One of the star lots of the upcoming Important Watches sale (Geneva, 13 May) is an extraordinarily rare Rolex Daytona ‘Paul Newman’ wristwatch, reference 6239. The watch has been cherished by a single owner who received it as a wedding anniversary gift in 1975. More than 40 years later, a chance meeting on a visit to his local jeweller revealed that this gift held a thrilling secret: the watch features what is known as a “tropical” or colour-change dial.


ROLEX ‘PAUL NEWMAN’ DAYTONA WITH “TROPICAL” DIAL, 1968. ESTIMATE: CHF 200,000 – 400,000

Rolex’s ‘Paul Newman Daytona’ watches are widely recognized as the most highly coveted vintage Rolex models on the market. Indeed, the current record for any wristwatch sold at auction is held by a Rolex ‘Paul Newman’. This present example, reference 6239, presents a highly unusual additional effect: the colour of its three subsidiary dials – originally black when the watch was made – has naturally faded to a beautiful rich brown. This phenomenon – referred to as “tropical” by collectors – is caused by the materials used in the manufacture of the dial discolouring over time after being exposed to certain elements such as the sun and other forms of light. The effect of the transition from black to brown creates a beautiful patina on the surfaces affected, making these dials an incredibly appealing rarity.

The wristwatch was originally purchased new in 1975, as a 25th wedding anniversary gift from a loving wife to her husband. Priced at £134, it was packed in its presentation case along with its certificate and receipt. The purchaser wrote out a cheque for £135 and received a £1 note in change. The gift had huge emotional value: the couple had been childhood sweethearts, and remained together throughout his time serving in the British army during World War II, as well as in India and Iraq. They married in 1950 and had two children, enjoying a happy marriage and supporting each other for years to come.


THE HAPPY COUPLE IN 1950

For more than 40 years, the watch was treasured by its owner, who kept all of the original paperwork – including the £1 note. Little did he know that, as the market for collectible Rolex watches evolved, the unusual fading on his watch would become one of the most collectible features on the watch auction market.

Sam Hines, Worldwide Head of Sotheby’s Watch Division, commented, “This wonderful watch combines two of the most sought-after elements on today’s market: not only is it a Rolex ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona – the model which holds the current record for any wristwatch at auction – it also features a stunning “tropical” dial, whose appeal is sure to resonate with discerning collectors of the finest vintage wristwatches.”