“Who the heck is Jean-Claude Killy!?” you ask? Well, if you were born after the late 1960s, you could be excused for not knowing. Killy was the greatest ski racer of his day. His exhibition of skiing prowess in the fog-shrouded slalom run of the 1968 Winter Olympics is legendary. Where some fellow competitors missed gates without even knowing it, Killy hit them all to bring home one of three Men’s Alpine skiing medals awarded that year. Oh, and he brought home the other two as well.
We don’t know what the watch on his wrist was at the time, or indeed if he was wearing one at all during the race (doubtful). But we think we know that he wore a Rolex chronograph in those days. There are claims here and there (among them, the auction house Christie’s) that he wore a ref. 6236 “big date” chronograph.
However, Jake over at Jake’s Rolex World claims he’s never found any photographic evidence of Killy wearing the reference. We do know that Jean-Claude has been featured in Rolex ads over the years and has been a member of their Board of Directors for 40+ years. However, he’s typically shown wearing a Day-Date or an Explorer II. And one ad features the quote “his timepiece, Rolex Explorer II.”
So go figure… the 6236/ Jean-Claude Killy mystery will have to wait for another day.
Whether the nickname fits or not, the 6236 was the pinnacle of the very few Rolex references to feature both a full date function and a chronograph function. Five references sported the combination, a club in which even the iconic Daytona cannot claim membership. The manufacturing of those five references, collectively known as “the Killy,” spanned only about twenty years – the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, and included references 4768, which sported Art Deco lugs, and the ref. 4767, 5036, 6036, before concluding with the largest of the four, the 6236. The latter four each had the more modern tapered lugs.
All these chronographs of course, are a part of the heritage of the aforementioned Daytona. But they’re tremendous watches in their own right. They’re significantly more complicated than a typical chronograph with a simple date window. Along with the three-register chronograph elements, each has three different elements to the date function: wheels for day and month – the Big Date elements, and a central hand for the date of the month. That’s a lot to pack into a watch no more than 36mm in diameter.
Finally, one doesn’t see the 6236 come up for auction very often, and when they do, they bring well into six figures. Last May, a nice example sold at Phillips Auction One for $217,000. However, in December of 2012, another extremely nice example sold at Christies for a record $638,500.
The 6236 “Killy?” To paraphrase Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would look as sweet.”
Stay tuned. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the “Steve McQueen,” the watch which appeared in more than one magazine ad featuring, not McQueen, but Jean-Claude Killy.