A bidder agreed to pay $17.8 million on Thursday for a Rolex Daytona that used to belong to actor Paul Newman, setting a new world record for a wristwatch sold at auction, according to New York auction house Phillips.
Newman got his watch a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, reference #6239, made in 1968 as a gift from his wife, actress Joanne Woodward. The two starred together in the 1969 movie “Winning,” which sparked Newman’s successful racing career. The wristwatch has a white dial, three black subdials, a red outer track and Woodward’s engraving on the back: “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME.”
In the following decade, the watch traveled the world with the actor, appearing on his wrist in promotional materials, magazines and documentary footage. It became so synonymous with the Hollywood legend that vintage-watch aficionados dubbed the model after him.
“Demand skyrocketed for all models of Daytona, making it perhaps the most widely sought after collectors’ watch up to the present day,” Phillips said. The fate of Newman’s Daytona was something of a mystery after it disappeared from the actor’s wrist in the 1980s.
It turns out that in 1984, the star gave it as a gift to James Cox, a college student who dated Newman’s daughter Nell. Cox said he wore it proudly for years and then, as prices for vintage watches began skyrocketing, put it away in a safe box.
Cox decided to sell the piece, in part, to raise money for the Nell Newman Foundation, where he serves as treasurer. The charity supports causes including the environment, sustainable agriculture and education.
Phillips declined to identify the buyer, saying they placed the winning bid by phone. The $17.8 million price tag includes the auction fees. The auction house described Newman’s Rolex, which the actor is said to have worn every day between 1969 and 1984, as “arguably the most iconic collector’s wristwatch of the 20th century.”
"There's something almost magical about it." James Cox, owner of the "Paul Newman" Daytona and Aurel Bacs, Senior Consultant for @phillipswatches discuss the mythical #Rolex — a timepiece whose importance to 20th and 21st-century watch collecting cannot be understated. Our debut #NewYork watch auction, WINNING ICONS — Legendary Watches of the 20th Century, comes to 450 Park Avenue tonight! See the landmark sale live on Facebook and phillips.com beginning at 6:00PM EDT.
It beats the previous record auction price for a wristwatch of just over $11 million for a rare, stainless steel Patek Philippe. Before Thursday, the most expensive Rolex ever sold at auction was the Bao Dai a yellow gold, automatic style that fetched $5 million at Phillips in May. But Newman’s Rolex isn’t the most expensive watch of all. A pocket watch made by Patek Philippe in 1933 for the prominent banker Henry Graves sold for $24.4 million at Sotheby’s in 2015.
The race is on in #NewYork. Join us beginning tomorrow for the landmark auction preview of WINNING ICONS — Legendary Watches of the 20th Century. Featuring the iconic Paul Newman #RolexDaytona, the inaugural New York sale takes over our 450 Park Avenue galleries with the most sought-after collector's watches. Alongside #WinningIcons will be global highlights from our @phillipswatches #Geneva and #HongKong sales. Photo Credit: Ron Gallela via Getty Images. . . . WINNING ICONS — Legendary Watches of the 20th Century Preview: 20 – 26 October Auction: 26 October at 6:00PM EDT Visit Phillips.com to browse the auction catalogue and register to bid.