Paul Newman Daytona: Birth of a Legend
"Whereas each of the men he is best known for playing is, to varying degrees, morally ambiguous; in his real life, Newman excelled — in all areas of morality."But it was Newman’s philanthropic ventures that inspired us the most. The man who donated USD10 million in 2007 to his alma mater (Kenyon College, Ohio) and co-founded the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy led the way by turning his own saint-like benevolence up to 11 when Newman’s Own, the food brand he co-founded in 1982, unexpectedly became a success. To date, over USD300 million of its profits have gone to various charities. Not only did Newman make altruism cool by building a retreat for terminally and seriously ill children, but he also had the humor to name it the ‘Hole in the Wall Gang Camp’, after the hideout in the masterpiece Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The memoir he co-wrote on the camps and the Newman’s Own venture also had a title that crackled with warm, dry and beautifully evocative wit: Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good. It was his canon and he was its Saint. Throughout his career as one of America’s greatest screen idols — he was a pioneer graduate of Lee Strasberg’s school of method acting, but he neither flamed out, lived hard, died young and left a good-looking corpse — like James Dean — nor gave himself over to saturnine, primordial appetites like Marlon Brando. Neither did he steal another man’s wife like Steve McQueen. He was, to a fault, understated and humble, almost as if he had wrenched apart, from his Freudian ‘id’, one side of himself to revel unchained upon the screen while his earthbound form was presided over by his hyper-moral ‘super-ego’. Indeed, beyond acting, the only sign of Newman’s aggressive nature was expressed in his one other passion... auto racing.
"As he had become interested in racing, he had sought out a timepiece with a chronographic ability to measure elapsed time. The Rolex Daytona fit the bill perfectly."So how did such abject failure mutate into iconic status as the single best known and sought-after vintage watch in the world today, one of which has become the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction? The answer brings us back to our big-hearted screen legend combined with the Italian pre-disposition for bestowing catchy nicknames. The exotic-dial Daytonas suddenly gained traction when Italian collectors rechristened the watch ‘the Paul Newman’ in the 1980s. Newman began wearing his steel exotic-dial, or ‘Paul Newman’, ref. 6239 during the publicity tour for the 1969 racing flick Winning. As he had become interested in racing, he had sought out a timepiece with a chronographic ability to measure elapsed time. The Rolex Daytona fit the bill perfectly in particular because it featured a 12-hour totalizer, which the Omega Speedmaster did not, and which was vital for endurance racing where races could last 12 or even 24 hours. As to why he chose the exotic-dial variant, the prevailing belief was that his wife Joanne Woodward had selected and purchased the watch for him as a gift. Conceivably, the exotic dial with its vivid array of color and graphic patterns was something that caught her eye. This is the story we prefer to believe because, first of all, it adds a powerful romantic dimension to the mythology, and second, because it is a source of endless amusement that the most famous vintage watch in the world arrived at this status because of one woman’s unconventional taste. In an inspired stroke of personalization, Newman never wore his watch with the steel bracelet it came with, preferring instead a thick, black military Bund-style strap. By his first races in 1972, the Daytona — with its quirky black strap and all — became a constant and inseparable companion; his wrist adornment, like him, growing ever more iconic with the passage of time. He would be photographed with it on innumerable occasions over the next four decades. Amusingly, because the watch was not waterproof — because of its pump pushers — Newman’s habit was to leave the screw-down crown in the open position so he could quickly wind it when needed. Newman’s love affair with Rolex continued until the end, with the legendary actor opting for a white-dial Zenith-caliber Daytona, as well as a white-gold model, amongst others, in his later years. The exotic dials strictly defined as ‘Paul Newman dials’ stopped being made after the discontinuation of the ref. 6263 and ref. 6265 with screw-down pushers in 1987, although one could argue that the basic color themes defined by these dials still influence contemporary Daytonas today. Also, the well-known and extremely costly Panda-dial two-color or ultra-rare black RCO screw-pusher Daytonas were never worn by Newman even though they inherited the evocative sobriquet “Newman-dial Daytona”. Though there was never a formal partnership between Rolex and Paul Newman, their identities have become so profoundly connected through the Daytona that, on two occasions, Rolex commissioned photographic retrospectives on the great actor. The marketing team in Switzerland must be thankful for the day, some time in the late ’60s, when a blue-eyed legend-to-be with petrol in his veins was presented a shiny Rolex Cosmograph Daytona with a vivacious three-color dial, by the woman he loved and who loved him, to wear on his illustrious wrist.
Paul Newman’s own Rolex Daytona ref. 6239 sold for $15.5million (plus a buyer’s premium of 12.5%, making the total $17,752,500) at a Phillips auction in New York City on October 26th, 2017, making it the most expensive wristwatch ever sold.