The 5 most expensive luxury watches sold at auction


Watches are increasingly being auctioned off for astronomical figures, but will anything touch the five most expensive watches ever sold?

A boom in luxury watch sales is underway at auction houses around the world. In 2021, total sales of watches auctioned at the “Big Four” auction houses – Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips and Antiquorum – reached $608 million, according Rare and refined vintage watchs, market analyst. Compare that to $347 million in vintage watch sales in 2020.

The boom represents a shift in the identity of the typical watch buyer, according to James Marks, head of watches at Phillips. In an article published earlier this yearhe told Spear’s that “watches have gone from being a slightly cheesy passion project for those in the know to becoming a mainstream collectible.”

A new generation of watch collectors has emerged from the crypto boom, he explained. These new collectors existed in a world of social media, where watches and watch wearers were an essential part of the culture. When Jay Z, LeBron James and Leonardo DiCaprio were spotted sporting the ultra-limited product from a Patek Philippe-Tiffany collaboration, the value of the watches skyrocketed. A single Tiffany Nautlius fetched $6.5 million at a charity auction in December 2021, 120 times its retail price.

But as the boom continues, will anything touch the five most expensive watches ever sold at auction?

1. Patek Philippe, Grandmaster Chime 6300A-010 – $31 million

Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime, Image @ Christie’s

Perhaps the pinnacle of watch design, the Grandmaster Chime took around 100,000 hours to manufacture and was sold in 2019 by Christie’s. Patek Philippe themselves say “The Grandmaster Chime is the most complicated Patek Philippe wristwatch ever made”. It has twenty complications and two independent dials, with six patented innovations.

2. Patek Philippe, Henry Graves Supercomplication – $23.98 million

Patek Philippe, Henry Graves Supercomplication
Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication, Image @ Laings

Commissioned in 1925 by banker Henry Graves JR for the tidy sum of $15,000 (about $219,000 today), the Henry Graves Supercomplication has become a masterpiece of watchmaking.

It is believed that Graves commissioned the pocket watch in order to beat his rival, American automaker James Ward Packer, who had recently come into possession of a Patek Philippe Grand Complication – the most complicated watch in the world.

Although the story is likely apocryphal, the complexity of the Henry Graves supercomplication is breathtaking. Forged in 18 carat gold, with 24 complications, the watch is made up of 920 individual parts, 430 screws, 110 wheels, 120 removable parts and 70 jewels.

3. Rolex, Paul Newman Daytona 6239 – $17.75 million

Rolex, Paul Newman Daytona 6239
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ‘Paul Newman’ Ref. 6239, ch. 1968. Steel chronograph wristwatch with counters. Image © Sotheby’s

Sold in 2017 in New York at an auction organized by Philips, the legendary wristwatch is a testament to the pricing power of a watch wearer. Wear the iconic white and black dialsthe watch is said to have been wrapped around Paul Newman’s wrist every day for fifteen years.

As a car enthusiast, Newman had a particular affinity for the Daytona model which was designed to time race cars. This watch was purchased in 1968 by Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, who had the words “drive carefully” engraved on its back as a nod to the actor’s budding career.

A deserved inclusion, the Rolex breaks Patek Philippe’s hold on the world’s most expensive watches.

4. Patek Philippe, 1518 stainless steel – $11.14 million

Patek Philippe, 1518 stainless steel
Patek Philippe Ref. 1518A, stainless steel, picture @ your watch hub

Produced in 1941 and sold at auction in 2016 by Phillipsthis watch bounced between more than seven bidders before reaching its selling price.

It is the first and only perpetual calendar chronograph made in stainless steel. Patek Philippe produced 281 of the 1518, with the majority encased in yellow gold. About 55 versions were produced in rose gold, but the stainless steel versions were the rarest.

The dials have a modern and simple layout with day and month apertures, two dials for the 30-minute register, and constant seconds at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions. It also includes a moon phase indicator, as well as a date indication.

5. Patek Philippe, Prince Mohammed Tewfik A. Toussoun Rose Gold 1518 with French Calendar – $9.57 million

Patek Philippe, Prince Mohammed Tewfik A. Toussoun Rose Gold 1518 with French Calendar
1518, a rose gold perpetual calendar chronograph with moon phases. Image @ Sotheby’s

Often referred to as the best “rose on rose” 1518 ever made, this Patek Philippe once belonged to Prince Mohammed Tewfik A. Toussoun of Egypt. The original production date is 1948, but it was not auctioned until 2021.

Earlier this year, Spear columnist and one of the world’s foremost watch authorities, Nick Foulkes, said that “It would be worth crawling over broken glass just to see my favorite timepiece: a 1948 Patek Philippe Ref 1518 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph with rose gold case and rose gold dial on a Gay Frères bracelet.”

This 1518 “rose sur rose” is however the only one to be accompanied by its certificate of origin, which indicates that the Prince bought the watch on July 25, 1951.

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[What to read next: check out Tim Barber’s exclusive interview with Patek Philippe head Thierry Stern to see where the brand is heading next]


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