Updated October 27, 2o17:
Last night Paul Newman’s legendary Rolex Daytona sold in New York at Phillips Auction House for $17.8 million. A gift from his wife, this watch became so iconic it was simply known as Paul Newman’s Paul Newman. For decades this watch was thought to be lost, but resurfaced when James Cox, the current treasurer of the Nell Newman Foundation came forward. He had received the watch as a present from Paul when he was in college and dating Nell Newman (Paul’s daughter), but had tucked the watch away.
The auction lasted about 12 minutes and ended in cheers and applause. To date, this is the largest sum a wrist watch has ever sold for at auction, and a portion of the proceeds went to support the Nell Newman foundation, carrying on her father’s legacy for philanthropy.
The Rolex Paul Newman Daytona needs no introduction. Arguably, it’s the most coveted vintage Rolex of all time: popular on the auction block, and sought-after as a grail watch by many.
But this wasn’t always the case.
In fact, when Rolex first released the “exotic dial”—later known as the “Paul Newman” dial—for the Cosmograph Daytona line in the 1960s, it was deemed a flop. Buyers much preferred the standard Daytona dial, and it took dealers a long time to move
So how did a dial that started off so poorly claim its now legendary status among watch collectors? It’s all thanks to the man himself.
Paul Newman started wearing a Rolex Daytona with an exotic dial in the early 1970s, about the same time he transitioned to professional race car driving.
A renowned actor who raced cars while wearing a Rolex Daytona? A perfect match. After all, the Cosmograph Daytona was initially created for the world of motorsports. That pairing, coupled with a famous photograph of Paul Newman wearing his Daytona ref. 6239 with an exotic dial, set the stage for Italian auction houses to nickname the exotic dial Daytona as the Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman”. The rest, as they say, is history.
What makes a Daytona a “Paul Newman”?
There are some very distinct design hallmarks that distinguish a Paul Newman Rolex from a standard vintage Daytona. First, a watch must be one of six reference numbers: 6239, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264, or 6265. Second, the watch must have the right details: the markers with square-shaped ends; the Art Deco font of the numerals; the fine lines that meet in the middle of the sub-dials; and the 15, 30, 45, and 60 numerals on the 9 o’clock subdial rather than a 20/40/60 numeral configuration.
These dials may not have been popular upon first release, but you can’t deny their vintage sporty appeal today. You can most often find the Rolex Daytona Paul Newman in steel, but it’s also available in yellow gold (in much smaller quantities).
So how popular is the Newman Daytona?
There’s never a shortage of bidders for a Daytona Paul Newman. In fact, they are some of the most expensive Rolex watches ever sold. The previous record for the most expensive Daytona sold at auction was a Daytona Paul Newman from 1969 that sold for $1.1 million during Christie’s Geneva watch auction in 2013. Another watch shattered that record in 2016: a Rolex Daytona Paul Newman Oyster Sotto ref. 6239 that sold at Phillip’s stainless steel chronograph auction for an incredible $1.95 million. That result was right behind the most expensive Rolex ever sold at auction—the $2.45 million Rolex Split-Seconds Chronograph ref. 4113 sold during the same event.
Celebrity-endorsed, historic, record-breaking, and above all, highly attractive, the Rolex Daytona Paul Newman has earned its iconic status as the ultimate vintage chronograph.