Horology icon smashes auction records
Having delivered on such wonderfully iconic chronographs as the Submariner, the GMT-Master and the Explorer, Rolex’s early sixties foray into sports watches was met with a more muted response. It was not until the mid-1960s that the Daytona series began to gain traction among high-performance racing enthusiasts. Much to Rolex’s chagrin, however, the timeless sophistication of its tri-coloured, tri-dimensional, Singer-designed ‘exotic’ dials got lost in translation. Despite what was then considered to be a monumental failure, the legendary series made a roaring comeback in the 1980s — thanks, no less to the 1988 Habsburg Feldman catalogue.
Worn and owned by the legendary actor himself on the set of his 1969 film ‘Winning’, the 6239 is the most authentic of the eponymous collection. At 37mm in diameter, the original Paul Newman is fitted with push-down chronograph buttons, steel bezel, black dial with white sub-registers, and a Rolex Valjoux 722 calibre, beating at 18,000 vibrations per hour. Newman’s Rolex Cosmograph has “Daytona” exactly above the register at 6 o’clock.
“Pop handed James his Rolex and said, ‘If you can remember to wind this each day, it tells pretty good time.’”
But what added to its value at auction, is its interesting back story, which made it irresistible to collectors from many different areas. Newman’s wife, the actress Joanne Woodward, bought him the Daytona as a gift in 1972, just as his interest in racing took off. The heartfelt message ‘Drive Carefully’ signed ‘Me’ is engraved on the back. He wore it for years, and even used the watch to time the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Newman’s daughter Nell was dating James Cox in the mid-1980s, and one day while they were building a tree house, Newman asked Cox the time. The latter replied that he didn’t own a watch. As Nell relates:
James held onto the watch, long believed lost. Last spring he contacted renowned auctioneer Aurel Bacs about selling the Holy Grail of vintage watches. The rest, as they say, is history. Ref. 6239 rewrote record books.
With the huge press coverage this timepiece has received since the auction, it’s easy to forget that the Paul Newman “Paul Newman” is one of a family of Paul Newmans. Ref. 6241, for instance, is identical to ref. 6239. It has the same Valjoux 722 calibre, white dial and black sub-registers, and push-down chronograph buttons with one addition: a black acrylic bezel. While ref. 6262 is identical to the 6239, ref. 6262 comes with an upgraded Valjoux 727 clocking 21,600 vibrations per hour. Quintessentially vintage, the 6241 is one of the most talked about assets in the collection.
However, it is the 6263 and 6265 watches that have proven most valuable in the Daytona series — at least until now. The specialness of the Rolex Cosmograph Oyster ref. 6265 and ref. 6263, is attributed to their rarity. However, here’s the strange deal: there is no 6265 Paul Newman Daytona, as such; the 6265 is fitted with a graduated stainless steel bezel, a thicker
‘Oyster’ casing and a ‘traditional’ Panda dial and screw-down rather than pump pushers; and the word ‘Daytona’ doesn’t appear above the 6 o’clock mark.
The belle of the ball, the Rolex Cosmograph ref. 6263 with white dial and black sub-registers, is the second-most coveted, and second-most expensive of Paul Newman Daytonas; and although the 6263 is identical to the 6265 — Valjoux 727 and screw-downs, you’d be hard pressed to find a 6263 black dial Paul Newman with “ROC” signature.
Unabashedly transcendent, Paul Newman’s Paul Newman “Daytona” Rolex has proven to be just as priceless as the legacy of the man himself. Lucky owner, Cox has vowed to donate a significant proportion of the proceeds to the Nell Newman Foundation, a charity that carries on her father’s philanthropy efforts.
So, the Paul Newman legacy, and legend, lives on.