IN DEPTH: The story of how Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona found its way to auction

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Watch collectors around the world are preparing for the sale of what experts are describing as the Holy Grail of classic timepieces, a Rolex ‘Paul Newman’ Cosmograph Daytona, owned by the Hollywood and motor racing legend, himself.

A pre-sale estimate of $1 million by Phillips auction house, in association with Bacs & Russo, is expected to be smashed, with some experts thinking the watch could sell for as much as $10 million.

The Paul Newman Daytona is being auctioned at the Winning Icons sale run by Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo on October 26 in New York.

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The buzz is already building around the world for a watch with peerless provenance.

It is the watch that inspired the legendary nickname for the most prestigious versions of Rolex’s Daytona.

For enthusiasts and scholars, it is this association with Paul Newman that has led to the Rolex Daytona being universally regarded as one of the world’s most sought after and collectible of all mechanical wristwatches.

Phillips is building up the excitement with a full history of the watch, and its association with Mr Newman.

A Hollywood legend in every sense, mere mention of the name Paul Newman conjures up images of his distinguished life and careers as an actor, director, racecar driver, entrepreneur, family man, and philanthropist.  He was a multi-faceted virtuoso and his incredible performances on screen and stage not only made audiences laugh and cry for decades, but won him two Academy Awards, including that of Best Actor – Hollywood’s ultimate endorsement of his immense talents,” Phillips reminds us.

Outside of his artistic endeavors, Newman had long been passionate about speed. It was his role in the 1969 film, Winning, playing race car driver Frank Capua, where his passion for racing would form.

His wife and fellow actress, Joanne Woodward, played the role of Capua’s wife.

Taking place at the Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway, the movie launched his hugely successful auto-racing career. Applying the same methodical discipline that honed his acting skills, he trained relentlessly, and would go on to win many races throughout his lifetime – even placing second at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

But even in the earliest days on the set of Winning, Joanne was uncomfortable about her husband’s motor racing, fearing he would hurt himself in an accident.

Either during or following the filming of Winning, Joanne purchased the perfect gift for her husband, likely at Tiffany & Co. – a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona – a watch designed specifically for motor sport.

On its caseback, she inscribed the message: “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME” as a reminder of her concern at Mr Newman’s racing.

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The watch is a rare and exclusive version of the Cosmograph Daytona – a reference 6239 fitted with what the brand called an “exotic” dial. The reference 6239 was the very first model of Rolex’s iconic Cosmograph “Daytona” series – produced from approximately 1963 until 1970. It was the firm’s first chronograph with a tachymeter scale engraved on the bezel, designed to instantly and clearly measure speed.

During the 1980s, as wristwatch collecting began to grow in earnest, Daytonas fitted with the “exotic” dial became known as the “Paul Newman” Daytona after the famous actor, who was seen wearing this very watch for many years.

Along with the red “Daytona” designation at 6 o’clock and the red outer seconds track found on Paul Newman’s watch, the signature trait of exotic, “Paul Newman” dials is their subsidiary dials. The beautiful, art-deco flare of the font used, and the hash marks with small squares used for the counters set these exotic dials apart from the standard dials more commonly seen on Daytonas.

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The horological event of 2017 will be the offering of this particular reference 6239. Commonly referred to, but not seen since the 1980s, is this most important of Rolex Paul Newman Daytonas.  This exact watch to be offered for sale by Phillips was worn daily by the legend himself, and was prominently featured in many photographs published in magazines and books for decades.

Mr Newman owned and was seen wearing many Daytonas, but the watch on sale this year is considered the most valuable and likely to exceed the price of an 18 karat yellow gold Daytona “Paul Newman”, reference 6263, referred to in literature as “The Legend”, sold by Phillips in May 2017 for $3,717,906.

Phillips says that the watch on sale in October is the piece he wore faithfully until 1984. Its existence since then has never been in doubt, but its whereabouts was less clear.

The journey from Mr Newman to the sale room only adds to its desirability.

“The story of this watch, and its connection to Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s first daughter, Elinor “Nell” Newman is truly fascinating,” Phillips describes.

Nell was a beautiful, smart, ‘girl next door’ type. Humble like her father, she never advertised her Hollywood pedigree growing up.

In the fall semester of 1983 at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, she began dating a fellow student named James Cox. At school, she kept her famous background secret, going by her largely unknown stage name, Nell Potts. During a dinner with fellow students, Nell brought a bottle of “Newman’s Own” salad dressing – a product her father produced through his charitable company, Newman’s Own.

Upon seeing the bottle, James told the group that he had met Paul Newman as a child at the Lime Rock motorsport racetrack with his father.  From behind the roped-off racing teams’ pit-area, a young, wide-eyed James was trying to capture a picture of the drivers and their cars. Cox was spotted by a fully suited up driver who gestured towards him to come under the barrier onto the track to get a better photograph. The driver, he told them, was none other than Paul Newman.

It was after she heard the story that Nell confessed her true identity to James.  Her name was not Nell Potts, but rather Nell Newman.  Nell diligently hid her background under this alias to insulate herself from anyone with ill intentions seeking to become her friend for the wrong reasons. Needless to say, James was in love with her, not her famous background, and the two continued to date for several years.

Fast forward to the summer of 1984, when both Nell and James were staying at her family’s house in Westport, Connecticut. That summer, Nell was hired as a hack‐site attendant in Vermont, helping rehabilitate Peregrine Falcons to return to the wild. James stayed behind at the house along with Paul Newman, and eventually came up with the idea to upgrade and rebuild the impressive tree house on the main property, known as “Nook House.”

It was this very tree house that convinced Nell’s mother, Joanne Woodward, to purchase the home. For Paul and Joanne, the tree house was in fact the most important feature of Nook House, and it was central to the longevity of their incredible, 50-year marriage.

Nell Newman recalls the story below, in her signed letter accompanying the watch: “The tree house was perched in a large oak tree that cantilevered over the Aspetuck River at my childhood home in Westport, Connecticut. We had two family homes, one on each side of the river. That summer Pop was living in one, and James was living in the other. Pop would frequent the river bank to check on James’ progress. During one such encounter, Pop asked James if he knew the time. Apparently Pop forgot to wind his wristwatch that morning. James responded that he didn’t know the time and didn’t own a watch. Pop handed James his Rolex and said, “if you can remember to wind this each day, it tells pretty good time.”

Since that day, James treasured the watch and has preserved it in all original condition.

Together, James and Nell, who remain close friends, have jointly decided to sell the watch, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Nell Newman Foundation.

The charitable foundation supports her father’s philanthropic values, while serving Nell’s commitment to organic foods and sustainable agriculture. A portion of the sale proceeds will also go to benefit Newman’s Own Foundation.

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