S otheby’s New York is pleased to present two Rolex Daytona watches from the storied collection of the legendary movie star, director, race car driver, philanthropist and family man, Paul Newman.
In our modern world of interconnectedness, it’s easy to forget that our loved ones were not always a text message away. Today we have the luxury of conveying any sentiment to anyone, anywhere, at anytime.
There is a sense of importance that does not need to be explained when we pass historic buildings that have their names etched into their stone. But not all engravings on a watch are meant to be admired by the public. Some, such as a simple phrase, carved into the caseback of a timepiece are meant to stand the test of time, resonate with the owner, and remain hidden from the eyes of the outside world.
In 1995, Paul Newman participated in the 24 Hours of Daytona Race, where his team won first place in their GT-1 class. At the age of 70 years old, this made Newman the oldest man to win the race. Newman was gifted an incredibly special reference 16520 ‘Zenith’ Daytona to commemorate when he won the Man of the Year award presented at the 24 Hours of Daytona Race. Rolex was officially granted the sponsorship of the 24 Hours of Daytona race in 1991, and has held that title ever since. The watch bears the inscription ‘Rolex at Daytona 24 Paul Newman Rolex Motorsports Man of the Year 1995', a title that Newman held proudly. The serial number S'498'728 dates the watch to 1993, which is consistent with other watches presented that year to other winners of Rolex 24.
This watch still resides with the family, and is presented to us by Joanne Woodward, his wife of 50 years. Interestingly this is not the first time this timepiece will hit the auction block. Four years after Newman received this watch, it was offered at Antiquorum for the very first time in their “Famous Faces” auction in collaboration with Tourneau. The sale allowed celebrities to consign their personal watches to benefit a charity of their choice. While Newman was known to have mega celebrity status and a love for racing, nothing was more important to him than giving back. Known as one of the greatest Philanthropists in America, Paul Newman offered his watch for sale on February 24, 1999, where it made 39,000 USD to benefit his charity, Hole in the Wall Gang.
Remarkably, Newman was seen years later wearing this watch, which begs the question, how?
After hearing some incredible stories from the family, it was noted that there were several occasions where Paul would auction something for charity that he really loved. No material object ever meant more to him than charity. It is said that his friends or loved ones would often buy back his most beloved items, just to return it to where it belonged, with Paul. This item is no different. It is either the generosity of a friend, or his incredibly loving wife who purchased this watch back for him to wear proudly throughout his later years in life. Not only is this a testament to him as a person, but also those who he chose to surround himself with.
For Joanne Woodward, the phrase “Drive Very Slowly Joanne” was meant to hug Paul Newman’s wrist, and trigger a reminder to keep his hands at 10 & 2 while navigating life in the fast lane - both figuratively and literally. Woodward is known for her loving inscriptions and her fear of Newman’s need for speed every time he would step onto the racetrack. The present fresh-to-the-auction-market reference 116519 is one of three watches, specifically Daytonas, given to Paul from Joanne to have an inscription directly related to driving. It also comes as no surprise that these inscriptions were on the caseback of a chronograph to time his laps at the racetrack. This white gold variant is confirmed to be the one and only precious metal Daytona ever owned by Newman. The Z-serial indicates it was produced in 2006, which also tells us that he only had a few short years to enjoy it before his passing. The watch was worn during his iconic Last Racing Laps at Lime Rock Park on August 13, 2008, and was the last Daytona ever given to him from his wife, Joanne.
There is a bit of noir-Hollywood magic that stirs in our minds when we picture a movie star-turned race car driver, speeding around a track with a love letter hidden from plain sight tucked behind his wrist watch.
When these stories come out to the public, it’s often long after the characters have hung up their racing gloves. All that remains are the medium that they were carved into, and the feelings that they evoke in our modern lives.