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Record auction price predicted for the Rolex Joanne Woodward gave to Paul Newman

A Rolex wristwatch owned by Hollywood legend Paul Newman, and inscribed with a message from his wife, will be auctioned by Phillips in New York on October 26. It is expected to attract a final bid of more than $1million (about R13.2m) – and could set a world record for a watch sale on auction.

In fact, some experts predict it could even fetch $10m because the proceeds are destined to go to charity.

The white-dial Rolex Cosmograph Daytona timepiece – one of only 4000 ever made – was purchased for $300 as a gift for Newman by his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, in 1969.

It is engraved on the back with the message “Drive Carefully – Me”, a reminder to take care during the motor racing that had already become a major passion in Newman’s life. Woodward and Newman both starred in the movie Winning, a 1969 film about a racing driver’s dream to win racing’s crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500.

In real life, Newman won several national championships in Sports Car Club of America road racing, and his race teams won several championships in open-wheel IndyCar racing. Sadly, the team never won the Indy 500.

Newman, who died of lung cancer in 2008 at the age of 83, was not only an acclaimed actor – and blue-eyed heartthrob – but also an entrepreneur, activist, and philanthropist.

Hollywood’s legendary “Butch Cassidy” was co-founder of Newman’s Own, a food company that donated all post-tax profits and royalties to charity. These donations now total about $500m.

He was co-founder of Safe Water Network, a non-profit body that develops sustainable drinking water solutions for those in need. In 1988 Newman and Woodward co-founded the Serious Fun Children’s Network, a global family of summer camps and programmes for children with life threatening illnesses where 300000 children, freed from hospitals, could “raise hell for a while”, as the Newmans had wished.

On screen, Newman won numerous awards, including an Academy Award for his performance in the 1986 film The Color of Money. Woodward, now 87, was married to Newman for 50 years and is also an Oscar-winning actress: for 1957’s Three Faces of Eve.

Respected by all who worked with him, Newman would have been delighted that even posthumously his Rolex will bring happy times to those in need.

Winding up a lifetime of giving to charity

In the decade after Paul ­Newman received a Rolex gift from his wife, Joanne Woodward, the watch travelled the world with the star, appearing on his wrist in promotional materials, magazines and documentary footage.

Then, in 1984, the star passed it on to James Cox, a college student who dated Newman’s daughter, Nell.

“Hey, kid, you know what time it is?” Newman asked one day when he had forgotten to wind up the Rolex. Cox had no clue as he didn’t own a watch.

“If you can remember to wind this daily, it tells pretty good time,” the actor said, handing the Rolex to the young man. Woodward’s reaction is not recorded.

Cox, now 52, is selling the watch to raise money for The Nell Newman Foundation. Nell established the non-profit foundation in 2010 to carry on her father’s legacy of charitable giving.

Although their romance ended, Cox is still a close friend of Nell Newman and honorary treasurer of her foundation which, by all accounts, could do with such a cash injection.

“The watch was a beautiful gift,” Cox says. “It’s now my turn to do something beautiful with it.” 

Sunday Tribune Auctions

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