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The previous record for a Rolex at auction was set in May when the Bao Dai Rolex sold for more than US$5 million, also by Phillips, and the previous record for a wristwatch at auction was US$11 million for a Patek Philippe ref. 1518 timepiece, also by Phillips. The 48-year-old Rolex Daytona timepiece has an unbeatable backstory: it belonged to movie star and race auto driver Paul Newman, known for his ice blue eyes and effortlessly cool style.

Joanne Woodward's inscription to her husband Paul Newman is shown on the back of the watch.

Cox didn't know how valuable it was until a Japanese man excitedly recognized it as a "Paul Newman watch" at a trade show in 1993. For years he wasn't seen without the signature Rolex Daytona timepiece on his wrist, but in the '80s he mysteriously stopped wearing it.

The Rolex Daytona belonged to the legendary actor Paul Newman and was sold to an anonymous bidder by the New York-based Phillips Bacs & Russo auction house.

The price paid was well above the previous record of $11 million that a Patek Philippe was sold for a year ago.

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A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Nell Newman Foundation and Newman's Own Foundation.

Paul Newman's Rolex was called "arguably the most iconic collector's wristwatch of the 20th century" by the auction house. "An icon eternally joined in name and function to the high-performance world of motor sport", it says describing the watch.

"Pop asked James if he knew the time". He said Newman appeared to be surprised and handed him the Rolex Daytona, telling him if he winds it, it will keep pretty good time.

But that summer he gave the watch to his daughter Nell´s then boyfriend, James Cox.

The timepiece was so "rare", so "famous" and so "legendary", that watch collectors and dealers exhausted of adjectives and turned to full-throated phrases.