The Paul Newman Daytona, An Unauthorized History

By John E. Brozek
© InfoQuest Publishing, Inc., 2003
International Wristwatch Magazine, August 2003

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 when 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 Daytona. 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 pieces 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, so named for Daytona Beach, Florida, home to some of the biggest names in auto racing. Because of their usefulness in calculating average lap speed, the watches were quite popular in the racing community.

Early models were available in a number of dial configurations, including what has 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—and still are 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 Mr. 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 one of the movie posters that caused the Italian public to become enamored with the Daytona, thus sparking a love affair that has lasted more than thirty 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 a highly popular Italian magazine (again wearing the exotic dialed Daytona), which launched the watch’s popularity.

First, let me say that 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. Thus, it is unlikely that the general public would confuse it with a Daytona.

When I asked Mr. Newman about these theories, he stated that he was unaware of how his name became attached to the watch, and he didn’t recall even wearing a Daytona in Winning. Furthermore, he stated that his first Daytona, and the one he currently wears, was given to him by his wife in 1972, the same year he started his professional racing career. It is worth mentioning that the aforementioned watch is not a Paul Newman (exotic dial) model at all, but rather appears to be a Daytona (model 6263), with black dial and white registers.

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 established.

As for the theory regarding his appearance on the cover of a popular Italian magazine, Newman said that it is possible, and it does seem to be the most logical explanation. However, I am still not convinced that the appearance actually featured the exotic dial, but instead I suspect that it was the aforementioned watch that Ms. Woodward gave him in 1972. What’s more, it is likely that the magazine would have been from around 1972-73, again coinciding with the start of Newman’s professional racing career.

So, we’re back to square one: How was Paul Newman’s name attached to these specific exotic-dialed watches? It is possible that rumors were spread about him wearing one of these models, perhaps in order to boost the sales of said watch. It wouldn’t be the first time that a celebrity was falsely attached to a product for monetary gain. Or, maybe it was just an honest mistake—stranger things have happened. Either way, I don’t suspect we will ever know for certain.

While all versions of the Daytona with contrasting registers have subsequently become known as Paul Newman’s, some would argue that the only true Paul Newman models are described as follows: The 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, Mr. Newman has worn a Rolex for more than thirty years, although he has never publicly endorsed the line. The term “Paul Newman Daytona” was adopted by collectors and has never been officially used by Rolex.

In addition to Mr. Newman’s many contributions to film, auto racing, and yes, even the legacy of Rolex, he has become quite the philanthropist. In 1982 Newman and his longtime friend, author A.E. Hutchner, bottled their homemade salad dressing and sold it to local stores. Thus, Newman’s Own was born. Now distributed worldwide, Newman’s Own has donated 100 percent of its profits, more than $125 million, to thousands of charities throughout the world, including his pet project, The Hole in the Wall Gang, a camp for children with cancer or serious blood diseases.

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