There are few more lucrative auction items than collector’s edition watches. Hand-crafted with masterful precision and decorated with a taste for luxury, these timeless timepieces are works of beauty to treasure forever.
If you’re wondering what the ultimate in investment watches might be, here’s a round-up of the most expensive watches ever sold in auction houses.
1) Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication (1932)
One of the most intricate watches ever produced, Patek Philippe’s 18-carat gold watch has a grand total of 24 complications. It was commissioned by Henry Graves Jr, a billionaire in banking and railroads, who wished to trump his professional rival James Ward’s Packard Grande Complication. This pocket watch was eight years in the making, and sold for $23,983,000 at Sotheby’s in Geneva.
2) Rolex Paul Newman Daytona Ref. 6230 (1968)
Formerly owned by the Hollywood star Paul Newman, the Daytona Ref. 6230 gathered lore around it (some even calling it the ‘Holy Grail’ of luxury watches). Initially gifted to the actor by his wife Joanne Woodward, the watch became iconic when he wore it constantly whilst launching a career in motor-racing. In 1984 he gifted it to his daughter’s boyfriend, and its whereabouts was unknown for decades until it surfaced in 2017 and was auctioned as part of Bacs & Russo in New York’s ‘Winning Icons: Milestone Watches of the 20th Century’ sale, at a final price of $17,753,000.
3) Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 1518 (1943)
This perpetual calendar wristwatch with chronograph sold at Phillips in Geneva for a total of $11,137,000. Painstakingly fabricated in stainless steel, 35mm in diameter, manually wound and with an ebauche movement by Valjoux, the watch was the first of its kind and is rare for being a complicated wristwatch in such a simple metal. Only four examples are known to exist in the world.
4) Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 5016A-010 (2015)
This unique piece was produced in 2015 for the Only Watch auction that year at Phillips in Geneva, where it sold for $7,259,000. Only Watch is a charity auction occurring every two years to benefit research into muscular dystrophy. The 5016A-010 was at that time the most complicated watch ever produced by Patek Philippe, and had a stainless-steel case and a dial in blue enamel displaying Arabic numbers. This hand-wound watch also features a tourbillon minute repeater and a moon-phase calendar.
5) Patek Philippe Titanium Ref. 5208T-010 (2017)
This Grand Complication wristwatch was produced for the Only Watch charity auction in 2017 at Christie’s in Geneva, and sold for $6,226,000. The watch is a self-winding minute repeater with a chronograph and a perpetual calendar that indicates the changes between day and night. Its rare titanium casing makes it especially notable, which accounts for the watch’s value. The watch comes with two choices of caseback, one in solid titanium and the other emblazoned with sapphire crystal.
6) Rolex Daytona Unicorn Ref. 6265 (1970)
Named the ‘Unicorn’ after its distinctive and rare white-gold design, this one-off wristwatch raised $5,937,000 at Phillips in Geneva, and the money was donated in full to the charity Children Action by watch collector John Goldberger. Featuring a black Sigma dial with white-gold indices and 18-carat engraving on its back, this luxurious sports watch is one of a kind. The Unicorn has a manually winding mechanism and a stainless-steel crown. The bracelet is also in white gold and was added by Goldberger to replace the original leather strap.
7) Patek Philippe Gold Chronograph Ref. 1527 (1943)
Produced during World War II, this stylish one-off watch features hallmarks of the era such as a large dial and curved lugs. Decorated in 18-carat rose gold with a perpetual calendar mechanism, this chronograph wristwatch features a moonphase indicator and a tonneau-shaped case. Its lever movement features a nickel finish and the watch is decorated with 23 gems. Arabic numbers decorate the dial. The 1527 was sold at Christie’s in Geneva for a total of $5,709,000.
8) Rolex Bao Dai Ref. 6062 (1952)
Once owned by Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam, who purchased it on a diplomatic trip to Geneva, this watch is the stuff of legends. It was produced in yellow gold with a triple calendar and moonphase indicator, as well as a dial in black and diamond indices. The watch has a waterproof Oyster case and a chronometer-assured automatic movement. It’s as easy to read as it is rare and storied, and it fetched $5,060,000 at Phillips auction house in Geneva in May 2017.
9) Patek Philippe Yellow Gold Calibre 89 (1989)
Produced to mark the brand’s 150th anniversary, the Calibre 89 was then hailed as the most complicated pocket watch in the whole world. Nine years in the making, it features 33 complications, 24 hands and a staggering sum total of 1,728 components. Produced in 18-carat yellow gold, the watch has an in-built thermometer and a star chart as well as a moonphase display, and weighs over a kilogram. The Calibre 89 was sold at Antiquorum auction house in Geneva in 2009 for a total of $5,042,000.
10) Patek Philippe White Gold Calibre 89 (1989)
A white gold version of the Calibre 89, this features all of the same features as its yellow-gold counterpart and was sold at Antiquorum in Geneva in 2004 for $5,003,000.
11) Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 130 (1927)
This monopusher-mechanism chronograph is a beautiful vintage piece and only two examples exist in the world (the other one is on permanent display in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva). It boasts a distinguished 13-inch ebauche movement by Victorin-Piguet and a silvered dial with two subsidiary dials and Arabic numerals. The rarity of the stainless-steel model is a large part of its value as well as its undeniable elegance. This watch sold for $4,987,000 at Phillips in Geneva in 2015.
12) Breguet & Fils, Paris, No. 2667 (1814)
This rare 19th-century pocket watch is made from 18-carat gold. Impressively, this precision watch features two distinct movements within the same plate. The jewelled mechanism is surrounded by calibrated lever escapements. Originally sold for 5,000 francs, this prized collector’s item raised a total of $4,686,000 at Christie’s in Geneva in May 2012.
13) George Daniels Yellow Gold Space Traveller’s (1982)
“When you are on your package tour to Mars you need a watch like this,” claimed the watchmaker when promoting this unique chronograph pocket-watch. Its double-wheel construction keeps track of both mean-solar and sideral time, as well as the age and phase of the moon, and indicates the equation of time. This cosmic timepiece is encased in 18-carat yellow gold and was sold at Sotheby’s in London for $4,325,000 in 2017.
14) Patek Philippe Platinum World Time Ref. 1415 (1939)
Developed in the late 1930s at a time when international telecommunication was becoming popularised, this early example of a world-time chronograph wristwatch features a revolving metal bezel engraved with the names of cities around the world. It was bought for $4,027,000 at Geneva’s Antiquorum in 2002.
15) Patek Philippe JB Champion Ref. 2458 (1952)
JB Champion was a very successful criminal defence lawyer with a passion for fine timepieces. This one-off platinum example was produced especially for him and features finely honed movements that were crafted to compete in a chronometry competition organised by Geneva Observatory. The watch was sold for $3,993,000 at Christie’s in Geneva in 2012.