In 2021, when most people just use their phones or smartwatches to tell the time, the idea of ââspending thousands – if not tens of thousands – of dollars on a high-end mechanical watch seems utterly absurd. But watches are more than just horological instruments: they are works of art that you can wear on your wrist.
Just like art, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a watch to get something cool or beautiful. True watch collectors love Casio and Seiko as much as they do OMEGA and Rolex, for example. Much like art, many people buy expensive watches just to show off their wealth, not out of genuine appreciation for what they are buying – which is a shame, but that’s life.
But we are not here to philosophize about the nature of watches or art. We’re here to share what are, undeniably, the most expensive and valuable watches of all time. This is the height of luxury and excess – they make Hublots and Richard Milles look like peasant watches in comparison.
Take a look below at the top 5 most expensive watches of all time auctioned off.
Let’s dive a little deeper and explore why these watches are so desirable and capable of selling for such insane prices at auction.
1953 Patek Philippe Gobbi Milan ‘Heures Universelles’ (ref. 2523) – US $ 8,967,000
Spoiler alert – 4 of the top 5 on this list are Pateks. Perhaps not all that surprising: Patek Philippe has long been one of the most sought-after and exclusive watchmakers on the planet, and forms a third of the exalted âHoly Trinityâ of watchmaking alongside Audemars. Piguet and Vacheron Constantin.
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This Patek is a rare âdouble signedâ world time watch in rose gold. “Double signed” watches are those that feature not only the brand name or logo of the manufacturer, but also that of another retailer, usually a boutique or jeweler. For example, Rolexes sold by Tiffany & Co. were stamped with the Tiffany logo.
Double signature watches are generally highly sought after and rare. As the name suggests, this one was sold by Milan-based retailer Gobbi. In addition, it is believed to be the only doubly signed reference. 2523 existing and one of two or three ever made.
1943 Patek Philippe Stainless Steel (ref. 1518) – US $ 11,137,000
A perfect example of the world’s first perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch in stainless steel, this Patek is a real treat. When it was auctioned off in 2016, it was the most expensive watch ever, but has since been eclipsed by other even rarer watches.
Generally speaking, stainless steel Pateks are highly desirable – in many cases, they are more coveted than Pateks made from precious metals, such as gold or even platinum. Part of this is a supply issue: only around 20-30% of Patek’s total production are stainless steel watches, so naturally demand far exceeds supply.
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1968 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ‘Paul Newman’ (ref. 6239) – US $ 17,753,000
It might be fitting that the only non-Patek Rolex in the top 5 most expensive watches of all time is a Rolex. Rolex is by far the largest watch brand in the world as well as perhaps the most valuable brand in the world. It’s a synonym of luxury, success and exclusivityâ¦ And it’s the most exclusive (and famous) Rolex of all time.
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‘Paul Newman’ Daytonas, named after the American actor, race car driver and dressing mogul who popularized the watch, is incredibly popular, but this one takes the cake: it’s one of the few which actually belong to Paul Newman, and the only one only an “exotic” compound (ie the only “Paul Newman” Paul Newman Rolex).
There is even an engraving on the back that says “DRIVE SAFELY – ME”. Talk about a holy grail …
1932 Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication (one-off) – US $ 23,983,000
Return to your regular Patek programming. It’s the only pocket watch on the list, and it’s also an absolute monster of a pocket watch.
Made especially for Henry Graves Jr., a prominent American banker, it was for a long time the most complicated watch in the world. It has 24 different functions, including the Westminster chime, a perpetual calendar, sunrise and sunset times, as well as a celestial map of New York seen from Graves’ former apartment at 834 Fifth Avenue.
Graves spent 60,000 CHF (US $ 15,000) when he ordered the Supercomplication in 1925. Factoring in inflation, that works out to roughly $ 229,533 in 2021. A steal, all things considered.
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2019 Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime ‘Only One’ (ref. 6300A-010) – US $ 31,000,000
And now for # 1: the most expensive watch ever. The grandmaster’s chime ref. 6300 is the most complicated watch Patek makes today, with 20 complications including 5 ringing modes. It’s the only one in stainless steel (hence the name, the “Only One”, which even appears on the dial) – but it’s not just the material of the case and the dial that makes this timepiece special. .
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The “Only” was created specifically for Only watch: a biennial charity watch auction which supports research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The world’s best watchmakers are creating exotic, special, and usually unique watches for auction to raise the most money for charity, and that was Patek’s entry into 2019.
$ 31 million on a watch is overkill, but when you consider that most of it has gone to charity, it makes it a bit easier to justify. We guess.
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