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Newman, McQueen watches in demand at auction

Celebrity provenance helps Phillips’ ‘Racing Pulse’ sale set records

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Celebrity provenance boosts not only the value of collector cars but also of watches. Consider the results of Phillips’ recent “Racing Pulse,” its flagship New York watch auction:

The Rolex “Big Red” Daytona watch that Joanne Woodward gave to her actor/racer husband Paul Newman, inscribed with her reminder to “Drive slowly,” sold for a whopping $5.475 million. The watch was consigned to the auction by the Newmans’ daughter, Clea Newman Soderlund.

Paul Newman
Joanne Woodward had the watch engraved for her husband
Clea Newman Soderlund poses with her father’s watch

The Heuer Monaco, worn by Steve McQueen during the filming of Le Mans and then given to his mechanic, Haig Altounian, sold for $2.2 million, which was 10 times its pre-auction estimate. 

The Newman watch price was the third highest ever for a Rolex, while the McQueen watch set a record for a Heuer.

The Sylvester Stallone Collection, including four Richard Mille watches and a Panerai, brought $3.1 million at auction.

And for good measure, $2.1 million was raised at the sale of 12 lots to benefit the One Drop Foundation and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, which will be used to improve water and sanitation services and climate resilience in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

Overall, the auction, with an auctioneer in London and bidders around the world, sold 135 lots, with a 99 percent sell-through rate, for more than $27.58 million.

“From Clea Newman’s Rolex, to Sylvester Stallone’s Panerai and Richard Milles, to Haig Alltounian’s Heuer, gifted to him by Steve McQueen, we saw fierce competition for these unique and historically important pieces,” said Paul Boutros, Phillips’ head of watches. 

“The market for watches has never been stronger,” added Aurel Bacs, Phillips’ senior consultant who noted bidders from 60 nations took part in the auction. 

“With the digital innovations Phillips has made over the last several months, the auction world has been transformed, as we were able to broadcast our sale to phone bidders in New York and London, as well as online bidders across the globe.  Despite all the uncertainty we witnessed with the events of 2020, the insatiable international demand has led the Phillips Watches team to see our most successful year ever, with an annual total of over $133 million.”

In its post-sale news release, Phillips noted that military watches performed especially well at the sale, with a Rolex Submariner Ref. 5517 and an Omega Seamaster SM 300 setting records for military-issued Rolex and military-issued Omega wristwatches. Also setting a military record was a Tornek-Rayville Ref. TR-900 U.S. Navy diver’s watch, which sold for $176,400.

For more information, visit the Phillips website.

Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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