Thursday, December 7, 2023

Rare: Paul Newman Rolex Watches Head To Auction

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Who could forget Paul Newman’s Fast Eddie character from The Hustler and The Color of Money, the latter performance earning the actor an Oscar. Other signature performances included playing Butch Cassidy in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and as the smooth swindler Henry Gondorff in The Sting. When not exuding machismo on screen Newman also hit the track as racecar driver, competing in events like 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Baja 1000 and more.

Newman also served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and led a life many would only dream of before his passing in 2008 at age 83. In June, fans of the actor received an opportunity to own one of his own vintage timepieces as part of a series of auctions from the collection of Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward. The lot includes more than 300 items the legendary actors’ enjoyed throughout their 50-year marriage.

Two of the first items set for the auction block were two of Newman’s Rolex Daytona watches from the storied collection. A “Paul Newman Daytona” is a sports-style watch that’s highly coveted by Rolex collectors, with a distinct dial and other features separating it from the traditional version. An actual Paul Newman variety worn by the Hollywood icon himself is even rarer with only two other examples previously sold at auction. The two Sotheby’s examples come with even more historical and sentimental value, representing key moments in Newman’s racing career.

One of the Rolexes was presented to Newman after winning the GTS-1 class at the 24 Hours of Daytona Race in 1995. At age 70, he became the oldest driver to accomplish the feat. After the victory, the driver noted: “I feel tremendous, it’s a real kick in the rear, as my wife would say … I don’t think there is anything better than this.” Upon winning the race, Newman was named Rolex Motorsports Man of the Year and was presented with the “Zenith” Daytona, bearing the inscription “Rolex at Daytona 24 Paul Newman Rolex Motorsports Man of the Year 1995.” The watch marks one of the proudest moments of his motorsports career.

Known for his philanthropic work, Newman auctioned off the one-of-a-kind watch in 1999 for $39,000 to his charity, The Hole in the Wall Gang. The organization provides medically supervised summer camps and programs free to children with serious illnesses. Despite the record sale, Newman wore the watch again years later and it’s believed an acquaintance purchased the watch back for him because of the nostalgia and memories intertwined with the timepiece.

The second Daytona was the last watch ever gifted to Newman by Woodward and is inscribed “Drive Very Slowly, Joanne.” The white gold automatic chronograph piece features a black dial, and was the only precious metal Daytona Newman ever owned and one of only three Daytonas gifted from Woodward. The Sotheby’s auction marked the first time the watch was offered on the market.

The Rolex Daytona was officially launched in 1963 and has close ties to the world of motorsports. The timepieces quickly became a favorite among the racing community – including Newman. He acquired his first Daytona during the filming of Winning (1969), which ignited a lifelong passion for auto racing and became an unofficial part of his racing uniform. Both the Sotheby’s pieces were expected between $500,000 and $1 million.

“Newman cemented his legacy with watch collectors through his influence on Rolex’s most sought-after model, the Daytona,” Sotheby’s head of sale for watches Leigh Safar says. “As Rolex celebrates 60 years of the Daytona this year, we are proud to share in that milestone and present two models worn and owned by the Hollywood legend, which narrates the everlasting love he shared with his wife, Joanne, and his deep passion for racing. We are grateful to the Woodward Newman family for choosing Sotheby’s to present their parent’s collection to the world, with these watches standing as one of the most coveted and highly prized in the world.”

From watching his Newman-Haas team race at the Indy 500 to his iconic Barbara Walters interview in 2007, Newman’s Daytona from his beloved wife was along for the ride during some of the most important moments of his final years. That included adorning his wrist as during his famous final laps at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut, on Aug. 13, 2008. The track was closed to the public for Newman and Woodward’s loved ones as they watched the Hollywood star take one last turn behind the wheel. Newman sped past them in his 700 horsepower GT1 Corvette before passing away just over a month later.

There is a bit if 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 wristwatch.

-Leigh Safer

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