These complex and historical watches are in a league of their own, having fetched $11 million to $31.2 million in auctions over the past few years.
To some, watches are simply accessories for telling the time. In fact, with the advent of smartphones and smart watches, people wear and love analog timepieces for reasons far beyond their practical function. To hardcore horologists and casual collectors alike, these watches are marvelous examples of what can be achieved when art and engineering seamlessly combine.
The meticulous craftsmanship behind analog timepieces has remained the same for centuries—which is perhaps the very reason why they continue to captivate, even in a world saturated with technological advancements.
How Much Would You Pay for a Watch?
The price of a watch depends on many things, like its maker and model. For the most part, buyers can expect to shell out more money when timepieces hail from prestigious luxury brands like Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, and Jaeger-LeCoultre.
However, even certain watches within this list are priced more exorbitantly than others. This is due to a number of factors, including a piece’s history, the complexity of its build, the demand or hype surrounding it, and of course, its rarity.
Patek Philippe dominates the list of pricey auction watches, mainly due to its long history of producing exceptional products. This has bolstered both its prestige and overall resale value in the market.
Learn more about these highly coveted and valuable timepieces as we list four of the most expensive ones ever sold at auction:
Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010
So far, no timepiece sold at auction has managed to outrank the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010, which sold for a jaw-dropping $31.2 million at the 2019 Only Watch Auction hosted by Christie’s. It’s not only the most expensive watch in the world—it also happens to be the most complicated wristwatch Patek Philippe has ever created.
A few features make the timepiece particularly special. For one thing, it’s made of stainless steel, unlike other Grandmaster Chime models, which are usually crafted from precious metals. It features 20 complications, with two distinct dials (one black and another salmon) in a reversible case.
Among its many complications are an acoustic alarm, a date repeater, a perpetual calendar, and a moon-phase display. One can understand why the complex horological feat came at such a steep price—but all for a good cause. Christie’s and Patek Philippe donated proceeds of the watch to fund research on curing Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication Ref. 198.385
The second watch on this list is yet another Patek Philippe masterpiece, namely the Henry Graves Supercomplication Ref. 198.385. Though it’s technically a pocket watch, it deserves plenty of praise for its craftsmanship.
Patek Philippe created the piece in 1933 as a commission for Henry Graves Jr., an American watch collector and banker. It remains as groundbreaking as it was at the time of its creation due to its 24 complications—making it the most complex pocket watch the brand has ever made.
Its features include a perpetual calendar, Westminster chimes, a celestial map of New York (more specifically from the position of Graves’ apartment), and sunrise and sunset times. It’s no wonder the singular watch broke records when Sotheby’s sold it for around $11 million in 1999.
Sotheby’s auctioned off the watch again for $24 million in 2014, after the passing of its previous owner, Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al Thani of the Qatar Royal Family.
Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona Ref. 6239
Rolex’s “Paul Newman” Daytona Ref. 6239 is the only non-Patek Philippe watch in the top four list. Its history is as interesting and star-studded as one might expect from a piece that sold for $17.8 million at Phillips in 2017.
Paul Newman was an award-winning American actor who rose to prominence in the 50s to 80s. People recognized him for his good looks and striking blue eyes, but he also happened to be a pretty famous race car driver.
Early in his racing career, his wife Joanne Woodward gifted him a Rolex Daytona Ref. 6239 with the inscription “Drive Carefully Me.” It was a sweet memento, one that Newman would frequently wear in high-profile races. The actor’s family kept the watch for decades before they put it up for auction in 2017.
The particular model that Newman owned sports a unique “tri-color” white dial with red accents and black chronograph registers, as well as a “Daytona” logo in red. The actor made the watch a legend in the world of horology, which is why its dial is called the “Paul Newman dial.” Only 2,000 to 3,000 of these specific Daytona variations were made—and even fewer exist today, further increasing the watch’s value.
Given the piece’s unique history, rarity, and famous owner, it became the most expensive Rolex watch ever sold at auction, and the third most expensive timepiece overall. Proceeds of the watch’s sale were donated to The Nell Newman Foundation, an organization that supports humanitarian and environmental initiatives.
Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 1518
Last, but certainly not least, in the list of most expensive auction watches is the Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 1518.
It’s among the rarest pieces the brand has ever created, since only 281 models were produced. What’s more, among these 281, only four pieces—including this one—were stainless steel models.
The watch is also vintage, as Patek Philippe produced it in 1943, right in the middle of World War II. At the time, it was part of the world’s first series of perpetual calendar chronographs—making it a groundbreaking progenitor for many of Patek Philippe’s subsequent watch models. As such, Phillips sold it for an impressive $11.1 million in 2016.
The timepiece has a diameter of 35 millimeters and features Arabic hour markers, a tachymeter scale, and a moon phase indicator.
Banner photo by Joshua Reddekopp via Unsplash.