Paul Newman's Rolex sells for record $17M

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Sandy Kenyon reports on Paul Newman's legendary watch. (Optimist Consulting )

As watches go, it's one of the most legendary and valuable in the world. A Rolex that once belonged to Paul Newman was sold at auction in Manhattan for more than $17-million.

That's a new world record for any wristwatch at auction.

Inside a packed saleroom of 700 people and following a 12 minute bidding war, Paul Newman's Rolex "Paul Newman" Daytona sold to a bidder on the phone.

The star got the watch as a gift, wore it for the better part of 20 years, then gave it away to a friend of the family. Over time this particular Rolex became a valuable icon: a symbol of the star's own unique brand of cool.

Newman sure knew how to win: first, as an actor, then as a champion race car driver who took up the sport in his late 40's when he made a movie called "Winning."

During filming his wife Joanne Woodward, who also costarred in the movie, gave him the Rolex "Daytona" as a gift.

"She knew he didn't want anything flashy," explains their daughter, Nell Newman. "He wanted something he could use to time race cars and she chose the $300 Rolex perfectly."

Woodward added a special inscription on the back of the watch advising her husband to, "drive carefully, me."

After wearing it for almost two full decades, the star gave it away to a young man named James Cox, who was dating his daughter, Nell, in the 1980's.

Cox was restoring a tree house on the Westport, Connecticut estate owned by the Newmans.

Cox says, "and he came over one day and said, "James, do you know what time it is?' And, I said, Paul, I don't have a watch. I don't know.' He reached down and said, 'if you remember to wind this, it tells really great time' and hands me this thing."

Cox kept it, wore it, before placing it in a safe deposit box in recent years after he realized it was likely worth over a million dollars thanks to Newman's star status.

A growing legion of watch collectors believed the precious timepiece was lost.

"This is the holy grail," says expert Paul Boutros of Phillips Auction House. "There's been no other watch that has had such an influence not only not only on collectible watches but on the watch industry as a whole."

Part of the proceeds from the auction at Phillips will go to charity, which is only fair given Newman's own devotion to various causes.

"He was a very generous man, and that's what is carried on in that watch," notes his daughter.

Maybe somewhere, Newman's famous blue eyes are twinkling. This sale so indicative of the star's enduring legacy more than 9 years after his death.

Paul Newman wearing his legendary watch.

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