Paul Newman was once one of the highest paid movie star in the world and on October 26th at the Phillips auction house in New York, he became the undisputed king of the watch world when his 1968 Rolex Daytona sold for $15.5 million. (Including the buyer's premium of 12.5%, the final price comes to $17,752,500.) The bidding only lasted 12 minutes before the watch was sold to a bidder on the telephone, setting a new record for the highest price ever achieved for a wristwatch at auction. More than 400 people from all over the world gathered at Phillips' New York headquarters at 57th and Park Avenue for the Winning Icons auction. The previous record for a Rolex at auction was set in May when the Bao Dai Rolex sold for more that $5 million, also by Phillips, and the previous record for a wristwatch at auction was $11 million for a Patek Philippe ref # 1518, also by Phillips.
Newman's own 'Paul Newman' Daytona was a gift from his wife, actress Joanne Woodward and it has long been considered the Holy Grail among watch collectors.
The Rolex Daytona has an unusual "exotic" dial design, and was dubbed the 'Paul Newman' in the 1980s because he was always seen wearing it, according to Paul Boutros, Phillips Senior Vice President and Head of Watches for the Americas. "It's a whimsical, art deco style dial," he said, "there are about 2,000 to 3,000 of this type of dial in the world." Since the 1980s "everyone has been searching for Paul Newman's Paul Newman," Boutros noted. And it found its way to Phillips through another collector. "In this case, the watch found us. The current owner, James Cox (a former boyfriend of Newman's daughter Nell), has owned the watch since 1984 when Paul Newman gave it to him," Boutros explained. Cox sought the advice of his lawyer when looking to sell the watch, Boutros said, and the attorney put him in touch with a watch collector, who in turn recommended Phillips. (Cox will donate a significant portion of the sale price to the Nell Newman Foundation. She is continuing her father's legacy of philanthropy with her eponymous foundation, which supports organizations in the areas of education, animal welfare and human services among others.)