On the eve of the sale of Paul Newman’s ‘Paul Newman’, there were a few voices in and around the interwebs that sought reason. Their crusade was one brought about as a result of many — us at Revolution included — suggesting that the famed Rolex Daytona 6239, for sure, would sell for more than $10 million.
Their school of thought was further buoyed by the fact that earlier in 2016, the Porsche 935, which came in Second Place Overall at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans — while piloted by drivers Rolf Stommelen, Dick Barbour and Paul Newman — sold at the Gooding & Co. Pebble Beach sale, to the one and only Adam Carolla for a grand total of $4,840,000.
So, the argument can be suggested that if Paul Newman’s winning Porsche — a sizeable and desirable car — sold for under $5 million, how could a watch then possibly go beyond $10 million? Sounds incredulous.
But here is the reality check: While yes, this particular Porsche 935, chassis number 009 00030, was driven by Paul Newman at the 1979 Le Mans and then again at the 1979 Watkins Glen 6 Hours, it was the only two times he did.
In the following year, while Newman was still with Dick Barbour racing for Le Mans, he was teamed up with John Fitzpatrick, Brian Redman and Dick Barbour to drive a completely different Porsche 935 (chassis 000 00023) and — get this — Newman didn’t even get to drive.
In the year 1980, and for the better part of the 80s, Newman drove a Datsun 280ZX, car number 33 and later a Nissan 300ZX Turbo with Bob Sharp Racing, which later went on to become the Newman Sharp Racing team.
So then, why was the 1979 Porsche 935, chassis number 009 00030, named ‘Paul Newman’s Porsche’? It was because in 1979 when famous, award winning actor, Paul Newman took to the track at Le Mans, his presence attracted the biggest crowd the race had ever seen to date. And what with a podium finish, it was inevitable that Newman’s name would forever become associated with the car.
But the fact remains: The 1979 Porsche 935, chassis number 009 00030, was never a personal effect of Paul Newman’s. Contrary to that the exotic dial Rolex Daytona ref. 6239 given to him by his wife, Joanne Woodward, was, undoubtedly, a personal effect of Newman’s.
And he had this watch in his possession from the day it was given to him by Joanne right up until that faithful day in 1985, when he selflessly gave it away to one, James Cox. The rest, shall we say, is history that we are all familiar with now.
What I’d like to bring to light here is that perhaps the reason why Paul Newman’s watch stirred emotions enough to chalk up $17,752,500 at Phillips Watches’ inaugural New York sale is that it was, first and foremost, a personal effect of Newman’s. It is because it was a personal effect that it inspired the rise of an entire sub-class of vintage Rolex watches, which are highly collectible today, and are known to us as very simply as the ‘Paul Newman Daytonas’. It’s not like there is sub-class of Porsches that we refer to as ‘Paul Newman Porsches’.
The same reasoning could be applied to the Rolex watch that was, not too many days ago, ‘the most expensive Rolex in the world’: The ‘Bao Dai’, which sold with Phillips Watches at their May 2017 Geneva sale for $5 million. The watch, albeit not as known as the Paul Newman Daytona, is a rare specimen and, also, it was once the property of royalty, namely the last Emperor of Vietnam. Sure, it wasn’t one to cross the $10 million mark but rarely will we ever see the likes of the provenance presented by Paul Newman’s ‘Paul Newman’.
Now, if personal possession is held as a reasoning for landmark performances on the watch auction floors, we can’t go forward without mentioning the $24,000,000 Henry Graves Jr. Patek Philippe Supercomplication Pocket Watch (sold with Sotheby’s in 2014), Eric Clapton’s platinum 2499 (sold with Christie’s in 2012 for $3.65 million) and more recently Dr. George Daniels’ Space Travelers’ Pocket Watch (sold with Sotheby’s in 2017 for $4.3 million).
At this juncture, it’s right to ask: Is it just the watch guys who are mad enough to spend such astronomical sums at auctions to own a piece of their idols’ existence? Not necessarily. Think of the once psychedelic property of John Lennon, a 1965 Rolls Royce Phantom V, which was sold in 1985 by the Smithsonian for $2.29m with RM Sotheby’s. Clark Gable’s 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale, Arizona, auction where it sold for $2.35m in 2013. And, who on earth could forget Steve McQueen’s 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 that sold with RM Sotheby’s for $10,175,000 in 2014.
Most recently in the car auction scene, what’s making the news is something rather modern, previously the property of the most impactful person of the 21st century yet: A 2000 BMW Z8 belonging to the late, Steve Jobs.
Granted that Jobs was no movie star, and there isn’t a sub-class of vintage Rolex that is referred to by his name — neither is there a sub-class of BMWs — there is, however, an entire generation of technologies, vocabulary and lifestyles that would not exist if not for the vision of this one man.
Jobs, also, wasn’t necessarily a car guy but he was an admirer of German design and cars, having owned Mercedes-SLs and BMW motorcycles, and of course, the 2000 Z8, which he purchased in California, complete with a vanity plate that reads: Jobs Z8.
If celebrity ownership has anything to do unexpected auction results, then Jobs’ Z8 has everything going for it to make for another shocker. RM Sothey’s, who will be offering the car at their New York, Icons sale on the 6th of December, have put down a performance estimate of $400,000.
A fairly modest projection when you think about it. But remember that the Paul Newman’s ‘Paul Newman’, was listed by Phillips Watches simply with an estimated to go beyond $1 million and then there were the few who were dead sure that the watch would go for more than $10 million. There were, also, those who thought it was madness to suggest that the final bid would even touch $10 million. And look where that — the Paul Newman’s ‘Paul Newman’ — went.