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A Brief Overview of the Paul Newman Daytona

A Brief Overview of the Paul Newman Daytona

The record-breaking, $17.8 million sale of Paul Newman’s very own, “Paul Newman” Daytona stirred up a lot of attention, both in the watch collecting community and the world beyond. The “Paul Newman” exists among a sea of unofficial, but widely-recognized terms and nicknames that collectively form the modern nomenclature of Rolex collecting; however many individuals that are not intimate with the minutia of vintage Rolex may still be wondering, “what exactly is a Paul Newman?”

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In short, a Paul Newman is one of the Holy Grails of Rolex collecting. More specifically, it is a vintage Rolex Daytona chronograph that is fitted with a specific style of “exotic” dial. Other than the dial, a Paul Newman Daytona is no different from a regular Daytona of the same reference and configuration. However, to fully understand the Paul Newman Daytona, its overall significance, and why these watches are so valued and sought-after by collectors, one must first have a bit of historical perspective on vintage Daytona chronographs, these specific “exotic” dials, and the man himself: Mr. Paul Newman.

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Although Rolex had been manufacturing chronograph wristwatches since the 1930s, it was not until 1963 with the release of the very first Daytona, the reference 6239, that Rolex’s chronograph would start to take on its contemporary form and appearance. Production of the reference 6239 lasted throughout the rest of the 1960s, during which time a number of other Daytona references were released with overlapping production dates.

In the mid 1960s, Rolex decided to introduce an alternate, “exotic” dial design for their reference 6239 chronograph. These exotic dials were characterized by their stepped, contrasting-color minute track rings, and the art-deco style font that was used for the numerals on their chronograph registers. Additionally, the hour markers on a Paul Newman dial appear as small metallic blocks with luminous dots placed at the edge of their innermost side, and are significantly shorter than the stick-style hour markers found on a normal vintage Daytona dial.

Production of these exotic dials lasted into the beginning of the 1970s, with very early examples of the reference 6263 and the reference 6265 being the last two Daytona references to ever receive them. Due to the overlap in production dates of different Rolex Daytona chronograph references during the 1960s, exotic dials were fitted on a number of different manually wound Daytona references, including the 6239, 6241, 6240, 6262, 6264, 6263 and 6265.

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At the time of their initial release, these exotic dials were not very well received, and most customers preferred the appearance of the traditional Daytona dial. Due to their poor reception, these exotic dials were manufactured in much smaller quantities than normal Daytona dials; and although unconfirmed, it is estimated that regular Daytona dials outnumbered exotic dials in a ratio of more than twenty to one. Furthermore, many of the exotic dials that were originally produced are no longer still in existence today, as a fair number of Daytona owners had their original exotic dials replaced during a repair or subsequent servicing.

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Although these exotic dials were initially rather poorly received, things began to change during the 1980s when American actor and racecar driver, Paul Newman, was photographed for an Italian magazine while wearing his own exotic dial 6239 Daytona. Subsequently, many prominent Italian watch dealers and collectors started referring to these exotic dials as “Paul Newman” dials and the nickname stuck. Over the years, the demand for these vintage Daytona chronographs with Paul Newman dials grew, prices for them rose, and it was not long before the Paul Newman Daytona had become the new Holy Grail of Rolex collecting.

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Due to the variety of different Daytona references that were produced during the 1960s and early 1970s, a range of variation exists among the different Paul Newman Daytona watches. Some examples such as the reference 6239 and the reference 6262 were fitted with metallic bezels, while other references like the reference 6241 and the reference 6264 received black acrylic bezels. Furthermore, reference 6240, 6263, and 6265 Daytona watches will have screw-down chronograph pushers, while all other examples of the Paul Newman Daytona will be fitted with more traditional, pump-style pushers.

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There is even a subtle range of variation that exists among Paul Newman dials themselves, depending on when the specific dial was manufactured and the reference number of the watch to which it was originally fitted. Paul Newman dials can either come in two or three colors, and are generally found in either black or white, although some 18-karat yellow gold Daytona watches received champagne-colored Paul Newman dials. Additionally, since production of Paul Newman dials spanned the introduction of screw-down chronograph pushers, reference 6263 and reference 6265 Paul Newman Daytona watches will have the additional word, “Oyster” on their dials to denote that the chronograph pushers screw down for increased water resistance.

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The Paul Newman Daytona is often credited as being the watch that jump-started much of the vintage Rolex collecting market that is so alive and strong today. The history of the watch itself has a fascinating trajectory, making the leap from unwanted dial variant of a humble sports chronograph, to becoming one of the most expensive and widely-coveted watches in the entire world. The rise in value and collectability of the Paul Newman Daytona very much dovetails with that of the vintage Rolex market as a whole, and few watches embody the values and overall spirit of vintage Rolex collecting better than the Paul Newman Daytona. 

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