Paul Newman is an icon in the world of Rolex watch collectors. For years he wasn’t seen without the signature Rolex Daytona timepiece on his wrist, but in the ’80s he mysteriously stopped wearing it. Ever since the whereabouts of the watch were unknown to the public, until it went up for auction Thursday night in N.Y.C.
The Rolex “Paul Newman” Cosmograph Daytona, which was dubbed after the actor by watch enthusiasts, was sold at Phillips auction house’s “Winning Icons — Legendary Watches of the 20th Century” for a record-breaking $17.8 million.
It’s now the most expensive watch ever sold in an auction beating the previous $11.1 million record. According to Bloomberg, there was a bidding war between two bidders in the last five minutes of the 12 minute-long auction to push the price from $15 million to $17.8. The lucky winner wishes to remain anonymous.
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The story of the watch is as iconic as its record selling price. The watch was a gift from Newman’s wife Joanne Woodward after they starred together in the 1969 film, Winning. Newman’s race car driving character in the film ignited his passion for racing professionally, which began Woodward’s worry for his safety.
So she gifted the actor an aptly-named Rolex Cosmograph Daytona timepiece and engraved the message “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME” on the back.
The actor was spotted wearing the watch for years until 1984, when he gave the watch to his daughter Elinor “Nell” Newman’s college boyfriend, James Cox. In a signed letter accompanying the watch, Nell explains the moment the watch got handed down to Cox. “… Pop asked James if he knew the time. Apparently Pop forgot to wind his wristwatch that morning. James responded that he didn’t know the time and didn’t own a watch. Pop handed James his Rolex and said, ‘if you can remember to wind this each day, it tells pretty good time.'”
Both Nell and Cox are still close friends today and decided to sell the watch and give proceeds to the Nell Newman Foundation.
What do you think of the sweet story behind his infamous timepiece?