A certain kind of fame is necessary to have already-revered products renamed after you – usually the type of personality imbued with infamy, saintliness, or the intangible maximization of “cool” – and Paul Newman positively owned the latter, all the while remaining a role model that even the primmest of parents would find acceptable for their wide-eyed kids who followed him on screen and on track. Perhaps it was his high-profile and highly successful careers in tandem with his scrupulous charity and enthusiastic spirit that saw his famed Rolex “Paul Newman” Oyster Cosmograph Daytona (Ref. 6239) sell yesterday evening for a record-breaking $15.5 million. The reference that became known as the “Paul Newman Daytona” is the arguably the most desirable of the Daytonas, and this was the watch that made it so and gave it its name.
Phillips, in association with Bacs & Russo, auctioned the late Newman’s personal wristwatch on Thursday in New York, which after buyer’s premium, commanded a final price of $17,752,500, enough to make it the most expensive watch ever sold at auction by a margin of millions. It’s a staggering number, but for a watch that’s earned distinction as the most famous in the world, it isn’t surprising that it set a new high watermark so stratospheric that it will likely only be topped in the future on the grounds of inflation.
Received early on in his late start as a racing driver, the watch was a gift from his wife of 50 happy years (only in death did they part), actress Joanne Woodward, and she had engraved a touching, simple note on the back of the case: “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME.” Woodward despised the danger inherent in motor racing, though she supported Newman’s endeavors in its various forms all the same, even if she made it a point to avoid watching him practice. A hallmark of any strong bond, she acknowledged his passion for the activity even though she felt it was silly and scary. And he wasn’t a minor leaguer either, winning his class at the 24 Hours of Daytona at home (at the ripe age of 70 no less), as well as accomplishing the same feat at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 19a Porsche 935. Throughout the 1980s, the name “Newman” also adorned the doors of red, white, and blue Datsuns and Nissans in IMSA GTU and Trans Am races around the country, all the while the Daytona stayed strapped to his wrist. Then, in 1984, he gifted it to his daughter Nell’s boyfriend, James Cox, as the two were rebuilding a treehouse in Connecticut. As the story goes, Newman asked Cox for the time so he could set his Daytona, and learning that Cox didn’t have a watch of his own, gifted him the Rolex saying “Here, here’s a watch. If you wind it, it tells pretty good time.”
Though he used his trusty Daytona for over a decade as a bonafide timing device in the cockpit, Newman was more than just a participant in motorsport, as he proved to be a competent team and car owner too. In Can-Am for instance, he became a owner who got some pretty famous asses in the seat, including Al Unser’s and Keke Rosberg’s. Then in 1983, he partnered up with his former Sports Car and Can-Am rival Carl Haas and formed Newman/Haas Racing, which would make an immediate impact in Indy Cars when they put Mario Andretti in their machine for the team’s debut. That team would go on to rack up 107 wins and earn championships for eight drivers. All this is to say Newman knew racing from both sides of the steering wheel. He was more than a man of motorsport though, he was a loving husband and father, an actor who entertained millions, a philanthropist, and one of the few rare uncorrupted icons of our time.
Images courtesy of: Phillips, Japanese Nostalgic Car, Robert Gabriel/Wired, Paul Newman, IndyCar