Rolex once owned by actor Paul Newman auctioned for record $24.38 million

The stainless-steel Daytona Rolex was the star of a special 50-lot evening sale, "Winning Icons - Legendary Watches of the 20th Century," at Phillips auction house.
The stainless-steel Daytona Rolex was the star of a special 50-lot evening sale, "Winning Icons - Legendary Watches of the 20th Century," at Phillips auction house.PHOTO: THE NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - A Rolex that once belonged to Paul Newman became the most expensive wristwatch ever sold in an auction as it fetched US$17.8 million (S$24.38 million) on Thursday (Oct 260) night in New York.

The stainless-steel Daytona Rolex was the star of a special 50-lot evening sale, "Winning Icons - Legendary Watches of the 20th Century," at Phillips auction house.

The timepiece had been estimated at more than US$1 million. The previous record for a wristwatch belonged to a stainless-steel Patek Philippe that sold for US$11.1 million at Phillips in November.

After a 12-minute bidding war, Newman's former property went to a buyer on the phone who wants to remain anonymous, Phillips said.

Newman got his watch - a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, reference #6239, made in 1968 - as a gift from his wife, actress Joanne Woodward.

The two starred together in the 1969 movie Winning, which sparked Newman's successful racing career.

The wristwatch has a white dial, three black subdials, a red outer track and Woodward's engraving on the back: "DRIVE CAREFULLY ME."

In the following decade, the watch travelled the world with the actor, appearing on his wrist in promotional materials, magazines and documentary footage. 

It became so synonymous with the Hollywood legend that vintage-watch aficionados dubbed the model after him.

They are among the most coveted in the market. In May, an 18-karat gold "Paul Newman" Daytona fetched US$3.7 million at Phillips in Geneva. A year earlier the company sold a stainless-steel version for US$2 million. But neither of those had ever graced the blue-eyed star's wrist.

The fate of Newman's Daytona was something of a mystery after it disappeared from the actor's wrist in the 1980s.

It turns out that in 1984, the star gave it as a gift to James Cox, a college student who dated Newman's daughter Nell. Mr Cox said he wore it proudly for years and then, as prices for vintage watches began skyrocketing, put it away in a safe box.

Mr Cox decided to sell the piece, in part, to raise money for the Nell Newman Foundation, where he serves as treasurer. The charity supports causes including the environment, sustainable agriculture and education.

The watch is the "true Adam and Eve of the watch-collecting world", said Mr Aurel Bacs, the auctioneer and a senior consultant for Phillips, in a statement.