Watch Icons: Paul Newman and the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

By Jessica Diamond

I t’s the early 1960s and the world is enthralled with motor-racing – the drivers, the bravery and the heady mix of danger and glamour. Watch designers spot an opportunity, tapping into this obsession with speed and the measurement of time, while mixing it with a more relaxed aesthetic; and the result?

The sports chronograph is born – the Omega Speedmaster, the Heuer Carrera, and in 1963 the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona – a neat tie-in to the watch brand’s newly acquired partnership as the official timekeeper of the world-famous race. With its 3 sub-dials and Art Deco-esque details the watch wasn’t an immediate success (rumours still circulate that it was possible to get money off a new one in those early days), and so Rolex cut back on production.

But then a seemingly insignificant event would secure the Daytona’s destiny. Paul Newman, Hollywood actor and now racing car driver was gifted one by his wife Joanne Woodward – the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Reference 6239 – with the message ‘Drive Carefully Me’ engraved on the case back, and he wore it consistently for many years, including while competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Crucially this watch was one of the early steel hand-wound models with an ‘exotic’ black and white dial (some estimates put this version’s production at only 3000) making its appeal, and other references produced in small numbers, even greater for today’s collectors.

Affectionately nicknamed the ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona, it was 2017 when the original timepiece came up for auction. Given a second Daytona in 1984, again by his wife, with the inscription ‘Drive slowly Joanne’, Newman gave his original watch to his daughter’s boyfriend in the same year – hence its eventual appearance on the auction block 13 years later. And the final sale price after only 12 minutes of bidding? An astounding $17.75m, the highest price ever paid at auction for a wrist watch and proof that provenance counts for everything - Paul Newman’s ‘Paul Newman’ has assured this watch’s iconic status for ever.

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