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How Paul Newman Ignited a Global Love Affair with the Rolex Daytona 6239

From the 1969 film Winning to a modern-day auction, here’s the fascinating history of motorsport’s most iconic watch.

rolex watch closeup

The word iconic is much used these days, though in the case of the Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona, the adjective could not be more fitting. When Newman was filming his first racing-themed film, Winning, Rolex dealers couldn’t get the early “exotic dial” Daytonas off the shelves. After this 6239 began to appear on the actor’s wrist, that challenge abated. Decades later, the now-famed Rolex Daytona is one of the most coveted chronographs ever. Initially gifted to Newman by his wife, Joanne Woodward, the actor’s personal Daytona bears the inscription, “Drive Carefully. Me.” Woodward often worried for her husband’s safety when he took to the track, and her words served as a reminder to him on race days. Newman wore the beloved Daytona constantly before gifting it to his daughter Nell’s then long-term partner, James Cox. Nell recalls to this day her father’s pride in the accuracy of his watch, going so far as to place the occasional gentleman’s bet with his guests about whose timepiece was more accurate. Now, this icon to beat all horological icons will head to the auction block in Manhattan this October, when Phillips will sell it at its Winning Icons watch sale, partial proceeds from which will benefit the Nell Newman Foundation.

paul newmanform the film Winning

The 1969 film Winning sparked Paul Newman’s abiding interest in motorsports.  Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection

The Timeline Mark of a Winner

1963

Rolex produces the first Cosmograph Daytona, Reference 6239. The name is intended to bolster awareness of the brand’s involvement in American motorsports.

May 1969 

Paul Newman stars with his wife, Joanne Woodward, in Winning. The film becomes the trigger that ignites his obsession with racing. Woodward gifts Newman the Rolex Daytona 6239.

Summer 1972

Newman takes to the track in his first races with the Sports Car Club of America at the wheel of a Lotus Elan, leading to multiple SCCA championship wins between 1976 and 1986.

Fall 1983

Newman’s daughter Nell meets James Cox at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Summer 1984

Newman gifts his Daytona to James in thanks for his restoring the old tree house on the Newman family estate in Westport, Conn.

February 1995

At the age of 70, Newman wins the GTS-1 class at the famed Rolex 24 at Daytona.

September 2008

Newman succumbs to his battle with lung cancer at his Westport home.

October 2017

Nell Newman and James Cox consign the Daytona to Phillips, with a portion of proceeds being donated to the Nell Newman Foundation.

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