On December 12, Phillips will hold a live online auction featuring two iconic watches: a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona that actor and race-car driver Paul Newman was given by his wife and actor, Joanne Woodward, as well as a Heuer Monaco, one of six identical watches worn by actor Steve McQueen while filming the classic racing film Le Mans. The auction spotlights the importance of celebrity backstories to big sales.
In 2017, the legendary Rolex Cosmograph Daytona given to Newman was sold at auction for $17,752,500. When Woodwood purchased the watch in the late â€™60s, it likely cost about $300. Objectively the value of its stainless-steel case and other components would not exceed a few thousand dollars today.
But the watchâ€™s provenance is what added to its value. Newmanâ€™s black, red and white dial Daytona (with a message from Woodward engraved on the back: Drive Carefully Me) was seen on his wrist in countless photographs in the â€™70s and early â€™80s before it seemingly disappeared. Collectors long speculated about its whereabouts. Watches with similar dials and movements became known as Paul Newman Daytonas and sold for six- and seven-figure sums. Unbeknownst to the public, Newman gave the watch to James Cox (who was dating his daughter Nell Newman) in 1984. More than 30 years later, Cox decided to sell it. After the auction, the watch acquired a new name: the Woodward-Newman Daytona. …
The second Daytona given to Newman by Woodward is a stainless-steel Big Redâ€”the nickname for a vintage Rolex reference 6263 chronograph that has the word Daytona on its dial in oversize red lettersâ€”with a black dial and white subdials.
The watch currently belongs to the coupleâ€™s youngest daughter, Clea Newman Soderlund, who says that her mother bought it for her father for their 25th wedding anniversary in 1983. â€œIf people did admire it, he would always say, â€˜Joanne has great taste and she gave it to me,â€ says Clea, 55, on the phone from Westport, Connecticut. â€œIt was very important that Mom gave it to him.â€
As Clea remembers, Newman (who prized chronographs because of his racing career) would wear the watch to her equestrian competitions when she was growing up and time her from the sidelines. â€œHe would always say that the timers at the horse shows werenâ€™t as accurate as his watch,â€ Clea says. â€œ[H]e would say to me, â€˜Punctuality is the politeness of kings.â€™ That was something that was incredibly important to him. I think part of the reason he would say that to me is because I was never the most timely person.â€
In early 2008, Clea visited her father in the hospital during his treatment for lung cancer, and he gave her his watch. â€œHe just took it off his wrist and handed it to me and said, â€˜I want you to have this.â€™ I said, â€˜Well, Iâ€™ll hold on to it for you, but Iâ€™m not going to keep it.â€™ He looked at me and said, â€˜No, I want you to have it.â€™ He actually repeated that a couple of times. And so I put it on my wrist, but it never occurred to me that I was going to keep it. I almost feel thatâ€¦he was trying to impress on me [a lesson] about timeliness. You know, that this watch was going to help me be on time.â€
Newman died in September 2008. For Clea, the watch, which has Drive slowly Joanne engraved on the back, is a memento of her mother and fatherâ€™s relationship. â€œIt was a marvel to watch them together,â€ she says. â€œTheir respect and support of each other and their love for each other never changed.â€
Proceeds from the sale will go to several charities, including two that were meaningful to her father: the SeriousFun Childrenâ€™s Network, which he founded, and the Safe Water Network, which he co-founded. Clea plans to select other charities at a later date.
In 1969, McQueen began intensive preparation for his leading role as race-car driver Michael Delaney in Le Mans, competing in a series of â€œtune-upâ€ races in California and in the 1970 Sebring 12-hour endurance race in Florida. During these races, Haig Alltounian was McQueenâ€™s personal mechanic. When McQueen broke his foot in a motorcycle race just before Sebring, Alltounian rigged a fix for the actorâ€™s cast that enabled him to drive after the cast broke mid-race.
In June, when Le Mans production began in France, Alltounian assumed the position of chief mechanic for the film and was tasked with ensuring that the cars, including McQueenâ€™s blue-and-orange Porsche 917K, were ready and safe to drive during the shoot. McQueenâ€”who chose to wear a Heuer Monaco Chronograph reference 1133B, with a square stainless-steel case, a blue main dial and two white subdials to complement his white racing suit with a Heuer patchâ€”filmed for six months on the Le Mans circuit with cars clocking speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. Alltounian was by his side every day.
In November, on the last day of filming action sequences, McQueen pulled his Porsche into the pit area, where his then wife, Neile Adams McQueen, as well as their son, Chad, and daughter, Terry, waited. After hugging and kissing his family, he headed toward Alltounian, who stood nearby, unbuckled the Monaco on his wrist and said, â€œI want you to have this.â€
Alltounian protested. The 76 year old, who is now retired and restoring vintage motorcycles in Santa Monica, California, recalls on the phone: â€œI said, â€˜Donâ€™t you want to give it to your son or keep it in the family?â€™ Steve said, â€˜No, no, no, no, no. Itâ€™s too late. I want you to have thisâ€”it already has your name on it. Thank you for keeping me alive all these months.â€ Engraved on the back: To Haig Le Mans 1970.
â€œWhat was incredible was he had already had the watch engraved,â€ Alltounian says. â€œIâ€™m kind of a humble person. It just struck me as odd that this great man would give me something, a token like this. I was overwhelmed.â€