On a visit to Sydney in February, Omega chief executive Raynald Aeschlimann summed up the power of celebrity endorsement in a single, stark sentence: "Our sales are 50-50 ladies' and men's watches, and [the former] is due to Cindy Crawford and the Constellation watch, which is probably one of the 10 bestselling brands by itself."
It's a relationship that's no flash in the pan; the Crawford hook-up has spanned more than 20 years, more than enough time to find out if a famous name is mere froth or a genuine dynamic lifter.
Now the Rolex/Tudor company will be hoping a big name can do the same for it, with the announcement a few weeks ago that David Beckham is to be the new face of Tudor. This seems surprising given the ex-footballer-now-model is, or has been, the face of so many other things, himself included. One would have thought being the face of David Beckham might be enough of a full-time occupation. But we digress.
Bend it like Beckham
Tudor, in its announcement, described Beckham as "one of the most admired, gifted and successful football players of all time, a philanthropist, an entrepreneur and a global style icon, whose life journey embodies the daring values that made Tudor what it is today".
The mention of "daring" links to Tudor's new signature "Born to Dare" slogan, which some might see as a bit of a stretch for what has been a pretty straight – almost British – brand for much of its life. Tudor says it's now "rejecting the status quo", in which case Beckham's response to the announcement seems rather tame. Beckham: "Especially as an Englishman, I think you really appreciate a nice suit and a nice watch. They go very well together."
Beckham will be be sporting Tudor's vintage-inspired steel and gold Black Bay diver's watch, as well as the COSC-certified Black Bay chrono as he goes about his business. He explains the match thus: "I was attracted to Tudor by the attention to detail I could see in their watches. I then learned about the history of the brand. One of adventure, pioneer diving and daring expeditions. I was instantly hooked."
Fine, although we also learn from Tudor's announcement that he "came to know Tudor through its sibling brand, Rolex, of which he owns several timepieces".
Now, the Black Bays are indeed very fine watches, possibly a bargain, but surely it's going to be hard for him to leave those Rolexes hibernating in a drawer? And what's the bet there's a Daytona model or two lurking there?
Cool hand Paul
This year is shaping up as the year of the Daytona – and this with no push from Rolex itself. At Sotheby's back in May, it was a Rolex Daytona that broke the record for any watch sold at auction in Australia, bringing $219,600 (including buyer's premium) against estimates of $80,000 to $120,000. It was no ordinary Daytona but a circa 1970 model whose value has been vastly boosted by its association with the Paul Newman name.
The actor became linked to the watch after his wife, Joanne Woodward, gave him one when he began racing cars in 1972. He used the chronograph for timing laps and was known for wearing one virtually every day until his death in 2008.
So-called Paul Newman Daytonas are distinguished by a particular "exotic" dial configuration featuring an art-deco font and squared markers with touches of red and reversed subdials. The model has long been regarded by watch lovers – and celebrities – as a holy grail, so much so it's been called "the most lusted after watch by the most enthusiasts".
But if $200,000 sounds a lot for a watch that was a few hundred dollars when released in 1963 – in a 37.5mm case with domed Plexiglas crystal – it pales compared with a gold Daytona Paul Newman with creamy dial that came up at a Phillips auction in Geneva, also in May this year. The watch, one of just three similar versions and known to collectors as "The Legend", broke all records for the model, bringing nearly 4.2 million Swiss francs – some $5.7 million.
Next, the $10 million watch?
As incredible as the figure is, it's not a record that's likely to last out the year. Why? Because Newman's very own watch, his personal Daytona, is coming up for auction by Phillips. The event will take place in New York on October 26 and promises to be a blockbuster. That the watch will break records is a given, but there's a bit of a mystery attached, too – namely, just how many Daytonas did Paul Newman actually have?
The watch on offer, a Reference 6239, carries a personal message from Woodward on the back – "DRIVE CAREFULLY ME" – and was gifted by Newman to the current owner, James Cox, in 1984. Cox was dating Newman's daughter, Nell, at the time and when staying with the family mentioned to Newman he didn't own a watch. Newman is said to have slipped the Daytona off his wrist and given it to the young Cox, saying: "If you can remember to wind this each day, it tells pretty good time."
A true icon of time
As to any other of Newman's own watches out there, to quote Phillips: "Throughout his career, Mr Newman was seen wearing many different generations of Daytona models. This is the first Daytona he wore, and is the only "exotic"-dialled Daytona that Mr Newman owned and wore, making it the ultimate Rolex Daytona wristwatch. It features the most famous dial, fitted in the most famous collector's watch, produced by the most famous watch brand."
It's believed Newman's other daughter, Clea, also has one of her father's Daytonas, one again said to have been inscribed on the caseback by Joanne Woodward, this time with the message "Drive slowly, Joanne". Refreshingly, Clea reportedly regards it as invaluable for purely sentimental reasons – it was a gift from her mother to her father – and won't be parting with it.
Meantime, the betting has its "sister" watch bringing as much as $10 million or more. That would be still short of the most expensive watch ever sold at auction, a steel Patek Philippe Reference 1518 that achieved just over 11 million Swiss francs ($15 million) in Geneva last year.
Does all this make sense? Of course not. But then the most desirable mechanical watches barely make sense, even as accurate timekeepers. Their allure lies in their mechanical artistry, their ticking presence, their story, with added value coming from rarity and, yes, an association with a famous name. Especially if it's Paul Newman.
This story was first published on AFR Magazine's 10th Anniversary Issue of Watch.