Easily one of the most iconic watches in the world, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona already held its fair share of auction records. But this one was the heavyweight – and it set a record that’s slated to stand for a very long time indeed.
It’s a well-known fact among watch collectors and aficionados alike that one of the coolest watches on the planet is the Rolex Oyster Cosmograph Daytona. Popularised over the decades by a man of many enviable talents – Oscar winning actor, race-car driver, race team owner and an exceptional philanthropist – Paul Newman, the Daytona gained cult status and is seen as the watch to have for collectors from around the world. This fact was further established earlier this year when the last famous Daytona went on the auction block – a gold version of the Newman Cosmograph Daytona, which sold for over $3.7 million US dollars. And there was good reason for this valuation, as this particular piece was one of only three yellow gold examples in the world.
The watch that was auctioned at a Phillip’s auction in New York, however, was a simpler example of the Cosmograph Daytona – in steel, and with a black leather strap. The real provenance of the watch, then, was not which variant of the Daytona it was, but rather its ownership history. After all, this was the very watch that was owned and worn by Paul Newman himself – so, expectations from the Phillips auctions was very high.
In fact, such was his fame that this particular Rolex model is commonly referred to as the ‘Paul Newman Daytona,’ and is regarded as one of the most collectible watches in the world. Legend has it that Newman appeared in an Italian magazine wearing this particular Daytona, and it caught the eye of collectors the world over. Before Paul Newman, the Daytona wasn’t a very successful model for Rolex. But, as Paul Newman’s personal watch – Reference 6239 – an ‘Exotic’ dial Daytona, with its cream dial and red markings, would go on to becoming one of the most coveted watches of all time.
Gifted to him by his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, as a wedding present, it’s most likely that she bought it from Tiffany & Co. in New York. Evidence of this is the inventory number hand engraved behind the watch’s left lug, and also the inscription ‘DRIVE CAREFULLY ME’ that she lovingly had engraved on the caseback – presumably resulting from her concern for his safety following a motorcycle accident in 1965, after which he required skin grafting on his left hand.
But no one, perhaps, would have expected that the Newman Daytona would reach the heights that it did at auction. Finally, having been sold at a value of over $17.7 million, this Paul Newman Oyster Daytona has not only become the most expensive Rolex ever sold, but also the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at a public auction. No mean feat that, especially when you consider that when you look at the complication of the Daytona, it remains a relative lightweight in the luxury watchmaking world – being just a simple chronograph.
However, it once again goes to prove that it’s not just the mechanical complexity of a watch that matters in its perceived value, but also its provenance. And, to be honest, given the benchmark that the Newman Daytona has set, we don’t expect to see this record being broken any time soon.