Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona watch, which had a pre-auction estimated value of $1 million, sold for a stunning $17,752,500 Thursday at Phillips’ inaugural New York Watch Auction. The price was a world record for a wristwatch at auction, Phillips said, which noted that the bidding on the Newman Daytona lasted for 12 minutes in a salesroom with more than 700 people in attendance.
The sale — Winning Icons: Legendary Watches of the 20th Century — was held in association with Bacs & Russo, a watch auction specialist.
The Rolex Cosmograph “Paul Newman” Daytona is “the watch that inspired the legendary nickname for the most prestigious versions of Rolex’s Daytona,” according to Phillips. “For enthusiasts and scholars, it is this association with Paul Newman that has led to the Rolex Daytona being universally regarded as one of the world’s most sought after and collectible of all mechanical wristwatches.”
Though best known for his acting, and more recently for his charity-funding food company, Newman had a long career in auto racing, from his role in the 1969 movie, Winning, to his participation in many major sports car races, including the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans. He raced in the Daytona 24, even at age 70, when his No. 70 car won its class. He also was co-owner of the very successful Newman/Haas Indy car team
The Rolex was a gift from his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, given in conjunction with the filming of Winning, Phillips said in a news release.
“Joanne purchased the perfect gift for her husband, likely at Tiffany & Co. – a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona – a watch designed specifically for motor sport,” Phillips said.
“On its case back, ‘DRIVE CAREFULLY ME’ is the heartfelt and loving inscription she chose to engrave for him. Fearful of his need for speed, Joanne would worry for his life every time Newman would step onto the racetrack for a drive.”
Phillips noted that the actress chose the 6239 model watch fitted with what Rolex called an “exotic” dial. The watch was part of the first generation of Rolex Daytonas, which were produced from 1969 until 1970. The Daytona was the first Rolex series featuring a tachymeter scale engraved on the bezel to instantly indicate speed.
“During the 1980s, as wristwatch collecting began to grow in earnest, Daytonas fitted with the ‘exotic’ dial became known as the ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona after the famous actor, who was seen wearing this very watch for many years,” the auction house said.
“Along with the red ‘Daytona’ designation at 6 o’clock and the red outer ’Paul Newman’ dials is their subsidiary dials. The beautiful, art-deco flare of the font used, and the hash marks with small squares used for the counters set these exotic dials apart from the standard dials more commonly seen on Daytonas.”
Phillips said the watch was worn daily by Newman for several decades. Although he would own several generations of Daytona models, this was his first and the only one with “exotic” dials.
Newman gave the watch to his daughter’s boyfriend, James Cox, in the mid-1980s. Newman’s daughter, Nell, and Cox remained friends through the years, Phillips said, and jointly decided to sell the watch, with part of the proceeds going to the Nell Newman Foundation and to the Newman’s Own Foundation.
Overall, the auction generated $28.8 million in sales with each of the top-10 sellers exceeding its pre-sale estimated value.