Credit: Haute Time

Being the crème de la crème among each and any 20th century timepiece, the Rolex Paul Newman Daytona needs no introduction. Dating its pioneering debut upon reaching the actor’s own wrist in 1968, hence its namesake, there have since been a plethora of exclusive and desirable reference numbers within the same family, each set apart by their different stories; while this one makes for yet another fascinating watch linked to motor racing, as its initial purpose serves.

Between the late 60s an early 70s (the former, earlier years being when Paul Newman first received his 6239 Daytona from wife Joanne Woodward), Rolex produced a limited round of this cluster of vintage references. Subsequently, in contrast of their place in today’s market there was actually little interest back then, causing sales to have suffered - which is hard to fathom if we consider prices they have since managed to fetch at auction! In this particular example, we take a look at a glorious 6264 borrowing a distinct, striking color pattern from a certain unmistakable F1 car livery, the Lotus ‘John Player Special’.

Credit: Unknown / Antiquorum

First, some backstory: Though Rolex only formally partnered with Formula One in 2013, having long acted as a sponsor prior, their presence in the championship is merely the latest cornerstone amid its rich presence in motorsport, approaching a span of 85 years. The most prominent of which would lead to its title piece, introduced shortly after partnering with the Daytona International Speedway in 1959; the Rolex Daytona Cosmograph (… which, in turn had little success as other manufacturers were more firmly noted for chronographs). Then, several years later came the legendary affiliation with renown acting and racing talent, Paul Newman, who devotedly included his watch with him at the wheel during countless races.

Sequentially along its path came this 18K yellow-gold Paul Newman ‘JPS’. Immediately characterized by its signature dial decorated with art-deco style numerals and square register marks along the subdials, it is especially high in rarity (not to mention asking price). In fact, this elusive watch is only one out of ten fitted with a black dial, thus eligible for the figurative John Player Special cosign. However, it comes actually three years before the cigarette manufacturer would officially sponsor the Lotus F1 team in 1972, who went on to win the Driver’s Championship the same year, including three Constructor’s Championships throughout their 70’s tobacco tenure. So, was its appearance simply a happy coincidence? Well perhaps, but one guarantee is this watch comes second to none in terms of the full-package; having heightened the evolution of the pump-pusher Daytona, bridging its original design with future developments. Thus providing a transitional link between each historical period, before the definitive implementation of screw-down pushers shortly thereafter.

This piece follows a limited string of auctioned counterparts, either fitted with the same John Player Special dial (a preceding 6241 was sold by Phillips for CHF 912.5K in Geneva, 2018), or other Paul Newman iterations more commonly in steel cases, as opposed to yellow-gold. Absurdly scarcer are other ‘Exotic’ dials in Champagne or moreover Lemon, the latter remaining in only five known examples (most recently sold by Phillips for $ 884K in New York, 2019). It is with such rarity that these prices can be demanded, which surely you must be curious about as for the aforementioned 6264 (pretext: it unsurprisingly broke a record). Unlike past auctions, there was no in-person attendance as everything was carried out online at Sotheby’s from July 24th-31st. The watch, using a 727-caliber manual-winding movement, was sold among 15 bidders for a final price of GBP 1.2 million – surpassing its estimate by an additional GBP 565,000, as well as Sotheby’s own previously held record for a watch sold in an online auction. As art is subjective, and make no mistake this constitutes a finely crafted work of beauty, the final bid can occasionally be all but predictable.

In the same vein, when the next one will appear is equally unknown. It’s safe to assume, however that it promises incremental record-breaking. A sound, and nonetheless costly investment for true fans or true players!