1969 Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona with Tropical Dial
Vintage & Auctions

The Life And Times Of A Very Extraordinary ‘Tool’ Watch

How a quantity surveyor from Middle England lived half his life with a legend on his wrist… and never knew it.

By Simon Howson-Green
Contributor

This is a love story. And, as all Watchonistas know, great love stories always have a cherished wristwatch beating at their heart. But this love story has more. It’s about how worlds, watches, and chocolate collide. All very Swiss.

Our story begins in Birmingham, England, between the two world wars when a boy meets a girl. The boy’s name is Graham Morris. The girl is Mary, and he pulls her pigtails in a noisy classroom. But our story reaches its climax in Geneva in hushed silence, followed by a bang.
 

Birmingham in the 1950s

In 1950, after serving with the Royal Artillery all over the world - including Afghanistan, India, and Iraq - Graham returned to civvy street, married his childhood sweetheart, and began a career as a quantity surveyor. Graham is a numbers guy. He likes precision. His profession and his life have always been about accurate measurement. Graham still has a pin-sharp memory for names, dates, and he never forgets a watch face.
 

Graham serving with the Royal Artillery

The time of the robbery

In 1975, halfway through their long and happy marriage, Graham and Mary are burgled. Their beautiful home is ransacked, and they lose some of their most prized possessions - including Mary’s jewelry. Deciding to replace the lost items and move on, Graham buys Mary a new engagement ring and Mary buys Graham a wristwatch. Graham knew just the place to go.
 

The happy couple in 1950

For months Graham walked to work past a branch of Watches of Switzerland. Every day as he glanced into the window, he noticed one watch looking back at him. Its dark panda-like eyes following him as he went past. “It was like that puppy in the window of a pet shop just begging you to give it a home,” says Graham.
 

How much is that timepiece in the window?

“Mary and I went to the jewelers,” Graham remembers. “We spent ages choosing a ring. But when it came to the watch, I knew exactly what I wanted. The chap in the shop called it an ugly tool watch. But I loved it. It had complications which fascinated me and all operated by an intricate mechanical movement.”

“Mary bought me the watch. it cost £134.”
 

Graham & Mary

“I wore and used that watch every day of my life. It was part of my working day. I used the functions and I would have felt very strange without it. It really was a tool I used in my trade.”

Graham is now 93. Mary died in 2015. The watch she bought him forty years earlier was one of his most treasured possessions and a strong connection to his beloved wife of more than half a century. But, one day in 2018 Graham decided it was time to let it go, to say goodbye. Graham’s grandson, Sam, calls that night, “The night of the chocolate bar.
 

The night of the chocolate bar

Graham loved chocolate and treated himself in the evening as he watched television. Then one evening the watch and the chocolate tragically collided when a small piece of melted chocolate made its way into the pusher mechanism of the watch and it stopped working. Graham – by this time living near Chichester – took the watch to the long-established family jewelers, RL Austen.

RL Austen is a Rolex dealer.
 

RL Austen Jewellery Shop

Gary Cole, Austen’s longtime Rolex expert, told Graham the watch could be fixed easily and it was worth sending it to Rolex to have it looked at and evaluated because it was very special. Gary insisted Rolex not replace any of the parts – not the crystal, not the dial, not the crown, nothing.
 

Rolex Paul Newman Daytona with Tropical Dial, 1969 ©Courtesy of Sotheby's

“I could see Graham really loved this watch,” says Gary. “It was in a beautiful condition. The three sub-dials had a nice patina – faded from black to a deep and very apt chocolate maroon. I could also see that Graham had no idea he had a very rare and sought-after watch on his wrist.”

Yes, you guessed it.
 

Rolex Paul Newman Daytona with Tropical Dial, 1969 ©Courtesy of Sotheby's

Just a few months earlier, a watch of the same calibre and face was sold at a Phillips auction – under the guidance of auctioneer, Aurel Bacs – for more than fifteen MILLION dollars. It was the Joanne Woodward/Paul Newman. Paul Newman. Graham’s Daytona was the next best thing.

Sam Morris, Graham’s son, takes up the story.
 

Sotheby's Important Watches Auction at Geneva

Daytona Fever

“We took the watch to Sotheby’s in London and they sent it on a world tour – including New York and Hong Kong – and it ended up in Geneva. My father and I traveled to the auction house there. By then we knew it was very valuable. We’d had no idea how valuable though.”

“There was total silence in the auction room where seconds seemed like hours. Then the auctioneer brought his gavel down with a bang. There was a lot of cheering in the room. Dad and I were stunned into silence.”
 

The Graham Morris, Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, Paul Newman sold to an anonymous buyer for almost eight hundred thousand Swiss francs. That’s about £700,000. It is rumored Rolex snapped it up for their collection and one whisper suggested the bidder who lost out on the Paul Newman Paul Newman bagged it.

“I called Grandad,” says Sam. “He’d been watching the auction on a Sotheby’s live feed. It must have been heart wrenching to part with that Daytona. It had been a daily companion for almost half a century, and it was so wrapped up in his close relationship with my grandmother.
 

“However, I think it was when Grandad was walking to the corner shop with a watch on his wrist worth more than his house that he realized, after all those years, the Daytona had a new role to play in the family history.

“I think we’d always assumed it would be inherited and passed down from generation to generation. But in the end, we all benefitted and Grandad took some wonderful cruise holidays.”
 

Rolex Paul Newman Daytona with Tropical Dial, 1969 ©Courtesy of Sotheby's

And finally, does Graham still wear a watch? Yes. When he sold the Daytona, he treated himself to a nice, sedate stainless-steel DateJust, which he says he loves.

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