If you’re looking for a watch that perfectly matches your style, stands the test of time and provides that extra touch of classic appeal, then you’ve likely considered the Rolex. One of the world’s premier watchmaker brands, there’s a reason that these luxury time-pieces carry such a hefty price tag. The ultimate in indulgence, a Rolex isn’t just a purchase; it’s an investment.
However, when it comes to the best Rolexes in the world, it’s not the average piece you can pick up in a store. To go big, you need to go to auction. Especially when it comes to those one-of-a-kind models or unique examples of precisely what Rolex can do. Read on to discover ten of the world’s best Rolexes, and how much they sold for at auction.
1. James Bond’s 1973 Rolex Submariner
When it comes to expensive taste in watches, there are few men with taste as good as James Bond. While the character himself may be fictional, this 1973 Submariner was tailor-made for one movie particular – the eight film in the series, 1973’s Live and Let Die starring Roger Moore. In comparison to the usual Rolex, Bond’s included some additional career-specific features, including a sharp bezel to cut rope. Though the magnetic field is not a feature on the real watch, it still served to provide plenty of entertainment to movie-goers.
Designed in pure silver with gold accent pieces for added effect, this watch is as classic as they come and perfectly matches to 70s Rolex aesthetic, adding that integral final part to any tuxedo look you might choose. Sold in 2015 for $365,000, this piece of movie history is sure to be just as enjoyable for its new owners as it was for Bond fans, especially considering its unique history and famous past owner.
Known as a ref. 5513 Submariner, this customised model offers the glamour of the superspy world with all the luxury of a Rolex model. In addition to the distinctive bezel, the end link also contains a tiny hole, allowing for practical effects with wire and further adding to the timepiece’s charm. But for those looking for a real-life piece of Bond’s wardrobe, the movement-free inside may be a disappointment. While signed internally by Moore himself, only a weight is featured – meaning this Submariner is unable to tell the time at all.
2. Steve McQueen 1967 Rolex Submariner
Another Submariner on the list, proving just how popular this specific model of Rolex is to the right and famous. One of Hollywood’s brightest stars, Steve McQueen’s 1967 Submariner was chosen to match his aesthetic and style and was no stranger to his many fashion editorials and premiere appearances. Clean, classic and always in style; just like McQueen himself.
Featuring a more muted colour palette that worked perfectly for one of Hollywood’s most in-demand actors, McQueen’s Rolex is as reliable as it is appealing to look at. With a navy bezel, black face and white accents, all on a silver base, there’s little not to love about this simplistic design. It says it all. Selling at auction for $234,000, its high price was entirely based on its past owner and his ongoing legacy as one of Hollywood’s greats.
This ref. 5513 Submariner has plenty going for it without the added celebrity angle, but as part of McQueen’s wider estate – and the bidding frenzy that began – it wasn’t any real surprise that this particular Submariner fetched such an exceptional price. During his career, McQueen also gifted an older version of this watch to his stuntman, which is the only Submariner in history featuring his name engraved directly onto the back. For collectors, obtaining both is the holy grail of timepieces. And for good reason, too.
3. Dr Rajendra Prasad’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual in Gold
Unique in appearance and with an impressive history that will appeal to any collector, this gold Rolex dates back to 1950, where it was gifted to India’s first president, Dr Rajendra Prasad, on the first day of his constitution. The design of the watch was personalised for the man himself, including an 18k pink gold map of India, in addition to an engraving of the date he became president. Following his death, the watch was lost or stolen before reappearing at auction in 2011, 47 years later.
While by today’s standards this particular Rolex is quite different from its modern-day equivalents, it’s the rich and important history behind this timepiece that makes it so valuable. Created to mark the first-ever Republic Day in India’s history, two versions of this unique watch were commissioned. One for the President, and one for the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. While little is known about the second watch, the sale of Dr Prasad’s watch has been barred by the Indian government thanks to its worth and significance.
A true example of the robust nature of the Rolex, this decades-old time-piece continues to be just a striking as the day it was created, thanks to its vibrant gold finish and distinct design elements. With such a unique piece of history, it’s no surprise that the watch went for a staggering $440,000 at auction, continuing its legacy as one of the most valuable Rolexes in history. However, to this day it seems the family of Dr Prasad are still hoping to reclaim the lost time-piece, despite its increasing worth.
4. Paul Newman Ferrari Red Rolex Daytona
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If you’ve even considered collecting or familiarising yourself with the world of Rolexes, then you’re likely already heard of Paul Newman’s penchant for some of the most prolific Rolexes in the world. Known for a wide range of different personas, from his work as an actor to a film director, and even his time as a race car driver, Paul Newman’s history is part of what makes this Ferrari Red Rolex so appealing. The watch was a gift to the star directly from Rolex, with only eight of these limited Rolexes still existing today.
Prominently featured in Newman’s 1969 movie ‘Winning’, this specific colourway and make of Rolex is considered amongst the rarest in the world. Experts believe that only 8-22 examples now remain, of which most won’t be in the same pristine, collector’s condition as Newman’s model. With studded jewels, a robust design and unmistakable appearance, it’s no surprise that this watch made a name for itself outside of movies as well as on-screen.
Instantly recognisable for their vibrant red face, set against black elements and finalised with a beautiful silver exterior, the Ferrari Red Rolex is impressive enough alone with its fascinating history. However, with Paul Newman’s name attached to this time-piece, this unique piece of the past sold for an astonishing $267,203 at auction.
5. Eric Clapton’s 1971 Rolex Daytona
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Known as one of the world’s greatest musical artists, the name ‘Eric Clapton’ is sure to add value to any time-piece. Known for his affinity for luxury wristwear – including several Rolexes – it’s no surprise that the musician was able to take his pick. This ‘Oyster Albino’ Daytona is one of a minimal run of four, further adding to its value and making the piece highly coveted by collectors worldwide.
Clapton is a well-known collector of luxury items, from Ferraris to vintage watches, and his ref. 6263 Daytona is no exception to that rule. The ‘Albino’ name of this watch comes from the use of silver chronograph functions as opposed to the more typical black with white print, creating an all-around paler, but no less impressive, appearance. Clapton purchased the watch only a few years before its later sale, which makes it even more impressive that his name is associated with a watch that wasn’t created for him.
With a silver appearance and black accents, this watch is as slick as is it attractive, with a distinct 1970s feel to it. Created from stainless steel, Eric Clapton’s 1971 Rolex Daytona is worth far more than the sum of its parts. Though the time-piece has changed hands multiple times over the years, its most recent price at auction was a very impressive $1.4 million back in 2015. As one of the most expensive watches in history, there are very few collectors who wouldn’t want to get their hands on this unique design.
6. Bao Dai Rolex
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A completely unique, and utterly fascinating Rolex, the Bao Dai Rolex in unlike anything else. Previously owned by the last emperor of Vietnam, and known for its visually striking appearance, this Rolex has a fascinating history, and was initially sold at auction in 2002 for a far lower price than you’d expect for such a luxury item; $235,000.
Defined as a ref. 6062 Rolex, this fascinating timepiece is coveted not only because of its history but because of its unique features. Very few Rolexes have included that moon-phase and triple calendar references, further adding to the rarity of this specific piece. It may surprise collectors to know that the watch wasn’t created for the Vietnam Emporer, but was instead featured at Baselworld fair then purchased at a later date as the most valuable – and exclusive – timepiece the brand had to offer.
With a striking black dial, diamond indexes and a yellow gold finish, including a moon phase and calendar, it soon turned out that over $250,000 for this Rolex was an excellent deal; with collectors the world over soon gaining interest in the truly one-of-a-kind watch. In 2017, the watch sold for twenty times its original auction value, at an astounding $5.1 million, proving that a profit can certainly be made when it comes to collection the world’s most famous watches.
7. Paul Newman’s Personalised Rolex Daytona
When it comes to Rolexes, Paul Newman’s name is a regular occurrence. In comparison to his Ferrari Red Rolex, however, this unique time-piece tops the charts by a large margin. One of the most sought-after Rolexes on the planet, this beautiful watch was originally a gift from Newman to his wife, Joanne. Personalised with ‘drive carefully me’ and purchased originally in New York, this rare time-piece is a popular favourite not just for its design, but for its unique history too.
The Daytona is a well-loved favourite for many collectors and celebrities, and this particular piece is no exception. In 1984, the famous watch was gifted by Newman to the boyfriend of his daughter. It was then worn every day all the way through to the early ’90s, without him ever knowing the value and significance behind the timepiece. With the watch then breaking auction records in under 12 minutes, it would have been a very pleasant surprise to discover.
With a more contemporary leather strap and a combination of creams, browns and silvers, this Rolex could be considered understated in comparison to some of the other watches on this list. However, the ultra-rare design, combined with the engraved message, resulted in a mind-blowing auction price of $17.8 million for this fascinating historical piece.
8. The 1971 ‘Unicorn’ Rolex Daytona
When it comes to the types of Rolex available, the Daytona seems to always come out on top. From Paul Newman’s priceless models to the beautiful and luxurious Unicorn, these watches always seem to fetch an excellent price. Named for its almost mythical design and impressive construction, the Unicorn originates in the 1970s and is one of the rarest variations of the Daytona on offer.
The ref. 6265 Rolex Daytona is manually wound, adding to its vintage charm, and is one of several Daytona Rolexes to top the charts in terms of value – though in this case, it’s down to its unique nature rather than its famous past. Up until its sale, the timepiece was owned by famous watch collector John Goldberger as part of his wider collection. In a particularly selfless move, it was sold to benefit charity Children in Action, further adding to the value surrounding this particular piece.
Created in an elegant 18k white gold, and utilising quality metal instead of acrylic in its design, the Unicorn is unique and one-of-a-kind, making it highly sought-after for its attractive appearance and style. As you’d expect for such an incredible time-piece, the Unicorn fetches an excellent price at auction, with its latest sale in 2018 costing $5.9 million. It’s marginally more expensive than the Bao Dai Rolex, making it the second most expensive Rolex ever to be auctioned.
9. Paul Newman 1969 Cosmograph Daytona
Paul Newman’s excellent taste in watches doesn’t end with his personalised watch for his beloved wife. The Cosmograph Daytona is yet another example of excellence in design from Newman’s extensive time-piece collection. Created in 1969, this legendary time-piece included screw-down pushers as well as an Art Deco style design, making it a piece that’s more highly coveted than practically any other watch in existence.
The Cosmograph itself holds a unique and interesting history – much like the Submariner or Yacht-Master, this particular model was built to make it to the moon. The space chronograph model, as it were. But once those plans fell awry, the Cosmograph became a part of the wider, and wildly popular, Daytona range. This unique history, plus the added benefit of a little celebrity sparkle, was exactly what was needed to raise the value and profile of this unique watch.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the elegant time-piece is still in like-new condition fifty years after its creation, further adding to its value. Thanks to the robust and functional design, this Rolex will still function like new for its new owner, should they choose to wear it rather than store it away. As with Newman’s other watches, the Cosmograph Daytona auctions off for an outstanding amount at auction, selling in 2017 for $3.7 million.
10. 1942 Rolex Antimagnetique
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The oldest Rolex on this list, the Rolex Antimagnetique has origins back in 1942, making the time-piece now over 77 years old. Finely-crafted to gift to racing drivers, the popularity of Rolexes increased from this time due to their rarity and attractive style. With 12 watches in total, each with a wide diameter of 44mm, they are the largest Rolexes ever produced.
While a stark difference to what we consider Rolexes to be today, the Antimagnetique was very much on-trend for the time. Created from stainless steel, these watches were never actually released to the general public – only increasing their worth and making them more coveted collector’s items. With several of the watches now making their way from within families as heirlooms to auction rooms around the world, it’s likely that these unique chronographs will continue to spark bidding wars for as long as they’re still in one piece.
With several different variants of the famous wristwatch available, these watches are increasingly sought-after by collectors. In 2016, one of the 12 sold at auction for an incredible $2.4 million, doubling its previous sale only a couple of years prior. At this rate, the Antimagnetique range will only continue to skyrocket in value as they become rarer and more challenging to maintain.
If you’re a fan of Rolexes, or if you love the feel of a valuable watch on your wrist, then auctions might be the way to go. With more and more sought-after Rolexes being found at auction every year, there’s never been a better time to pick up that variant you’ve been coveting, or that design you’ve fallen in love with.
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