Paul Newman’s Paul Newman is the world’s most expensive watch ever publicly sold
If you’ve been tracking vintage watch auctions over the last year, you’ll notice an upswing in the industry. It ignited last year with the stainless-steel Patek Philippe Ref 1518 that hammered for just over $11 million at the Phillips auction in Geneva, making it the most expensive watch ever sold at auction.
Then in May this year, at the 2017 Philipps Geneva watch auction, it was time for high-spenders to raise their paddles once again. A Rolex Oyster Paul Newman in solid gold bagged $3.7 million, becoming the most expensive Daytona ever sold at auction. At the same auction, a Rolex ref 6062 “Bao Dai” sold for $5.06 million, becoming the most expensive Rolex ever sold. Clearly, Rolex was on a roll.
But for collectors of vintage Rolex watches, there is a grail watch – the Paul Newman Daytona watch. To be clear, the “Paul Newman” moniker was an unofficial reference to Rolex watches that sported a certain “exotic dial” pattern. These watches were first manufactured in the Sixties. They weren’t incredibly popular back then, and you could get one at a discount as well.
In 1968, Newman’s wife purchased a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona reference 6239 – that’s all it was ever known as at the time – from Tiffany & Co on 5th Avenue in New York City in 1968, and engraved a message on the case back for her husband which read: “Drive Carefully Me”.
It wasn’t until about 20 years later when collectors began wanting more of these Rolex watches with the “exotic dial” patterns. They began to call it as “Paul Newman” because the actor who was in his prime at the time was regularly photographed wearing his Daytona that featured the same “exotic dial” pattern. By then, these Paul Newman Daytonas were becoming rare.
From 1968 to 1984, Newman wore the exact same watch every single day. This was Paul Newman’s Paul Newman. One of a kind. However, in 1984, James Cox, his daughter’s 18-year-old boyfriend who was living in the actor’s home, was helping the screen legend build a treehouse. Impulsively, Newman asked Cox for the time, and Cox replied, “I don’t have a watch. I don’t know what time it is.” To which Newman took the iconic watch off his wrist and handed it over to Cox saying, “If you remember to wind this, it tells pretty good time.” That’s how its owner, until last week, secured the ultimate Rolex for himself.
Cox didn’t realise that he had a treasure chest on his wrist until the mid-Nineties when he was passing by a Rolex store and was offered “Paul Newman” Rolexes for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Cox though had the real thing.
At the Phillips watch auction in New York last week, Cox finally decided to part with his Swiss timepiece. One of the world’s most prolific watch auctioneers, Aurel Bacs from Bacs & Russo, took to the podium and began the bidding process at $1 million. An Asian client who was on the phone with the auction house immediately bid $10 million for it. If you see a watch leap from $1 million to $10 million in a single bid, you know that you’re looking at something that amounts to the holy grail of watches for a collector.
The bidding proceeded until the watch finally dropped for $17,752,500 (including buyer’s premium) making it the most expensive watch ever publicly sold.
It’s time to tip your hat and show some respect to the inimitable Rolex Paul Newman and resist the urge to feel a scathing sense of envy for the winning bidder who now owns this timepiece, and who we’re sure is in no hurry to offer it up for auction anytime soon.