This is it. It's the one. THE Paul Newman. It is because of this watch that all exotic dial Daytonas are known as 'Paul Newman' Daytonas, and it is solely responsible for elevating that entire category of vintage Rolex chronographs to the apex of watch collecting.
Paul Newman's very own Paul Newman is the most talked about watch of the year, but really, collectors have been discussing it ever since the connection was made between the actor and the watch.
The watch community has been fascinated by the watch and has spent decades tracking its story using photographs of Paul Newman until it mysteriously disappeared in the 1980s and became a legend in its own right.
And then, unexpectedly, it reappeared earlier this year, thirty years or so after it seemingly disappeared from photographs. And now, we know exactly what happed during all that time. And the story is even better than one could have imagined.
What is a 'Paul Newman'
Rolex introduced the Daytona in 1963. This was not the company’s first chronograph, but it was the first to feature contrasting subsidiary registers. It was also substantially sportier than previous models. The case was beefier and the tachymeter scale bigger, now that it was placed on the bezel.
Rolex introduced several manual wound Daytona models between 1962 and 1988, mixing and matching bezel styles with styles of pushers (screw-down or pump-pushers), while also playing with the placement of the Daytona signature and making minor improvements to the chronograph’s movement. But this is not an article breaking down every single reference in the manual wound Daytona family. Here we will focus instead on a single dial evolution.
A ‘Paul Newman Daytona’ is a Daytona that has been fitted with an ‘exotic’ dial. That’s it, and that goes for any manual wound Rolex Daytona reference, as long as it is fitted with an exotic dial.
It’s important to note that these watches are otherwise identical to their non-exotic counterparts. But in the world of vintage Rolex, that makes a huge difference, which one can easily measure by comparing the demand for a regular reference 6239 versus a Paul Newman reference 6239.
The dials themselves are very different, and they were meant to be. This was Rolex’s way of dramatically transforming the watchmaker’s Daytona. Here’s what’s different about them:
The sub-dials of a Paul Newman dial feature a distinct font style for the numerals and have hash marks that end in small squares. They also have a sunken outer seconds track (in red on the earliest examples), and square hour markers placed onto the surface of the seconds track with lume plots facing the side of the dial.
So what makes the exotic dial Daytonas more sought-after than those fitted with ‘standard’ dials? Well first of all, they’re much rarer. They were made by Singer, a dial specialist who supplied Rolex, but Rolex stopped ordering them only a few years in, as they found Daytonas with these exotic dials much harder to sell than the regular models.
Rolex used exotic dials for only seven years in the 25 year production cycle of the manual wound Daytona, and while every reference ended up with at least one ‘Paul Newman’ dial, none of them found enough clients to convince Rolex to continue ordering them. So they stopped.
But one of those clients would change the watch’s destiny.
Paul Newman's Paul Newman
Everything changed when watch enthusiasts first spotted Paul Newman wearing an exotic dial Daytona. Legend has it the Italians saw it first. Supposedly he was photographed with the watch for the cover of a magazine, and influential collectors and dealers began sharing the image to help sales of exotic dial Daytonas.
It worked. The demand for Paul Newman’ Daytona skyrocketed, and as they began purchasing various models, collectors started digging for information regarding the whereabouts of the latest grail watch, Paul Newman’s very own Paul Newman. Photographs of the actor gave them an approximate idea of when the actor began wearing the watch and for how long, but it was unclear why he bought the watch and why, in 1984, he stopped wearing it.
That’s when another Rolex Daytona, a black dial reference 6263, began appearing on photos. To the whole world, it looked like Paul Newman had stopped wearing his reference 6239, and the most plausible theory, to those who understand the importance of that watch, was that he must have lost it. Why else would you swap an exotic dial 6239 for a non-exotic 6263?
Of course we have learned, thanks to the man who brought the watch back in the public eye that almost everything we thought we knew about the watch was false, starting with the identity of the person who bought the watch.
It wasn’t Paul Newman. The most stylish man in Hollywood was not the one who decided that the exotic Daytona looked better than the non-exotic equivalent. That would be his wife, Joanne Woodward.
We know today that it was the famous American actress who surprised her husband with the watch in 1968, after picking one up, we believe at a Tiffany & Co. boutique given the inventory numbers engraved on the underside of the lugs.
Several Daytona models would have been available that day, we can assume, and perhaps she even had a choice of several exotic dial versions since they remained in stock longer than the non-exotic dial iterations.
In the end, her heart settled on a Reference 6239. This was the first Daytona model, launched by Rolex in 1962 and produced until approximately 1970, and it is the one Rolex placed most of its exotic dials on.
Woodward bought the watch while filming Winning, in which she co-stars with her husband, and during which he began expressing his ambition to race professionally. The Daytona was the perfect watch since it was designed specifically with racing in mind.
Paul Newman loved cars, and he loved them better when they went fast. But he’d already been involved in a serious motorcycle accident, and Joanne thought the watch, while it would help him time his laps, should also remind him to be careful so she had a message engraved on the back. It reads „Drive Carefully” and is signed „Me".
Newman began racing in 1972, at the age of 46. He confirmed his remarkable ability behind the wheel by taking second place in the most prestigious endurance race, the gruelling ’24 Hours of Le Mans,’ only seven years after his professional start.
During that time, and for most of his racing career, Paul Newman wore the watch around different circuits, using it to record lap times, and occasionally to win a cheeky bet with anyone who thought they owned a more accurate watch.
We know he loved his watch very dearly. Members of the Newman family and close friends remember how he use to boast about the watch’s accuracy, and you can tell from the condition it’s in today that he took great care of it. The watch has aged, but for someone who wore the watch regularly without any expectation that it would one day become the world’s most talked about Daytona, it’s in amazing condition.
For that we have another man to thank. Finally, we know what happened to the watch in 1984. That year, Paul Newman gave his watch to James Cox. Cox had been dating Paul Newman’s daughter, Nell Newman, and that summer he’d been invited to spend a few months with the family in their home up in Connecticut.
James spent his days repairing the family’s tree house, and Paul Newman would check on his progress from time to time. A friendship slowly formed between the two men, and when Newman found out Cox didn’t own a watch, he simply decided to remove the one on his wrist.
„If you can remember to wind this each day, it tells pretty good time,” Newman told Cox as he handed him the watch.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The significance of this sale
Paul Newman’s watch is being sold for the first time since leaving the inner circle of the Newman family, nearly 50 years after its purchase by Joanne Woodward.
Already, it is the most talked about watch that has ever been sold. The price of the watch on the day of the auction has been at hot topic, and everyone seems to have a definitive opinion but no one can agree. With only two weeks to go before the auction, it's obvious this is the most unpredictable watch that’s ever been sold. The other certainty is that this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own one of the most mythical, most important, and most recognizable watches of the 20th century.
We are thrilled to offer it here, with a portion of the proceeds going to The Nell Newman Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation, in support of Paul Newman’s philanthropic values.
Paul Newman's legendary Paul Newman is lot 8 of our Winning Icons auction, held on October 26 in New York.