Talking about Paul Newman’s watch collection is a surprisingly tricky endeavour. Most iconic watch collections stand out for their diversity, variety and the fact that they consist of watches from multiple well-known brands. For example Steve McQueen is famous for wearing Hanharts, Tag Heuers, Jaeger-LeCoultres and more. Paul Newman on the other hand was a one brand and a one watch kind of guy. Of course, if you’ve been a watch enthusiast for any length of time you don’t need me to say that I’m talking about the Rolex Daytona.
The association between Newman and the Daytona is perhaps the strongest between a watch and a person in history. Newman is so synonymous with that particular watch that a specific reference, the Ref. 6239, is now known as the Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman”. It also happens to be the most desirable Daytona of them all, continually fetching extraordinary prices at auction. Newman’s own Ref. 6239 with a panda chronograph display and red minute scale sold for $17 million in 2017 – as of 2021 it’s on display at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in LA.
It’s often debated how much of an influence Newman has had on the popularity of the Daytona, but I think it’s undeniable. Back in the mid-1960s when the 6239 was being built, the Daytona was a smaller name in the Rolex canon. It was an era of Presidential Day-Dates and Submariner skindiver supremacy. The Daytona was a sporty watch that was easily overlooked and production numbers were low, the 6239 was only produced for about six years (1963-1969).
But here are the beginnings of the perfect vintage watch storm. Small production runs meant it was exclusive, so supply was low, and then Newman’s interest in the model as one of its early adopters led to demand skyrocketing thanks to his style icon status. On top of that, Rolex introduced a new style of dial known as Exotic, which were yet more exclusive and made them more desirable to vintage collectors.
And then on top of that again, there was a boom in sports watches heralded by the work of designers like Gerald Genta and while the Daytona isn’t directly linked to that movement, a rising tide raises all ships. The Daytona “Paul Newman” is a triple, quadruple, possibly even penta-threat for watch collectors.
However, while the 6239 is probably the most famous of Newman’s Daytonas, he had many in his collection. Another prominent one was a Ref. 6263 Big Red, a reverse panda design with a black dial and silver coloured subdials. It was gifted to him by wife and fellow actor Joanne Woodward in 1983 for their 25th wedding anniversary, marked with a warning on the back: ‘Drive Slowly’. Perhaps even more poignantly, the watch was passed on much later to Newman’s daughter, Clea, on his deathbed.
“Drive Slowly” is a nod to one of Newman’s favourite hobbies, motor racing. In fact, all Newman’s Daytonas had similar inscriptions such as “Drive Carefully Me” from the famous 6239 and “Drive Very Slowly” from a white gold Daytona with a black dial he received in 2008. He first fell in love with racing in 1969 when he attended a driving school as part of his preparation for the film “Winning”. In the years following, he competed regularly under the name P.L. Newman and even helped his team come second in the prestigious Le Mans (ironically Steve McQueen who starred in the film Le Mans was forbidden from ever competing in the actual race).
Interestingly, it’s almost impossible to nail down how many Daytonas Newman owned because it was never made public knowledge. We know for certain that he owned at least three, as we’ve already discussed, but referencing old images there’s likely at least two more, both stainless steel with white and black dials respectively. Who owns them now, no one knows, but every few years one seems to surface at auction ready to set new records.