Imagine purchasing a Rolex Daytona watch in 1968 for about $200, and then 49 years later, selling it for $17,752,500! That’s a return on investment of whopping 8,876,200%! Impossible, you say? Not if the watch was owned by one of the most famous actors (1960-80s), race car drivers, and philanthropists (Newman’s Own). And not if the watch, known as the “Paul Newman Daytona,” became the Holy Grail of watch collectors — and really wealthy ones. In an interview, Geoff Hess who is a vintage Rolex collector expressed how valuable this watch has become: “Many people are saying this is the greatest watch on the planet. This watch transcends watch collecting, it transcends the watch community. This watch appeals to people way beyond the watch world. I don’t recall a watch that has roots and ties in so many [collecting] communities, and it’s an incredibly potent mix. It, of course, attracts those who love and admire motor sports and cars, it also appeals to people who love Hollywood memorabilia. It’s also a piece of Americana, so it appeals to the American history community.”
The Rolex Cosmography Daytona Reference 6239 watch was produced by Rolex from 1964 to 1976. (The Daytona has actually been produced in three separate series: Series One, from 1963 to 1980s; Series Two, from 1988 to 2000; and Series Three, from 200o on.) The sports watch was named after the famous Daytona racetrack in Florida. The watch features a whimsical, art deco style white face with three smaller black sub dials; it was the first wristwatch with the tachometer scale engraved on a stainless steel bezel. The watch case is silver paired with a black leather band. The watch was a gift to Newman from his wife Joanne. On the back of the case, she had the following words inscribed: “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME.” The watch became known as the Paul Newman Daytona because in just about every photo during the 1980s, Newman was wearing the watch.
In 1984, Newman gave the watch to James Cox, who was a boyfriend of Newman’s daughter, Nell, in exchange for repairing a tree house that was located on the family’s property in Connecticut. Recently, Cox turned to Phillips auction house in New York to sell the watch. The watch came up for auction on October 26, 2017, and within 12 minutes of fierce bidding (only 32 bidders were allowed), a telephone bidder won the bid. The watch was sold for $15.5 million plus the buyer’s premium of 12.5%, bringing the total price to $17,752,500. In the process, the sale of the Paul Newman watch set a new record for highest price paid for a wristwatch at auction. The previous record was $11,136,642 for a Patek Philippe reference 1518 timepiece sold in a Geneva auction on November 12, 2016.
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For further reading: A Man and His Watch: Iconic Watches and Stories from the Men Who Wore Them by Matt Hranek
Esquire, Volume 21, Fall/Winter 2017.