The Most Famous Rolex

Luxury watches are not rare.  There have been untold thousands, and perhaps millions, of them made over the past two centuries.   Some watches have unusual features, are made from precious metals, and are manufactured in such limited quantities that they sell for millions of dollars when new.

Others become rare over time and valuable over time, perhaps because of unusual provenance.

paul newman daytonaThat’s the case with a specific Rolex watch that will soon be up for auction.  In this case, the watch is a model known as the Rolex Daytona, a watch that first became available in 1963 as a racing chronograph.

The watch didn’t sell all that well, despite the fact that it was available with many different variations and dial styles.  It was a slow seller.

And then, in the early 1970s, actor Paul Newman received one as a gift from his wife, actress Joanne Woodward.  Newman liked the watch and wore it daily for a decade.  The watch became identified with him, so much so that the particular style of Rolex Daytona is now known as the “Paul Newman” Daytona.

A “Paul Newman” Daytona watch can fetch six figures when it comes up for sale, as the watch had a distinctive look and dial style that most models did not.   It’s not any more rare than many other versions of the Daytona watch, but because of the connection to the actor, the watch has taken on a life of its own.

paul newman daytonaOwning a Paul Newman Rolex Daytona is a big deal among watch collectors and Rolex fans, but here’s an even bigger deal:  Next month, the Phillips auction house is going to auction off Paul Newman’s personal “Paul Newman” Rolex Daytona.

Apparently, Newman gave the watch as a gift in 1984 to a young man who was dating Newman’s daughter.  He wore the watch for many years, but as he became aware of its potential value, he eventually put it away in a safe deposit box.

The man, James Cox, now 52, has decided that it’s time to sell.  A portion of the proceeds will go to the foundation run by Newman’s daughter, Nell.

Experts aren’t sure about the price, however, and estimates range from a low of $1 million to as much as $10 million.  That’s the problem when something as famous as Newman’s watch comes to market – you never know who is going to be among the buyers.

While there will undoubtedly be a number of well-heeled watch collectors participating in the auction, potential buyers could also include collectors of Hollywood memorabilia, as well.

The record price for a wristwatch is a bit over $11 million, realized last year for a World War II era Patek Philippe watch.  It’s quite possible that Newman’s watch could exceed that price, but to date, there are no comparable sales to suggest a price range.

Last May, an 18 karat gold “Paul Newman” Daytona sold for $3.7 million at another Phillips auction.  While that was a Paul Newman Daytona, it wasn’t the Paul Newman Daytona.

That minor distinction could be worth millions.