SR International: Paul Newman Rolex Daytonas, Found In A Desk, Could Sell For Millions At Sotheby’s Upcoming Auction
Years ago, Nell Newman was rooting around for a pencil in the Connecticut home office of her late father, the actor Paul Newman, when she unearthed two horological treasures: a pair of Rolex Daytona watches worn by Newman in his latter years.
Now the pair of chronographs is destined to cause a commotion in the watch world when they’re put up for auction in June at Sotheby’s, part of the sale of more than 300 mementos from the estate of Newman and his wife, actress Joanne Woodward.
Sotheby’s has estimated $500,000 to $1 million per watch, though watch experts say they’re likely to fetch more than a million dollars each. One of the most coveted provenances in horology is having been strapped to Newman’s wrist.
The first timepiece, a 1993 Rolex reference 16520 “Zenith” Daytona with a pearly white dial, was awarded to Newman in 1995 when his racing team won the 24 Hours of Daytona Race in Daytona Beach, Fla. At 70, Newman was the oldest person to win that race, and the watch is reverently inscribed: “Rolex at Daytona 24 Paul Newman Rolex Motorsports Man of the Year 1995.”
The championship ticker has come up for auction before. In 1999, Newman donated it to the “Famous Faces” sale held by Antiquorum and Tourneau. Other marquee benefactors included Elton John, Madonna, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Newman’s steel watch hammered at $39,000, which he directed to his charity “The Hole in the Wall Gang,” a camp for children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. (The actor, the founder of Newman’s Own, was also known for his philanthropic ventures.)
That ’93 Daytona meant so much to Newman that either he or someone in his life later repurchased the watch. So low-key was Newman about his watches that his daughter wasn’t previously aware of the buyback tale. “That was news to me,” she said, “And I thought, what a delightful story.”
The second Rolex is a later model—a 2006 white-gold reference 116519 Daytona on a black leather strap. The watch, at auction for the first time, is one of three known models given to the blue-eyed actor by Ms. Woodward and bears the inscription “Drive Very Slowly Joanne” on the case back.
Recent hammer prices indicate that the watch world has Newman mania. In 2020, Phillips auction house sold a Rolex reference 6263 watch given to Newman by his wife, with the inscription “Drive slowly, Joanne,” for nearly $5.5 million. The sale of Newman’s Rolex Daytona reference 6239 for $17.8 million three years prior remains the high-water mark for his watches.
Here are a few things Paul Newman’s daughter, Nell Newman revealed to WSJ. Magazine…
Nell Newman on finding the watches:
“There they were with his driver’s license,” said Ms. Newman. “They were just in a box on his desk.”
Andrew Shear, watch dealer, on the value of watches having been worn by Newman:
“We can tie vintage-watch collecting, vintage-Rolex collecting to him,” said “The Hustler” actor persistently wore Rolexes throughout his lifetime. He is most closely associated with the Daytona model; his late-1960s version with an “exotic” dial sold for nearly $18 million in 2017.
Nell Newman on the value he placed on his timepieces:
Were he still alive, the Hollywood icon may balk at such princely prices. “He did not put his watches on a pedestal,” said Ms. Newman. For her father, watches were “all about keeping time, being on time, and timing race cars.”
She recalled that he had the “quirky habit” of betting houseguests a quarter that his Rolex kept better time than whatever was on their wrist. He’d call a “What time is it?” hotline, hold up the phone to prove his watch was more accurate, and collect his reward.
Features Image: @WSJ/Twitter
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