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The Watches of Racing Driver PL Newman

A woman – we’ll call her Joanne – walks into a jewelry store to buy her husband a watch. Her husband, who works in the film industry, has just become enamored of the sport of auto racing because of some work he recently had to do. Joanne thinks a racing watch would make a nice gift.

So the jeweler shows Joanne several watches, including some that have been gathering dust on the shelf. She’s interested. The jeweler tells her they haven’t been very popular. He needs to move them so he’ll discount one if she wants it.

She likes the one with the white dial and black sub-dials. She has “Drive Slowly” engraved on the back and the jeweler wraps it up for her.

Joanne’s husband begins to spend his spare time at race tracks around the United States. He begins to drive, eventually inking a deal with Bob Sharp Racing for a ride in their Trans Am Datsun. He paints his initials on the car’s roof – PLN – and ignores his wife’s engraved advice to win a slug of races for Mr. Sharp.

Meanwhile, the watches with the black and white dials keep gathering dust on jeweler shelves. Rolex eventually pulls the plug on the obviously unpopular model, causing a nasty deficit for then-unforeseen future generations.

And then at some point – no one knows for sure when – someone takes Joanne’s husband’s picture while he’s wearing the watch she gave him. Turns out Joanne’s husband is a pretty cool guy. He has millions of fans around the world. When they see the photo, the watch world goes nuts.

Thus was born the Paul Newman Rolex Cosmograph Daytona.

And the rest is history. Horological history anyway. Well documented too, so we won't rehash it here.

Always among the priciest Rolex lots in any vintage watch sale are the Daytonas with the distinctive “panda” and “reverse panda” dials. They are collectively known as “Paul Newmans.” They belong to the 62xx series of references. The specific watch Joanne Woodward bought for her husband was a reference 6239.

Prices have risen steadily over the last twenty-five years. They cracked five figures in the early 1990s, and are firmly in six figures today. In fact, last year at Christie’s, a ref. 6263 broke through the Million Dollar barrier and gaveled at $1,089,186.

All because Cool Hand Luke went to a photo shoot in the mid 70s wearing the watch his wife gave him.

 

-Ed Estlow

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