Maybe you missed out on Jimi Hendrix’s “Woodstock” Stratocaster, which sold for a reported $US1.3 million in 1993. Perhaps you were too slow to raise the paddle for the prototype Apple 1 computer, thought to be Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s first, which fetched $US815,000 last year.
Luckily, you still have a crack at Paul Newman’s cheap Rolex Daytona. This opportunity may not seem significant to the cellphone-toting masses who think of mechanical wristwatches as anachronistic devices once used by their grandparents to tell time. But to the swelling legions of watch geeks worldwide who think of vintage timepieces as fine art, a Paul Newman Daytona is the one watch that seemingly every self-respecting collector needs to own.
And Paul Newman’s “Paul Newman”? It is basically the Mona Lisa, perhaps the most famous timepiece in the world, coveted all the more because for decades no one outside the Newman family seemed to know where it was.
Well, the secret is out. On October 26, Newman’s lost masterpiece will go on sale as the centrepiece of a watch auction at Phillips in New York, following a treasures-of-King Tut-style world tour to whip up interest – as if interest actually needed whipping up.
Judging by the frothy response so far, you would think the lost ark of the covenant had just been listed on eBay.
“Paul Newman’s ‘Newman’ could easily be seen as the most important watch there is,” says Andrew Shear, a prominent New York vintage watch dealer. “I could see it selling for $US10 million ($12.6 million).”
Arguably, the ur-Newman is the watch that “created the entire vintage watch market we know today”, says Charles Tearle, a vintage watch consultant and broker in Los Angeles, who estimates the watch would bring in at least $US3.5 million, and could climb to eight figures if a few heavy-hitter collectors decided to duke it out.
No one would be more baffled by the commotion than Butch Cassidy himself. Newman may have been a marquee-topping Oscar winner and global sex symbol but, in his daily life, he was the antithesis of Hollywood, his daughter Nell Newman said in a recent interview from her California home.
For decades, he lived a quiet life with his family in Westport, Connecticut, often driving a Volkswagen Beetle (albeit with a Porsche engine) and wearing a three-piece patchwork denim ensemble when circumstances forced him to dress up.
Back then, his watch was similarly low key. Although a modern replica Rolex watches Cosmograph Daytona costs $US12,400 (about $15,500) today, the models of the ’60s and ’70s cost about $US250 and were little more than timekeepers for gear heads, featuring a built-in stopwatch for timing laps and a tachymeter for calculating speed.
Newman’s 1968 model was a gift from Joanne Woodward, his wife of 50 years, when the actor became consumed with motor racing. The back was engraved, “Drive Carefully Me”.
Even so, the 6239 model that Newman would make famous (he owned at least one other version later) was distinctive and relatively rare, featuring an exotic dial containing a number of stylish design tweaks including, most notably, the art deco-style numerals on the subdials that any true watch connoisseur could spot from 10 paces. There may be only a few thousand in the world today, dealers say.