Phillips Makes History, Selling Paul Newman’s Rolex for a Record $17.6 Million in Its U.S. First Watch Auction

The timepiece sold for a staggering $17.8 million.

Paul Newman's famous Rolex. Photo courtesy of Phillips.

Observers knew that Paul Newman’s Rolex watch, estimated to sell in excess of $1 million, would be the highlight of Phillips’s first ever U.S. watch auction yesterday. But no one expected the hand-crafted Daytona watch—which the late actor wore in movies, magazine shoots, and at parties—to sell for $17.8 million, going to an unidentified buyer after 12 minutes of heated bidding.

The sale smashed the previous record for a watch, $11.1 million for a stainless steel Patek Philippe, which sold at Phillips last November.

The “Paul Newman” has won legendary status in the watch community, both because it is considered to be one of the most coveted timepieces in the world—the New York Times compared it to the Mona Lisa for the watch collecting world—and because, until the sale’s announcement in June, few people outside of the Newman family knew where it was. It was first given to Newman by his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, who inscribed it with the message “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME.”

Paul Newman wearing his Rolex watch, circa 1990. Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

The event on the whole was a big success for the auction house. The sale brought in a total of $28.8 million—the most ever for a watch auction in the US—with all 49 lots sold.

Phillips had high expectations for their first New York watch auction. In 2014, the company brought on a world-renowned watch specialist, Aurel Bacs, who previously ran the watch department at Christie’s before leaving to found his own consulting firm.

“The watch market has been an extraordinary success story, and an extraordinary growth story,” Phillips CEO Edward Dolman told Artnet News earlier this year. “Who would have ever thought that a stainless-steel Patek Philippe would sell for over $11 million at auction? If you’d have said that three or four years ago, people would think you were crazy. But it’s the perfect example of a category that has benefited hugely from global wealth and global recognition.”

Paul Newman’s Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona watch. Courtesy of Phillips.

“Since joining forces with Phillips three years ago, we have cemented our reputation as market leaders and this sale underscores the continued growth of the field,” said Bacs in a statement. “With an increasingly strong demand from American clients, we are confident that our auctions will continue to achieve great heights in our upcoming sales in Geneva and Hong Kong and into 2018.”

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