Paul Newman’s Rolex ‘Big Red’ Daytona: Will Lightning Strike Twice For Phillips?
Three years ago, Phillips auction house in New York sold Paul Newman’s “Paul Newman” Rolex Daytona for $17.8 million. Will lightning strike Phillips twice with the “Woodward-Newman” Big Red Daytona?
“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.”
Well, in the quirky universe of vintage watches, I am happy to say, just about everyone knows the history and is hoping for some repetition as another Rolex Daytona owned by Paul Newman appears on the auction block.
The Well-known Past
In the late Sixties, actor Joanne Woodward walked into Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue and bought her actor-husband, Paul Newman, a Rolex Daytona with a distinctive black, white, and red dial.
Watches with a similar dial and small range of references later became known as “Paul Newman” Daytonas after Newman was seen wearing the watch in public. In 1984, Newman gave the watch to James Cox, the then-boyfriend of his daughter Nell. In 2017, James decided to sell the watch with Phillips and auctioneer Aurel Bacs as his auction team of choice. Then, on October 26th, 2017, the watch sold for $17,752,500.
The Uncertain Future
In October, WSJ Magazine announced that on December 12th, Phillips would sell a second Daytona gifted by Woodward to Newman. This one is a “Big Red,” reference 6263, with a black dial and white sub-dials. The occasion for the gift was the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary in 1983. Will history repeat itself?
Consider this. Paul Newman Daytonas became sought after vintage market stars in the late ‘80s and early-1990s. By the time 2017 rolled around, they were regularly earning six and even seven figures at auction. Even today, Big Reds sell for less but do occasionally break into six-figure territory.
The Power of Celebrity Status
Now we come to the question of how celebrities and their stories affect the value of vintage watches. You might say that Paul Newman had an intimate relationship with the watch sold in 2017. For about 15 years, he wore the watch before giving it to James Cox. Most importantly, watches with similar dials and movements acquired the name of the actor. But this is not so with the Big Red.
The size and the color of the word “Daytona” on the dial determined the nickname. And, in the mind of the collecting community, Big Reds are not as closely associated with Paul Newman or any other celebrity, as are Paul Newman Daytonas.
But wait a minute. Paul Newman owned and wore this Big Red from 1983 until 2008 when he gave it to Clea, his youngest daughter. That’s 25 years, a decade longer than he wore his Paul Newman.
If we assume the watch was his daily wear, then it witnessed a lot of history.
Imbued by the Wearer
Newman may have worn the watch in 1986 when he reprised the role of pool hustler Eddie Felson in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money for which he won a Best Actor Oscar.
Maybe he wore the Big Red while recording the voice of Doc Hudson, a 1951 Hudson Hornet, for the animated feature Cars released in 2006.
Then there’s Paul Newman’s racing life, for which he needed a chronograph to measure lap times. The actor drove Nissans for the Bob Sharp Racing team in the Trans-Am Series during the years he wore the Big Red. In ’85 and ’86, he piloted a Nissan 280ZX Turbo to victory at Road Atlanta course in Georgia. Did he wear it then?
In 1995 and at the age of 70, Newman won his class at the 24 Hours of Daytona (now known as the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona).
In 1983, the same year Joanne Woodward presented her husband with the Big Red, he partnered with Carl Haas to found Newman/Haas CART (and later IndyCar) Racing team. The team signed Mario Andretti, who became a friend of the Newman family. Was the Big Red in the room where it happened?
Newman was a legendary philanthropist, who once said, “What could be better than to hold your hand out to people who are less fortunate than you are?”
In 1986 Newman, along with writer and friend A. E. Hotchner, announced plans to create The Hole In the Wall Gang Camp, a place where children with life threatening diseases and their families, located in Ashford, Connecticut. On the camp’s website (holeinthewallgang.org) is a photo of Paul Newman in a straw hat surrounded by a throng of smiling kids. On his wrist is the Big Red.
From Father to Daughter
Okay, Paul Newman was famous and led a fascinating life. His watch witnessed many extraordinary events that the rest will never equal. But, for me, the most moving part of the story is also something that many of us may experience.
In early 2008, Paul Newman lay in a hospital bed recovering from cancer surgery. When his youngest daughter Clea visited, he unbuckled the Big Red from his wrist and insisted she take it. After some coaxing, she agreed. A few months later, he passed away.
The lesson of the story is that watches are touching gifts. A watch holds memories, and memories are a central part of all our lives. That holds true for all of us, not just the famous.
The Woodward-Newman Big Red
One more thing. On the night in 2017, after James Cox’s watch sold, Aurel Bacs had something more to say. He pointed out that Joanne Woodward had purchased the watch, so it should be called the Joanne Woodward-Paul Newman’s Paul Newman Daytona. “Let us all agree,” he said.
Aurel’s designation is a little bit too long for me. I prefer the more concise, The Woodward-Newman Daytona. That title emphasizes the uniqueness of the watch and its place in watch collecting history.
I humbly suggest that after the December 12th auction, the watch bought by Joanne Woodward and worn by Paul Newman in the future be called the Woodward-Newman Big Red.
Let’s hope history repeats itself.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)