Hubert Burda Media

The Story of the Record Breaking $17 Million Rolex

Images courtesy of Phillips

Has the watch world gone a bit bonkers? While most of us was either asleep or heading to work this dreary Friday morning, a very important watch went up for sale at the Phillips auction. It was the late Paul Newman’s personal 6239 Rolex Daytona, which was gifted to him by his wife Joanne Woodward when Newman was filming the racing film Winning. On the back is inscribed DRIVE CAREFULLY ME, the ‘me’ referring to Joanne.

Now, if you’re wondering how Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona became such a horological icon, your guess is as good as ours. Legend has it that it became popular when Paul Newman wore it for a photo-shoot with an Italian magazine. The keyword here is “legend” because no one can substantiate this story except probably Paul Newman himself. Nevertheless, it was the Italian collectors that started calling these Rolex Daytonas with the exotic dials ‘Paul Newmans’.

Funnily enough, the Paul Newmans were never popular and languished on store shelves until the Italians started creating a buzz around these timepieces.

As any watch enthusiast knows, it is the story behind the watch that enchants collectors, and Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona has a pretty interesting story. The Phillips auction house explains it very clearly, especially the part about how the watch seemingly disappeared in 1984 before popping up again decades later. You should give it a read.

The Paul Newman Rolex Daytona

Is the watch worth a whopping US$17 million (after buyer’s premium)? We leave it up to you to decide. However, consider this. A stunning historical piece and probably the world’s first-ever perpetual calendar watch – the Thomas Mudge – was acquired by Patek Philippe for about US$79,000 in an auction just over a year ago. Patek Philippe’s modern-day perpetual calendar timepieces sell for a lot more than the price it paid for horological history. You would think that such an important piece of timekeeping would have gone under the hammer for a lot more.

In fact, in the same Paul Newman Rolex Daytona auction that broke records, a Philippe Dufour Duality fetched a price of US$915,000. The world’s first wrist watch to incorporate a double escapement and made by a master watchmaker was sold for less than a million dollars, while a pop culture timepiece (no disrespect to the Rolex Daytona) broke a record.

So, is the watch world a bit bonkers? Probably. But, with so much attention paid to celebrities today, it’s no wonder that the Paul Newman Rolex Daytona went for an insane US$17 million. You can watch the auction in the video below.