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paul newman rolex daytona

The (2nd) Most Expensive Watch Ever Sold

The luxury watch world is brimming with highly valuable watches (the cup doth spilleth over). With wealthy collectors scooping up pricey watches at auction, it’s no surprise that certain pieces have been let go with substantially high price tags. Though there are many valuable timepieces designed by high-quality watchmakers, however, not all of them actually sell. A lot of super-complicated or rare-material made watches are showcase pieces—never to be sold or worn. In a previous post we discussed the most valuable wristwatch in the world: The Graff Diamonds Hallucination (currently valued at $55million). With only the top-tier employees at Graff Diamonds able to handle/own the watch, it doesn’t appear to be going up for private sale any time soon. In contrast, ahead we’ll be covering the most expensive watch ever privately purchased—Paul Newman’s Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. It may not have as many precious stones or complications as some high value watches, but its owner’s legacy has sent its value through the roof.

Off to the Races

The Most Expensive Watch Ever Sold

Actress Joanne Woodward—aka Paul Newman’s wife—originally purchased Newman’s Rolex Daytona for $300.00. She had the words “Drive Safe Me” inscribed as a reminder for him to be safe when taking the wheel. Well, 1969 pricing looks pretty safe compared to the final auction price for this standout racing-watch piece. With auction bidding beginning at $10million, phone calls swarmed the Phillips NYC auction house on October 6th, 2017. After just 12 minutes of competition the proverbial “checkered flag” was waved. Bidding closed at $17.7million. Blowing all previously auctioned luxury pieces out of the water, this particular Rolex Daytona is now king of the auction house. It also substantially bests the current pricing for Rolex’s Daytona series. Any would-be Rolex owners today pay around $12,500 (base price) for new Daytona models.

Strangely, with how valuable his Rolex eventually became, Newman actually gave his watch away in 1984 (15 years after his wife gifted it to him). James Cox—an obviously lucky college boyfriend to Newman’s daughter—was gifted this now opulently priced timepiece. Needless to say, it was a pretty big come-up for Cox. However, not all of the money went to Cox’s coiffers. In the spirit of Newman’s legacy some of the proceeds from the Rolex auction were directly put into two charities: The Nell Foundation (begun by Newman’s daughter) and of course the Newman’s Own Foundation.  

Silver-Screen Allure

The Most Expensive Watch Ever Sold

Men like Newman, Sean Connery, and Steve Mcqueen once wore the latest watches in spy movies, race car pictures (like McQueen’s Heuer Chronograph in Le Mans), and otherwise iconic films. Their depictions of men doing manly things were tied together by their wardrobes. What’s a classic men’s wardrobe without a luxury watch? Certainly these depictions have added collectable value to otherwise well-engineered and stylish pieces. As well, they’ve reinforced a mystique surrounding watches in men’s fashion that persists to this day.

Newman’s iconic, larger-than-life American male persona was a huge factor in his Rolex Daytona’s value. Pairing his celebrity with stellar Rolex racing-watch design, which is already valuable on its own, was a no-brainer to collectors. This wristwatch was already hot before the 2017 auction—and now, a wealthy anonymous owner is living out a tinseltown dream. Hopefully there’ll be more cool left for the rest of us in the future.

On that note, current leading-man movies are putting some pretty slick watches on screen. Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019) featured Brad Pitt wearing a Citizen “Bullhead” style watch from the 70s. The upcoming flick Ford V. Ferrari will likely feature classic professional racing wristwatches as well. Who knows, maybe one day these eye-catching silver-screen watches will sell for millions at their own auctions. Only the passage of time—and their connection with attractive celebrities—will reveal their relative wealth.

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