Most Expensive Wristwatch - Paul Newman’s Rolex Sold for US$17.8m

A new record for the most expensive wristwatch has been set by the Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona. It wouldn’t have fetched a record-shattering price of US$17.75m if it was merely one of the Rolex “Paul Newman” Cosmograph Daytona. This rare one is the “Paul Newman” Daytona that actually owned by Paul Newman himself.

Introduced in 1963, Rolex’s Cosmograph Daytona was designed to meet the demands of professional racing drivers. It was made of stainless steel, featuring three sub dials. After a while, Rolex launched a special edition, Cosmograph ‘Exotic Dials’.

These two watches are basically identical mechanically and the only difference is the dial. The Exotic Dial features ‘square’ hash markers on the sub dials.

Exotic dials didn’t sell well before it was worn by Paul Newman.

Paul Newman (on the right) won an Academy Award for his performance in the 1986 film The Color of Money.

Paul Newman (1925-2008) was an American actor, film director, producer, race car driver, entrepreneur, activist and philanthropist.

A photo from the film Cool Hand Luke

For those who are interested in knowing more about Newman, here are some of his classic movies: The Hustler (1961), Cool Hand Luke (1967) and The Color of Money (1986)

The Rolex Exotic Daytona was dubbed the “Paul Newman” Daytona in the 1980s because the actor was always seen wearing it. This actual watch was seen on Paul Newman’s wrist in hundreds of published photographs.

Exotic dials didn’t sell well and Rolex therefore only produced a limited amount of them. Defined by the rarity of the watch and the association with the legendary Paul Newman, Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona is one of the world’s most sought-after watches of all time.

The Rolex  Ref. 6239 that went on this sale had been given to Newman by his wife, Joanna Woodward, in 1968. The watch was engraved “Drive Carefully Me” on the case back, a sweet message from Woodward to Newman.

Newman wore the watch every day for 15 years. In 1984, Newman gave it to James Cox, Newman’s daughter then-boyfriend, who didn’t have a watch when he was asked for the time.  

After wearing the watch for a few decades, Cox decided to put it up for auction, with some of the proceeds go to the Nell Newman Foundation. The watch carried an estimate of “in excess of $1,000,000” but the sale result went far beyond its pre-sale estimate. The Rolex Ref. 6239 was hammered down for US$15.5m and sold for US$17.75m with buyer’s premium, setting a new world auction record for a wristwatch.

The last record of the world’s most expensive wristwatch was held by the Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 (image above). It was sold for CHF 11m (US$11m) at Phillips in Geneva. The previous highest price set by Daytona was CHF 3.7m (US$3.7m) at Phillips Spring Auction this year.


Rolex  Ref. 6239 - Cosmograph Daytona ‘Paul Newman’

Lot no.: 8
Year: 1968
Estimate: US$1,000,000
Price realized: US$17,752,500

Auction house: Phillips New York
Sale: Winning Icons - Legendary Watches of the 20th Century
Auction: 2017/10/26