Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona Sets World Record at Auction, Sells for $17.8M

The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona wristwatch was given to Newman by his wife, actress Joanne Woodward

They say time is money, and a vintage Rolex that once belonged to actor Paul Newman has set a new world record for just how much.

The "one and only" Rolex Cosmograph Daytona wristwatch, also known as Paul Newman's Paul Newman, sold for a record $17.8 million at Phillips Auction House in New York on Thursday, the auction house said in a news release.

That is $6 million more expensive than the previous priciest ever sold at auction, according to Phillips. It also breaks the record for the most expensive Rolex ever sold at auction, the auction house said, which was previously held by the Rolex Bao Dai. That sold for $5 million back in May.

The art deco watch was given to Newman by his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, after he made the 1969 auto racing film "Winning" in which he played autoracer Frank Capua, Phillips said in announcing the auction. Newman had also taken up the sport and Woodward, fearful of his need for speed, inscribed on the back of the watch in all caps: "Drive Carefully You."

The movie star made Daytonas fitted with the "exotic" dial popular after he was photographed repeatedly wearing the watch.

"Throughout his career, Mr. Newman was seen wearing many different generations of Daytona models. This is the first Daytona he wore, and is the only "exotic"-dialed Daytona that Mr. Newman owned and wore, making it the ultimate Rolex Daytona wristwatch. It features the most famous dial, fitted in the most famous collectors’ watch, produced by the most famous watch brand," Phillips wrote.

Though the watch is not made of any precious metals or stones, it is worth a lot to collectors because of its story.

The trail of the watch was cold for years and after Newman died in 2008 it was presumed missing. But all along, it was quietly in the hands of James Cox, the one-time boyfriend of Newman’s daughter Elinor "Nell" Newman.

"The tree house was perched in a large oak tree that cantilevered over the Aspetuck River at my childhood home in Westport, Connecticut," Nell recalls in a signed letter accompanying the watch. "We had two family homes, one on each side of the river. That summer Pop was living in one, and James was living in the other. Pop would frequent the river bank to check on James’ progress. During one such encounter, 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.'" 

Cox has owned the watch since and, together with Nell, who remain close friends, decided to sell the watch to raise money for her foundation.

The Nell Newman Foundation supports her father’s philanthropic values, "while serving Nell’s commitment to organic foods and sustainable agriculture," according to the non-profit. A portion of the sale proceeds will also go to benefit Newman's Own Foundation.

Contact Us