To each their own idea of luxury: it is, after all, a personal affair. That’s why the luxury watch industry, teeming with personal opinions on various models, is shaped in large part by purely subjective views. But that doesn’t make the it any less exciting: even the “holy grail” of Swiss luxury watches can have as many faces as it has proselytes. In an ideal scenario, with unlimited financial resources and unrestricted availability, everyone would select their own dream timepiece. However, when it comes to that one watch, the holiest grail watch, that ultimate goal is often a classic Rolex Daytona with a panda or reverse-panda dial.
Rolex Daytona Reference 6263, aka Big Red Panda Dial
My own personal grail watch right now is a vintage Rolex Daytona, the Rolex Daytona reference 6263, aka “Big Red.” The reverse panda dial (dark dial, light subdials) is quite interesting, but the favored version by far is the panda dial variant (light dial, dark subdials). Already familiar with this icon? Then you’ll also appreciate its clean, understated dial. The chronograph was manufactured from 1971 to 1988, but its design language, as so often with Rolex, is timeless. Rolex manages the feat here with just three colors: black, white, and a touch of red. The black subdials, set against the dial’s silvery white, give a clear outline of the bear’s face. The dial is rounded off with a black UPH (units per hour) bezel. Only the “Daytona” lettering above the counter at 6 o’clock is in bright red. The dial features delicate baton indices and a slim set of hands, embedded in a sleek stainless steel case, all finished with a distinctive crown and the famous push-pieces used to operate the stopwatch function. Along with the reference 6265, the Rolex ref. 6263 is one of the last two models to have a manual movement. Acquiring a specimen from 1977, the year I was born, would send me to seventh heaven. The enthusiasm for this watch is almost unremitting, diminished by but a single detail. Care to venture a guess as to what the catch is? That’s right: the price! Well-maintained models including papers in the scope of delivery change hands for upwards of $100,000. That’s a lot of money for a watch!
The good news? There’s an excellent, thoroughly satisfying tribute to this legendary watch icon, a timepiece that is elaborate in its execution, contemporary in its design, of a higher quality, and almost more beautiful than the holy grail itself. And all this from none other than the biggest Rolex competitor, Omega.
Top 4 Alternatives to the Rolex Daytona ref. 6263, aka Big Red (Panda Dial)
1. Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Mitsukoshi Ref. 3570.31.00
20 years ago, in February 2003, Omega launched the limited-edition Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Mitsukoshi ref. 3570.31.00. The production run of just 300 pieces worldwide was extremely limited by Omega standards, and – yes, you heard right – was distributed directly by Japan’s oldest department store, Mitsukoshi. The design of this chronograph is almost identical to that of the Rolex Daytona Big Red: a silvery white dial with three black subdials, delicate line indices, a discreet inscription, and domed crystal. The watch also has a black UPH bezel and a distinctive crown framed by push-pieces. The design and dimensions of the chronograph have remained virtually unchanged for over 50 years. Manual movement, of course. You can easily imagine the current model’s conception dating back to the 1960s. Availability, however, is a problem: Though it has stood the test of time, the Speedmaster Professional with a panda dial only appeared for a brief moment in one corner of the Japanese watch market. Pieces rarely become available for sale, and when they do, watches with papers sell for between $35,000 and $45,000, depending on the condition. That’s quite an investment for an Omega, don’t you think?
2. Omega Speedmaster Professional Apollo 11 Ref. 3569.31.00
The following year, Omega released another limited Speedmaster model with a panda dial, the Omega Speedmaster Professional Apollo 11 reference 3569.31.00. This time, a total of 3,500 pieces were manufactured to celebrate the 35th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 space mission. The watch is identical to the Mitsukoshi model, except for one small but significant difference: the date of the expedition is inscribed in red lettering on the dial: “July 20, 1969.” For watch enthusiasts, it’s a subtle but beloved detail, giving the timepiece a nostalgic finishing touch. A well-maintained specimen will set you back about $15,000.
3. Omega Speedmaster Tokyo 2020 Ref. 522.214.171.124.04.001
Omega wouldn’t be Omega if they didn’t continue to exploit the popularity of the panda dial by releasing a third model in a limited edition of 2,020 pieces. In 2020, the Omega Speedmaster Tokyo 2020 reference 5126.96.36.199.04.001 with a panda dial debuted as one of five different Speedmaster editions created in honor of the Tokyo Olympics. As usual, the panda dial variant features the three-line inscription “OMEGA Speedmaster Professional.” This time, the second line is red. A full set will cost you around $12,500.
4. Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Ref. 3570.50.00 (Modified)
I had an Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch ref. 3570.50.00 with a classic black dial in my first watch collection, and had it fitted with an original Omega Speedmaster panda dial and matching set of hands in 2020. The cost of the watch (full set, in mint condition), together with the panda dial (also in mint condition) and modification by an expert watchmaker, set me back roughly $5,000. Not a bad price for my own panda dial Speedy!
All the Omega versions of the popular Speedmaster chronograph talked about here will wow you with their rich history and impressive visual similarity to the Rolex Daytona ref. 6263. They also come with a significant price advantage. Just take a look around!