the lineup; a chronograph that would dominate the market to the same extent the brand’s diving and dual time zone watches did.
To that end, a number of references were retired in the 1960s and replaced by others that will look much more familiar in the contemporary lineup.
Read on below to see which models didn’t make it to the end of the swinging 60s.
The Rolex Chronograph ref. 6234
Contrary to what some believe, the Daytona was not the first chronograph Rolex ever made. In fact, they had been trying to build a viable example for some time with little success before hitting on what would eventually become the most famous mechanical stopwatch of them all.
The forerunners were simply labeled ‘Rolex Chronograph’ and identified by their reference numbers, and today they are collectively referred to as the ‘Pre-Daytonas’.
Among them, the ref. 6034 was discontinued in 1955, but another, the ref. 6238 was actually still being produced right up to the end of the 60s and ran concurrently with the first of the actual Daytona models.
In between, we have the ref. 6234.
Taking over where the ref. 6034 left off, the 6234 started life in the mid-fifties and had run its race by 1961. Rolex built only around 500 pieces per year during that time, mainly in stainless steel with the odd smattering of 14k and 18k gold examples thrown in. And, in a pattern that would haunt the brand’s chronograph models until 1988, no one was buying.
The reputation Rolex had forged for themselves by then was as the manufacturer of tough but simple tool watches; models that were built to withstand hard knocks, either accompanying expeditions of some sort or else helping wearers as they went about their work. If you wanted something to time laps in the glamorous world of motorsport, you shopped elsewhere—usually at Breitling or Heuer.
As such, the 6234 went pretty much unnoticed throughout its short run, not helped by that biggest of drawbacks, its manually-winding caliber. Driven by the Valjoux 72 (the same engine which condemned the first generation of Daytonas to a quarter century of wretched sales) it seemed a significant step back technology-wise, especially for a watchmaker made famous by their development of the Perpetual movement.
Today, as literally no one will be shocked to hear, the ref. 6234 is in huge demand on the vintage market, with prices to reflect both its scarcity and its importance to the Rolex story as a whole.
There are a number of differences between it and the model it would evolve in to; the most immediately obvious being the location of the tachymeter. Where the Daytona utilized the bezel, engraving the scale around its edge, on the 6234 it is printed on the dial. In fact, there are two rings; the inner one a telemeter for measuring distance.
In addition, its trio of sub dials are significantly smaller and the hands and indexes are dagger-shaped rather than the current straight batons.
Those disparities aside, the ref. 6234 is a stunning watch, most certainly styled for its era and all the more handsome for it. It even came with a choice of dial color, either silver or the far less common black, and wrapped everything up in a 36mm case.
If you were interested in securing one for yourself, expect somewhere around $25,000 as the absolute bottom end price, rising to well into six figures for a unicorn-like gold piece.
With its Pre-Daytona siblings, the ref. 6234 is the grandfather of probably the most important sports watch of all time, an early testing ground for an undeniable legend.
The Rolex Submariner ref. 5508
The ref. 5508 Submariner released in 1958, the eighth reference of the world’s favorite dive watch in just five years, marks the point where Rolex started to introduce a bit of regularity to the proceedings, following the commotion of its early life.
Previous iterations had been issued with various styles of hour markers; either the mix of dots and sticks we know today or the 3/6/9 indexes from the Explorer. The ref. 5508 cemented the former on the dial, making it the only option and bringing a bit of standardization.
There had also been both big and small crown Submariners up until that point, with the ref. 6538, otherwise known as the ‘Bond Sub’, the most famous and valuable of the larger versions. Again, the ref. 5508 stuck with the smaller 6mm winding crown, the more modern-looking type.
But it was also the final reference to include a number of features we now think of as belonging to vintage Subs.
It was the last to be issued without crown guards, with the next in the series, the legendary ref. 5512, introducing the protective shoulders and giving the watch its distinctive silhouette. And it was, as well, the last Submariner with a mere 100m depth rating; all subsequent models graduated first to 200m and, from 1983 onwards, 300m.
The ref. 5508 then is an intriguing crossroads between the old and new, a bit of an inbetweener produced for just four years and, while certainly not cheap as a preowned buy, not as ruinously expensive as some either.
Inside, the Cal. 1530 replaced the Cal. 1030 of earlier Subs, both 18,000vph movements built entirely in-house, but the later mechanism a significant upgrade in terms of accuracy and reliability. Very few of the 1530s were sent off for COSC testing, so you won’t find a ref. 5508 with the ‘Superlative Chronometer Officially certified’ text on the dial.
In fact, the dial as a whole looks particularly stark, especially as these are from the days before Rolex introduced the date function to the range. Compared to the modern-day Sub, with its six lines of writing and Cyclops lens, there is just acres of space, making the whole thing beautifully legible. Incidentally, as we’re talking about dials, the extremely rare ‘Exclamation Point’ versions of the 5508 are perhaps the most valuable, named for the tiny dot of lume underneath the baton marker at six o’clock which makes it look like, that’s right, an exclamation point!
As for prices, you can actually find examples of this classic for far less than $20,000 without too much difficulty, topping out at around twice that for the earliest versions. In the world of vintage Subs, the ref. 55XX pieces at least, that puts them somewhere in the middle—big crown references are now becoming hugely pricey for instance.
With time, the value of all classic Rolex Submariners will only go north, and so the ref. 5508 could well make a smart investment. And they will always be among the outright coolest watches you can buy.
Featured Photo Credit: BeckerTime’s Archive.