Within the category of vintage Rolexes, there exists an especially exalted subset of watches that routinely fetch over US$150,000, with specific pieces going under the hammer for over US$1 million at auctions. These are the “Paul Newman” Daytonas; the eponymous Newman was an American actor who first shot into fame in Hollywood in the late 1950s, later becoming a champion IndyCar driver, as well as an entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Source: Wall Street Journal
Newman’s very own Cosmograph Daytona, which has never been offered publicly, has surfaced recently for the first time, and will be auctioned off in October. This specific timepiece is being offered for sale by James Cox, who was gifted the watch by Newman himself (Cox dated Newman’s eldest daughter Nell for a period), and will be offered at Phillips’s inaugural auction in New York, with estimates for its hammer price expected to exceed US$1 million. According to the Wall Street Journal, a significant portion of the proceeds will go towards the Nell Newman Foundation.
Source: Wall Street Journal
How did the Paul Newman become connected to the Cosmograph Daytona, which was first launched in 1963? Details are murky, but for the record the two have never been officially associated. Rather, like many other vintage watches, the “Paul Newman” Daytona started out a nickname (which originated from Italian collectors in this case) that saw widespread use and eventually became part of the watch collecting vernacular. What we know, though, is that Newman owned several Rolex watches, including a Cosmograph Daytona with an “exotic” dial that would come to define what a “Paul Newman” Daytona is.
The subject of exotic dials requires a little exposition. Before Rolex became the fully vertically-integrated manufacture that it is today, the brand depended on external suppliers for parts that weren’t made in-house. This included dials, which were produced in different variations, yet offered on the same model and reference – a practice that seems quaint today.
The “exotic” dial that defines a “Paul Newman” Daytona can be seen in the Ref. 6239 shown above. This is neither the rarest nor most expensive “Paul Newman” Daytona today, but arguably the quintessential one, since Newman wore (and was photographed with) an exact same one. There’re several defining traits that identify the exotic dial. The most obvious one is the Art Deco typeface used on its sub-dials, which contrasts sharply with the font used on the bezel. Note the little squares at the ends of specific indexes in these sub-dials as well. Other minutiae include the red “Daytona” text above the 12-hour totalizer, and a little step on the inner edge of each sub-dial.
Ref. 6239 is differentiated from other “Paul Newman” Daytonas thanks to a few details, including its pump pushers, which predate the screw-down pushers that later Daytonas will have, as well as its steel bezel, which were replaced with acrylic ones in some later references. There’s also the Valjoux 722 movement powering this watch – a handwound calibre beating at 18,000vph with a going time of 48 hours, later to be replaced by the higher beat Valjoux 727.
The “exotic” dial was actually an unpopular option among first-hand buyers, and would probably have been relegated to a mere blip within Rolex’s production history had Paul Newman not come along. The uptick in the watch’s popularity appears serendipitous, and the reason for this will probably never be conclusively proven. The bottom line is this: the “exotic” dial is a rare and quirky alternative to an otherwise overtly sporty timepiece, and well worth some consideration by any serious collector. Following the re-emergence of the Paul Newman Daytona, interest in this category of chronographs will only grow keener.
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