Michael Clerizo Discusses Life After The Paul Newman Daytona Auction
On Thursday, 1 June 1, 2017, WSJ magazine published the story of the Woodward/Newman Rolex Daytona. The article covered how actress Joanne Woodward bought the watch at Tiffany’s in the late 60s. She gifted the watch to her husband actor and racing driver Paul Newman (after having the words Drive Carefully Me on the back) and how in 1984 Paul Newman gave it to his daughter Nell’s boyfriend James Cox. The writer of the article (okay, that’s me) also explained the startling coincidence that years earlier James Cox snapped a photograph of Paul Newman, who was also a race car driver, in the pits at Lime Rock Speedway in Connecticut.
Other features of the story: how James and Nell met at college and hooked up before James discovered her true identity, why the watch became the most sought-after vintage timepiece, how James discovered the true value of the watch and his decision to give a large portion of the proceeds from selling the watch at an auction by Phillips in New York to Nell’s charity, The Nell Newman Foundation.
Repeatedly since 1 June 2017, two questions have come my way: ‘What are you going to do next’ and ‘Will you retire now?’ Both questions have the same subtext: ‘You’ll never top this so why don’t you quit’.
My answer to the first question is as a freelance writer what I’ll do next is meet my next deadline. In answer to the second question I love writing, I love watches and I love writing about watches so why would I stop?
The idea ‘You’ll never top this’ might be right. But, whenever I think about something George Daniels said: ‘A watch has historic, intellectual, technical, aesthetic, useful and amusing qualities’, I know there is still much to write about. So, if no one minds I’ll keep at it for a while longer.
I experienced pleasure, satisfaction and fun while working on the Woodward/Newman story.
The pleasure centred on my long talks with James and Nell. Rarely have I interviewed two people who so willingly and freely shared their memories, observations and insights. Our conversations spanned hours mostly because the story demanded investigation of many nuances and details. There was also another reason. I was enjoying myself so much that I may have stretched out the interviews a little longer than strictly necessary.
Another highpoint occurred on the night before the auction when I met Mario Andretti, the great race driver, a friend and teammate of Paul Newman. I’m an Italian American and among us Mario Andretti has near godlike status. Clumsily the wrong words left my mouth when I first shook hands with Mario. ‘The only thing better than meeting you Mario would be meeting Sinatra.’ Immediately I realised I’d just told Mario Andretti that meeting a dead singer would outrank meeting him. Mario seemed not to mind. To my relief he laughed, patted me on the arm and said ‘I can tell you Sinatra won’t be here tonight’. Then we both laughed and I thought that’s another of my frequent social faux pas forgiven.
I also found out one reason why Mario won so many races – 111 in total – that guy has stamina. After the discussion ended at about 10pm James, Nell, Mario, Mario’s wife, his granddaughter, his assistant, James girlfriend Diana, Nell’s husband Gary and me headed to an upper east side Italian restaurant for dinner. By about 1am I started to flag, could barely keep my eyes open. Not 77-year-old Mario! He was still having a great time enjoying the food, laughing and swapping stories with Nell about her father.
I asked the maître d’ what time the place closed and he answered, ‘This is an Italian restaurant we won’t close as long as Mario Andretti is here.’ I should have known. About 2:30am the party stopped and I said good-bye to the still buoyant Mario. In case you’re wondering I didn’t mention Sinatra again.
Another gem of a moment occurred during my interview in April with Aurel Bacs watch auctioneer nonpareil. Six months later Aurel brought down the hammer on $17,752,500 for the Woodward/Newman Daytona, quite an accomplishment.
After about 90 minutes of talking to Aurel I offered to turn of my recorders (always use two), put down my pen and close my notebook – in other words, to keep his answer to my next question – secret. I did this because I knew Aurel would not want to fix a value for the watch before the auction and I was eager to hear his prediction of the final price. I thought offering never to reveal the answer would tempt him to prognosticate.
To my astonishment Aurel answered with a flourish. ‘You do not have to turn off anything you do not have to close your notebook or put down your pen. I will tell you exactly what the final price will be and you can quote me.’
Wow, I thought Aurel knows what the watch will go for and he’s willing to tell me. This is privileged information. I felt honoured that Aurel trusted enough to disclose the secret.
I waited, heart thumping until Aurel spoke again.
‘The exact price will be the second highest bid plus one more bid.’
I have always wanted to use the word crestfallen in an article. This is my chance. Crestfallen – dejected, severely disappointed that was me.
I couldn’t argue with Aurel couldn’t dispute his answer. He kept his word and told me the precise result of the auction. On a more positive note Aurel had contrived a paradox. He answered my question without really answering it. I am a fan boy for paradoxes.
Another pleasant and surprising aspect of working on the Woodward/Newman story involved meeting three artists.
The first is Gary Irving (Nell’s husband) a multimedia artist whose work is always surprising, often beauty and sometimes macabre reminiscent of horror films video games. Have a look at garyfoto.com.
The next is James’s girlfriend Diana Viacheslavovna Walsworth a Moscow born artist specialising in painting images of animals and who created an image of the watch with a superimposed Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman You can see it at studiodvw.com.
The third is Toronto based Julie Kraulis visual artist who draws mechanical watches. She was in the foyer at Phillips in the days before the auction creating portraits of the Woodward/Newman and other watches. Her work deserves the attention of every watch lover – juliekraulis.com.
My favourite memento of the events surrounding the auction is a t-shirt designed by James Cox. On the shirt in large red letters is Drive Carefully Me, a chequered flag and in smaller text the date of the auction 26 October 2017.
Someone, we don’t know who ended up with the Woodward/Newman Daytona – after parting with millions. Me, I ended up with some great memories, new friends, an article I am proud of and the t-shirt. I’m happy about that.
About Michael Clerizo:
Michael Clerizo is an American freelance writer living in London. He writes a monthly column on watches for the Off-Duty section of the Wall Street Journal and is a contributing editor at WSJ. magazine. He is the author of two books, Masters Of Contemporary Watchmaking and George Daniels: A Master Watchmaker And His Art.