Watches are often viewed as casual accessories, but anyone with more than a passing interest knows that they can be luxury items.
This is pretty shocking to some, especially when you consider that the watch only serves one purpose. These days, everyone can check the time by simply reaching into their pocket, thanks to the smartphone.
The fact that a watch can cost more than a house can be pretty earth-shattering to those who budget carefully to afford groceries.
Now, watches are no longer just for telling time. Rather, they act as an accent piece to an outfit. Watches are functional jewelry for men and women alike.
While the best watches will obviously be visually attractive, they also display a high level of craftsmanship that is lacking from $20 or $50 digital watches purchased at Walmart. There is precise engineering within the complexities of the most expensive watches.
So, what is the most expensive watch in the world? The most expensive watches typically fall within a couple of different categories.
There are watches that earn their price tag (often six figures) through the integration of complicated engineering into beautifully manufactured cases (usually gold, white gold, or accented with diamonds). With these watches, it comes down to engineering and the cost of precious metals and materials.
More expensive watches that cost seven figures earn their price and reputation because of their history. These are watches owned by famous people, and historical figures, and are often viewed as collector’s items. This niche is where you will find the record-breaking, most expensive watches in the world.
What Is the Most Expensive Watch in the World?
Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime
Sitting high atop the throne is the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime. The previous record for the world’s most expensive wristwatch went to Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona, at $17.7 million. The Patek Philippe was sold at an auction in Geneva in 2019.
The Patek Phillipe Ref. Grandmaster Chime 6300A is a completely one-of-a-kind watch, selling for $31 million at Only Watch. Only Watch is a charity auction held in Geneva, in which esteemed watch brands donate one-of-a-kind special editions.
The winner prior to Paul Newman was actually a Patek Phillipe, as well as a pocket watch. This was the Patek Phillipe Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication, which sold for $24 million at an auction in 2014. The Henry Graves Jr. was made back in 1920.
The Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010 was designed and crafted specifically for Only Watch. It is the only watch of this kind that would be manufactured utilizing stainless steel.
While stainless steel isn’t a rare or costly metal, it has become the most popular metal in the realm of watch collecting. It is known as the “most complicated watch Patek Philippe has ever produced.” The Grandmaster Chime was originally introduced back in 2014 to mark the 175th anniversary.
Grandmaster Chime watches are generally known to be reserved for only elite Patek Philippe collectors. Apparently, they have to submit applications to even prove their merit as a collector over their equally rich counterparts.
What about the watch itself? Featuring 1,366 movement components and 214 case components, the internal mechanics are impressive. A golden opaline dial adorns the watch, with a black dial on the other face. Four spring barrels drive 20 different complications, including a minute repeater and perpetual calendar.
The front dial displays the written inscription “The Only One” along the alarm sub-dial, signifying the rarity of this one-of-a-kind watch.
Graff Diamonds’ Hallucination
As of 2022, the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime no longer claims the throne. Not at all a traditional watch in comparison to the Rolex or Patek Philippe pieces we see on this list, the Graff Diamonds Hallucination belongs to Laurence Graff, an English jeweler and billionaire. Most of the Graff Diamonds watches feature diamond artistry and yellow diamond inlays.
This watch is composed of exceptionally rare diamonds (110 carats) and comes with a modest price tag of only $55 million. This watch cannot be ordered and has never been sold. It’s unlikely that it will ever be sold.
We probably wouldn’t refer to this as the most expensive watch ever because it has never been sold on the market. Graff Diamonds’ Hallucination remains elusive and despite the record-shattering cost, it will likely end up as a heritage item or collector’s piece. As such, the Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A is still number one.
The Paul Newman Rolex
Paul Newman’s exotic Rolex is the most expensive watch that has ever been sold at auction not bearing the Patek Philippe name.
This watch sold in New York in 2017 for $17.75 million. While there have been other watches from Paul Newman’s collection that have broken records, this particular watch from 1968 was given to him by his wife and has an engraving on the back following his car accident in 1965.
Public appearances of Paul Newman wearing the very same watch were common, adding to its historical value.
Henry Graves Supercomplication
The Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication is the only pocket watch to break the bank and international records.
The Henry Graves is believed to be the most complicated pocket watch ever constructed, with a price tag of $23.98 million. The watch took a period of eight years to construct and is named after Graves, who initially commissioned the piece back in 1925.
In 18k yellow gold, it features 24 complications, a perpetual calendar, and a celestial chart for the sky and moon phases of New York City, as viewed from Henry Graves’ Fifth Avenue apartment building.
Expensive Timepiece: The Other Contenders
What other watches top out the list of most expensive? We have a number of Patek Philippe’s watches on the list, including the Patek Philippe 5208T at $6.23 million.
Patek Philippe 5208T
Much like the Grandmaster Chime, this watch was specifically crafted and created for the Only Watch charity auction. This auction sells off timepieces such as the Patek Philippe Ref. 6300A-010 to raise money toward Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research.
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) causes progressive muscle weakness due to the alteration of a protein called dystrophin that helps keep muscles intact within the body. While this condition is considered rare, it is actually among the most common genetic disorders, impacting 1 in 3,500 men.
Individuals impacted by this condition see symptoms by the age of 2 or 3 and often require the assistance of a wheelchair by the time they hit their teenage years. Complications from this condition are common, and can include heart disease and severe breathing difficulties.
The Only Watch auction itself was founded by Luc Pettavino when he learned that his son had the condition.
The Patek Philippe Titanium 5280T was sold in 2017 for $6.23 million, making it one of the most expensive watches in the world. This is a variation on the 5280. It’s a titanium model crafted with a sapphire crystal case back, a dial plate made of 18k gold, and gold indexes.
At the auction, they made note of the difficulty of manufacturing this watch with titanium and called it one of their most difficult watches to make.
Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 Tiffany Blue
Just as the Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711 was extremely popular, Patek Philippe’s plan seemed to be counterintuitive. They decided to discontinue the watch. Because of this, the watches that were still in circulation became much more pricey.
Following this, they announced a Nautilus Ref. 5711 with a Tiffany Blue watch face. Only one has been sold so far at an auction, with the selling price listed as $6.5 million after fees in 2021.
Patek Philippe 5016A
The Patek Philippe 5106A sold at a Geneva watch auction for a humble $7.26 million back in 2015. This watch was regarded as one of the most desirable pieces from the Patek Philippe Grand Complications series.
The auction let bidders have a chance to obtain this rare watch. Production ceased about 10 years ago. The 5016A features an extraordinary number of parts: 506, all completed by hand. There’s a moon phase display as well as a perpetual calendar. A “complication” simply refers to any component or feature not explicitly related to displaying the time.
Patek Philippe Prince Mohammed Tewfik A. Toussoun Pink Gold 1518
This watch was owned by the prince Mohammed Tewfik and sold at Sotheby’s in NYC for a whopping $9.57 million. While close to 300 of these watches were produced by Patek Philippe, not many were produced in pink gold. Only 14 were produced with a pink-on-pink dial and case. This rare watch was located inside the prince’s safety deposit box for 70 years.
Patek Philippe Stainless Steel 1518
Sold for $11.14 million, the Stainless Steel 1518 is a historically important piece because it’s the first perpetual calendar chronograph. This watch model from 1943 became one of the most expensive watches to be sold at auction.
It went for $11.14 million back in 2016 but has been surpassed by other contenders on the list. While the pink gold used to be the most sought-after model, it has been superseded by the Stainless Steel 1518, of which only four pieces exist among the 281 Stainless Steel 1518s that were produced.
Patek Philippe Ref. 2499 Pink Gold
A recent 2022 addition to the record-breaking watch list, the Patek Philippe Ref. 2499 in 18k pink gold brought in $7.68 million at an April auction in Hong Kong. The entire collection on sale at this auction, which included a total of 38 watches, belonged to one collector.
This timepiece from 1957 is considered to be extremely difficult to find, with the dial signed by Gobbi Milan, a Patek Philippe retailer. The prior record for a Ref. 2499 was $3 million.
Patek Philippe Gobbi Milan 2523
There were only seven of these watches ever created. This model beat a record in 2019 when it went for sale at a watch auction in Hong Kong. The watch was created in 1953 with a blue enamel center and pink-gold case.
Only two of these specific models are around. This watch was particularly noteworthy because of the double signature from Patek Philippe and Gobbi Milan.
What is the most expensive watch in the world? It seems evident that the vast majority of the most expensive watches in the world are Patek Philippe watches. Patek Philippe is known as the world’s most luxurious and expensive manufacturer.
While Graff Diamonds offer a lot of unique watches, they very rarely sell at auctions for a price point as absurd as the selection we see on this list. Most of these watches have historical significance, like the Paul Newman Rolex, or they have an extremely limited production history dating back to the 1950s or 60s, which attracts wealthy collectors on an international level.
Watches are commonly viewed as just accessories, but these small pieces can go for millions of dollars due to their intricate and complicated designs, expensive materials, and historical significance. While most of these watches are outside the realm of public possession, it’s fascinating to learn about the value of these luxury items.