The Paul Newman Daytona, owned by Paul Newman, and given by him to his daughter’s boyfriend, has been called overhyped, and there is no denying that the accusation is essentially correct – in fact, you could say that for the PNPND (so I’ll call the Paul Newman’s Paul Newman Daytona fake watches, for the sake of brevity) being overhyped is essential for it to be what it is. Without the hype, what you have, after all, is a somewhat quirky take on a mass-produced, mid-century sports watch, with slightly offbeat aesthetics, good quality construction given the manufacturing technology available at the time, and a reliable if ubiquitous chronograph movement, of interest (in terms of horological history) for what it represents in the evolution of timekeeping technology. Without the hype, in other words, you have a watch that is difficult to distinguish in every major respect from many, many other wristwatches of its time – hundreds of thousands of them, in fact, and of course, none of them stand a snowball’s chance in hell of auctioning for even $170,000, let alone $17 million.
All this is fairly obvious; as anyone who is seriously involved in collecting vintage watches as a hobby probably knows, the PNPND was something of a perfect storm. It’s the ancestor to, and originator of, what is to those who don’t share it, an inexplicable passion for a particular Rolex model. But it’s also a watch with a connection to a major figure in American arts (Paul Newman, after all, was hardly a garden-variety Hollywood pretty boy, although he could certainly step into those shoes if the role demanded it) and in its own right, a piece of Americana; if you were a collector of anything from watches to Hollywood memorabilia to Paul Newman ephemera, you were probably going to take at least a passing interest in the watch.
Whether or not the actual design of exotic dial Daytonas has anything to do, even in the slightest, with the high prices paid for them, depends on who you ask; I struggle to see anything more than happenstance quirkiness in them, but people whose taste I respect a great deal (some of whom, more relevantly, have taste that is widely respected and used as a benchmark for defining quality in watch design, and for other watch collectors) have said, and written, with a straight face, that it’s “one of the most beautiful watches of all time.” (If it could read, the Daniels Space Traveller would probably go white to its bow, rush to the mirror, and, like the queen in Snow White, demand who the fairest of them all really is.)
The whole thing raises two questions, which form the center of most of the conversation about not only the PNPND, but also the seemingly endless drumbeat of record-setting prices in watch auctions in general. The first is, “Is it worth it?” and the second is, “Is it bad for watch collecting?”
Let’s look at the second question first. Fairly regularly, when a watch some of us think of as utterly unprepossessing sells for an eyebrow raising sum of money, the assertion is made – the words vary but the basic substance is the same – that it’s “ruining the hobby.” A recent example was the “barn find” Speedmaster we covered earlier this month, but there are any number of other examples. It seems to mostly have passed unnoticed that in the same Phillips auction in which the PNPND set its record, a Rolex Submariner reference 6200 (a first year Sub) sold for $579,000. I’m not sure that this isn’t at least as insane as paying $17 million for the PNPND, assuming you think this sort of thing is insane in the first place.
Now, is this bad for watch collecting? Maybe so. Prices for both new and vintage watches of good quality, and from blue-chip names like Rolex cheap replica watches for men and Patek Philippe, seem on an endless upward trend. Even ten or fifteen years ago, good vintage watches weren’t exactly cheap, but the enormous sums of money flowing into vintage watch collecting have, it’s true, changed the game. When I first got interested in watches, the watch magazines, such as they were, were on newsstands along with the model railroading, doll collecting, and stamp collecting magazines. Things have obviously changed dramatically since then.