In Review

How the Rolex Daytona went from ugly duckling to uber-watch

…with a little help from Paul Newman

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The Rolex Daytona has gradually become one of the most popular mechanical watches on the planet, with authorised dealers quoting wait times of over five-years for eager collectors hoping to get their hands on one.

The watch is steeped in motor racing history; indeed its very name derives from the famed Nascar race in Daytona, Florida.

The connection between the race and watch is simple: throughout the 1960s racing drivers began using Rolex Daytonas to time their laps using the watch's sophisticated chronograph function.

The much-lauded Rolex wasn’t always popular though. In fact, there was a time when Rolex had to practically give them away. But gradually the Daytona's fortunes began to turn around, not least of all following the intervention of one particular Hollywood actor with a penchant for both motor racing and watches.

In 1969, while filming the motion picture Winning, Paul Newman discovered a passion, and as it turned out, a great talent for motorsport. Newman made the film alongside his wife Joanne Woodward and, after filming was complete, ended up competing in professional races around the world. The actor even set up his own racing team.

After Winning was released, Woodward gave Newman a Daytona reference 6239 in stainless steel, fitted with an exotic type dial and engraved with the message “DRIVE CAREFULLY, ME”. He took to the watch immediately and went on to wear it every day, using the chronograph function to time his laps.

Despite being held in such high regard by Paul Newman, the Daytona still struggled to sell to the public throughout the 1970s and early 80s. The exotic dial variant that Newman wore was more unpopular still, with customers preferring classic Rolex models such as the Submariner and Day-Date.

It wasn’t until the late 80s that a handful of watch traders started to take notice of the Daytona the actor wore and nicknamed it the Paul Newman (or PND for short). The watch started to quickly gain popularity within the watch-collecting community and auction prices began to rise.

The new millennium saw a rapid increase in the popularity of vintage Rolex and the Paul Newman Daytona was soon the most coveted of them all. Prices skyrocketed and the first six-figure sum was achieved at auction in 2013. This demand for vintage also translated to the current production reference Daytona, with customers joining waiting lists at authorised dealers, or paying over the recommended retail price on the secondary market.

Fast-forward to 1 June 2017 and the auctioneers Philips announced that they would be selling the mother of all vintage Rolex: Paul Newman’s very own PND. The watch set a world record, selling for an astonishing £13.5m on 26 October 2017. 

Since the sale, prices for the various references of PNDs have continued to increase as collectors and investors keep a beady eye out for the next sale.

Within the group of Paul Newman Daytonas, there are certain references that are considered more desirable than others. Rolex were much more experimental in their designs in the 1960s than today and as a result, several iterations of PNDs exist with slight differences that were made in very small numbers. Now that Newman’s personal Daytona has sold, it is these watches that will command the highest prices at auction. 

Pre-owned luxury retailer Xupes recently announced they would be selling a reference 6264 PND in 18k yellow gold that features a rare lemon-coloured dial. Due to a particularly short production run, there are thought to be as few as 20 in existence and this particular watch is only the fifth to come to market.

With no signs of slowing down, rare Paul Newman Daytonas represent a good investment opportunity for the lucky few who can afford them, as well as a chance to own a small piece of horological history.

For more information on the reference 6264 PND mentioned above, visit Xupes.com

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