The Rolex Daytona, originally released in 1963, is one of the best-known watches in the world. Along with the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, it is one of the most coveted, sought after watches on the market. This popularity spans the breadth of the watch’s production: there are waiting lists for brand new examples and vintage and pre-owned examples achieve substantial sums at auction. In 2017, an early Rolex Daytona belonging to Paul Newman sold for $17.8m, a world record for a wrist watch at auction at the time. Charmingly it was engraved with a message from his wife Joanne: ‘Drive carefully, me.’
Like many watches achieving high amounts at auction, that one had a story; a ‘watch biography’ that has become arguably the most famous ever. Paul Newman, recognised for not only his film career but also his love of car racing, is known to have worn several Rolex Daytona watches throughout his time. Like many Rolex watches, the early model (the 6239) that he wore in the most notable situations, and films, was given a nickname by collectors. That nickname was ‘the Paul Newman’ and referred to the 6239, and specifically the ‘panda’ dial; a white dial with black subsidiary dials. It makes sense then, that when that ‘Paul Newman,’ belonging to Paul Newman, came up for sale in 2017, it made that huge sum of money.
Paul Newman also owned a later Daytona model 6263 (produced 1971-1987) which he actually owned before his early 6239, another now-famous gift from his wife, that also engraved with a message from her: ‘Drive slowly, Joanne.’ This was sold in late 2020 for $5.475m. This later model does, of course, also have a nickname. This one is more traditional in its origins, referring as it does to a design element. The ‘Big Red’ as it is known, features the model name DAYTONA curving above the 12 hour register, in a proportionately larger font in comparison to previous models.
In collector and enthusiast circles, the Paul Newman and Big Red, are highly sought-after, being as they are, early pieces in the Daytona lineage. The fun part of the story of the Daytona overall is that they were not always popular. In fact, although hotly debated among enthusiasts and watch historians, it is often said that the Daytona was the ‘only Rolex that dealers would offer a discount on.’ True or not, this statement does give the gist of the situation as it was several decades ago. It was not until the 1990s that the Daytona began to noticeably grow in popularity, and since then, the auction prices for both new and vintage pieces have risen significantly. This rise was fairly steady until around ten years ago when it became steeper, and more markedly still in the last five.
In our Select Jewellery & Watches auction on 22nd October in London, a Big Red dating to 1979 featured at lot 138. In great condition, with all accompanying paraphernalia, this example also came with a captivating biography of its own.
In 1983, the vendor’s father visited a well-known family jeweller in Ayr, Wallace Allan, and bought two Rolex watches, a Submariner and a Daytona. These were to be gifts for our vendor and his brother, at that time a ships navigator and a recreational diver respectively. The Submariner was gifted to our vendor and the Daytona to his diver brother. However, the brothers elected to exchange watches – so suited was each timepiece to the other’s purposes. As a navigator, the timing function (the ‘stop watch’ centre seconds hand to the Daytona) was very useful to our vendor when on voyage. The Submariner, Rolex’s purpose-built dive watch, was of course ideal for his diver brother.
Due to his extensive sailing experience and professional navigation qualification, a year after he received his watch, our vendor-navigator was given the opportunity to sail as Mate on the British Sail Training Yacht ‘Aztec Lady,’ in the 1984 Trans-Atlantic Tall Ships Race. The 1984 race program was the most ambitious up to that point, with competitors required to complete a full circuit of the Atlantic Ocean, including a detour along the Saint Lawrence River to Quebec. Aztec Lady represented the British Sea Cadet Corps in the international event. The yacht was a large steel ketch which was used to take young people to sea, with the aim of character-building and sail-training experience on voyages in open ocean waters.
Speaking of the race, our navigator reminisced:
“I wore my Rolex throughout the race and used the stopwatch for race start timing and for old school celestial navigation, shooting the sun for noon positions, and taking star sights morning and evening.”
The race was in three parts. The first leg began at St Malo, France and went to Bermuda, with a stopover in the Canary Islands. The second leg was from Bermuda to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Tall Ships fleet encountered an unexpected and particularly severe storm on the first night of the second leg, about 60 miles north of Bermuda. This now infamous event caused damage to several of the competing vessels of the race fleet. Tragically, the three masted barque “Marques” was completely lost, along with the lives of 19 of her crew. Aztec Lady was involved in the search for survivors. Our navigator recalls his arrival and stay in Halifax as consequently, “welcome but sombre.”
At the beginning of the third leg, our navigator recalled,
“…a spectacular ‘parade of sail’ that left Halifax back out into the Atlantic for a “cruise in company” to Quebec with crew exchanges and visits to small towns in the Saint Lawrence Estuary. The visit to Quebec was very hospitable with a further parade of sail past the Heights of Abraham and a cruise in company back down the Saint Lawrence to Sydney, Cape Breton Island, taking in a detour up the Saguenay Fjord to Chicoutimi.”
The final part of race was from Sydney across the North Atlantic to Liverpool in England.
The Daytona owner continued seafaring, eventually becoming a captain in the Merchant Navy. During his illustrious career he worked with SeaCat on its innovative and pioneering high-speed aluminum catamarans as well as with Stena Line’s high-speed ferries before finally retiring in 2020.
Musing on his relationship with his Big Red, and decision to sell it on, he said:
“My Rolex served me very well in all conditions whether under sail, at work, or in social settings. However, as I realised the value of the watch and the potential for loss or damage, I stopped wearing it regularly and thereafter wore it only on special occasions. I gave my son the option of inheriting it but he opted for the proceeds to help buy a substantial sailing boat in which we can go voyaging together.”
This watch is a collector’s dream; it has seen true use of its functions, in the most exciting, often dangerous, scenarios. Following this, it enjoyed an early ‘retirement’ (unlike its owner), protected as it was, in great condition for the last 36 years. It comes complete with its box, outer box, papers and booklets. Serviced once circa 1990, even the few small original parts replaced during this process accompany the watch.
Lyon & Turnbull’s watch auction and valuations department is a dynamic one with significant expertise, creating diverse watch auctions in the UK with fine, rare, modern and vintage timepieces. In line with the growth of the pre-owned watch market in recent years, we hold six specialist watch auctions in the UK each year across our Edinburgh and London salerooms.
Take the first step to selling your jewellery at auction with a free, no-obligation, sales valuation. Contact our team in Edinburgh on 0131 557 8844 and in London on 0207 930 9115.