30 Year Love Affair, The Paul Newman Daytona

By John E. Brozek
© InfoQuest Publishing, Inc., 2004
Goodwood Magazine, Year 2005.
Racing, Motor Sport, Fashion, Food, Nature, Art, Aviation, Golf.
Official Magazine of the Goodwood Estate, Chichester, West Sussex.

For more than 30 years, watch collectors and
aficianados the world over have sought out
the Rolex Daytona Cosmograph. The ‘Paul
Newman’ models are the most desired of all

It’s not everyday that a man gets to meet one of his heroes, but on February 23, 2003, I was one of those lucky few. While attending the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, in Florida, I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Newman. I had been a fan of his movies as a child and, as my obsession for Rolex evolved, I, like many others, gravitated to the Daytona. During our conversation, we candidly discussed Rolex, and his connection to the ubiquitous Daytona model. He was also able to dispel a number of rumors, and myths.

But first, a little history on the Daytona. Rolex introduced its first chronograph models around 1937. These watches featured Valjoux movements, and while they saw numerous styles over the following decades, their success was somewhat limited. By definition, a chronograph is a timepiece that, in addition to the hour and minute functions, performs a separate time-measuring function similar to that of a stop watch–with a separate seconds hand that can be started, stopped and reset to zero via push buttons on the side of the case.

In 1960, Rolex gave the line a major facelift with the introduction of the Cosmograph (model 6239), a Rolex trademarked term which is similar to the chronograph–the cosmetic difference being that the ‘tachymeter scale’ is printed (or engraved) on the bezel rather than on the outer rim of the dial.

In 1961, Rolex released a similar version (model 6241), and soon these watches became known as the Daytona. Because of their usefulness in calculating average lap speed, the watch’s popularity took off in the motor racing community.

Early models were available in a number of dial configurations, including what have become known as the exotic dials. These dials were either black (with white registers), or cream (with black registers), and featured square markers within the registers. These configurations were subsequently nicknamed the Paul Newman models, and were quickly in high demand in the Italian markets–indeed thay are still to this day.

How Newman’s name became attached to these models has been a topic of discussion in the Rolex community for some time; however, there has yet to be any substantial evidence to back up the numerous theories. One such theory was that Newman wore one of the watches (featuring the exotic dial) in the 1969 Indy car racing film Winning, in which he co-starred with Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward, his wife. It was further suggested that it was his appearance on the movie posters that caused the Italian public to become enamored of the Daytona, thus sparking a love affair that has lasted more than 30 years. You might liken this to the overwhelming popularity of the leather bomber jacket after Tom Cruise wore one in the 1986 film Top Gun.

Another theory suggests that the actor was subsequently featured on the cover of Moda, a highly popular Italian magazine (again wearing the Exotic-dialed Daytona), and that it was this which launched the watch’s popularity, certainly in Italy.

I have viewed Winning on numerous occasions, and while he does wear a stainless steel chronograph in nearly every scene, the watch is never shown clear enough to positively identify the brand or model. Furthermore, the face appears to be silver and the trademark contrasting registers are not identifiable.

After inspecting a number of the promotional movie posters and lobby cards for the film, they too fail to positively identify the watch as a Daytona.

So I asked Newman about these theories. “I don’t recall how my name became attached to the watch,” he said, and he couldn’t specifically remember whether the watch he wore in Winning was a Daytona or not. “My first Daytona that I can specifically remember, at least, is this one,” he said, showing me the watch on his wrist, and which he wears all the time. It was given to him by his wife in 1972, the year he started his professional racing career. Interestingly, this is not a Paul Newman (Exotic dial) model at all, but it is a Daytona (model 6263), with black dial and white registers. On the back it bears the inscription: ‘Drive Slowly, Joanne.’

During the 1980s and ’90s, Newman was pictured on occasion wearing a true Paul Newman Daytona (model 6239, exotic cream dial, with black registers), featuring a black military-style leather strap. However, this is obviously after the popularity of the Paul Newman Daytona had already been well established.

As for the theory regarding his appearance on the cover of Moda, Newman suggests that it is possible, and it does seem to be the most logical explanation. However, the likelyhood is that he would have been wearing the watch his wife gave him in 1972, as the cover appearance was in 1973, and this was a time when Newman was hot property everywhere.

While all versions of the Daytona with contrasting registers have subsequently become known as Paul Newman models, some would argue that the only true Paul Newman models are those with 6239 and 6241 case numbers, manual-wind, stainless steel non-Oyster cases, with non-screw-down pushers, and pre-Triplock crown, fitted with either the black dial with white registers, or the cream dial with black registers–featuring the aforementioned square markers within the registers.

While many celebrities have appeared in Rolex’s advertising campaigns, Newman has never publicly endorsed the line, even though he has worn a Rolex for more than 30 years. The term ‘Paul Newman Daytona’ was adopted by collectors but has never been officially used by Rolex.

However, in 1995, Newman made his first official connection with the company when we won the GT1 Class in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. He was presented with a brand new Rolex Cosmograph Daytona (model 16520, stainless steel, with white dial), featuring the inscription: ‘Rolex 24H. at Daytona, Paul Newman, Rolex Motorsports Man of the Year, 1995’.

In his usual philanthropic fashion, Newman donated the watch in 1999 to the Antiquorum Famous Faces Watch Auction for Charity, in New York. When the gavel finally fell, this piece of celebrity Rolex memorabillia had exceeded all estimates by selling for $39,000–the highest price paid for any watch at the auction, and more than seven times its cost when new.

Newman turned 80 in January of this year and again returned to the Daytona International Speedway. Some would expect a man of his age to be sitting in the stands, but Newman was there behind the wheel of a Ford Crawford Daytona Prototype, and he was there to race. While he didn’t win this year, Newman set yet another record by being the oldest driver to ever compete in the race.

Thanks to Newman’s 30-year-plus contribution to the legacy of Rolex, the stainless steel Cosmograph Daytona is considered the Holy Grail for aficionados and collectors. In fact, many dealers have a waiting list for brand new Daytonas, which they say can take up to six years to fulfill, such is the demand. While the current watch (model 116520) lists new for just under £3,700, they consistently fetch upwards of £6,000 on the secondary market, thanks to their exclusivity.

Likewise, the vintage ‘Paul Newman’ Exotic-dialed versions routinely fetch anywhere between £17,000 and £25,000 at auction. Not a bad return, considering the watch sold new in 1969 for just over £70. The saying goes that some things just get better with age, and both Paul Newman and the Rolex Daytona are certainly proof of that.

Shopping cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping