Watch Collectors, Rejoice: Two Paul Newman Rolexes Are Coming to Auction


There are few phrases in watches more exciting than “Paul Newman’s Rolex.” And this Friday, there’s a double feature of the iconic actor’s watches coming to Sotheby’s. While neither of these pieces are likely to completely reorient vintage watch collecting—the way the Cool Hand Luke star’s  $17.8 million Daytona did in 2017—both watches prove that Newman was lightyears ahead as a collector.

One of the most important attributes a watch hoping to go bananas at auction can have isn’t necessarily the material it’s made out of or a highly technical movement inside, but an association with Newman. In addition to the $17.8 million Daytona with what’s known as an “exotic” dial (initially an underloved variation that Newman Midas touched—it’s now known as “the Paul Newman” Daytona), another piece from the actor sold in 2020. This “Big Red” Daytona, named for the large crimson text writing out the piece’s name, reached $5.5 million. The pair coming up for auction this week are also stunners, both with (conservative) high-end estimates of $1 million.

“These watches transcend watch collecting,” Leigh Safar, the head of important watches at Sotheby’s, told me over the phone this week. Newman, Safar says, was “someone who changed the way we see watches and changed the conversation around watch collecting.” As she puts it, Newman was like the original influencer. Your parents went to see his movies because he was on the poster, generations have purchased salad dressing with his smiling face on the bottle, and watch collectors have long chased the pieces he favored. “He reached so many people. I’m honestly so shocked at how he was able to do that without the touch of an iPhone button,” Safar added. The next owner(s) of these watches are lucky enough to live in the 21st century, where flexing their new Newman watches won’t present as many hurdles.

But beyond the ties to Newman, what makes these particular pieces so special? Let’s take a closer look at both.

MEXICO CITY – NOVEMBER 11: Sebastien Bourdais driver of the #1 McDonald’s Newman Haas Lanigan Racing Panoz DP-01 celebrates with team owner Paul Newman after winning the Champ Car World Series Grand Premio Tecate on November 11, 2007 at Autodromo Hermonos Rodriguez in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Paul Newman’s Rolex “Zenith” Daytona

Last December, I wrote a story probing the idea of whether or not the “Zenith” Daytonas were the next grail watch. The watch, named for its movement made by watch brand Zenith, was produced in the ‘90s and ticks every box necessary to become the next coveted model. “When a lot of clients got priced out of the modern Daytonas they wanted to go for something that was a little bit different or unique,” Safar said. Not to mention, at the same time, collectors were also finding prices on vintage Daytonas from the ‘60s climbing to unreachable heights. These pieces from the ‘90s, referred to as neo-vintage, became like Goldilocks’ porridge.

Watch Collectors, Rejoice: Two Paul Newman Rolexes Are Coming to Auction

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