There is no wristwatch more legendary among watch collectors than the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona “Paul Newman.” The fascination for this chronograph has increased continually in the last three decades. It gained its nickname through the actor Paul Newman who was photographed wearing it in the movie Winning, as well as in his private life. How did this watch reach iconic status, and why is it recognized today as the most coveted of sport watches? Freeman's is pleased to offer an example of rare watch in our November 7 auction of Jewelry & Watches.
The years of economic prosperity following World War II changed the focus of Swiss watch companies. After making watches for soldiers, manufacturers needed to adapt their designs to a new generation of customers who were more active than their parents and had more time for leisure activities. Watches were developed specifically for the newly fashionable pursuits of adventurous jetsetters—some were designed for water activities such as diving, and others around the quest for speed such as car racing. Different activities required different functions from a watch. Since a racing driver may need to time a lap on a racing track, the chronograph function was specifically incorporated into watches sold to these enthusiasts.
Although Omega was one of the pioneering manufacturers of the chronograph wristwatch, Rolex also had a long heritage of making them, having introduced their Cosmograph in 1963. Along with the regular dial, Rolex offered the option of an exotic dial as well. This dial had a different outer second track and the subsidiary dials featured square markers with a deco-style font for the numerals. It is this specific and exotic dial option which became known as the “Paul Newman” Daytona. Not only was the acclaimed Hollywood star viewed wearing the watch by millions of his movie fans, he also had a strong personal association with the timepiece. His beloved wife, Joanne Woodward, gifted the watch to Newman in the 1960s and he was often photographed wearing it, most notably when pursing his private passion for racing.
Despite the charismatic support of one of the biggest movie stars of the time, the watch did not have a smooth path to iconic status. In the 1960s and 1970s the chronograph was a limited success for Rolex. As a manual-wind watch with limited water resistance, it was a struggle to market a brand best known for its watches being impervious to water and self-winding. The watch was dismissed as “unfashionable” because of its multi-colored dial and exotic design and less successful than the regular model. Inevitably, these factors meant that Rolex strictly limited the production during that time and today these watches are extremely rare.
During this same period, Rolex released a small batch of gold Cosmograph Daytona watches and among these were a very small number of exotic dials known as “Paul Newmans.” In ten years of production, the number of Rolex Cosmograph watches made with a “Paul Newman” dial is estimated to be less than 10,000, but only approximately 300 were made in gold. The watch illustrated has the rarest combination among gold “Paul Newmans.” It is fitted with a black dial and black bezel which is a very elegant contrast to the gold case and subdials, giving it a dressier look. The use of a precious metal transformed the watch from a mere “tool watch” to a status symbol. In today’s discerning market, the gold exotic dial of the “Paul Newman” Daytona has more than stood the test of time. Its glamor and rarity means it commands a much higher premium among collectors.
In the 1960s, Omega’s Speedmaster watch—introduced in 1957 specifically for the racing market, an immediate success, and subsequently included by NASA in their space program—became known as the “astronaut watch.” However, today the Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman” is one of the most valued wristwatches among cognoscenti—its appeal and collectability are universal and enduring. Freeman’s will offer a fine example, with a noteworthy single-owner provenance since it was crafted in 1969, at its upcoming fall auction. Who would have guessed that this utilitarian watch, once sidelined as a commercial error, but championed by a legendary Oscar-winning actor, would achieve such stardom of its own?
To be offered 11/07/16: Lot 206, A rare fourteen karat gold "Paul Newman" chronograph bracelet watch, Rolex Cosmograph Daytona circa 1969.