Paul Newman's lost Rolex Daytona sells for more than $23 million

Paul Newman's Rolex "Paul Newman" Daytona has sold to a phone bidder in New York for world record price of US $17,752,500 (A$23,252,224).

The auction, held last night (October 26) by Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo, saw a 12 minute bidding war before a packed saleroom of over 700 people and was followed by watch enthusiasts from around the world.

With unrivalled provenance, Newman's watch inspired the legendary nickname for the most prestigious versions of Rolex's Daytona which are  distinguished by a particular 'exotic' dial configuration featuring an art-deco font and squared markers with touches of red and reversed sub-dials.

Sentimental value

The actor became linked to the watch after his wife, Joanne Woodward, gave him one when he began racing cars in 1972. He used the chronograph for timing laps and was known for wearing one virtually every day until his death in 2008.

The watch on offer at Phillips, a Reference 6239, carries a personal message from Woodward on the back, "Drive Carefully Me" and was gifted by Newman to the current owner, James Cox, in 1984. Cox was dating Newman's daughter, Nell, at the time and when staying with the family mentioned to Newman he didn't own a watch. Newman is said to have slipped the Daytona off his wrist and given it to the young Cox, saying "if you can remember to wind this each day, it tells pretty good time."

Value of provenance

Aurel Bacs, Senior Consultant, and Paul Boutros, Head of Watches, Americas, said: "It was an absolute privilege for Phillips to offer Paul Newman's own "Paul Newman" Daytona – arguably the most iconic collector's wristwatch of the 20th century. This record result is a testament to the historic importance and continued legacy of this Rolex, which is responsible for creating an entirely new market and inspiring a new generation of collectors."

The previous world record holder was a steel Patek Philippe Reference 1518 that achieved CHF 11,002,000 (A$15,084,000) in Geneva last year, while the highest priced Paul Newman to date was a a gold version with creamy dial that came up at a Phillips auction in Geneva in May this year. One of just three similar versions and known to collectors as "The Legend," it brought CHF 4,168,640 Swiss Francs – some $5,713,000 AUD.

Bani Mcspedden is watch editor of The Australian Financial Review.