Actor and race driver Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona watch has been knocked down for a record US$15.5 million at auction in New York. That’s NZ$22.8 million. Add the buyer’s premium and the total came to US$17,752,500m, or NZ$26.1m.
It was if the ‘lost ark of the covenant’ was up for auction, such was the international response to the sale of actor and race car driver Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona watch.
The rare Rolex has been described as the ‘Mona Lisa’ of the vintage watch market. Before the auction, prominent US watch dealer Andrew Shear said: “Paul Newman’s ‘Newman’ could easily be seen as the most important watch there is. I could see it selling for US$10 million.”
The auctioneer began the sale by calling for a US$1m opening bid. But the first bid followed within seconds – US$10 million.
Newman’s watch might be a holy grail of sorts, but gear belonging to another of Hollywood’s motorsport-loving heroes is up for auction.
The racing suit and helmet Steve McQueen wore in the 1970 film Le Mans is to be sold by US auction house Bonhams on December 6. The two actors are pictured above, Newman left, McQueen right.
The original Hinchman suit and Bell helmet look a little worse for wear 47 years after McQueen last suited up, but Bonhams expects the outfit to sell for upwards of US$400,000.
Newman’s 1968 Rolex Daytona was a gift from his wife, Joanne Woodward, soon after the actor took to motor racing in a big way. The back of the watch is engraved: ‘DRIVE CAREFULLY ME’.
The model 6239 Daytona is distinctive, with an exotic dial containing design tweaks, including the art deco-style numerals on the subdials that watch connoisseurs could spot from 10 paces.
How it came to auction has quickly become a watch nerd’s version of Genesis. Back in 1984, Newman gave it to his daughter Nell’s boyfriend at the time, James Cox.
Newman and Cox were repairing a treehouse on the actor’s property in Massachusetts when Newman asked Cox the time. In a recent interview, Cox said he told Newman he didn’t have a watch.
Newman replied: “Well, here’s this watch. If you remember to wind it, it tells pretty good time.” Cox thereafter wore it daily.
It wasn’t until 1993 that he realised it might be a collector’s item. He was at a trade show when a Japanese fellow approached him and blurted out: “Paul Newman watch.”
Said Cox: “I looked at him like, ‘Oh my God, how does this guy know that this is Paul Newman’s watch.”
Unbeknown to Cox, the aura of the Paul Newman Daytona had been building since the 1980s, when the watch constantly appeared on Newman’s wrist in fashion and promotional pictures.
These days Cox, who lives in California, said he was only dimly aware of the hubbub. “At some point about eight or nine years ago, I realised that my watch had its own Wikipedia page and that there was this whole ‘where did it go’ question,” he said.
“I kept thinking ‘I know the answers to these questions’. “But I’ve always erred on the side of trying to keep the family as private as possible. That was the classy thing to do, keep quite about it.”
The likelihood of a huge payday for her foundation – a spinoff of an earlier organisation Nell, 58, had set up with her father – increases with the media build-up.
Said Paul Boutros, head of auction house Phillips: “We’ve received absentee bids already. It’s got this amazing provenance and it’s really all original.
“Nobody mucked with the dial. Nobody changed the hands. It was worn but not polished. The top collectors want something that’s never been touched by a polishing wheel.”