The Inside Story Of How One Collector‘s ’Paul Newman‘ Rolex Made It Into The Hit Film ’Crazy Rich Asians’
by Eric Wind
It was Monday, May 1, 2017. In the midst of the stress of finishing up the catalog for the following month’s Christie’s watch auction in New York and just a week away from traveling to Geneva for our auction there, I picked up my phone after breakfast with my wife and son to begin scanning the e-mails that came in overnight.
My heart skipped a beat from surprise when I saw an e-mail with subject line: “URGENT!!! Amazing watch needed for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ movie.” The missive was from my friend Kevin Kwan, the author of the book Crazy Rich Asians and the followup books in the trilogy, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.
Kevin is a man of refined tastes and a fan of vintage watches. I first met him and became aware of the book in December 2014 when I was staffing a popup selection of vintage watches for Hodinkee at Bergdorf Goodman. Kevin came out to see the watches and talk vintage with me.
Before I knew it, Kevin had kindly mailed me a copy of the book and we began exchanging e-mails and phone calls talking about watches, particularly our interest in vintage Cartier, Patek Philippe, and Longines watches. Kevin also consulted with me for some watches that are in Rich People Problems and kindly thanked me in the acknowledgements.
I tap to open the e-mail, and it states in part:
Wondering if I might call on your expertise and contacts for a little watch emergency for “Crazy Rich Asians: The Movie.”
We’re filming a key scene involving a watch this coming THURSDAY in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Jon Chu, our director, wants to feature a watch “that will really impress watch collectors.” . . .
. . . Do you know anyone who might loan a seriously serious and impressive watch (new or vintage) to our dashing actor to wear for one pivotal scene in the movie? . . . Call me anytime . . .
I sent an e-mail right back telling Kevin he can call me when it is convenient for him and began to run scenarios in my head: it is Monday morning, about 9 AM, meaning it was Monday night in Malaysia. I expected that realistically the watch needed to be in Malaysia by Wednesday evening for filming on Thursday, meaning there were only about 48 hours until deadline. Talking with my wife about the situation, we discussed the possibility of me going to borrow a watch from a client, we thought that a trip from Florida, where we were, to Malaysia could take roughly a day by itself, as my trip to Jakarta for Christie’s had the previous year. And this was really a personal matter of interest and friendship as well as support to Kevin during the very busy beginning of the watch auction season, so we quickly ruled that out.
After speaking with Kevin, who stated that they needed a classy timepiece that would be for the scene where Astrid gives her husband a watch after she splurges on some very expensive earrings, we agreed to pursue both the ideas of a new watch loaned by a prestigious manufacturer, retailer, or a collector or a vintage watch from a collector.
I made calls to a couple Swiss manufacturers I knew, but they also had the same time and location constraints plus the added barrier of not knowing Kevin, not having heard of the book, and having no real idea of whether this movie would be a blockbuster or something that no one would ever see. I would imagine this would be a lot easier for the sequel now that Crazy Rich Asians has taken the world by storm. Unfortunately for these companies, it did not work out for them to loan a watch to the movie.
It’s now about noon Eastern U.S. time, and I am texting a few collector clients in Asia to see if they were awake and if we could speak. At least one had heard of the book while others had not, but they all passed at the opportunity to loan a watch for reasons of the safety of the watch. I can’t blame them; their watches would be going to a foreign country under the supervision of people we didn’t personally know. Even with the promise of care and proper insurance, some of these watches could never be replaced at any cost and the damage from simply dropping a watch, if nothing else, could be catastrophic for a watch’s value.
My next call was to Eric Ku, a longtime friend and vintage watch dealer in California, to explain the situation and see if he would have any ideas. Eric is extremely smart and agreed that this would be a great opportunity to promote vintage watches to a movie audience, which we both anticipated could be quite significant given the popularity of the book. Eric had a client in nearby Singapore who had bought a few serious vintage Rolex watches from him, including a Rolex “Paul Newman” Reference 6263 – known as the “Panda” to watch collectors for its white and black dial resembling the face of a panda with no red accents on it.
This watch is also known as an “Oyster Newman” as “Oyster” is written on the dial. Of the six different references of Paul Newman Daytonas in steel with a white dial (6239, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264, and 6265), the 6263 was the most valuable with an approximate value of $500,000 at that time (and $600,000+ today). This particular watch had a “Mark 2” dial and was among the last “Paul Newman” Daytona watches made.
Eric contacted his client in Singapore, who fortunately was very familiar with the book since his wife was a big fan, and he was happy to help. Things proceeded to quickly fall into place. Justine Dunn, the highly effective and efficient property master for the film, along with her colleagues, provided all the appropriate insurance forms and arranged for the pickup of the watch in Singapore that Wednesday, May 3, 2017, and flight to Kuala Lumpur for the scene. Jon M. Chu and his team filmed that scene on Thursday and returned the watch to the owner in Singapore on Saturday.
Funnily enough, the news of Paul Newman’s personal “Paul Newman” Daytona coming to auction in October 2017 in New York would not come out for over a month after the scene was filmed, but “Paul Newman” Daytonas were still some of the most desirable and recognizable vintage watches in the world. Featuring an “exotic” dial made by Singer with the unusual boxes at the end of some of the markers in the chronograph registers, these were among the most-requested watches we had at Christie’s long before the auction of Paul Newman’s “Paul Newman.”
Of course, the global awareness of the “Paul Newman” Daytona increased exponentially after the sale of the Paul Newman Daytona for $17.8 million in October 2017.
Back in June 2018 I saw Kevin in New York. It had now been over a year since he sent me that fateful “URGENT!!!” e-mail. Kevin assured me the watch scene was in the final cut of the movie and said I should be pleased. He invited me to an advanced screening in New York, and I waited with bated breath for the scene, not knowing what to expect. When Astrid handed her husband the watch, and the beautiful “Paul Newman” dial got a solo shot on the screen, it was magic.
The actor whose character is given the watch in the movie, Pierre Png, even said in a Forbes interview that one of the highlights of being involved in the film was “wearing a Paul Newman Rolex Daytona for the movie!”
It has been amazing to see the global phenomenon that Crazy Rich Asians has become since its release in August 2018. The attention to detail that director Jon M. Chu, Kevin Kwan, and all the team paid to the details was evident in their search for an appropriate watch for a scene, but also in all aspects of the movie. Just take a look at this Vanity Fair video of Chu dissecting one scene in the movie.
As watch lovers, we also are frequently disappointed to see fake watches in movies and television shows. Having those fake watches both cheapens the production and promotes something very negative and illegal, so I hope that this will in some small way help property masters realize that watches are important. I am always happy to try to help source watches or loan my own watches for use in movies and television shows.
I also would like to plug the book How To American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents by Jimmy O. Yang, who stars as Bernard Tai in the movie and as Jian Yang in the HBO show Silicon Valley. Kevin Kwan connected us in last fall when Jimmy was looking for a GMT-Master with “Pepsi” bezel. I didn’t have any in my inventory at that moment, so we ended up meeting at Bob’s Watches in Huntington Beach, California where I helped him find a beautiful vintage GMT-Master Reference 1675, an appropriate watch for him as he was about to embark upon a tour to promote his book about becoming an American. It has become a constant companion for him, whether talking on late-night television with Stephen Colbert or Trevor Noah, or performing stand-up.
I would like to thank Kevin Kwan for the opportunity to assist in a small way in helping the film and helping to promote vintage watches to new audiences (and for his kind remarks about me in W Magazine), Eric Ku for his quick and generous help securing the watch, Eric’s client in Singapore for his willingness to loan the watch, Justine Dunn, the property master, for all her hard work making this happen, Warner Brothers (particularly Lauren Kuebler) for providing a still shot from the scene for this article, and director Jon M. Chu for wanting to find a watch on such short notice “that will really impress watch collectors.” I would also like to thank Galerie Magazine for their coverage of the watch in the movie.
Lastly, it was announced after the successful opening of Crazy Rich Asians that a sequel is moving forward with Jon M. Chu announced as the director! So here is hoping for another great movie with more great watches.
* This article was first published on August 23, 2018 on the Wind Vintage blog at The Story of the “Paul Newman” Daytona in ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and is republished here with permission. You can check out more of Eric Wind’s articles and learn more about his vintage watch business at www.windvintage.com.