Paul Newman Daytonas: The Controversies

It’s a story that’s circulated in the auction world behind closed doors. A cautionary tale but also an indicting demonstration of how prevalent fake watches are and how even the most savvy collectors can be duped. One of America’s most popular science-fiction writers, a man whose novels had been made into several successful films, one spawning a franchise produced by none other than Steven Spielberg, with a total box-office gross in the billions, tragically passed away prematurely.

It was decided by his estate to auction his art collection through one of the more-established houses. At the same time, an auction was also being prepared for his extensive timepiece collection, which included a large selection of vintage Rolex watches. Says a source that worked to prepare and validate these watches for sale, “It became clear to us that the vast majority of his watches were, in one way or another, totally incorrect.” Which is auctioneer speak for the watches being totally fake. Eventually the auction had to be cancelled. Incredibly, the majority of these watches could be traced back to two long-established rare-watch dealers, individuals that are so well known in vintage-watch circles that they even produced their own documents of authentication for the watches they sell.

Today there is one watch that is the most popular subject of forgery, ranging from the painfully obvious to the remarkably ingenious — and that is the Rolex Paul Newman Daytona. Let’s first clarify that we are talking about watches that are correct in every way except for details related to their dials, which is what distinguishes them as Paul Newmans. At the same time, there are many watches that have come to the market that are impossible to disprove as fakes, and their seeming anomalies have been intelligently packaged as a form of rarity, and as such a rationale for the staggering prices they’ve achieved at auction. That is not to say that every rare Paul Newman Daytona out there is the subject of speculation regarding its authenticity. Neither is the intention of this story to provide you with a step-by-step instruction guide to high-dollar watch forgery. Rather, the point of this story is simply to provide anyone, and, in particular, the novice getting involved in vintage watches and on the hunt for the mythical Paul Newman Daytona, some insight into the most notorious fakes as well as some of the most controversial high-dollar timepieces in recent memory.

Finally, it is also most definitely not the intention of this story to dispute the authenticity of the million-dollar-plus Rolex RCO Paul Newman-dial ref. 6263 chronographs that have been turning up at auction houses and breaking records nor the veracity of their 1970 Rolex “ROC Black Ghost” Paul Newman ref. 6263 chronograph auctioned in 2014. It is simply to offer constructive perspective on the debates surrounding these watches.

Why the Paul Newman?

But, first of all, why are there so many fake Paul Newmans in the world? Well, the simple answer to that is human greed. Because a Rolex Daytona with a Paul Newman dial commands an extremely substantial premium over a regular-dial manual-wound Daytona. How much exactly? While there are always deviations in general, a normal-dial pump-pusher ref. 6241 Daytona sells for around USD40,000, while a Newman-dial ref. 6241 generally sells between USD150,000 to USD175,000. When it comes to the screw-pusher Daytona, the premium gets even bigger.

A normal-dial screw-pusher ref. 6263 goes for around USD50,000, while a Newman Panda-dial ref. 6263 sells between USD250,000 to USD350,000. But they can go much higher. As previously mentioned, one of the highest prices for a Rolex Paul Newman Daytona — specifically USD1,089,186 — was set on 11 November 2013, by Christie’s for a black-dial Paul Newman RCO ref. 6263. It was superseded on 14 May 2016, when yet another RCO ref. 6263 was auctioned for CHF1,985,000 by Phillips. According to Christie’s, this iteration, the only acceptable type of three-color Paul Newman Daytona with screw pushers known to exist, is extremely rare with just over a dozen examples made.

Yet another reason for all the fakes is that Paul Newman-dial Daytonas are extremely hard, if not impossible, to certify as original. To begin with, the watches were not sold with any kind of documentation as Exotic-Dial Daytonas (The sobriquet “Newman dial” was only bestowed on the watch in the ’80s). These amazing-looking watches were wildly unsuccessful. For every one Paul Newman, at least 20 normal-dial Daytonas were sold. But even when watches came with a Newman dial, dealers could have their dial swapped out or vice versa, making the definition of what an original Paul Newman Daytona is, murky.

What would be the ultimate level of authentication? A watch with box and papers, including an original receipt from the dealer stating that the watch was an “exotic dial” model, along with Rolex service receipts also stating the watch was an “exotic dial” Daytona over the last 40-plus years of its existence. But sadly that level of documentation probably exists in less than one percent of the watches out there. Eric Ku, owner of Vintage Rolex Forum, dealer extraordinaire and the man I consider THE authority on all things vintage Rolex, takes a different view. He states, “I’m inclined to say the sales receipt would never say that (watch with exotic dial). And if it did, I would be very leery that 100 percent it was fake.

How important are “box and papers” for a Paul Newman Daytona? Ku says, “I think, to be honest, if somebody is in the market for a Paul Newman Daytona, this is a watch that is all about the quality of the watch itself and not about the papers.”

So, how else can you certify the veracity of a watch? Probably with a recent service document from a Rolex service center stating the watch is an “exotic dial” or “Paul Newman dial” Daytona. But the problem is that the majority of Rolex service centers no longer take in vintage watches.

And even if you could get this certification, it doesn’t mean that your watch was born a Paul Newman Daytona. Look at it from this perspective: if you were a watch dealer and you had one beat-up Daytona with a decent Paul Newman dial and a relatively unscathed regular-dial Daytona — as long as the watches were close enough in terms of serial number — would you not swap their dials to produce a mint example of a Paul Newman Daytona?

Yes, you would. Is this a moral thing to do? Ku weighs in, “To me, if you had a damaged watch but a good dial, and you swapped the dial out to a watch that was in the right serial-number range and the right model, you would have a better watch. Because 90 percent of the value is in the dial.”

Honestly, the consensus today is, as long as your watch makes sense in terms of having the right dial relative to the serial number on its case, that’s good enough for most people.

But then the all-important question becomes: how can you tell your dial is genuine?

The only way to be certain is to take the dial off the watch and make sure that, first of all, it’s a correct Singer dial, and then that all the printing, details and the stepped minute track are all correct.

Says Philipp Stahl, the founder of Rolex Passion Report, “There are subtle cues, like the tail of the 25-minute marker in the continuous-seconds subdial being slightly off-center relative to the other markers.” But these are all subtle codes that are not known to the average watch collector, let alone the neophyte. To learn about these subtle codes, read here and then here.

One method — not necessarily of authentication but certainly for spotting irregularities — is to post a macro photograph of your intended purchase on Vintage Rolex Forum, whose members are extraordinarily vigilant about debunking fake watches.

But the best advice is to purchase your watch from a highly reputable source, such as Ku’s 10 Past Ten, or Andrew Shear’s Sheartime, or Ben Clymer’s watch shop on his site, Hodinkee, Matthew Bain, Mondani, Rolex Passion Report or the Watch Club in the Royal Arcade. I would 100% vouch for any Phillips auction overseen by Aurel Bacs. I would also post an image of any watch on VRF, along with the name of the source as a vital secondary verification before purchasing. Of course, if there is some way to have the watch inspected by Rolex before purchasing it, nothing would be more ideal.

Paul Newman Daytona ref. 6263 RCO dial, auctioned off at Phillips Watches' Star-Stop-Reset sale for CHF1,985,000.

Seeing Red

It is one of the most famous cautionary tales in the Southeast Asian watch-collecting community. It was told to me by the head of one of Singapore’s oldest retail families, who had helped one of his best clients acquire a Philippe Dufour grande et petite sonnerie. This is the first-ever wristwatch to be able to play time in passing either by striking the hours on the hours and the hours and the quarters on the quarters in grande-sonnerie mode, and the hours on the hours and just the quarters on the quarters in petite-sonnerie mode. The Dufour watch was probably the last contemporary-made high complication created in a totally artisanal way without the use of three-dimensional computer programs and a vast array of CNC-machined parts. Instead, in his small house in Le Sentier, pausing occasionally to light his pipe, Dufour would saw out and hand-finish every single component himself. In a world where brands would like you think some white-bearded benevolent artisan that looks like Father Christmas is handcrafting each part from scratch — even though the reality is that most complicated watches benefit from vast industrialization — Dufour is every bit the real deal.

Then incredibly enough, the customer in question traded his Dufour watch for two red-dial Paul Newman Daytonas. He then had these watches sent to Rolex, where he discovered, to his dismay, they were fakes. For more than two decades, the infamous red-dial Paul Newman Daytonas have been the subject of controversy, with the general consensus that at the least the majority of them, if not all, are fake. Where and when they came from has been the subject of much speculation but several factors supporting their status as forgeries, including the fact that the dials of these watches do not have a stepped minute track, have become common knowledge.

But incredibly the watches are so infamous that they still sell for substantial amounts of money. Says Ku, “The red Daytonas are probably the boilerplate example for this. I have a friend in Asia who is a big car enthusiast. He loves the color of the dials on the Red Daytonas and he could care less if they are real or fake. And he’s spent fairly substantial money — I mean in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — on a red and black and a red and white one. Now that doesn’t make any sense to me, but for him, the watches are something fun, you know?”

Texas Forever

The year was 2007. And on Vintage Rolex Forum, the oratory bombast reached new heights. What started as a debate, when singer John Mayer emerged from out of the Internet shadows to proclaim what is now commonly considered one of the most notorious fake Paul Newman dials to be undisputedly real. So much so that he went on record stating that he would purchase every single watch with this dial for USD55,000 dollars.

But what was all the fuss over? All pump-pusher steel Paul Newman Daytonas, the refs. 6239, 6241, 6262 and 6264, came with three-color white or black dials. Because of the pump pushers, these cases were not waterproof and could not bear the famous Rolex “Oyster” designation. Instead, these watches bear the words “Rolex Cosmograph” in two lines under the crown and the word “Daytona” printed in a semi-circle over the hour totalizer at six o’clock. When Rolex switched over to a case with screw-down pushers, the Daytona case was finally waterproof. As such the dial could finally boast the word “Oyster”.

Almost all screw-pusher Paul Newman Daytonas, refs. 6263 and 6265, came with a beautiful and deliciously minimalistic two-color white dial with black counters and minute track. They have the words “Rolex Oyster Cosmograph” printed strictly in that order under the Rolex crown at 12 o’clock. The only black-dial screw-pusher Paul Newman Daytonas that are known to exist, feature a three-color black dial with the words “Rolex Cosmograph Oyster” in that order under the crown and a red semi-circular “Daytona” printed over the subdial at six o’clock.

Why do these black dials feature the words “Rolex Cosmograph Oyster” in a different order than they are found on the white two-color-dial watches? The general belief was these were dials originally intended for the pump-pusher watches, specifically the refs. 6262 and 6264. Due to the lack of success of these dials, Rolex had some of them left. Because of their dismal performance, the Paul Newman dial was slated for discontinuation shortly after the screw-pusher ref. 6263/65 was introduced. The reason there are so few black-dial screw-pusher Paul Newmans made is that the two-color, or Panda-dial, version was the only one made readily available and sent to retailers. According to Christie’s, in literature circulated with their record-setting RCO black-dial ref. 6263, a black Paul Newman-dial screw-pusher watch was only available on special order and for a short time, which is why it is believed black dials only appear in low serial-number watches. It is believed they were created by retrofitting the pump-pusher black dial into the screw-pusher watch.

However, Rolex had one problem. The watchcase was now an Oyster because of the waterproof screw-down pushers. But the dial of the watch didn’t feature the word “Oyster”. Ever the pragmatists, Rolex simply took these dials and had the word “Oyster” printed directly below the word Cosmograph. The fact that these RCO dials are identical to the three-color pump-pusher black dials, in font spacing, layout and every other way, would give credence to this theory. The fact that the word “Oyster” is printed in a totally different non-serif font further adds to the story.

So what is a Mayer-dial Daytona? It is a black three-color screw-pusher Paul Newman Daytona that bears the words “Rolex Oyster Cosmograph” in three lines, in this order, under the crown. These dials contradict the theory that the black-dial screw-pusher Paul Newman used dials originally intended for the pump-pusher watches, because it would not be possible to add the word “Oyster” as the second line on the dial, unless, of course, Rolex first painted over the existing lines and then reprinted these three lines on the dial, as Christie’s claimed happened in at least one watch. More on this later.

However, Mayer was convinced they were real. So much so that he took to the Internet to very emphatically proclaim their veracity. On a post that still exists on vintage Rolex forums, he stated:

Hi Guys… John Mayer here. Long time reader, first time poster. There are a few people on this board who can vouch for me…

This ROC PN debate is something that I’ve been involved in for a few months now, and I want to share my thoughts with you. Forgive me for not putting it in the post that’s already started but I don’t want this conversation to die out.

Let me first say that though we don’t know FOR CERTAIN that these watches aren’t counterfeit, I think I speak for everyone when I say I sure hope they’re not. That would remove some really coveted pieces from the table.

I want to discuss two things. The first is that these dials are probably not counterfeit, and second, it doesn’t matter if they’re not.

I wish I could tell you why I think these dials are real, but only a dealer who held one of these watches in the ’70s can say for sure. The rest of us CANNOT either.”

The full post and Mayer’s argument in favor of the ROC three-color dials can be found here.

Previous to his post, the ROC three color had already emerged as the subject of much scrutiny. They had been known as Texas-dial Daytonas, in reference to the American state which they were sold (apparently the dealer in Texas bought them from another dealer in 1986), and are distinguished not just by the odd ROC placement of the lines on the dial but also by their flat seconds track. These dials then forever became known as Mayer-dial Daytonas. It is not known if anyone took Mayer up on his offer or if he continued to buy more of these watches. However, after John Mayer, in a response to his original post, referred to them as “Mayer dials”, he wrote, “What’s the selling price for these now-famed MAYER DIAL configurations? (just kidding, I think.)”

And then famously offered to buy any example offered to him, “And again, anyone who wants to sell me one of these watches can get these fake pieces off their hands and make a killing on it. 55k for steel, 75k for gold. I will even accept a letter from you as a dealer releasing you from any liability in having sold me a counterfeit dial.”

They forever became known as Mayer-dial Daytonas. It is not known if anyone took Mayer up on his offer or if he continued to buy more of these watches.

However, in 2010, Mayer sent one of his watches to Rolex for servicing, only to be told it was “not authentic in all respects”. While it was not explicitly stated, most people assumed this was one of his famous Mayer Daytonas. He confronted the person who had sold him the timepiece, the watch dealer Robert Maron, and they apparently reached some settlement. Then in 2011, Mayer learned another watch Maron sold him contained a bezel and dial that was inauthentic. It is again presumed this was a Mayer-dial Daytona. Further investigation by the company confirmed that seven watches sold by Maron to Mayer were deemed inauthentic. This prompted Mayer to sue Maron for USD656,000, the price for seven vintage Rolex watches that he alleged Rolex deemed were inauthentic. This lawsuit, too, was brought to a settlement. And again, it was assumed that the watches concerned were Mayer-dial Paul Newman Daytonas.

So cut to some years later. The controversy surrounding the three-color ROC has become part of vintage Rolex lore. And thanks to the vigilance of members on websites like Vintage Rolex Forum and Rolex Forums, three-color ROC Paul Newman Daytonas are quickly called out as fakes, resulting in the majority of them thankfully disappearing from Internet sale forums. In the meantime, Mayer, with Ben Clymer and his truly excellent site, Hodinkee, has successfully transformed himself into a learned authority on watches, and has been even bestowed the honor of membership on the jury of the esteemed Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève — proving again, that you can never keep a good man down. More power to you brother.

Ghost-Faced Killer

On 10 November 2014, Lot 498 at the Christie’s Important Watches, Fine Art Auction caused many a watch collector’s mouth to hang agape in slack-jawed disbelief. Because, they were auctioning a black-dial, three-colored, ROC Paul Newman ref. 6263 chronograph. Wasn’t this exactly a Mayer/Texas-dial Daytona? Well, according to Christie’s, it wasn’t. It was, in fact, as they put it, “The Black Ghost ROC Paul Newman”. According to Christie’s, the dial was initially a ref. 6262 pump-pusher black three-color Paul Newman dial intended for a pump-pusher model. It is Christie’s contention that somehow the dial was altered by Rolex’s dial-maker, Singer. What they did was remove all the indices. Apply a second coat of black paint covering the words “Rolex” and “Cosmograph” at 12 o’clock and the semi-circular “Daytona” over the hour totalizer. It then reprinted the words “Rolex Oyster Cosmograph” at 12 o’clock.

How did Christie’s account for the incorrect order of the words relative to every other known black-dial screw-pusher Paul Newman Daytona in existence? According to Christie’s, Singer simply made a mistake. Ben Clymer of Hodinkee expressed, “This would be easy to dismiss if the rest of the dial wasn’t so correct in every way. The little tells that make a Paul Newman so special are all there.”

Apparently, Christie’s also presented the dial to the world’s “top four Rolex experts”, and they all agreed that the dial was authentic. However, it is important to understand that Christie’s did not clearly distinguish as to whether the dial was deemed authentic as an actual Paul Newman three-color dial intended for a pump-pusher chronograph — which it certainly seems to be — or if it was authentically modified by Singer at Rolex’s behest, which is the real question.

What is interesting to think about is that if all black RCO Paul Newman dials were originally intended for pump-pusher chronographs, and then had the word “Oyster” added to them by Rolex/Singer, then why wouldn’t Rolex/Singer have done the same thing for this dial, which would have been a lot simpler than removing all of its indices, repainting and then printing new text on it. Further, if anyone has ever been to a dial factory, you’ll understand that this would be the most expensive way to refinish a dial.

But just for the sake of it, let’s follow the line of logic here. Someone decides he wants a black-dial screw-pusher Paul Newman Daytona. So he talks to his dealer, and the dealer in turn orders this watch from Rolex. Rolex has a ref. 6262 pump-pusher dial. So they decide to prepare this dial for a screw-pusher watch. But instead of the normal method of simply adding the word “Oyster” below the word “Cosmograph” at 12 o’clock, they ask Singer — at a rather extraordinary cost — to completely remove all the indices and repaint the dial, making it the only black Paul Newman screw-pusher dial without the word “Daytona” on it in existence. Then Singer, which has printed the dial for all the other watches, bafflingly makes the mistake of ordering the words “Rolex”, “Oyster” and “Cosmograph” incorrectly.

Christie’s estimate for this unique Paul Newman Daytona was between CHF350,000 to CHF500,000. Ultimately, it ended up selling for CHF461,000. Again, I would like to reiterate that it is certainly not the intention of this story to cast any doubt on this Paul Newman Daytona, only to try to understand the logic of its creation. Read the detailed dial analysis of the Black Ghost dial here on the Vintage Rolex Forum.

How to Make a Million-Dollar Watch

On 11 November 2013, Christie’s made history by hammering down a staggering price of USD1,089,186 for a stunning 1969 black-dial, three-color, RCO Paul Newman Daytona ref. 6263, a watch that had apparently been lying dormant in a Swiss retailer’s safe, which explains why its guarantees dates to the late ’70s. One particularity of this watch is how the font used for Rolex differs from most other watches; however, this is not specifically related to the watch’s status as a Paul Newman Daytona. Looking at other examples of black-dial RCO Paul Newman Daytonas, the font is identical to that found on the majority of black pump-pusher Paul Newman dials.

The point is as previously mentioned: the black-dial RCO Paul Newman is considered to be the rarest Daytona in existence. It is always seen in low-production-number screw-pusher chronographs and was available only on demand, which is why the prevailing belief is there is just over a dozen ever created. So if you’re new to the vintage-watch game but you’ve got the funds, should you set your sights immediately to this, the rarest of all the Paul Newman Daytonas?

Hold up a second. Because, what rare-watch dealers and auction houses probably don’t want you to know is just how easy in theory it would be to create a black three-color RCO-dial Paul Newman Daytona.

So how would you go about it?

Step One

You need to acquire a black three-color Paul Newman pump-pusher Daytona, refs. 6262 or 6264. If you look around, you should be able to acquire one for under USD150,000.

Step Two

You find yourself an early-serial-number screw-pusher ref. 6263 with a 2.08- or 2.09-million serial number, which should cost you around USD50,000 to USD60,000. There are also a lot of these watches for sale.

Step Three

And this is the seriously criminal bit… you remove the Paul Newman dial of the pump-pusher watch and you have the word “Oyster” printed on the dial under the word “Cosmograph”, fit the dial into your screw-pusher watch and then suddenly you’ve got a watch that is potentially worth more than a million dollars. You will incidentally, in addition to being a criminal, also be a massive douchebag now.

Am I suggesting you go out and do this? Hell no! I, like any Rolex lover, feel that anyone who would undertake this deserves to experience all 9 circles of hell specified in Dante’s Inferno, particularly the one featuring impalement on red-hot cast-iron, multi-spiked butt plugs.

I’m just trying to illustrate that creating a one-million-dollar black-dial RCO Paul Newman ref. 6263 is, in theory, not terribly difficult for a resourceful and morally ambiguous watch dealer. What is particularly disturbing is if the belief is correct that just over a dozen of these watches were created, how a quick search through the Internet reveals a great deal more than this number are readily available for sale.

So in conclusion, it’s clear that the world of the Paul Newman Daytona acquisition is mired with potentially painful and expensive pratfalls. Says Eric Ku, “There’s a lot of shady watches out there. But again, I think knowledge on the Internet has helped people become really well versed in what the signs are. I think people would be surprised to find that with those flat dials, or Texas dials — or whatever people are calling them — there are just as many of those out there as there are real ones.

Thankfully, they’ve been kind of weeded out of the marketplace — again, thanks in large part to the knowledge people have gained from the Internet.” What’s the best piece of advice I can give you? Buy your watch from a trusted, legitimate and reliable dealer. Do not buy your watch by randomly picking one up in the Burlington Arcade, or any vintage shop you happen to be strolling by. And certainly not off the various Internet sources available simply because it’s a great deal. As a second measure of security, post a macro shot of your dial and the serial number of your watch on Vintage Rolex Forum and see what the responses are. Incidentally, any dealer not willing to let you do that should be treated with a certain amount of trepidation. And finally when buying a watch, buy the best one you can at your budget, and not the peripherals — remember, as good as the accompanying documentation might seem, you still need to have that specific dial checked and vetted before proceeding.

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