After 12 minutes of intense bidding at Phillips’ Winning Icons sale, Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona Ref. 6239 sold for a record-setting $17,752,500, claiming the title of most expensive watch ever sold at auction—Rolex or otherwise.
For many a watch hobbyist, this “exotic” dialed Daytona is the end-all, be-all of collecting. In this space, the legendary actor is inseparably linked to the three-register chronograph, ostensibly inspiring an entirely new generation of collectors whose obsession with Newman’s watch jump-started the nascent vintage Rolex marketplace.
These “Paul Newman” Daytonas have regularly claimed big money at auction, with values of some of the rarest configurations changing hands for close to the seven-figure mark. All the while, the actual ur-Newman Daytona, owned by the actor himself, remained off the market and out of the public’s eye for more than 50 years until the sale was announced earlier this year.
Surprisingly, the watch didn’t come from the family estate, but from James Cox, the longtime boyfriend of Newman’s daughter Nell during the 1980s. In 1984, while Cox assisted Newman with repairs to a treehouse, Newman asked him for the time. Cox replied, “I don’t know. I don’t own a watch.” The actor gave him his own Daytona, and said, “Here, here’s a watch. If you wind it, it tells pretty good time.”
When the actual, real-deal Paul Newman Daytona reemerged on the public stage, it hit the watch community like a meteor. Predictions regarding valuation and buyers spread like a virus. In the end, most predictions were much, much less than the final hammer fall.
This staggering price claimed two records in one, demolishing the previous record for most expensive Rolex sold at auction (Rolex Ref. 6062 “Bao Dai”) as well as the record for most expensive watch ever sold at auction, held by a Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 in stainless steel ($11.1 million).