If you consider all the fancy complications, the precious materials and the craftsmanship that goes into high-end watchmaking, it may come as quite a surprise that the world’s most expensive wristwatch ever auctioned is but a humble Rolex Reference 6239 in stainless steel with an ‘exotic dial’. When the hammer fell during the Phillips auction in association with Bacs & Russo, the final bid brought the price of this watch to USD 17,752,500, making history for the vintage watch industry. And the reason behind this extravagant sum of money for a stainless steel chronograph watch was simply that it was Paul Newman’s very own Paul Newman Daytona.
So, what is a Paul Newman Daytona? Stripped down to its bare essentials, the Paul Newman Daytona refer to six references of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona watches that were made with these exotic dials. It utilised an art deco style for the numerals while a small square topped the markers within the subdials. During the time it was launched (somewhere around the late 1960s), Rolex also made Daytonas with the conventional Rolex styling and funnily enough customers preferred the latter. Because of its low rate or reception in the market, Rolex didn’t make many of them, hence why finding a Paul Newman Daytona is quite a rare occurrence.
One of the fans of these exotic dials was of course the actor, director and racecar driver, Paul Newman or rather Newman’s wife who bought him the watch and had “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME” inscribed on the back. Newman wore the watch for many years, swimming with it, acting with it and he even had it on during his races. And apparently it was because Newman wore his Ref. 6239 on the cover of an Italian magazine that gave these exotic dials its resurgence and thus how Paul Newman’s name became synonymous with these watches.
When the 1980s rolled around, the Paul Newman Daytonas began increasing in value starting at USD 9,257 for a Ref. 6239 in 1992 to something like USD 75,000 in 2013. By that time, Newman’s watch was in possession of James Cox who once dated Newman’s daughter, Nell Potts. As Hodinkee reports, during the summer of 1984, Newman asked Cox the time and when Cox replied “I don’t know, I don’t own a watch,” Newman took his rolex off his wrist and handed it to Cox saying “Here, here’s a watch. If you wind it, it tells pretty good time.”
It was sometime in 2016 that Cox decided that it was time to sell the watch (which he would wear quite regularly until he discovered its value) and contacted Aurel Bacs. If you don’t know who Aurel Bacs is, he is the name behind Bacs & Russo and is pretty much the man responsible for numerous world record auction prices and at one point even hosted an auction for 50 vintage Rolex watches which broke 50 world records in terms of prices.
When the gavel finally struck on the 26th of October 2017, Paul Newman’s Paul Newman Daytona was sold to an unknown bidder via telephone with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Nell Newman Foundation. In Bacs own words “This historic sale was led by the one and only, original “Paul Newman” Daytona, the true ‘Adam and Eve’ of the watch collecting world.”