Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona Just Got Auctioned Off For Almost $18 Million

Credit: Courtesy of Phillips

Whoever coined the phrase “time is money” probably wasn’t thinking this big.

On Thursday, Phillips auction house made horological history when it sold a rare Rolex Daytona once owned by Paul Newman for the ass-numbingly high figure of $17,752,500 to an unnamed collector. It's now the highest price ever paid for a watch. The working totem of timepiece lore had been estimated to fetch in excess of $1,000,000.

The previous most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction was a solid gold Rolex with diamond indices that was once owned by Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam. It fetched $5 million this May, a sum that seems paltry in comparison.

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For perspective, the Daytona was sold as one of 50 lots which, altogether, raised $28.8 million. Which means this one timepiece was worth just around 62 percent of the entire sale. The second highest bid for a watch in this auction? A rare rose gold Patek Philippe perpetual calendar watch that fetched just $975,000.

What makes the watch so special? First there’s its famous owner: actor, director, and salad dressing purveyor Paul Newman, who famously got into race car driving while filming the 1969 film Winning. His wife, actor Joanne Woodward, bought him the racing watch and had the back inscribed with the message “Drive Carefully, Me.” At the time, it was worth $300.

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It was the first of many Daytonas that Newman would own and wear, but it was the only one that featured the so-called “exotic” dial, a white face with three black subdials accented by Art Deco-style numerals, and the word Daytona written in red.

Newman famously gave the watch to his daughter Nell’s onetime boyfriend, James Cox, who brought it to Phillips to be auctioned off last night. (Woodward later bought Newman another Daytona and inscribed the back with, “Drive Carefully, Joanne.” Nell reportedly still wears it.) The proceeds from the sale will be donated to the Nell Newman Foundation, a charitable organization with a bent toward sustainable giving. And with this kind of a cash infusion, they'll be able to help a lot of people and ecosystems.