11 of the most expensive watches ever sold at auction

How much would you be willing to spend on a watch? What if it was the only one of its kind, or had groundbreaking complications, or was once owned by a famous or historically significant figure? And just how exorbitant are the prices of the most expensive watches ever sold? In today’s scorching hot watch auction market, the answers, as well as the jaw-dropping sums involved, may astonish you.

In this article, we will present a comprehensive list of the top 11 watches, starting from the highest price achieved at auction. Along the way, we will delve into the captivating stories behind some of these timepieces, highlighting their remarkable technical achievements. While it comes as no surprise that Patek Philippe and Rolex dominate this category, we will also shine a light on a handful of other watchmakers, both established and emerging, who have recently made their mark in the upper echelons of the industry.

Here’s a list of most expensive watches sold at auction :-

1. Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010 ($31.19 million, 2019, Christie’s)

Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime ($31.19 million, 2019, Christie’s)

Patek Philippe introduced the groundbreaking Grandmaster Chime watch in 2014 to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the esteemed Genevan maison. This particular timepiece, which made history at the Only Watch auction in Geneva in 2019, is truly one-of-a-kind. It is the sole Grandmaster Chime ever crafted in stainless steel, as opposed to the precious metals used for the rest of Patek’s regular collection.

The Grandmaster Chime watch is a testament to Patek Philippe’s mastery of horology, boasting an impressive array of 20 complications. These complications are elegantly displayed on two dials, one ebony black and the other salmon, which are situated on either side of the swiveling and reversible case. The case itself features intricate hobnail guilloché-patterned sides, adding a touch of sophistication to the overall design.

Among the myriad of complications, two stand out as patented world-premieres. The first is an acoustic alarm that can be programmed to chime at a specific time, providing a unique and practical feature. The second is a date repeater, allowing the wearer to strike the date on demand. Additionally, the watch includes a Grande and Petite Sonnerie, moon-phases, and a perpetual calendar, further enhancing its complexity and functionality.

In line with the biennial Only Watch auction’s philanthropic tradition, the remarkable hammer price of $31 million contributed to research efforts aimed at finding a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. This staggering amount not only broke records but also exemplified the generosity and commitment of the watch’s new owner towards this noble cause.

2. Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication Ref. 198.385 ($24 million, 2014, Sotheby’s)

Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication Ref. 198.385 ($24 million, 2014, Sotheby’s)

Henry Graves Jr. was a prominent New York banker and a passionate collector of watches. According to legend, he engaged in a fierce competition with fellow tycoon James Ward Packard, the founder of Packard Motors, to acquire the world’s most intricate timepiece. In 1933, Graves commissioned Patek Philippe to create a watch that would surpass all others, resulting in the creation of the Henry Graves Supercomplication. This remarkable watch boasted an astonishing 24 complications, far surpassing the 10 complications of the timepiece Patek had previously crafted for Packard in 192.

The Henry Graves Supercomplication was a true marvel of horological engineering. This exquisite gold pocket watch not only featured the customary Westminster chimes and perpetual calendar but also provided information on sunrise and sunset times. Additionally, it boasted a celestial map of New York, offering a unique perspective of the city as seen from Graves’ opulent Fifth Avenue apartment.

Following Graves’ passing in 1953, the ownership of this extraordinary timepiece changed hands multiple times over the years. In 1999, Sotheby’s auctioned the watch for the first time, and it fetched an astounding price of $11,002,500, setting a new record. The buyer was none other than Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al Thani of the Qatar Royal Family, who recognized the watch’s unparalleled significance.

3. Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona Ref. 6239 ($17.75 million, 2017, Phillips)

Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona Ref. 6239 ($17.75 million, 2017, Phillips)

The late Paul Newman, a renowned actor and avid motorsports enthusiast, was known for sporting a distinctive and rare Rolex Daytona wristwatch (Ref. 6239) throughout his successful racing career. This particular timepiece, affectionately dubbed the “Paul Newman Daytona,” has become one of the most coveted and valuable watches in the secondary market.

Therefore, it came as no surprise that the actual watch owned by Paul Newman caused a seismic stir when it was put up for auction in New York on October 26, 2017. This stainless steel chronograph, measuring 37mm in diameter, boasted a unique off-white dial, contrasting black subdials and minute track, and an engraved tachymeter-scale bezel. It was a heartfelt gift from Newman’s wife, the esteemed actress Joanne Woodward, with the caseback bearing a tender cautionary message, “Drive Carefully – Me,” alluding to the beginning of Newman’s racing journey during that period.

Having been acquired in 1968, this cherished timepiece remained within the Newman family for nearly half a century before being entrusted for auction. Its historical significance and sentimental value contributed to its astronomical price tag of $17.75 million, making it the most expensive Rolex watch ever sold.

4. Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 1518 ($11.137 million, 2016, Phillips)

Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 1518 ($11.137 million, 2016, Phillips)

In 1941, amidst the chaos of World War II, a significant event unfolded in Basel, Switzerland, forever altering the landscape of Swiss watch manufacturing. It was at the Swiss Watch Fair Basel, now known as Baselworld, that Patek Philippe unveiled a groundbreaking wristwatch – the reference 1518.

This timepiece marked a historic milestone as the first-ever series-produced perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch by any brand. In those uncertain times, Patek Philippe showcased remarkable courage by introducing such an innovative creation. Today, the reference 1518 is revered as a pivotal watch in the annals of horological history, setting the stage for Patek Philippe’s unrivaled dominance in the realm of high-end Swiss watchmaking.

The design of the reference 1518 was truly ahead of its time, boasting a timeless aesthetic that would serve as the bedrock for a long lineage of successful and highly coveted complicated wristwatches. Notable successors include the references 2499, 3970, 5970, and even today’s 5270, which, 75 years later, continue to captivate discerning watch enthusiasts worldwide.

Patek Philippe crafted a total of 281 examples of the 1518, with the majority of them encased in yellow gold. It is estimated that around 55 versions were made in rose gold, while the rarest and most exclusive version was made in stainless steel, with only four known examples in existence.
The dials of the 1518 boasted a modern and highly legible layout. Positioned at the 12 o’clock mark were day and month apertures, while two subsidiary dials for the 30-minute register and constant seconds were placed at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions respectively. Adding to its charm, a delightful oversized moon phase indicator combined with a date indication was located at the 6 o’clock position. The outer edge of the dial featured a raised, hard enamel tachymeter scale.

5. Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A-018 “Tiffany & Co.” ($6.5 million, 2021, Phillips)

Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 57111A-018 “Tiffany & Co.” ($6.5 million, 2021, Phillips)

Patek Philippe made a surprising announcement regarding the discontinuation of its highly sought-after Nautilus model (Ref. 5711). This news sent shockwaves through the watch community, causing a frenzy among those aspiring to own this timepiece. As a result, the existing examples of the Nautilus became even more elusive than before.

However, Patek Philippe decided to give the Nautilus a remarkable farewell in late 2021. They released a limited edition series exclusively through their long-standing U.S. retail partner, Tiffany & Co. These models featured a captivating Tiffany Blue dial, adding a touch of elegance to the collection. With only 170 pieces available, each one engraved with a special 170th anniversary inscription on the caseback, they were quickly snatched up by Patek Philippe’s most loyal and affluent customers.

In a remarkable turn of events, a single piece from this exclusive collection was put up for auction in December 2021. This extraordinary timepiece caught the attention of Zach Lu, a devoted Patek Philippe collector, who acquired it for a staggering $6.5 million. The auction, held at Phillips’ New York headquarters, generously donated the proceeds to the Nature Conservancy, further enhancing the significance of this acquisition.
Patek Philippe’s decision to discontinue the Nautilus model created a sense of urgency and desire among watch enthusiasts. The limited edition release in collaboration with Tiffany & Co. added a touch of exclusivity and sophistication to the collection. The acquisition of the auctioned piece by Zach Lu not only showcased his passion for Patek Philippe but also contributed to a noble cause, benefiting the Nature Conservancy.

6. Rolex “Paul Newman Big Red” Daytona Ref. 6263 ($5.48 million, 2020, Phillips)

Rolex “Paul Newman Big Red” Daytona Ref. 6263 ($5.48 million, 2020, Phillips)

A few years following the groundbreaking sale of Paul Newman’s Ref. 6239 Daytona, another remarkable timepiece owned and worn by the esteemed actor and racing driver emerged at an auction. This extraordinary watch, affectionately known as the “Big Red” Daytona, was consigned by its current owner, Clea Newman Soderland, Newman’s daughter. Joanne Woodward, Newman’s wife, acquired this timepiece in 1983 and it remained faithfully worn by the legendary actor until 2008.

The moniker “Big Red” was bestowed upon this Daytona due to the striking red-script “Daytona” inscription adorning the subdial positioned at 6 o’clock. This vibrant detail stood out amidst the watch’s black dial, which featured three white registers. Notably, the stainless steel case of this timepiece boasted screw-down chronograph pushers. Newman, renowned for his racing prowess, often left these pushers unscrewed, enabling him to swiftly utilize the stopwatch function to time his laps on the racetrack.

A heartfelt testament to Woodward’s unwavering concern for her beloved husband’s safety on the racetrack can be found on the caseback. The inscription, “Drive Carefully – Joanne,” serves as a poignant reminder of Woodward’s enduring devotion and care for the captivating blue-eyed actor.
In summary, this remarkable timepiece, affectionately referred to as the “Big Red” Daytona, holds a significant place in the legacy of Paul Newman. Its acquisition by Joanne Woodward and subsequent ownership by Newman himself further adds to its allure and historical value.

7. Philippe Dufour Grande et Petite Sonnerie No. 1 ($5.21 million, Phillips, 2021)

Philippe Dufour Grande et Petite Sonnerie No. 1 ($5.21 million, Phillips, 2021)

Swiss watchmaker Philippe Dufour is widely regarded as a pioneer in the field of independent watchmaking. His remarkable creations, such as the first Sonnerie wristwatch and the first dual-escapement wristwatch, have earned him a prestigious status in the industry. Not only are his timepieces highly sought after, but they also command exorbitant prices at auctions.
One of Dufour’s most notable achievements is the Grande et Petit Sonnerie No. 1 wristwatch, which holds the world record for the most expensive watch ever sold from an independent maker. Crafted in 1992, this masterpiece features a stunning yellow gold case and a meticulously finished movement. What sets it apart is its ingenious chiming mechanism, which strikes the hours and quarter hours independently, rather than on demand like a minute repeater. The striking mechanism can be easily adjusted using the sliding levers discreetly integrated into the 41mm case.

The watch’s grand feu enamel dial adds a touch of timeless elegance to its overall design. Adorned with Roman numerals and a small seconds sundial, it exudes a classic charm that is hard to resist.
Philippe Dufour’s creations not only showcase his exceptional craftsmanship but also his ability to push the boundaries of watchmaking. With each timepiece he produces, he continues to captivate collectors and enthusiasts alike, solidifying his position as a true master of his craft.

8. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon Unique Piece Ref.26620IO ($5.2 million, 2021, private auction)

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon Unique Piece Ref.26620IO ($5.2 million, 2021, private auction)

In anticipation of the momentous 50th anniversary of its iconic Royal Oak collection, Audemars Piguet has forged a remarkable partnership with entertainment powerhouse Marvel. Together, they have crafted a series of exquisite timepieces, the inaugural creation being this extraordinary piece in white gold (An additional 250 pieces were meticulously crafted in titanium).

The Royal Oak Concept case, with its grand and artistic design, showcases a meticulously hand-engraved motif inspired by the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Adorning the dial, one can marvel at a hand-painted 3D figure of the nation’s revered ruler, the enigmatic Black Panther, also known as Prince T’Challa. This captivating figure is elegantly poised above the mesmerizing flying tourbillon, adding an enchanting touch to the timepiece.

Unlike the conventional route of auction houses, this exceptional piece was exclusively sold at a star-studded celebrity event in 2021. The event, hosted by the renowned comedian Kevin Hart, witnessed the presence of esteemed athletes and passionate Audemars Piguet ambassadors, LeBron James and Serena Williams.

As Audemars Piguet embarks on this momentous journey towards their 50th anniversary, their collaboration with Marvel and the creation of this unique timepiece marks a significant milestone in the world of horology.

9. Rolex “Emperor Bao Dai” Ref. 6062 ($5.06 million, 2017, Phillips)

Rolex “Emperor Bao Dai” Ref. 6062 ($5.06 million, 2017, Phillips)

When we envision valuable Rolexes, our minds typically gravitate towards the brand’s highly sought-after sport watches such as the Daytona and Submariner. However, there exists a timepiece that stands out among the rest – a classically elegant 36mm yellow-gold model that holds the distinction of being the most expensive Rolex ever sold at auction. What sets this vintage Rolex apart is its unique combination of a moon-phase display and a triple calendar, showcasing the day, date, and month on its dial.

This extraordinary watch derives its name from its illustrious previous owner, Prince Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy, who is more commonly known as “Bảo Đại,” meaning “Preserver of Greatness.” Bảo Đại was the 13th and final emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, which reigned over Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. In 1954, just before his removal from power, he acquired this remarkable timepiece in Geneva while attending an international conference that ultimately led to the division of Vietnam.

The Bao Dai watch made its debut at an auction in 2002, fetching an impressive sum of $232,000. However, its true value was unveiled in 2017 when it was sold once again, this time for a staggering $5.06 million. For a significant period, this horological masterpiece held the esteemed title of the world’s most expensive Rolex watch, until it was eventually surpassed by the aforementioned Paul Newman references we previously explored.

10. F.P. Journe x Francis Ford Coppola FFC Blue ($4.93 million, 2021, Christie’s)

F.P. Journe x Francis Ford Coppola FFC Blue ($4.93 million, 2021, Christie’s)

François-Paul Journe collaborated with the renowned director Francis Ford Coppola, known for his iconic film The Godfather, to conceive and create a truly exceptional timepiece. This remarkable creation took center stage at the prestigious 2021 Only Watch auction and went on to become the highest-selling F.P. Journe watch in the brand’s nearly 25-year history.

The FFC Blue, encased in tantalum, boasts an extraordinary dial that immediately captures attention. Its focal point is a striking blue glove, cleverly designed to indicate the hour, while a pointer at the tip of the glove elegantly displays the minutes on a continuously rotating track. For instance, at 1 o’clock, all the fingers are clenched into a fist, except for the index finger, which points towards the corresponding hour. Similarly, at 2 o’clock, both the index and middle fingers align with the hour, and so on. When it reaches 5 o’clock, all five digits are prominently displayed, and the cycle restarts with a single thumb pointing at 6 o’clock, accompanied by various combinations of thumb and fingers.
Drawing inspiration from one of Coppola’s most famous lines in his renowned film, this unconventional and utterly unique time display proved irresistible to at least one fortunate buyer.

11. Breguet “Breguet et Fils,” Paris No. 2667 Precision 4 pocket watch ($4.68 million, Christie’s, 2012)

Breguet “Breguet et Fils,” Paris No. 2667 Precision 4 pocket watch ($4.68 million, Christie’s, 2012)

The oldest timepiece among the top 11 most expensive watches sold at auction is an extraordinary pocket watch crafted around 1814 by the renowned Abraham-Louis Breguet. This legendary inventor not only pioneered the tourbillon escapement but also left an indelible mark as one of history’s most influential watchmakers.

The case of this remarkable timepiece is meticulously fashioned from yellow gold and adorned with a distinctive, engraved number, adding to its uniqueness. Its engine-turned dial showcases a minute track and subdials adorned with a combination of Arabic and Roman numerals. The hands of these subdials are crafted with exquisite precision, with one set in yellow gold and the other in a captivating shade of blue. These subdials serve the purpose of displaying both local time and mean time, while a small central sundial accurately measures the seconds.

What sets this pocket watch apart is the gilded brass movement concealed within its 63.7mm case. Astonishingly, this movement comprises two independent mechanisms, each possessing its own barrels. This feat of horological engineering was truly exceptional during its time. Additionally, the watch boasts pare-chute suspension and blued Breguet free-sprung balance springs, further exemplifying the craftsmanship and innovation of Abraham-Louis Breguet.

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