The history of watch collecting dates back to the 16th century when watches first became widely available. As timekeeping devices became more accurate and reliable, they also became more valuable, leading to the rise of watch collecting as a hobby and an investment.
One of the earliest known watch collectors was King James I of England, who owned several watches during his reign in the early 17th century. Over time, other members of the nobility and wealthy merchant classes also began collecting watches, with some even commissioning custom-made timepieces from famous watchmakers.
By the 19th century, watch collecting had become a popular hobby among the middle classes as well. People would attend watch auctions and fairs, seeking out rare and unique timepieces to add to their collections. Some of the most sought-after watches during this time were those made by Swiss watchmakers, who were renowned for their craftsmanship and innovation.
In the early 20th century, watch collecting became more focused on the technical aspects of timekeeping, with collectors seeking out watches with complex movements and unique features. This trend continued throughout the 20th century, with collectors increasingly interested in vintage and rare watches, particularly those made by prestigious watchmakers such as Patek Philippe and Rolex.
Today, watch collecting remains a popular hobby and investment, with collectors seeking out rare and unique watches from all over the world. The rise of online auction sites and forums has made it easier than ever for collectors to buy and sell watches, and interest in the hobby shows no signs of slowing down.
Here are ten of the most valuable watches ever sold at auction:
1. Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A – Sold for $31 million USD in 2019.
The Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A is a wristwatch that was first introduced by the Swiss luxury watchmaker Patek Philippe in 2014 to celebrate its 175th anniversary. The watch is a grand complication timepiece that boasts 20 different functions, including a minute repeater, alarm, perpetual calendar, and moon phases. It is also the first double-faced wristwatch made by Patek Philippe, with one side displaying the time and the other featuring a perpetual calendar.
The watch is made of stainless steel and has a unique design with two dials that can be flipped to display the time or the calendar functions. It has a diameter of 47.4mm and is powered by the Caliber 300 movement, which has 1366 parts and took a team of watchmakers over 100,000 hours to develop.
In 2019, a one-of-a-kind version of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A was sold at a charity auction in Geneva for $31 million USD, making it the most expensive watch ever sold at auction. The watch was created specifically for the auction and features a blue enamel dial with a hand-engraved inscription reading “The Only One”. The proceeds from the sale were donated to research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
2. Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona – Sold for $17.8 million USD in 2017.
Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona is one of the most iconic watches ever made. The watch was famously worn by the actor and racing driver Paul Newman, who received it as a gift from his wife Joanne Woodward in the late 1960s. The watch was produced by Rolex in the 1960s and 70s, and was known as the “Paul Newman” because of its association with the actor.
The Paul Newman Daytona is unique because of its dial, which features an exotic design with contrasting subdials and bold, colorful numerals. The watch was not particularly popular when it was first released, but it gained a cult following in the years that followed, particularly among collectors of vintage Rolex watches.
The specific watch that sold for $17.8 million in 2017 was a Rolex Daytona ref. 6239 that was owned by Paul Newman. The watch was sold at auction by Phillips in New York, and the proceeds of the sale were donated to the Nell Newman Foundation, a charity that was established by Paul Newman’s daughter.
The sale of Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona set a new world record for the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction, and it cemented the watch’s place as one of the most iconic and valuable watches in history.
Patek Philippe Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication – Sold for $24 million USD in 2014.
The Patek Philippe Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication is a pocket watch that was created by Patek Philippe for American banker and collector Henry Graves Jr. in 1933. It is considered one of the most complicated mechanical watches ever created, with a total of 24 different functions and 920 individual parts. The watch includes features such as a perpetual calendar, moon phase display, chronograph, and Westminster chimes.
The watch took three years to design and five years to build, and was completed in 1933. It remained the most complicated watch ever made for over 50 years, until Patek Philippe released the Calibre 89 in 1989.
In 1999, the Patek Philippe Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication was sold at auction by Sotheby’s for a record-breaking price of $11 million USD, which was at the time the highest price ever paid for a timepiece. In 2014, the watch was sold again, this time for $24 million USD, making it the most expensive watch ever sold at auction until it was surpassed by the Paul Newman Rolex Daytona in 2017. The current owner of the watch is unknown.
Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 in Stainless Steel – Sold for $11.1 million USD in 2016.
The Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 is a wristwatch that was first introduced in 1941. It is considered to be one of the most iconic and sought-after watches in the world. The watch is part of the “Holy Trinity” of watchmaking, along with Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet.
The Ref. 1518 was the first serially produced wristwatch to feature a perpetual calendar and chronograph. It was available in several metals, including gold and platinum, but the stainless steel version is the rarest and most valuable.
The Ref. 1518 in stainless steel was produced in a limited number of around 281 pieces, with the vast majority of them being in gold or platinum. The rarity and the combination of the perpetual calendar and chronograph complications in a stainless steel case make it highly coveted by collectors.
The Ref. 1518 in stainless steel that sold for $11.1 million USD in 2016 is one of the only four known examples to exist. It was originally sold in 1944 to a prominent American banker named Henry Graves Jr., who was known for his extensive collection of complicated watches. The watch remained in the Graves family for over 70 years before being sold at auction in 2016.
The Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 in stainless steel is considered to be a symbol of the pinnacle of watchmaking and one of the most important watches in the world of horology.
Rolex Bao Dai – Sold for $5.1 million USD in 2017.
The Rolex Bao Dai is a unique and highly coveted watch that was sold for $5.1 million USD at an auction in 2017, making it one of the most expensive watches ever sold. The watch was previously owned by the last emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, who ruled the country from 1945 to 1955.
The Rolex Bao Dai is a reference 6062 model that was manufactured in 1952. It is a triple calendar moonphase watch, which means it displays the day, date, month, and phases of the moon. The watch is also fitted with a black dial and diamond hour markers, giving it a sophisticated and elegant look.
The Rolex Bao Dai is highly sought after by collectors due to its unique history and rarity. Only three examples of this particular reference are known to exist, and the one owned by Bao Dai is the only one to feature diamond hour markers. Additionally, the watch has been well-preserved over the years and is in excellent condition.
The sale of the Rolex Bao Dai in 2017 set a new record for the most expensive Rolex ever sold at auction, and it remains a highly coveted watch among collectors and enthusiasts.
Patek Philippe Ref. 5016A-010 – Sold for $7.3 million USD in 2015.
The Patek Philippe Ref. 5016A-010 is a highly sought-after wristwatch that was sold for $7.3 million USD in 2015, making it one of the most expensive watches ever sold at auction. The watch was produced in a limited edition of just seven pieces and features a minute repeater, perpetual calendar, and tourbillon.
The case of the watch is made of stainless steel, which is a rarity in luxury watchmaking as most high-end watches are made from precious metals such as gold or platinum. This gives the watch a unique appearance and makes it stand out from other Patek Philippe models.
The minute repeater function of the watch allows the wearer to chime the time at the press of a button, with different chimes indicating the hours, quarter-hours, and minutes. The perpetual calendar function displays the day, date, month, and leap year, and requires no manual adjustment until the year 2100. The tourbillon is a device that compensates for the effects of gravity on the watch’s accuracy by continuously rotating the escapement, the part of the watch that controls its timekeeping.
Overall, the Patek Philippe Ref. 5016A-010 is a highly complex and elegant timepiece that represents the pinnacle of luxury watchmaking. Its limited production and rare use of stainless steel make it a highly desirable collector’s item among watch enthusiasts.
Patek Philippe Ref. 2523/1 – Sold for $8.5 million USD in 2018.
The Patek Philippe Ref. 2523/1 is a rare and highly sought-after vintage wristwatch that was sold for $8.5 million USD in 2018. It is one of the most expensive watches ever sold at auction.
The Ref. 2523/1 was first introduced in the 1950s and is known for its distinctive world time display, which allows the wearer to see the time in 24 different time zones at a glance. The watch features a double crown and rotating 24-hour bezel with the names of different cities around the world, making it an ideal tool for world travelers.
The Ref. 2523/1 that sold for $8.5 million at auction was in exceptional condition and featured a rare cloisonné enamel dial with a map of North America. The dial was created using a complex enameling technique that involves creating tiny compartments, or cloisons, with fine wires, then filling each compartment with colored enamel. The result is a stunning, three-dimensional effect that brings the dial to life.
The combination of the rare cloisonné enamel dial, the world time function, and the Patek Philippe name all contributed to the watch’s record-breaking sale price.
Rolex Daytona “Unicorn” – Sold for $5.9 million USD in 2018.
The Rolex Daytona “Unicorn” is a one-of-a-kind watch that was sold for $5.9 million USD in 2018. It is known for its unique design, featuring a white gold case and bracelet, with a white dial and blue sub-dials. It is named the “Unicorn” due to its rarity, as it is the only known Rolex Daytona to feature this particular color scheme.
The watch was originally owned by a man named John Goldberger, who is a well-known collector of vintage watches. He purchased the watch in the 1980s and kept it in his private collection for many years. The watch was eventually sold at auction by Phillips in Geneva in May 2018, where it set a new record for the highest price ever paid for a Rolex Daytona.
The Rolex Daytona is a highly sought-after watch among collectors and enthusiasts, known for its precision and durability. The “Unicorn” is particularly rare and valuable due to its unique design and history, making it a true treasure in the world of vintage watches.
Patek Philippe Ref. 3974 – Sold for $4.56 million USD in 2019.
The Patek Philippe Ref. 3974 is a highly complex and rare wristwatch produced by the Swiss luxury watchmaker Patek Philippe. It was first introduced in 1989 and was only produced in limited quantities, making it one of the most sought-after watches in the world.
The Ref. 3974 is a grand complication watch, meaning it combines multiple complications in one timepiece. It features a perpetual calendar, which automatically adjusts for leap years and can display the day, date, month, and moon phase. It also has a minute repeater, which chimes the time on demand, and a moon phase display that shows the phases of the moon.
The watch is powered by a hand-wound movement with 467 individual components, all assembled and finished by hand. The case is made of 18-karat yellow gold and has a diameter of 36mm.
The Ref. 3974 is highly coveted by collectors and enthusiasts alike, and in 2019, one example was sold at auction for $4.56 million USD, making it one of the most expensive watches ever sold at auction.
Rolex GMT-Master worn by Marlon Brando – Sold for $1.95 million USD in 2019
The Rolex GMT-Master worn by Marlon Brando is a vintage watch that was sold for $1.95 million USD in 2019 at an auction by Christie’s. The watch, which was owned and worn by the iconic actor, is known for its unique and rare appearance, featuring a black bezel and a brown leather strap.
Brando was known for wearing the watch during the filming of “Apocalypse Now,” which added to its historical significance and value. The watch itself is a Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675, manufactured in 1972. It has a 40mm stainless steel case and a black dial with luminescent hour markers and hands.
The watch was sold as part of a larger auction of Brando’s personal items, including his movie scripts, clothing, and other personal effects. The final price of the watch far exceeded its estimated value, making it one of the most expensive Rolex watches ever sold at auction.
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