Last October, the Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona Reference 6239 sold at the Winning Icons auction in New York for $17,752,500, the highest price any wristwatch has ever fetched at auction. It beat the record-setting sale of a Patek Philippe model that went for a cool $11 million in 2016, and it took all of 12 minutes. That it once belonged to Paul Newman might have had much to do with the success of this particular piece, but the Rolex Daytona has historically done well at auctions—and now, at least for the time being, it is the most sought-after watch in the world, an icon in its own right.
The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona’s Paul Newman dial
Introduced in 1963, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona was created specifically for racing drivers. Having previously crafted models in the Professional watches category, with the Explorer designed for mountaineers and the Submariner for deep-sea divers, the watchmaker proved well-versed in designing sports watches. The Cosmograph Daytona’s contrasting colors—either black chronograph counters against a light colored dial, and vice versa—ensure its readability and, consequently, its functionality.
A photograph of Daytona Beach, 1955
The watch takes its name from Daytona Beach in Florida, where many a race has been held since 1903, and where many land speed records have been broken. Home to what was then the fastest racing circuit in the United States, the Daytona International Speedway, the city was considered a temple of motor racing and drew the best racers in the world.
Over 50 years later, this Rolex chronograph continues to be produced, with three new versions launched in 2017. Like most other icons, it needs only a word of introduction (the “Daytona”). And these days its wearers include not just racers, but also watch aficionados who know a collectible when they see one.