11 Most Expensive Watches Sold At Auction In The Past 10 Years

Although we have phones to tell us the time, demand for luxury watches has not diminished. This article examines the most expensive watches sold at auction in the past decade.

Mar 19, 2021By Mia Forbes, BA in Classics
watch auction
Paul Newman Rolex Daytona, c. 1980; Titanium Patek Philippe, 2017; Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime, 2019; Patek Philippe Guilloché, 1954


The important role of horology in our everyday lives, the complexity of clockwork mechanisms, and the potential for the most sophisticated and beautiful designs make luxury watches some of the most sought-after and valuable products in the world of collecting. The popularization of the wristwatch in the nineteenth century marked the advent of a new status symbol, the appeal of which has endured to the present day. From Rolex to Patek Philippe, watchmakers help to define the very concept of luxury and the most expensive watches among these have yielded incredible auction results. 

Here are the auction results of the most expensive watches sold in the last 10 years.


11. Paul Newman Rolex Daytona, c. 1980

paul newman rolex
This stylish Rolex was owned by the legendary American actor, Paul Newman


Price realized: USD 5,475,000

Auction Venue: Phillips, New York, 12 December 2020, Lot 38

Known seller: The family of Paul Newman


About This Piece

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The value of this stainless-steel Rolex is down not only to its iconic Daytona design and legendary brand but also to its previous owner, the actor, director, businessman, and philanthropist, Paul Newman. One of the unique features of the wristwatch is an inscription on the back reading ‘DRIVE CAREFULLY ME,’ which Newman’s wife had engraved on the gift following his involvement in a serious motorcycle accident in 1865.


The Daytona model of Rolex was particularly close to Newman’s heart, and he owned several examples of the famous design. With its combination of effortless elegance and tenacious efficiency, the watch embodies the tireless spirit of the late actor. It also happens to be one of the most desired models among watch collectors.


For these reasons, Newman’s timepiece (Ref. 6232) sold in 2020 for the staggering auction result of almost $5.5m. 


10. Patek Philippe Guilloché, 1954

rare patek philippe
This rare Patek Philippe has the names of many major cities around its circumference


Price realized: CHF 4,991,000 (USD 5,553,000)

Estimate: CHF 2,000,000 – 4,000,000

Auction: Phillips, New York, 6-7 November 2020, Lot 39


About This Piece


Since its establishment in 1839, the family-owned Patek Philippe has won a reputation for horological excellence. Its intricately crafted wristwatches are now one of the ultimate symbols of luxury, as demonstrated by their incredible recent auction results: in 2020, a 1954 pink gold wristwatch (Ref. 2523/1) was sold at Phillips for over $5.5m


Launched in 1953, the model featured a new two-crown system that, at first, failed to impress. When it first hit the market, the watch was not a commercial success and few were manufactured, making it an exceedingly rare item today. Added to this is the fact that this watch is one of only four known examples to be fitted with a guilloche dial. Combined with its immaculate condition, all these factors make it incredibly valuable in the eyes of watch collectors. 


9. Patek Philippe Gold Chronograph, 1943

patek philippe gold chronograph
The avant-garde case design and proportions of this watch made it stand out from its contemporaries in the 1940s


Price realized: CHF 6,259,000 (USD 5,709,000)

Estimate: CHF 1,500,000 – 2,500,000

Auction Venue: Christie’s, Geneva, 10 May 2018, Lot 84


About This Piece


This watch first became known to collectors and scholars when it appeared at auction in XXX, when it was labeled the “large size, one-off perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch.” Created in 1944, it stood out from the other watches of the era because of its avant-garde case design and proportions. The rounded body, substantial lugs, and notably larger diameter of 37.6mm give it a particularly striking appearance, comparable to the increasingly extravagant designs seen on the cars of the 1940s.


As a forerunner of future generations of complicated Patek Philippe timepieces, this watch holds an important place in horological history. Its rarity, beauty, and legacy all contribute to its impressive value. In 2018, the watch was sold at Christie’s for over $5.7m, exceeding its lower estimate by four times!


8. The Unicorn Rolex, c. 1970

unicorn rolex
Made of 18K white gold, this Rolex is coveted by watch collectors worldwide


Price realized: CHF 5,937,500 (USD 5,937,000)

Estimate: CHF 3,000,000 – 5,000,000

Auction Venue: Phillips, Geneva, Geneva, 12 May 2018, Lot 8

Known seller: Famed watch collector, John Goldberger


About This Piece


A Rolex Daytona crafted in 18-karat white gold was hailed as “a holy grail piece” when it appeared at auction in 2018. The only watch of its kind with an exclusively manual winding system, it was made as a one-off unique masterpiece for a special German customer, created in 1970 and delivered the following year. 


Although it originally featured a leather strap, its next owner, the legendary watch collector John Goldberger, fitted it with a heavy white gold bracelet. The watch is both so rare and so beautiful that it has been aptly nicknamed ‘The Unicorn.’


When the hammer came down at almost $6m, it was not only the Phillips auction house that was celebrating: Goldberger sold The Unicorn for the benefit of Children Action


7. Titanium Patek Philippe, 2017

titanium patek philippe
This Patek Philippe displays a rare titanium case


Price realized: CHF 6,200,000 (USD 6,226,311)

Estimate: CHF 900,000-1,100,000

Auction Venue: Christie’s, Geneva, 11 November 2017, ONLY Watch Charity Auction


About This Piece


Another watch that contributed to a great charitable cause is the Patek Philippe 5208T-010, which was created for the 2017 Only Watch auction held by Phillips. Featuring a blue dial with a hand-guilloched carbon-fiber pattern, set within a rare titanium case, the unique piece was created especially for the occasion. 


Intricate, powerful, and complex, the watch combines the classic style and technicality that defines Patek Philippe, with a new sportive, stronger, and even “aggressive” design. The buyer of the watch not only acquired a unique timepiece but also won a tour of the Patek Philippe workshops, a visit to the museum, and a private lunch with the president of the company, in addition to contributing over $6 to research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.


6. Grand Complications Patek Philippe, 2015

grand complications patek philippe
This watch is considered by connoisseurs to be one of the great classics of Patek Philippe’s Grand Complications series


Price realized: CHF 7,300,000 (USD 7,259,000)

Estimate: CHF 700,000 – 900,000

Auction Venue: Phillips, Geneva, 07 November 2015, Lot 16


About This Piece


In horology, a complication is defined as any mechanical function beyond simply telling the time. These could include alarms, stopwatches, date displays, or pressure levels. The master of all complications is Patek Philippe, who are responsible for the world’s most complicated timepieces.


Epitomizing the unparalleled skill of the watchmaker is the Grand Complications collection. The numerous models in this series have been in regular production for decades and remain the envy, or the prized possession, of many watch collectors. 


This particular watch displays three of the most highly prized complications: the tourbillon (an exposed mechanism that increases accuracy), the minute repeater, and a perpetual calendar that also displays the phases of the moon. Housed within a sleek Calatrava-style case and bearing a sophisticated navy blue dial, the watch is one of the most impressive examples of the Grand Complication to appear at auction in the past decade. The auction result of over $7m – ten times its lower estimate – is a testament to the craftsmanship and design of its brand.


5. Gobbi Milan “Heures Universelles,” 1953

patek philippe heures universelles
The rarity and beauty of this Patek Philippe made it one of the world’s most valuable watches to appear at auction in recent years


Price realized: HKD 70,175,000 (USD 8,967,000)

Estimate: HKD 55,000,000 – 110,000,000

Auction Venue: Christie’s, Hong Kong, 23 November 2019, Lot 2201


About This Piece


The bright blue dial and pink gold case makes this Patek Philippe wristwatch an instant head-turner. Although it is thought that the brand made a total of three timepieces of these timepieces, there is only one other known example, making it incredibly rare. 


With both Roman and Arabic numbering systems, diurnal and nocturnal hours, and a revolving ring bearing the name of 40 major cities, the watch is multi-functional without being overwhelmingly complicated. 


The design, craftsmanship, and technological supremacy of this watch embodies the golden age of Patek Philippe, which is widely considered to have been the 1950s. It was called “a collector’s dream come true” by Christie’s auction house, a dream that came true for one enthusiast for the monumental auction result of almost $9m.


4. Stainless Steel Patek Philippe, 1953

stainless steel patek philippe
This historically important and extremely Patek Philippe is a watch collector’s dream


Price realized: CHF 11,002,000 (USD 11,137,000)

Auction Venue: Phillips, Geneva, 12 November 2016, Lot 38


About This Piece


When it yielded an $11m auction result in 2016, this stainless steel Patek Philippe broke the record for the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction. 


The 1518 model was the world’s first perpetual calendar chronograph, making it historically important, and moreover, the fact that there are only four known examples made in stainless steel, makes it exceptionally rare. Paired with its faultless condition, this earned the watch the nickname ‘the Rolls-Royce of watches.’ Some enthusiasts even claim that they had waited a lifetime even to see such a timepiece.


3. Paul Newman ‘Exotic’ Daytona, 1968

paul newman exotic daytona
Another watch from the impressive collection of Paul Newman, this Rolex Daytona sold for an incredible amount


Price realized: USD 17,752,500

Estimate: USD 1,000,000 – 2,000,000

Auction Venue: Phillips, New York, 26 October 2017, Lot 8

Known seller:  Watch collector, James Cox


About This Piece


Another engraved gift from his wife, Paul Newman’s ‘exotic’ Rolex Daytona was purchased at Phillips in 2017 for the staggering auction result of $17.7m.


The ‘exotic’ dial was made uniquely for Rolex, and differed from the classic dial in several ways, from the typeface used for the numerals to the sunken outer seconds track that matched the color of the sub-dials. Although initially unpopular when paired with the Daytona model, this design, which became known as the ‘Paul Newman’ Rolex, was destined to become one of the most desirable to collectors. 


The story of the watch has an added personal touch since the consignor received it personally from Newman after helping him build a treehouse!


2. Henry Graves Supercomplication, 1932

henry graves supercomplication
The Henry Graves Supercomplication is the only timepiece in this list not to be a wristwatch


Price realized: CHF 23,237,000 (USD 23,983,000)

Auction Venue: Sotheby’s, Geneva, 11 November 2014, Lot 345

Known seller: Private collector


About This Piece


One of the most complicated mechanical pocket watches ever created, the Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication was named after American banker Henry Graves Jr. It is said that Graves, who was determined to outdo the Grande Complication created by Vacheron Constantin for James Ward Packard, commissioned the incredible timepiece


After almost 10 years in the making, the 18-karat gold watch was presented to in 1933, whereupon he decided to keep the purchase discreet, fearing the dangers of kidnapping and theft. Containing 920 individual parts, the watch has 24 complications, including timekeeping, calendar, chronograph, and chiming functions, such as celestial charts, alarms, and power reserves.


When the utterly unique timepiece sold at Christie’s in 2014 for over $24m, it broke all auction result records. No other watches even came close, until 2019…


1. Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime, 2019


Price realized: CHF 31,000,000 (USD 31,194,000)

Estimate: CHF 2,500,000 – 3,000,000

Auction Venue: Christie’s, Geneva, 09 November 2019, Lot 28


About This Piece


In 2014, Patek Philippe created the Grandmaster Chime for its 175th anniversary, celebrating the brand’s legendary mastery of chiming complications. With 20 complications on two dials, the model took seven years and more than 100,000 hours to create the timepiece. 


Five years later, in 2019, it presented an utterly unique example of the Grandmaster Chime at Christie’s biennial Only Watch charity auction. The unique stainless-steel version has a rose-gold dial inscribed with the words “The Only One,” which can be interchanged with a striking black dial using a patented swiveling mechanism.


The estimate for this outstanding watch was but a tenth of the final auction result, since it sold for an unprecedented $31m, making horological history. 


More On Auction Results Of The Most Expensive Watches


These 11 examples represent some of the most expensive watches and the finest work in horology from the past century, and their recent sale shows just how much interest and investment there is in the market. 


For more on watches, see The Top 8 Watches Sold in 2019, or for more extraordinary auction results, see the 11 Most Expensive Auction Results in Modern Art in the Last 5 Years.

Author Image

By Mia ForbesBA in ClassicsMia is a contributing writer from London, with a passion for literature and history. She holds a BA in Classics from the University of Cambridge. Both at work and at home, Mia is surrounded by books, and enjoys writing about great works of fiction and poetry. Her first translation is due to be published next year.