What’s so special about the Paul Newman Rolex Daytona?

February 22, 2017

Update: On October 26, 2017, Phillips Auction house sold the original 1968 Paul Newman Daytona for $17.75 million. Read more about the auction, here.

We all know of the late Paul Newman’s great acting ability, but did you know that the Academy Award winner was also a highly-skilled racecar driver? Newman drove in countless races, winning several national championships in Sports Car Club of America events. The Color of Money superstar also drove in the 24-hour LeMans in 1979, and finished in second place behind the wheel of a Porsche 935.

Porsche 935 Paul Newman

The Rolex seen round the world

So how did Paul Newman’s name become associated with a Rolex watch? Newman was an avid watch collector and favored Rolex. Many believe that his car racing attracted him to chronographs, which he would use to time his practice laps. Legend has it that he was photographed for the cover of an Italian magazine wearing his Rolex ref. 6239, and that this sparked a collecting craze. All 6239’s were not created equal, however. Let’s take a look at the subtle design differences between the Newman Rolex Cosmograph Daytona and the more run-of-the-mill Cosmograph Daytonas from that time period (about 1967).



Details of the Daytona Rolex 6239

The version that Newman was wearing, and continued to wear among his other watches, had the three “standard” subdials of a chronograph; however, it featured deco-style numerals on the sub dials versus the standard-issue Rolex numerals. Secondly, the small hash marks that subdivide the intervals on the sub-dials had square ends, almost like a square lollipop top. The run-of-the-mill Daytona Cosmograph had the classic stick hash marks. The dial design also featured a barely perceptible incline from the minute track to the main dial. Probably the best known distinction is the red “Daytona” emblazoned over the subdial at 6 o’clock. Interestingly, this non-standard dial did not sell well initially for Rolex. Clients in the late sixties and early seventies preferred a more classic look. As a consequence, the production was limited due to low demand. At the time, Rolex dials were outsourced to Singer, a dial maker that served many Swiss brands including Omega, Vulcain, and Heuer. Similar deco numerals appear on other watches from this time period. Today, all components of Rolex are made in-house, including the dials.

Rolex Daytona Paul Newman


A star of the vintage watch market

So why has this watch in particular drawn so much attention in the vintage market? To the casual observer, it looks pretty much the same as a “standard” Cosmograph Daytona. It comes down to supply and demand, and the coolness factor. The design’s rarity, plus Paul Newman’s celebrity and style, add to the mystique. As a result, a genuine Newman Cosmograph Rolex can run you up to 10 times or more than a Daytona from the same time period. Is it worth it? That depends on whether you consider yourself a die-hard collector.

Make sure the Rolex parts are original

With this watch’s notoriety also comes a higher risk of counterfeiting. One common practice is to take an authentic Rolex Cosmograph Daytona and replace the dial with a non-Rolex imitation of the Singer original. As always, there’s no substitute for doing your homework and working with a trusted seller to ensure authenticity of the watch. If you decide you can’t live without it, we’ll keep our eyes and ears open for you. But we can’t guarantee that you will look like Paul Newman when you wear it!