Trying on One of the Most Legendary Watches of All Time
Originally published by Stephen Pulvirent on Hodinkee.
Since news first broke in June that Paul Newman's very own Paul Newman Daytona would be hitting the auction block this fall, it's been the most-talked-about subject in watch circles across the world, and with good reason. This is the watch that in many ways kick-started the vintage Rolex madness we're seeing today, nearly three decades ago. Collectors and dealers have known the watch is out there, and have been chasing it for just as long. Well, last week I got a chance to spend a few minutes with the actual watch, and I have to say, it was a pretty exhilarating experience.
For those of you who need a refresher on this watch's backstory, here's the quick version: In 1984, a young man by the name of James Cox was dating Paul Newman's daughter Nell and was visiting the family in Connecticut. Paul asked James for the time, and when James said he didn't wear a watch, Paul gave him his. Yeah, pretty crazy, right? Now, after wearing the watch for a few decades, James has decided to put it up for auction, with some of the proceeds benefiting the Nell Newman Foundation (he and Nell are still good friends, though they broke up a long time ago). Those are just the basics, but if you want more details you can check out the HODINKEE Magazine, Volume 1, where Cara tells the full (much more convoluted) story of how this watch finally came to market.
The watch itself is a reference 6239 Daytona (steel bezel, pump pushers) with the black-on-creme, three-color exotic dial that we now call a "Paul Newman" dial because of this very watch. The watch dates to 1968, and was a gift to Newman from his wife, Joanne Woodward. The back is engraved with the words "Drive Carefully Me" and the inscription is still fully visible and crisp on the caseback today. According to Nell Newman, her father wore this watch all the time for the 15 or so years that he had it, even using it to time laps at Lime Rock Park, before he eventually gave it to Cox.
When I walked into the Phillips preview in Los Angeles last week, about an hour before it was set to open, things were quiet and the watch was just sitting there in a glass case alongside a Philippe Dufour Duality, a mint condition reference 6200 Submariner, and two early Heuer Autavias. Had this been any other Paul Newman, it might even have gotten lost amongst the extremely robust competition. But this wasn't any Paul Newman, this was the Paul Newman.
I immediately asked if I could take the watch out for a few minutes of wrist time and to get the photos you see here. The Phillips team kindly humored me, and I have to say that, as someone who is passionate about vintage Rolex, there is something really magical about this watch. It sounds dramatic, I know, but it was one of those times when you're in the presence of something special or significant and you can feel it. I'm lucky enough that in the course of business at Hodinkee, I get to see a lot of really great watches. Holding a Paul Newman Daytona is out of the ordinary. But this was truly extraordinary.
The first thing that struck me was the condition of the watch. If you've seen the photographs published in the Wall Street Journal (who first broke the news) or New York Times, you might think the watch is pretty beat up. It's not. This Daytona is in honest condition, and has clearly been worn over the years, but the smudging on the dial's creme-colored section isn't nearly as stark as it appears in those photos, and the case and caseback show normal scratches from wear, but they don't look especially beat up at all.
Additionally, the lugs look worn from wear, but not like they've been polished to death; the pushers and crown are still crisp, and the lume plots all appear to be intact and correct. If the watch wasn't the ur-Paul Newman, it might not be the most desirable example, but considering the context, it's far more preferable for the watch to show that it hasn't been tampered with (and that it was actually worn) than for it to be in new-old-stock condition.
Putting the watch on my wrist was a pretty surreal experience. Again, I've tried on plenty of 6239 Daytonas, and more than a handful of Paul Newmans, but this watch is just so damn cool. To know that Newman himself looked down at it, just as I was when taking this photo, is extremely special. You can believe I took wristshots until I was politely asked to return the watch, and I don't think this is a watch I'll be able to get out of my head for quite some time.
Even more exciting for me though was watching other collectors react to it during the preview. Everyone from relative newcomers to guys who have been amassing brilliant Rolex collections since the days of Bubbleback supremacy were straight up freaking out. We're talking about grown men giggling and asking their friends to snap iPhone photos of them standing next to the watch in its glass case. The whole experience was a nice reminder of how much fun this little passion of ours can be, and what a great community has sprung up around it since the days when this watch was Rolex's worst-selling model.
The Paul Newman Daytona is Lot 8 in Phillips's upcoming Winning Icons sale, taking place at 6:00 PM on October 26 in New York City. It carries a vague estimate of "in excess of $1,000,000," though we all know it's going to sell for much more than that. We'll have tons of live coverage for you on the day of the sale and during the weeks leading up. Stay tuned.
If you're not as up to speed on this icon of modern watch collecting as you'd like, check out our in-depth, exhaustively detailed Reference Points story on the Paul Newman Daytona, right here.
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