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The 20 Most Expensive Watches Ever Made and Sold

By August 4, 2021No Comments

Today, we are surrounded by beautiful watches everywhere we look. From celebrities to royals to powerful politicians, expensive timepieces can be seen on the wrists of the rich and famous all over the world. But though all great watches command attention and respect, some are greater than others. And in the watch world, true greatness comes with a very high price tag.

On this list, you will find 20 of the most expensive watches in the world. From incredible chronographs with long histories to modern marvels worn only within society’s upper echelons, there is all manner of magnificent timepieces here, each worth astronomical amounts of money. For the sake of fairness, watches that have never been sold have been omitted from the list, whilst those sold a long time ago are ordered based on their modern evaluation.

The Luxury Watch Market

The high-end luxury watch market may seem like a strange and mysterious place, but in reality, even the world’s most expensive watches are sold the same way as any other timepiece. Sol either directly from a watchmaker to a client, or second-hand, through prestigious auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Phillips, and Christie’s. From there, they are shipped to the bidders who pay the highest price, along with any associated accessories and accoutrements.

The prices attached to watches like Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona and Marie Antoinette’s Breguet are of course astronomical when compared to most retail watches, but this is largely because of two things. First off, there’s the issue of supply and demand, as in the Breguet’s case. Only one such watch was ever made, and so it stands to reason that it will be worth millions of dollars as the demand for it is incredibly high, but the supply is extremely small.

The second element to consider is the history of any particular watch. For example, the Rolex Daytona sold by Philips auction house in NYC for $17.75 million back in 2017 is not intrinsically that valuable; it is worth so much because Paul Newman owned and wore it frequently at the height of his fame. It was a gift to him, and he passed it on to a friend later down the line, so not only is it one of a kind, but it has a good story behind it. And in the end, the story of a watch is its most attractive feature – anyone can buy a timepiece from a store, but only one person can own these unique pieces of history.

Luxury Watch Brands

While many luxury watch brands make fine chronometers and timepieces all over the world today, only 6 of the most expensive watch brands appear on this list. Surprisingly, they’re not all alike, with some, like Vacheron-Constantin, having been founded many years ago and made famous by their inventions and patents. Others, like Jacob & Co., are modern makers, renowned for their pop-culture impact and celebrity ties.

Fame comes to watchmakers in many different ways. Breguet, for instance, is best known for one watch and one watch alone – the Breguet No. 160 Marie Antoinette, commissioned for the Queen of France herself and later stolen in a dramatic museum heist, before at last being recovered in 2007. On the other end of the spectrum, we have brands like Rolex, known worldwide for being worn as status symbols by the rich and famous, with the value behind their watches being closely tied to celebrity culture.

Like Hublot, founded in 1980, there are fresh upstarts who shot to fame after their Big Bang flagship watch won a slew of prizes back in 2005. And above all of these competitors stands the titanic Patek Philippe, makers of 11 of the super-expensive wristwatches on this esteemed list. Patek Philippe is revered in the watchmaking world for their long list of world-first designs and notable patrons, including Queen Victoria, Albert Einstein, and Pablo Picasso himself. But whatever the origin and status of these companies, in the end, there’s only one thing that matters; that they produce an incredible piece of timekeeping art, with an amazing story behind it. 

Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime – $31 million

Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime

The Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime is touted as one of the most complicated wristwatches ever made, and if you’re wondering what the most expensive watch in the world is, then this is a good place to start. This highly sophisticated chronometer contains a mind-boggling twenty complications, each involving a function beyond the hour, minute, and second hands. In 2014, seven special editions of this watch were produced, including the stainless steel edition sold for $31 million at the Phillips auction house in New York in 2019.

One cannot deny the beauty of this great watch, both aesthetically and technically. Produced to mark the 175th anniversary of this renowned watch brand, the Grandmaster Chime is equipped with multiple chiming complications, including grand sonneries and petite sonneries, which ring out for hours and quarter hours at regular intervals, all through mechanical means. It is a watch that not only tells the time but reveres it, venerates it, even. As a result, it will surely go down in history as one of the most incredible wristwatches ever made.

Breguet No. 160 Marie Antoinette – $30 million

Breguet No. 160 Marie Antoinette

The Breguet No. 160 is far better known by another name; the “Grande Complication” of Marie Antoinette. Breguet has a rich history, and their relationship with the once Queen of France was fascinating. She was supposedly infatuated with their watches, which in the 1700s shot to fame as the world’s first self-winding timepieces.

Enter a secret admirer, so fond of the queen that they commissioned Abraham-Louis Breguet to make her a watch fit for royalty, no matter the expense nor the time required to fashion it. Forty-four years later, after Breguet and Marie Antoinette were dead and buried, the golden pocket watch was finally completed. After years of being sold between collectors, the watch came to rest in the museum of Jerusalem – only to be stolen in a dramatic jewelry heist.

Years later, the watch was discovered, along with many others, hidden in the safe of the master thief Na’aman Diller. While it has been returned to its place in the museum of Jerusalem, the watch has only increased in value after all of its many adventures. Watch collection experts suggest that, if sold at auction, it would now be worth a nearly unparalleled $30 million. While just pipped for the title of ‘most expensive watch ever,’ this is still a price fit for a queen. 

Patek Philippe Supercomplication – $23.98 million

Patek Philippe Supercomplication

Sold in Geneva in 2014, the Patek Philippe Supercomplication is another incredible pocket watch from this revered watchmaker’s collection. At the time, the most expensive watch ever sold, the Supercomplication, was commissioned by New York Banker Henry Graves Jr in a bid to outdo his purported nemesis, American automaker James Ward Packard, himself a wealthy millionaire of post-depression America.

Once again, Patek Philippe produced one of the most complicated pocket watches ever seen on this planet. In gorgeous 18-karat gold, the Supercomplication sported 24 functional complications, superfunctions that exist beyond the basic functions of hour, minute, and second timings. Henry Graves Jr was famous for his watch-collecting, and so one can easily understand why he would desire such a magnificent piece.

The chimes that went on to make the Grandmaster Chime so valuable are seen here, too, alongside functions for calendars, moon phases, sunrises, and even a celestial chart of New York’s night sky. And, incredibly, the whole thing was made by the expert hands of Patek Phillipe’s artisan watchmakers – it’s down to this beautiful human touch that they remain one of the most expensive watch brands in the world to this day.

Jacob & Co. Billionaire Watch – $18 million

Jacob & Co. Billionaire Watch

Now, we come to a watch with much more modern history. The Jacob & Co. Billionaire Watch is a diamond tourbillon wristwatch completely encrusted in 260 carats of flawless diamonds. It was made in 2015 and retailed at $18 million – a price that only the wealthiest of individuals could pay. That’s why it should come as no surprise that legendary boxer Floyd Mayweather bought one for himself in 2018, taking to Instagram to show off his latest purchase.

Jacob & Co. may not be the oldest watchmaker, but they are one of the most beloved in the celebrity circuits of NYC and beyond. They were made famous by Faith Evans when she referred Biggie Smalls, her boyfriend at the time, to Jacob Arabo’s New York store and have gone on to become the watchmaker of choice for hip-hop artists and American athletes alike. In fact, you’ll find Jacob the Jeweler referenced in a massive swathe of songs, including tracks by Nas, Beyonce, Jay-Z, and even Ye’s breakout hit, All Falls Down.

Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona – $17.75 million

Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona

There are few watch brands as famous as Rolex and few celebrities as revered as the late, great Paul Newman. The renowned philanthropist and actor starred in a slew of Hollywood classics in the 60s and 70s, including Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Hustler. He’s a true American icon, so it stands to reason that the Rolex Daytona he wore in the late 60s became an icon in and of itself.

This simple watch is like any other 60s timepiece, yet it became the most expensive Rolex watch ever sold. The Daytona is a stainless steel wristwatch with a leather strap and nothing more than a stopwatch and a pair of chronometers built into its face. What makes this one truly priceless is Paul’s personal touch; the rear of the watch is engraved in his own hand: “Drive Carefully Me.” This refers to his love for motorsports, a field in which he achieved great success throughout the 70s alongside his acting career.

While the watch might be nothing special, the story behind it is. It was given to Paul by his wife, Joanne Woodward, and he later passed it on to his daughter Nell’s boyfriend, James Cox. The proceeds of its sale by Cox did right by Newman’s legacy right to the end, with a portion of the sale going towards the Nell Newman charity foundation. To this day, Nell and James remain close friends.

Patek Philippe Stainless Steel ref. 1518 – $11.14 million

Patek Philippe Stainless Steel ref. 1518

Here’s another Patek Philippe, and this time it’s a gorgeous stainless steel wristwatch sold for just shy of $11.4 million in Geneva in 2016. It took only 13 minutes of bidding for this incredibly rare watch to meet its monumental price. Known as the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of watches, the 1518 was first manufactured in 1941 and is emblematic of their 40s production line. 

Only around 280 watches were produced, and this one contains a perpetual calendar chronograph showing the phases of the moon, making it a highly sought-after collector’s item. While there were 280 1518s made altogether, only four were ever made in this material combination, hence the incredibly steep price.

Patek Philippe Heures Universelles – $8.9 million

Patek Philippe Heures Universelles

The Heures Universelles is another exceptionally rare Patek Philippe wristwatch, this time having been sold at auction in 2019 for a grand total of $8.9 million. This phenomenal watch contains an 18-jewel movement and many technically sophisticated complications, all cast inside an 18-karat pink gold case. Only two exact editions of this particular Patek Philippe 2523 exist, and this one was kept in a private collection for many years before reaching the public market.

Originally sold in Milan, this watch uses a universal time system, the eponymous ‘Heures Universelles’, to display the times of 40 major cities across the world, all in one easily-read dial. A combination of gold fixtures and a gorgeous blue enamel center dial make it one of the most eye-catching watches on this entire list.

Vacheron-Constantin ref. 57260 Pocket Watch – $8 million

Vacheron-Constantin ref. 57260 Pocket Watch

Vacheron-Constantin is one of the oldest watchmakers in the world, having been founded by Jean-Marc Vacheron back in 1755. This esteemed watchmaker created the world’s first horological complication way back in 1770, and the company still produces incredible timepieces to this very day, including this delightful pocket watch.

It was commissioned in 2015 by an anonymous collector for the vast price of $8 million, the ref. 57260 celebrates 260 years of Vacheron-Constantin’s history with an incredible 57-complication watch. It is, by this metric, the most complicated wristwatch ever made, and it includes a perpetual Hebraic calendar and a split-second chronograph that can run two stopwatches at once.

Patek Philippe 5016 Stainless Steel – $7.259 million

Patek Philippe 5016 Stainless Steel

In 2015, the Patek Philippe 5016 in stainless steel became the most expensive wristwatch ever sold when it garnered $7.295 million at the Phillips auction house in Geneva. This tourbillon watch contains a unique minute repeater and a perpetual calendar with the moon’s phases on its gorgeous enamel blue dial with stylized Arabic numerals, along with a day and date ticker.

What’s so special about this watch is that it was one of 44 unique pieces created for the “Only Watch” charity auction scheme. This event brought together famous jewellers and watchmakers from all over the world for a huge auction dedicated to funding research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy disease. This condition causes muscle wastage in around 1 in 3500 males. There are few better causes than that, and in the end, over $11 million was donated towards future research.

Patek Philippe 5208T Titanium – $6.226 million

Patek Philippe 5208T Titanium

Patek Philippe is forever breaking records in the expensive luxury watch market, and this Titanium 5208T was another remarkable sale at $6.226 million. Once again sold for the Only Watch auction, the 5208T was a one-of-a-kind edition, crafted from stainless steel, white enamel, a blue cross-hatched dial, and a blue canvas strap. The moon-phase dial is present once again, along with two chronometers and a day, date, and month ticker, all encased in super-strong titanium.

Rolex Daytona Unicorn – $5.937 million

Rolex Daytona Unicorn

Known colloquially as ‘The Unicorn’ owing to its extreme rarity, this incredible white gold Daytona is the second most expensive Rolex watch ever sold at auction. It was a special order piece produced in 1970 and sold to a German retailer with a unique manual winding mechanism and only discovered to exist around ten years ago by famous watch collector John Goldberger.

Goldberger generously decided to sell the watch and donate 100% of the proceeds to charity, and all $5.937 million went towards Children Action after the sale was completed through Phillips auction house. All in all, it was a beautiful gesture deserving of this silver-spangled timepiece.

Patek Philippe Gold Chronograph ref. 1527 – $5.709 million

Patek Philippe Gold Chronograph ref. 1527

Once in a blue moon, a watch comes along that goes beyond all expectations and doubles or even triples its estimated value at auction. The Patek Philippe Gold Chronograph ref. 1527 is one such watch, having achieved a sale price of $5.709 million despite having only been estimated to make around $1.8 million, owing much of its value to its incredible wartime history.

This is another example of a timeless piece from Patek Philippe, this time appearing in brushed gold with a white enamel dial containing two outer bezels and two inner chronographs, along with a day/night chronograph displaying gorgeous sun and moon detailing. The golden minute and hour hands, along with the golden numerals, really complete this stunning piece, and the weathered leather strap speaks to the long history of this watch. It was originally manufactured back in 1944 – just before the culmination of World War II.

Such exceptional watches were rarely seen in the dramatically altered landscape of post-war Europe, and so this is one watch that we are truly lucky to be able to see today.

Patek Philippe Worldtimer Guilloché – $5.553 million

Patek Philippe Worldtimer Guilloché

The Worldtimer Guilloché is another stunning Patek Philippe watch which bears many similarities to their Gold Chronograph, with a rose gold casing and a distressed leather wrist strap emblematic of the time of its production way back in 1953. This was one of Patek Philippe’s first two-crown watches, with one crown for winding the watch and another controlling the rotatable city dial on the watch face.

A pair of bespoke golden hands complement the 18-karat gold case, and the numeral dials are also detailed with gold lines. Meanwhile, the city dial contains 40 different worldwide locales, any of which can be switched to using the double-crown setup. The numeral dials themselves are painted in two-tone enamel, with nighttime hours displayed in an indigo blue and daylight hours in pure white.

Rolex Paul Newman’s Big Red Daytona – $5.475 million

Rolex Paul Newman’s Big Red Daytona

Paul Newman’s impact on the luxury watch world extends even further than the sale of his original Daytona, and in 2020 another of his favourite watches was sold for a whopping $5.475 million. The “Big Red” Daytona was another gift to Paul from his wife Joanna Woodward, and he once again regifted it to a daughter of his, this time Clea Newman Soderlund, years down the line.

The Big Red was in fact meant to replace Paul’s original Daytona, and it even bore a rewritten inscription, this time from Woodward herself, reading “Drive Slowly – Joanne” in reference to his continued passion for motorsports. As ever with the Newman family, some of the proceeds of its sale were donated to charitable organizations, including SeriousFun Children’s Network and Safe Water Network, which Paul himself founded.

Rolex Emperor Bao Dai – $5.06 million

Rolex Emperor Bao Da

Now here’s something you don’t see very often: a watch worn not just by royalty but by the last of his line, Emperor Bao Dai, the last ever Emperor of Vietnam. This triple-calendar watch in 18-karat gold is one of only three ever to be made and was specially requested by the Emperor during a recess in talks surrounding the end of the Indochina War in 1954.

The Emperor may have just been trying to blow off some steam, but what he ended up getting was the rarest, most expensive watch that Rolex had on their roster at the time. The diamond markers for odd hour numbers are a testament to the ostentatious tastes of its owner. However, the watch is still a subtle and sophisticated timepiece, sporting a wonderful day/night ticker displaying sun and moon detailing. Both the sun and moon are painted with a pensive human face, perfect for a thoughtful ruler caught between the struggles of the East and the West.

Patek Philippe Gold Calibre 89 – $5.042 million

Patek Philippe Gold Calibre 89

Patek Philippe produced this commemorative pocket watch in 1989 to celebrate its 150th anniversary. It was another world-first for them; it was the most complicated pocket watch in the world until Vacheron-Constantin’s ref. 57260 came along in 2015. As a successor to the Henry Graves Jr. piece further up this list, the Gold Calibre 89 contained 33 complications with a total of 1,728 components and took a full five years to research and develop.

Patek Philippe White Gold Calibre 89 – $5.003 million

Patek Philippe White Gold Calibre 89

This edition of the same commemorative pocket watch sold for a slightly lower price of $5.003 million. A remarkable amount of money in its own right. This was one of four models that the same anonymous royal family all purchased, but in later years, they were separated once again. The White Gold edition is a striking piece with silvered Arabic numerals and minuscule red detailing, including red chronometers for minutes and hours and a day/night cycle containing intricate markings displaying the sun, the moon, and several stars.

Hublot Big Bang – $5 million

Hublot Big Bang

The Hublot Big Bang is another example of a massive celebrity watch purchase. This is a retail watch rather than an auction piece, and was famously purchased by Beyoncé for her husband, the rapper Jay-Z, on his 43rd birthday. It may have cost a cool $5 million, but the watch looks more than worth the money. Crafted from 18-karat white gold and set with an incredible 1282 miniature diamonds, the Big Bang is an undeniably eye-catching item. It’s well known that Jay-Z loves his watches, going as far as to feature Hublot in the lyrics for his Kanye collab ‘Otis,’ and so receiving The Big Bang must have been a dream come true.

Patek Philippe Stainless Steel ref. 130 – $4.65 million

Patek Philippe Stainless Steel ref. 130

The last Patek Philippe chronograph we have on the list is by no means the least. While not quite as expensive as some of its counterparts, this stunning stainless steel ref. 130 was sold for $4.65 million back in 2015. Produced in 1927, it’s one of the earliest Patek Philippes we’ve seen, and its vintage design reflects a storied history.

With a stainless steel case and buckle and a weathered leather strap, the ref. 130 is one of two, both of which were made for a pair of brothers, themselves doctors in Argentina. The elegant Arabic numerals are paired with a black and white enamel dial and a minute and hour chronograph, while the brushed effect of the steel case lends it a time-honoured look.

Breguet Paris no. 2667 – $4.6 million

Breguet Paris no. 2667

Breguet manages to sneak one more watch onto the list with the astounding Paris no. 2667. While Breguet is now based in Switzerland, they originally started in Paris, and so it’s nice to see them return home for our final watch. This time around, the timepiece in question is a delightful 18-karat gold pocket watch, produced around 200 years ago at the end of the 18th century.

The 2667 is decorated with a light silver dial, upon which a pair of chronometers and a central minute hand construct a full chronograph. Yellow gold has been used for the bespoke wavered hands, and Roman numerals have been used in place of Arabic numerals, as was the style at the time. What’s most impressive about this watch is that it’s valued at $4.6 million today, despite having originally been sold for only 5000 Francs in August of 1814. Now that’s what you call a good investment!