written by: Simon de Burton
No watch at auction has ever created as much media hype as a scuffed up 1968 Rolex Daytona, given as a gift to Hollywood icon Paul Newman by his wife, which achieved a world record price of $17.75 million in 2017.
Arguably, that sale also triggered the frenzy of demand for Rolex watches that has transformed the entire watch market ever since.
With power like that, it is little wonder that a second Rolex Daytona, once owned by Paul Newman, is likely to set the auction world alight when the watch goes across the block at Sotheby’s in December.
Unlike the $17m Daytona, the Rolex in question is not one that Mr Newman is known to have worn regularly, and was given away as a gift to a fellow racing enthusiast, Hollywood daredevil and stuntman who doubled for the actor in several movies, leading to them becoming close friends.Stan Barrett with Paul Newman enjoy stock car racing together.
The daredevil in question is Stan Barrett, whose adrenaline-seeking led him to attempt to become the first person to break the speed of sound on land in 1979, travelling at more than 700 mph in the Budweiser Rocket Car.
WATCHPRO columnist Simon de Burton picks up the story of Mr Newman and his double Mr Barrett, and finds out why a pair of steel Rolex watches worn during the Rocket Car attempt could realize more than $600,000 when they cross the block at Sotheby’s in December.
During the final run at Edwards Air Force Base in California on 17 December 1979, Stan Barrett wore the Cosmograph Daytona and GMT-Master.Stan Barrett wearing both the Rolex and GMT Master on one wrist. (picture courtesy Courtesy of Stan Barrett and RolexMagazine.com)
Afterwards, he was presented with a gold GMT-Master by August Busch, CEO of Anheuser-Busch, the main sponsor of the Budweiser Rocket Car and ‘Project Speed of Sound’.
That watch will also be auctioned and could realize $100,000, with a percentage of the money from the sale of all three pieces going to a Ukraine children’s charity that Mr Barrett has supported since 1987.This golden Rolex Reference 1675 GMT-Master was given to Stan Barrett by August Busch, CEO of Anheuser-Busch, the main sponsor of the Budweiser Rocket Car.
But the estimates for the two steel watches could prove conservative – because both were given to Mr Barrett by Hollywood idol Paul Newman, his best friend of 40 years and the godfather to his sons: NASCAR racing driver Stanton and television producer David.
As is well known, a Rolex Daytona gifted to Mr Newman by wife Joanne Woodward remains the most expensive wrist watch ever auctioned following its sale for $17.7m at Phillips New York five years ago. As a result, any Rolex with a connection to the Hollywood legend is now deemed ultra-valuable – and the latest two to come to market should be no exception.
Although 18 years Mr Newman’s junior, Mr Barrett formed a close relationship with the star after working as his main stuntman on numerous films, starting with Sometimes a Great Notion in 1971. Barrett was particularly well suited to the job due to his remarkable resemblance to Newman.This Rolex Reference 1675 GMT-Master Pepsi was on Stan Barrett’s wrist during the Rocket Car attempt.
Speaking by telephone from his Bellevue, Idaho, home in an exclusive interview for WATCHPRO, Mr Barrett said that Mr Newman had given him the Daytona watch immediately on hearing about the proposed record attempt. “We were at his home in Connecticut and he just went upstairs and came down with the Daytona. He could be very funny about me having the right watch to wear, and was always extremely generous.
“About four years earlier, after he had given me the GMT-Master, I bought the same model for my father – but it got stolen. The next thing we know, my father receives a replacement from Paul in the mail.”
Insatiable horophile Mr Newman gifted several watches to Mr Barrett throughout the friendship, including a Breitling Navitimer. “That time I had arrived at his house without a watch on,” recalls Mr Barrett. “Again, he went upstairs, and came down with this Breitling – and when he handed it over to me he said ‘Stan, be careful where you wear it. It was a present from Bruce Willis’.”
But it is the Rolex GMT-Master and Cosmograph Daytona now up for sale that are more interesting – not least since the former is tipped to realize $50,000-100,000, while the latter could achieve as much as $500,000.Stan Barrett wore this Rolex Reference 6262 Stan Barrett’s Rolex Daytona is expected to sell for up to $500,000.
While Mr Newman was photographed trying the Budweiser Rocket Car for size during practice sessions at Bonneville Salt Flats earlier in the year, he refused to watch the run proper.
“Paul called me after the Bonneville runs – during one of which the car’s canopy blew off at 600 mph – and he said ‘Stan, look, I want to support you, but everyone says you aren’t going to make it. And I don’t want to watch you die’,” recalls Mr Barrett.
To keep Mr Newman by his side in spirit, Mr Barrett strapped both gifted watches to his left wrist – and that is where they remained while he drove the rocket car to an unofficial 739.66 mph; a speed that, if accurate, would have made him the first person to break the sound barrier on land.The Budweiser Rocket Car unofficially broke the world land speed record. (Picture courtesy of Department of Defense photo by MSGT Paul J. Harrington)
But the record remains disputed due to the radar scanner being faulty, the fact that Mr Barrett only completed one run and because no one heard the tell-tale sonic boom that usually accompanies the sound barrier being broken.
All the same, no one else came close to the 700 mph mark for another 18 years until Andy Green drove Thrust SSC to 713.990 mph at Black Rock desert in September 1997, and then to 760.343 mph the following month.
Sotheby’s watch specialist Jonathon Burford says the watches relating to the Budweiser Rocket Car run will appeal to a wide range of collectors.
“They are not simply watches, but a part of American history the like of which won’t be seen again,” he told WATCHPRO. “All three were part of a moment in time that epitomizes a spirit of adventure that was so prevalent in America during the 1970s – and they will appeal to everyone from watch purists to motorsport fans and Hollywood memorabilia collectors.
“We have estimated them at what we believe to be realistic levels, but we do believe they are sufficiently significant to attract very strong bidding,” he added.
Mr Barrett says he wore the two steel watches regularly and often for more than 30 years, as did his son, Stanton – until they saw the huge price realised by ‘Newman’s own’ Daytona back in 2017.
“When I saw how much that one sold for I decided that maybe it wasn’t such a smart idea for us to keep wearing the watches that Paul had given me,” he said.
“I’ll be very sad to see them go, but it feels like the right thing to do. I’ll probably give around 30 per cent to the charity Slavic Gospel that I have worked with for the past 35 years and use the rest to pay-off my property loan”.
And unless Mr Barrett has a very large loan, we suspect there might be some left-over.