The 10 Most Expensive Watches Ever Sold (& Why They’re So Significant)

Most expensive watch ever sold Hero Rolex Bao Dai Ref. 6062 Rolex Bao Dai Ref. 6062, sold for $5,215,622 via Phillips (2017).

By: Tom Mulraney

When it comes to the most expensive watches sold at auction, two brands stand head-and-shoulders above the rest: Patek Philippe and Rolex. Although both are Geneva-based Swiss watch manufacturers, the two iconic brands share surprisingly very little in common: one is a mass-market manufacturer estimated to produce more than 800,000 watches annually, while the other is a family-owned enterprise making fewer than 70,000 timepieces a year. Yet, since the turn of the 21st century, the two have combined to make (and break) every wrist-worn watch auction record ever set.

Recent Surge in Prices

In total, the top ten most expensive wrist watches ever sold at auction have brought in more than $100 million dollars, with Patek Philippe comfortably contributing the lion’s share. If pocket watches are also taken into consideration, the number increases by a substantial magnitude; Patek Philippe’s famed Henry Grave’s Supercomplication alone sold for $24 million in 2014. You may be surprised to learn, however, that seven-figure watch results achieved at auction is a relatively recent phenomenon. In fact, every watch on the list, with the exception of one, was sold in just the last five years. This of course begs the question: What has led to this seemingly sudden surge in value in the luxury watch market, and is it likely to continue? 

Most Expensive Watches: Attributing Value

When it comes to attributing value to luxury watches, several factors come into play, ranging from the piece’s scarcity and complexity, to its historical or cultural significance, and of course its provenance. There is also the temperature of the market, which is red-hot right now and shows no signs of cooling. This has been fuelled by the fact that a number of significant pieces have all come to market at around roughly the same time (within the last decade). Yet with so many of the world’s most desirable watches changing hands in the last few years, scholars are now scratching their heads as to what could possibly come next? It’s exciting to imagine that there could still be a few unicorns out there that perhaps only a handful of people (or less) even know the existence of. 

While we await the next historic announcement, let’s take a look back at the top ten most expensive watches sold at auction (so far). 

10. Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 130

Price Realized: $4,771,582
Auction House: Phillips

Single-button chronographs produced by Patek Philippe are exceedingly rare and are almost always cased in precious metal. Manufactured in 1927, only two examples of the Patek Philippe Ref. 130 in stainless steel are known to exist. One is on permanent display in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, Switzerland, while the other was sold by Phillips for $4,771,582 in 2015. Rarity was a major contributor to the price achieved, as was the fact that this particular watch had only changed owners twice in the last 25 years and was presented in unrestored, original condition, which cements this remarkable timepiece as the tenth most expensive watch ever sold. 

9. Rolex Bao Dai Ref. 6062

Rolex Bao Dai Ref. 6062
Price Realized:
Auction House: Phillips

There are few watches that can boast the exceptional provenance of this elusive Rolex Ref. 6062, better known amongst collectors as the Bao Dai. How it came to adopt this nickname is almost as interesting as the watch itself. According to watchmaking lore, following the First Indochina War (1946–1954), the world powers met in Switzerland to negotiate with the Viet Minh on the future of Vietnam. At some point during the proceedings, Bao Dai, the Last Emperor of Vietnam, took a break to visit Chronomètrie Philippe Beguin, a famed Rolex retailer. Seeking the rarest and most precious Rolex ever made, a clerk eventually had to be dispatched from Rolex headquarters, bringing with him the exceedingly rare Ref. 6062 in yellow gold, with a black dial and diamond indexes. Over 60 years later, this same watch is still highly coveted by collectors, selling at Phillips in 2017 for $5,215,622.

8. Patek Philippe Gold Chronograph Ref. 1527

Patek Philippe Gold Chronograph Ref. 1527Price Realized: $5,708,885
Auction House: Christie’s

Anytime you see the words “unique” and “Patek Philippe” in the same sentence, you can expect an impressive auction result to follow. Add in exceptional provenance and historical significance, and, well, you end up with an impressive final sale price of $5,708,885. Sold by Christie’s in 2010, this 18K gold perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon phases and tonneau-shaped case is considered a precursor to some of Patek Philippe’s most desirable models. Add in a large (for the time) 37.6mm case, which is well-suited to today’s tastes, and you can understand why collectors were clamoring to have the privilege of adding this model to their collections, which comes in at number eight on the list of most expensive watches ever sold.

7. Rolex Daytona Unicorn Ref. 6265

Rolex Daytona Unicorn Ref. 6265
Price Realized:
Auction House: Phillips

Watch collectors love giving nicknames to Rolex watches: President, Hulk, Pepsi, Batman… but nothing has quite the same ring to it as ‘Unicorn’. With its very existence only being confirmed publicly in 2013, even the most seasoned of watch collectors had never heard of this
one-of-a-kind white gold reference 6265 Daytona, let alone seen it in the flesh. Manufactured in 1970, it had been a long-time resident in the private collection of famed collector John Goldberger, who had declared on several occasions that it would never be for sale. Recognising the good it could do, however, he eventually changed his mind and decided to sell the watch to benefit Children Action, a foundation dedicated to helping the lives of youth around the world. Sold by Phillips in 2018, the final hammer (including premium) was $5,936,906.  

6. Patek Philippe Titanium Ref. 5208T-010

Price Realized:  $6,383,114
Auction House: Only Watch

Founded in 2001 by Luc Pettavino, the biennial charity auction Only Watch raises money for research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The underlying premise is simple: participating brands create unique pieces exclusively for sale at the auction and then collectors bid to buy them. Yet, Mr. Pettavino himself probably never imagined the incredible success this formula would bring — so much so that not just one but three of the watches on this list were sold at an Only Watch auction. The first to land on this list is the Patek Philippe Titanium Ref. 5208T-010, the first and only titanium version of this triple complication wristwatch that features a minute repeater, a monopusher chronograph, and an instantaneous perpetual calendar. In addition to the almost unheard of titanium case from Patek, the complicated movement inside was reworked exclusively for this special edition of a watch. Something the brand had never done before, and most definitely contributed to its record price of $6,383,114. 

5. Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 5016A-010

Price Realized:  $7,300,000
Auction House: Only Watch

Also achieving a record price at an Only Watch auction – this time the 2015 edition – this unique edition of the Patek Philippe Ref. 5016 was offered in a steel case. A metal that is highly coveted by Patek Philippe collectors simply because it is rarely if ever used for the production versions of the brand’s complicated models. After a hotly contested phone battle between competing bidders that lasted an impressive 9 minutes, the Ref 5016A sold for $7,300,000 million. The highest price ever paid for a wristwatch at auction at the time by a substantial amount. It was truly a staggering outcome and reflected the importance that devotees of the brand placed on this grand complication timepiece, which incorporates a tourbillon, a minute repeater and a perpetual calendar with moon-phase display. Arguably the three complications most highly prized by serious collectors of high-end watches. There’s also the fact that serial production of this sought-after reference ceased in 2011. Making this unique version all the more desirable.

4. Patek Philippe Gobbi Milan “Heures Universelles” Ref. 2523

Patek Philippe Gobbi Milan "Heures Universelles" Ref. 2523
Price Realized:
  HKD70,175,000 (approx. $9,008,856)
Auction House: Christie’s

Double-signed dials – which feature the brand’s name as well as the name of the retailer who sold the watch – are typically strong performers at auction, but some are far more desirable than others. As is the case with this special version of the Patek Philippe Ref. 2523 that was manufactured for the prestigious Milan retailer Gobbi in 1953. A unique 18k pink gold two-crown world time wristwatch with 24-hour indication and double-signed blue enamel dial, it is the only known reference 2523 to feature both Patek Philippe’s signature and Gobbi’s. Adding to its appeal is the fact that only one other single-signed example is known to exist, making this watch exceedingly rare. Originating from an important private collection, the watch’s condition – which was all original, without any signs of restoration or cosmetic enhancement – also contributed to the incredible sale price of $9,008,856 in November 2019.   

3. Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 1518

Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 1518
Price Realized:
CHF11,002,000 (approx. $11,112,020)
Auction House: Phillips

There are rare watches, and then there is the Patek Philippe Ref. 1518. A defining reference for the brand, it was the world’s first perpetual chronograph wristwatch to be produced in a series by any manufacturer. This was the watch that set the standard for Patek Philippe in the 20th-century and beyond. Produced from 1941 to the early 1950s, 281 pieces were made in total, with the majority cased in yellow gold. A small amount – estimated to be around 20% – were cased in pink gold and are sought after by fine timepiece collectors. Yet only four examples are thought to have been made in steel, making this coveted example so rare that there is not even one in the world’s most important and complete collection of Patek Philippe watches: The Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. When the timepiece last changed hands at auction in 2016, the final price was an impressive although perhaps not entirely unexpected $11,112,020, becoming what was then a new world record for any wristwatch ever sold).

2. Rolex Paul Newman Daytona Ref. 6239

Rolex Paul Newman Daytona Ref. 6239
Price Realized:
Auction House: Phillips

Paul Newman’s “Paul Newman” Rolex Daytona Ref. 6239 is a watch that needs little, if any introduction. The most talked-about wristwatch of 2017, and well into 2018, the sale of this particular watch single-handedly thrust the sometimes insane world of watch collecting into the public spotlight. Worn for many years by the actor himself, it was a cherished gift from his wife before being passed on to his daughter’s boyfriend. It is also the watch responsible for spawning an entire collecting sub-genre – that of the Paul Newman Daytona – which has largely been responsible for Rolex watches breaking the million-dollar mark at auction. Although it’s not a particularly significant watch from a technical standpoint, the cultural influence of Paul Newman’s “Paul Newman” Daytona on the world of watch collecting is unparalleled. Auctioned in New York by Phillips, it set an almost unfathomable record for the most expensive watch ever sold — one that many assumed would stand for years to come — fetching $17,752,500.

1. Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010

Price Realized: CHF31,000,000 (approx. $31,200,000)
Auction House: Christie’s / Only Watch

So what is the most expensive watch ever sold? When the hammer fell on the PN Daytona in New York in 2017, it was hard to imagine any other wristwatch coming close to achieving the same result at auction, let alone eclipsing it. Yet in the 2019 edition of the Only Watch charity auction — in what must be one of the unexpected outcomes in modern watch auction history — a single watch not only surpassed this record, it nearly doubled it. Housing 20 complications, including a Grande Sonnerie, Petite Sonnerie, minute repeater and perpetual calendar, and reportedly taking over 100,000 man hours to develop, the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010 is the most complicated wristwatch ever produced by the Geneva watchmaker. Adding further fuel to the fire raging in the hearts of collectors was an especially desirable steel case and a salmon dial complete with the words “The Only One”. Still, you could see the collective jaws of everyone in the room drop when the hammer came down for the final time at $31,000,000; a record that is unlikely to be surpassed any time soon. Although, we’ve heard that before.

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