The Paul Newman Rolex Daytona is the company’s most famous and coveted timepiece. It also, technically, doesn’t exist. Rolex never used Newman’s name on its watches, nor did he shill for the brand. As legend has it, his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, bought him his first Rolex in 1972. Since he’d taken up race-car driving, she picked a model from the Daytona series, whose tachymeter scales (used to calculate speed) are easily visible on the bezel. He liked it. A lot. And bought more.
Oddly, Newman preferred the least popular of the Daytonas, which had exotic dials that differed slightly from the standard design. (The numbers were in an Art Deco font, and the sub-dials were marked by blocks rather than lines.) “It was essentially an off-the-menu version of the regular Daytona,” says James Dowling, coauthor of The Best of Time: Rolex Wristwatches—An Unauthorized History. “And it was also made in much smaller numbers. All that was different was the look, but, as with many things, it’s the look that matters.” Eventually, the actor and the watch were inextricably bound. “The Newman Daytona became the Newman Daytona almost despite Paul Newman,” Dowling adds. “His wife bought him one, and he loved it, and he simply wore it often.”