As much as 2017 will go down in history as the year vintage watches smashed records at auction houses, it will be best remembered for being the year collecting vintage watches garnered mainstream acceptance. All thanks to Hollywood. A Rolex Daytona that belonged to acting legend Paul Newman was sold for a record $17.7 million (including buyer’s premium) at the Phillips Winning Icons Auction in New York in October. This is the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at an auction.

The record-breaking Daytona owned by Paul Newman

Celebrity provenance aside, this Ref. 6239 Daytona is historically important because this is the chronograph that spawned the vintage ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona craze. Paul Newman what, you ask? There were different reference numbers in which the 'Paul Newman dial' was delivered, including the 6239, 6262, 6240, 6241, 6263 and 6265. These had either a ‘panda’ dial or a ‘reverse panda’ dial layout.

Within these two dial variants there were also two and three color dial configurations, a very popular one is the one with the outer red scaling on the dial. But the most distinguishable feature of these coveted timepieces is the art deco font and the matchstick markers of the chronograph counters (see image on opposite page). Incidentally, the Swiss company Singer who made these dials for Rolex also made similar styled sub-dials for brands like Lip and Nivada.

Ref. 6263 is the most collectible Paul Newman Daytona

The Paul Newman Daytona is undoubtedly among the most coveted vintage watches in the market today and prior to the October auction typically fetched around $80,000-100,000. The craze has spawned enough fakes for experts to now suggest that there are actually more fake Paul Newman Daytonas out there than authentic examples. Industry observers believe this result is going to push the price of these chronographs further upwards.

Take a look at some auction results just weeks after the historic October sale. A Ref. 6265 Paul Newman in ‘excellent condition’ was sold for $427,433 (HKD 3,340,000), almost 40 percent more than the upper pre-sale estimate of $250,000 at the Phillips Hong Kong Watch Auction: Five on November 28. Christie’s sold a Paul Newman Ref. 6263 consigned by the original owner for more than double its low estimate at $506,860 (HKD3,940,000) on November 27. Auction house Phillips has now announced that it will host a themed sale dedicated to the Rolex Daytona in Geneva on May 12, 2018.

The Paul Newman sale got the attention of mainstream press

“I have found that demand far outstrips supply for great examples of Paul Newman Daytonas, particularly those with white dials, so we are not seeing many more come to the market from private collections,” says Eric Wind, a renowned vintage watch expert and dealer.

“However, I am aware of some original owners and families that realized their watch was special and valuable when they saw media coverage of Paul Newman’s Paul Newman. One friend of mine has had three original owners reach out to him the last few weeks with Paul Newman Daytonas in various configurations as they realized their watch was valuable from the auction,” says Wind.

“The aftermath of the sale means two things in particular: First, the Paul Newman Daytona will gain more interest among vintage Rolex collectors and secondly the Newman just became interesting for literally everyone who can invest in such collectibles,” says Tariq Malik, of Dubai-based vintage watch store Momentum. 

Wind and Malik remains bullish on the future of white dial Paul Newman Daytonas and both see demand now coming in from outside the vintage watch collecting circles. They have transcended vintage watch collecting to become iconic objects, like a vintage Porsche 911 or a Warhol piece of art.

While I was with Christie’s, on average at least once a month we would have someone from an art department within the company contact us asking us to find a Paul Newman Daytona for their client. These requests were from clients who did not own a single vintage watch. - Eric Wind

Such is the demand is that experts are seeing very little difference in value between mint condition ones and those that have condition issues, such as being “relumed” (having the luminous paint on the dial and in the hands stripped and reapplied). “That indicates that buyers are not sophisticated vintage watch collectors, but instead are people who just want one,” says Wind.

SUGGESTED READING: A history of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

In general, Paul Newman Daytona chronographs with screwed-down pushers have been coveted more than the earlier pump-pushers pieces because the former had better water resistance and was easier to maintain.

Ref. 6263 Paul Newman – the example with the black Bakelite bezel and screwed-down chronograph pushers – is the most coveted of the Paul Newmans. But will the Ref. 6239, which has pump-pushers, usurp this title post the auction?

A Ref. 6263 Paul Newman Daytona

Malik thinks it’s unlikely that the 6263’s allure will diminish in the wake of the sale. “I believe that the demand for 6239s just went up as a consequence of the sale but the most collectible Daytona reference will still be the 6263, the case configuration on this one is just right,” he says.

 Wind concurs by saying he doesn’t expect any other Paul Newman reference to become more valuable. “However, there are definitely at least a few collectors who have specifically sought out the 6239 to add to their collections recently because it is the ‘original’,” says Wind.

So, is this a good time to take the plunge and splash out for a Paul Newman Daytona? Should prospective suitors wait or pursue one before prices go up further? “My advice is buy now if you can find one that is in great condition. Many of them out there have condition issues, such as having heavily polished cases, replacement parts such as hands or bezels. If you can find one in wonderful original condition, preferably with history dating back to the original owner if possible, and with original documentation (a.k.a. ‘papers’), then I think it is strongly worth considering and it just comes down to the price,” says Wind.

Malik has absolutely no doubts when he says, “Not only with Paul Newman Daytonas but with all iconic and collectible vintage Rolex I would say don’t wait and jump on the train while you still can.”

ALSO READ: Emperor Selassie's Patek Philippe sold for $2.9 million