Utter the name Paul Newman and a spirit of reverence is almost certain to involuntarily percolate any gathering of over-30s. The actor’s racecar-driving, salad sauce-making, sexy sweet-talking good feeling is irresistible. Mention the name among a group of wristwatch lovers, on the other hand, and the reaction will be profoundly different — stiff interest will be piqued, tempered with not a few strong opinions on either side of the thin line of apotheosis.

In the unlikely case that you haven’t heard, there is a vintage Rolex watch that unofficially carries the great man’s name. Among collectors, the Paul Newman has long been at the core of all things Rolex; its bewitching title capable of commanding premium upon premium, inspiring book after blog post after whisky-fuelled late-night debate, and 50 years along, gives no sign that it will ever release us from its thrall. Read about the birth of the Paul Newman Daytona here.

So what is all the fuss about? On the face of it, the Paul Newmans are straightforward, industrially-produced manual-wind chronographs of a modest size, with movements built by a third party, and yet it easily commands prices well in excess of what you might pay for, say, a Patek Philippe chronograph. Well, that’s just part of the magic. We’re all obsessives about watches on some level, deriving an intangible and rewarding thrill from studying the minutiae of some aspect of the craft. If it’s Paul Newman’s favourite watch, with all its microscopic foibles that press your buttons, don’t fight it!

The watch draws more than its fair share of cynics; I attribute this partly due to the fact that it has been heavily faked in the past, and also to the popular notion that its prices have skyrocketed. True, in the past couple of years, some exceptional Paul Newmans have commanded record-breaking auction results. At a Phillips Auction earlier this year, a black RCO “Oyster Sotto” screw-pusher ref. 6263 with a unique tropical dial attained a record-breaking price of CHF1.985 million. This, we believe, is a good thing: it demonstrates that many past uncertainties surrounding the model are largely being put to rest — collectors now have a great bank of knowledge against which to make their judgements. However, until recently, rather than jumping wildly in value, a study of auction data reveals that good, straightforward Paul Newmans have exhibited a measured and steady increase in value over the past 25 years. The reason that collectors choose to wear, enjoy, and invest in this friendly little watch is that scholarship in the veracity of Daytonas is now very well documented — knowledge builds confidence and trust.

So let’s square away some facts. In the likely parlance of Paul Newman himself, we present Daytona 101.

Making of a legend — The Pump-Pusher Watches refs. 6239, 6241, 6262 and 6264

In short, the Paul Newman is a dial — or to be specific, a family of dials — fitted to the standard Rolex range of chronographs from 1963 to 1987. In this first part of the article, we will focus on the dials found in the pump-pusher watches (read the second part focused on the screw-pusher references). These are the ref. 6239 with steel bezel worn by Newman and the ref. 6241 (the same watch with a black acrylic bezel), both powered by the venerable Valjoux 72 movement, as well as the later steel-bezel ref. 6262 and acrylic-bezel ref. 6264 watches, which were identical save for the updated Valjoux 727 movement, which featured a beat count that was increased from 18,000 bph (2.5 Hertz) to 21,600 bph (3 Hertz).

The chronographs all fall into a category that Rolex dubbed ‘Cosmograph’. Pretty much straight after the Cosmograph was introduced, Rolex began to advertise the watch under an additional moniker: Daytona.

As a sponsor of the famous Florida Speedway, it seems appropriate that Rolex would bang out its name on their new watch. Little known is the fact that the watch actually began life with a rather more European accent: before settling on the name Daytona, the earliest examples were originally called Le Mans!

Model Number: 6239

Model Number: 6241

Model Number: 6262

Model Number: 6264

In the end, it was ‘Daytona’ that stuck. The word isn’t always present on normal Cosmograph dials, but it’s almost always there on a Paul Newman, printed in an arc above the hour-recording subdial. Rather than the dry mouthful of ‘Cosmograph’, collectors and fans universally refer to all these watches simply as ‘Daytona’, whether or not the dial actually bears the word.

To reprise: what we’re looking for is a specific kind of dial. To set the context: one of the perks of buying a new Rolex, even today, is that you’re often offered a choice of alternate dials. Take your pick from White Lacquer, Gold Crystal, Champagne & Rubies, Chocolate, Goldust Dream, or Meteorite. Do keep a hold, by the way, of that bark-finish gold Datejust from 1983 with Malachite dial — its day is coming, I guarantee it…

The early Daytona was no different. It also had an alternate dial, dubbed by Rolex as the Exotic. The name leaped from Exotic to Paul Newman in the 1980s after Italian watch dealers noticed the actor wearing the watch in film publicity photographs. Since then, Paul Newman was often pictured wearing his Daytona with Exotic dial; whether this was a cause or effect we’ll probably never know, but the association is now irreversible.

So how do you detect whether a Daytona has the standard dial or the Exotic/’Paul Newman’ dail? Could you tell at a glance if the dusty Rolex staring back at you from the forgotten corner of a provincial antique shop window, with a £200 price tag, is a Paul Newman? And how would you know whether it’s REAL? You’re nobody’s fool, you have a new kind of love—it’s a rare, elusive Rolex, and to find one like this…for pocket money! You give yourself a little pat on the back for having read the digital version of Revolution’s Watch Club Guide to the Paul Newman, study the watch under an eyeglass, and then give the verdict: you’re winning!

The essentials

The most obvious difference between a Paul Newman and any other Daytona is that the Newman always has a contrasting colour to the seconds chapter ring around the outer edge of the dial. Don’t get carried away at this stage worrying about the precise combination of printing colours (there are at least seven), the important thing is this: whatever the predominant colour of the dial, the Paul Newman will always have a seconds chapter ring printed in the ‘opposite’ colour. So a predominantly black dial will have the seconds ring in cream. A dial with a cream field will have a black seconds chapter ring. The same rule of contrast applies if you’re lucky enough to be staring at a gold Paul Newman Daytona (these are ridiculously rare).

Compare this with a normal Daytona, where the main dial colour extends unbroken all the way to the edge. Also, normal Daytona dials often come with a radially-brushed metallic sheen—if the dial you’re looking at is metallic, it’s not a Paul Newman. Newman dials are always fully printed/inked. If contrasting outer ring is present, then it’s definitely a Paul Newman (or at least something purporting to be one). Other details will  automatically follow:

Both the normal and ‘Paul Newman’ varieties of the ref. 6262 shown here.

Non-Paul Newman

Paul Newman

1. The primary markers on the subdials have a pronounced square-lollipop appearance, giving the subdials a ‘dotty’ look, visible from a long distance. The typography of the two kinds of dial are distinctively different. A normal Daytona has rectilinear digits that are fairly ‘blocky’. On a Paul Newman, the digits are much more stylised, with varying-width strokes and sinuous curves. Look at a Paul Newman’s threes, sixes, nines, and fives as examples. Image illustrating this

2. The hour chapters or markers on the main dial of a Paul Newman are half cubes. Normal Daytonas have long, facetted rectangles. Paul Newman’s little cuboids will be topped with a glossy black paint blob when the main dial is black, and are mirror-polished metal when the dial is light.

3. The subdials of both are inscribed with subtle concentric circular grooves. In the Paul Newman, these ‘LP’ grooves extend pretty much all the way to the edge (usually 26 grooves), whereas in normal Daytonas, the grooves stop short about three-quarters of the way to the edge, leaving clear unbroken fields beyond.

The details

So, now that we know that the creature appears to be of the correct species, can we definitely I.D. it as genuine? The Paul Newman Daytona has been the unwilling poster boy to the world of horological forgers for much of the past 30 years. Well-made fakes are sinister: the underlying watch is normally perfectly legitimate. Everything else, other than a cunningly re-painted dial, will be utterly correct, throwing the inexperienced collector off the scent. If you enter the fray, come armed with a photographic memory and a very large magnifying glass…

I have to declare that, to help stem the advance of ever more sophisticated fakes, we simply cannot apprise you with all the secrets. In just the same way that the precise pattern of microscopic craquelure swirling around La Gioconda’s gaze will only ever be exactly known by her curators at the Louvre, some of the Paul Newman’s mysteries are best kept modestly under wraps.

First of all, it’s important to know that Rolex themselves did not make the dials. This work was the preserve of specialist subcontractors Singer (not the sewing machine people). This kind of outsourcing was common throughout the 700 years of horological history; we needn’t get uppity about it, it simply was a fact that a third party produced the dials. A consequence of this is that it appears that Rolex do not command the last word on the subject of their vintage dials, and the available true information about them has usually come about as a result of dedicated independent research. Images of correct Singer mark on the back of genuine Paul newman dials. It is not enough however that the dial in question feature the correct “Singer” marking as that only proves that it was a dial made by the factory, but not that it is a Paul Newman dial.

When trying to spot a fake, look for these features that are present in every genuine Paul Newman:

1. The 12 o’clock chapter never has any luminous marking. Only the very early naïve fakes were prone to this error.

2. The luminous compound at the remaining 11 chapters ought not to glow very brightly, if at all. After all, with a half-life of about twelve years, the radioactivity-inspired glow exhibited by tritium paint on a 1960s Paul Newman would be about one-sixteenth of its original strength.

3. The seconds chapter ring is ALWAYS stepped down from the level of the main dial field. This step isn’t always easy to spot, because it’s best observed from an acute angle, preferably with the acrylic glass removed as it can distort the view at the dial’s edge. Manufacturing variability comes into play here, because steps on genuine dials can vary from profound to mere tenths of a millimetre. Note that many of the fake dials, and in particular, I am reliably informed by friends at Revolution that the so-called Texas dials do not have this step.It is easy to be fooled because of the contrast in colours creating an optical effect, so be vigilant in your visual inspection.

4. On the seconds (left-side) subdial, observe the shape differences between the tails of the fives. The one at 15 is longer than its counterpart at 45, and it has a pronounced ‘shark fin’ shape. Notice also the differing negative space between the five-tails and their respective bowls. The bellies of the fives also differ quite markedly, with that at 15 being rather fatter, earning it the nickname ‘Jimmy Five Bellies’!

5. Cast an eye over the ‘30’ on the minute counter: the lower limb of the 3 is stretched well beyond the rest of the digit. This contrasts strongly with the two other 3s elsewhere on the dial.

6. Every subdial is slightly pan-shaped, sunken below the main surface; study the radial strokes on each. On correct Paul Newman dials, these strokes tend to climb up the rising edge of the subdials, whereas fakes tend to stop short of this rising edge. These Sticky Lines result from the printer’s master plate having lines that are slightly longer than the plan view of the sub-dials. This causes the printed lines to slightly curl upwards at the edges of the subdial, strings of ink carried right into the corners. This differs from other Daytonas, and in fact from many earlier fakes, where the lines stop visibly short of the edge. The radial lines are infuriatingly unpredictable even on correct dials. They never behave in the same way, some ride higher than others, and sometimes the whole lot seem to be marginally offset.

7. On the back of the dial, we note the maker’s name, Singer, impressed clearly into the brass, always in the same place, in a squarish font that is not itself free of (consistent) imperfections. Take special note of the way that the hour chapters are attached from behind. If made by Singer, they will each have a single foot, riveted cleanly and evenly with a single blow. Restored and re-finished dials will have horrid cutter marks where the original rivets were removed, and their re-attachment will leave indelible hammer marks, blank holes, and other nasties that are dead giveaways as to the dial’s double life.

8. A subtle detail is that the two sub-dials are slightly asymmetrically placed on the main dial. Their centres are immovable—they have to be placed directly over the seconds and minute-recording pinions. In the Valjoux calibre 72, the minute recorder is offset slightly towards the centreline by about 25 hundredths of a millimetre – enough to be seen by the naked eye from up close. Note the two blue lines that are of equal length. Drawn from the central pinion, it just touches the seconds sub-dial. Whereas, when placed with the minutes sub-dial it overlaps, ever so slightly, or by – about 25 hundredths of a millimetre.

9. The dials of the screw pushers watches are all largely the same. However in the models 6262 and 6264 the T swiss T mark at the base of the dial referencing the existence of luminous tritium in the indexes are different with the word ‘Swiss’ flatter than that found in the 6239 and 6241 dials, which tends to have a peaked middle.

With all the dial swapping that has happened since then and now, this observation isn’t always consistent. It is however important to know, because it is the black Newman dials that were originally intended for the 6262 and 6264 models that ended up being used to create the currently million dollar plus black ‘RCO’ three color screw pusher reference 6263 Paul Newman Daytonas.

In the accompanying image, the ref. 6239 type font is on the top and the ref. 6262 type is on the bottom.

Revolution would like to thank The Watch Club and Stefano Mazzariol for providing most of the incredible images used for illustration in this article. Go on to read part two where we discuss the screw-pusher varieties of the ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona.