Dubbed “the hottest vintage Rolex on the market” and among one of “the most important Rolex watches to ever be offered,” the Swiss company’s original Paul Newman Cosmograph Daytona was always considered without equal. So it was only natural that it sold for a high price. It’s just that not even the auctioneers at Phillips, one of the leading auction houses for art, design, and watches, suspected how high it would be.
“Well, it was really breathtaking and stunning,” says Paul Boutros, Philips’ Head of Watches for the Americas, of the moment the winning bid came in at an auction in New York in 2017.
“After an initial bid of $1 million dollars, a Phillips employee who was on the phone with a client shouted, ‘$10 million, sir,’ and jumping, from $1 million to $10 million, pretty much stunned everyone on the auction floor, […] even the auctioneer was stunned,” adds Boutros. “We never expected it to do what it did at 17.8 million.”
Even almost two years after the auction, the “Paul Newman” Cosmograph Daytona still remains the most highly-priced Rolex wristwatch ever.
While there are multiple factors that contributed to this eye-watering price, the most important among them is probably the celebrity element. Two-times Academy Award winner and racecar driver Paul Newman received the watch as a gift from his wife, actress Joanne Woodward (who likely purchased it from Tiffany&Co.) around the time they filmed Winning in 1968. Given Newman’s penchant for high speed and racing, Woodward really couldn’t have chosen a better gift—this was Rolex’s first model of the iconic Daytona Cosmograph series—a chronograph with a tachymeter scale engraved on the bezel, designed to measure speed.
“His wife was fearful for his safety and bought the perfect watch for motorsports, which is the Rolex Daytona, but put this loving engraving—“Drive Carefully Me”— on the case back. It was the only Daytona that Paul Newman ever wore […],” explains Boutros.
In 1984, the actor gave the watch to James Cox, the then-boyfriend of his daughter Elinor Newman who had it until it was sold at the auction two years ago.
“The watch was all original, it was never polished. It had all its original parts and was quite well preserved. The case back engraving was perfectly crisp. No one had ever polished it away, which you see so often with vintage watches. So you had so many factors lining up with this watch that for collectors of first watches, this was an ultimate trophy and the price reflected that,” says Boutros.
And while Paul Newman’s Daytona may not come on the market any time soon again if you are looking for another iconic Rolex to add to your collection, you are in luck. In December this year, Philips is auctioning Marlon Brando’s Rolex GMT-MASTER watch that the actor wore in the movie Apocalypse Now. Brando himself engraved “M Brando” on its case back.
We suspect that this will be another one for the books.