Paul Newman's record-breaking watch

Paul Newman's record-breaking watch
Paul Newman's record-breaking watch 04:13

Serena Altschul tells us all about a watch that was once "Newman's Own":

A little over a week ago, at the Phillips Auction House in New York City, a trove of 50 wristwatches was up for sale. But the star of the show -- with its own special room, and a high-tech security system -- was a certain Rolex.

"This is, to many, the Holy Grail," said auctioneer Aurel Bacs. "It's something that started an entire movement."

For decades, actor Paul Newman wore this Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. He took up auto racing while filming the 1969 movie, "Winning," in which he starred alongside his wife, Joanne Woodward. She gave her husband a watch to celebrate his new hobby -- inscribed with a hidden message: "Drive carefully. Me."

Paul Newman with his Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, c. 1976. Family photo

The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona wasn't a bestseller when it debuted in 1963, but worn on the wrist of Newman, it became the epitome of cool. In fact, it became known as the "Paul Newman Watch."

But after the star's death in 2008, the watch that started it all seemed to have vanished.

Enter James Cox, who met Newman in the late '70s: "I was about 15 years old, and I was at a racetrack. I loved cars and racing. And Paul was racing. And I spotted Paul sitting after he had just gotten off the track with his car. And he just gestures for me to come under this barrier to get a better photo of the car."

The story takes another turn a few years later, when at college Cox met a girl named Nell Potts.

"I think the first time I saw her at school I'm standing in her driveway, and she comes in, and she's driving in her car. And she pulls a U-brake, and spins the car around and pops out of the door. And she's got a six-pack of St. Pauli Girl. And I'm like, 'Wow! I want to get to know her!'"

But what he didn't know was that "Nell Potts" was a stage name. And only later when they were dating did he learn her real name – Nell Newman. He also got to know her father.

"One summer I offered to rebuild this treehouse that was kind of a classic feature on the family property," Cox said. "And it ended up being just Paul and I. And I would work on the treehouse during the day. And he would often come over at the end of the night and just check on my progress. 

"He comes over one day and he says, 'James, you know what time it I?' And I'm like, 'No, I'm not wearing a watch.' And he says, 'Well --'' and he takes his Rolex off. He says, 'If you remember to wind this, it tells great time,' and hands it to me. And then he proceeds to show me how to wind it and took a little time with me."

For years, Cox wore the watch, even after he and Nell Newman broke up … until he discovered the Rolex had taken on a legendary life of its own -- which is why he decided sell the watch, in part to benefit the charitable foundation of his life-long friend, Nell Newman.

Ten days ago buyers from around the world got their chance to bid on the Paul Newman Watch.

The final price? $17.8 million -- the highest price ever paid for a watch at auction.

Paul Newman's 1968 Daytona Rolex, a stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with off-white dial and tachymeter bezel, which sold at auction last month for a record $17.8 million. Phillips

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