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 ever auctioned (as of December 2021).
Let’s dive a little deeper and explore why these watches are the most expensive watches in the world. What makes them so desirable and able to command such insane prices at auction? We take a closer look.
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1948 Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph (ref. 1518) – US $ 9,570,900
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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Made in 1948 and formerly owned by Prince Tewfik Adil Toussoun of Egypt, this well-preserved example of the legendary ref. 1518 – the world’s first mass-produced perpetual calendar chronograph – features an extremely rare and desirable combination of pink dial and rose gold.
1943 Patek Philippe Stainless Steel (ref. 1518) – US $ 11,137,000
# 4 on our list is yet another Patek Philippe ref. 1518: this time in stainless steel, and on a matching Milanese bracelet. But why is 1518 stainless steel worth more than rose gold?
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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Remember this for later in this list.
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, and 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.
What’s the most expensive watch ever?
The Patek Philippe Grandmaster ‘Only One’ chime (ref. 6300A-010), which sold for US $ 31,000,000 at auction in 2019.
What’s the most expensive Rolex watch ever?
A 1968 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ‘Paul Newman’ (Ref. 6239) that actually belonged to Paul Newman, sold for US $ 17,753,000 in 2017.
Why are watches so expensive?
High-end watches are expensive for several reasons: they are often made of precious metals, they are extremely limited in number, and are mechanically very complex. Even a relatively mass-produced watch like an OMEGA or a Rolex takes hundreds of hours to produce. The level of finish, quality and detail of a luxury watch is also very labor intensive. In addition to this, high-end watches are also considered investments and are traded as such.
How much should I spend on a watch?
It all depends on what you want a watch for. If you just want something that will tell the time and last a long time, a Casio digital quartz watch won’t cost more than $ 30. If you want a decent mechanical watch, a Seiko 5 will set you back around $ 170. For something a little more sophisticated, an entry-level Swiss watch like a Hamilton or Tissot costs $ 500 instead. The cheapest Rolexes sell for around $ 5,000.
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