t was a record-setting night that shook the watch collecting world as the “Holy Grail” of watches was sold at Phillips, Bacs & Russo auction the night of October 26th, 2017. The famous, and scarce, ref 6239, Rolex Daytona Cosmograph worn by Paul Newman himself had been found and collectors the world over were drooling at the prospects of owning the original watch that coined the nickname “The Paul Newman”. Bidding started at $1 million and before the auctioneer was able to finish his opening narrative, a bid was called in for $10 million. A bidding war erupted and after a buyer’s premium of 12.5%, the watch closed at a whopping $17.8 million.
The reasoning for this watch’s desirability is something of a perfect storm of conditions. This ref model was, largely, unwanted at the time of production and a low quantity were ever produced. The exotic dial sporting the “square lollipop” sub register markers and Art Deco font as well as “Daytona” being above the sub register rather than under the upper signature has it’s own unique look. It also had perfect provenance and was in untouched, original condition: something collectors seek above other characteristics.
The watch was purchased in the late 1960s by Joanne Woodward, Paul’s wife, as a gift right around the time Paul began his racing career. She had it engraved: “Drive Carefully Me” on the case back; this would later add to the provenance of the piece.
The watch was thought lost as it hadn’t been seen for 3 decades. Story has it that Paul gifted it to his daughter Nell’s then-boyfriend James Cox in 1984 while helping Paul build a treehouse. A portion of the sale proceeds were slated to go to the Nell Newman Foundation as well as Newman’s Own Foundation.
The previous highest-sold Rolex happened very recently at Phillips in New York, as well, selling for $5 million: a Rolex Presidential ref 6062, nicknamed the “Bao Dai” as it was owned by the last emperor of Vietnam. The previous highest wristwatch ever sold was a Patek Philippe ref 1518 that realized $11 million, also sold by Phillips.