Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona watch just sold for record $17.75 million

It's the actual Rolex Newman wore in the 1969 racing film "Winning."

  • Image Credit: Phillips

An iconic Rolex motorsports wristwatch made famous by appearing on the wrist of Paul Newman in the 1969 auto-racing film "Winning" and in countless subsequent photographs of the Hollywood star and race car driver has sold at a Phillips auction in New York for a whopping $17,752,500. It sold after 12 minutes of bidding to a buyer on the phone, setting a new record for the highest price ever fetched for a wristwatch.

The 37-millimeter, stainless steel Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, reference No. 6239, features a crocodile "Bund-style" strap with an off-white dial and tachymeter bezel. It dates from 1968 and was fitted with an "exotic" dial design and inscribed with the phrase "Drive Carefully Me." The watch was a gift from Newman's wife, Joanne Woodward, as his passion for motorsports was growing, and the inscription may stem from Newman's injury in a motorcycle accident in 1965. The auction sale also included the original copy of a provenance attestation letter signed by (Elinor) Nell Newman, the actor's daughter, and a framed photograph of a treehouse on Newman and Woodward's "Nook House" property in Westport, Conn., which factors into the story of how the timepiece arrived at auction.

"Winning," set at the Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway, starred Paul Newman in the role of struggling race car driver Frank Capua, with Woodward playing divorcee-turned Capua's wife, Elora. The film, and the race training he underwent to prepare for the role, ignited a passion for auto racing for Newman, who would begin a second career three years later and at age 46 as a race car driver. Newman would go on to win four national championships in the Sports Car Club of America circuit, finish second in the 1979 24 Hour of Le Mans, and win his age class at 70 in the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona. He also formed the Newman Freeman Racing team with Bill Freeman and, later, the Newman/Haas Racing team with Carl Haas.

"The Daytona would become Newman's faithful companion, using it as a true tool watch for timing his racing activities," the Phillips writeup says. "So proud and confident he was of its accuracy, he would place bets with friends that his Daytona was more accurate than theirs. After calling Central Time, a phone service providing exact time, Newman would collect his winnings. He loved his Rolex and loved being on time."

The watch seemingly went missing in 1984 after Newman received a new Cosmograph Daytona from his wife. In fact, Newman had simply given the watch to James Cox, the young man who was dating his daughter, Elinor "Nell" Newman. In her attestation note, Nell Newman explains that Cox was helping to rebuild the treehouse at the Nook House when Newman gave him the watch, saying, "If you can remember to wind this each day, it tells pretty good time." Cox reportedly plans to donate a significant portion of the proceeds to the Nell Newman Foundation, which is continuing her father's legacy of philanthropy.

So, open question to our readers: What do you suppose the odds are that the buyer of this $17.75 million wristwatch actually, you know, wears the thing?

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