What are the most expensive Rolex watches in the world?
By Georg Platzöder, 30 August 2022Although the brand's models are far from being among the most expensive watches in the world, some might be surprised by the high sale prices at auction. It's not uncommon for a Rolex to break into the millions. But which models from this Geneva-based manufacturer are so sought-after that people are willing to spend millions for them? And why are Rolex watches so expensive? Here's a list of the ten most expensive Rolex watches in the world.
How much does the most expensive Rolex cost?
Needless to say, Rolex watches are expensive. While there are several models that cost less than €20,000 and are more in the price range of the luxury segment, the used market is a very different story. Many Rolex watches have already enjoyed an enormous increase in value and are considered lucrative investments and assets.
New watch models with the highest list pricesBefore we move on to Rolex watches that have changed hands and fetched ludicrous prices in the millions at auction, let's first take a quick look at the models with the highest new prices. How much do the most expensive Rolex models cost straight from the boutique or at a concessionaire?
- 1. GMT-Master II (ref. 116769TBR) "Ice": ca. 427.910 € (485.350 US-Dollar)
- 2. Day-Date (ref. 18956BRIL): ca. 244.970 € (277.850 US-Dollar)
- 3. GMT-Master II (ref. 126755SARU): ca. 216.000 € (245.000 US-Dollar)
- 4. Submariner (ref.116659SABR): ca. 187.940 € (213.160 US-Dollar)
- 5. Pearlmaster (ref. 86405RBR): ca. 182.950 € (207.500 US-Dollar)
The top 10 most expensive Rolex watches in the world
Below, we will spotlight a few rare editions, watches that were previously owned by prominent figures, and timepieces made of the most precious materials. Hold on tight, because the following models from the Geneva-based fine watchmaker will invoke prices that will knock the shoes off some people. Here is a list of the top 10 most expensive Rolex watches.
10th Place: Two Rolex watches for 1.22 Million USD apieceThe tenth place on our list is shared by two watches. The first is an Oyster Perpetual from 1949 with an enamel dial sold at auction by Christie's in 2014. This model features a gold case on a leather strap and shiny gold stars as indices. However, the highlight of it all remains the colourful dial. Its price tag of 1.22 million USD in 2014 made this Oyster Perpetual from 1949 one of the most expensive Rolex watches ever.
The second contender for 10th place on the list of the world's most expensive Rolex watches also fetched a price of 1.22 million USD but was made in 1967. This watch is a fairly simple Day-Date (ref. 1803) in 18-karat yellow gold with a diameter of 36 mm and a champagne-coloured dial. Rolex issued this timepiece to the legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, also known as the "Golden Bear", in 1967, and not a day has gone by since without him wearing it – but always off the golf course. In 2019, Jack Nicklaus' 1967 Rolex Day-Date appeared at an auction held by the Phillips Auction House in London. At the time, Nicklaus received the watch, by the way, the retail price was just $300.
ROLEX DAY-DATE 1803
9th Place: Eric Clapton's Daytona for 1.4 Million USDThe following watch also belonged to a celebrity and graced the wrist of none other than British blues and rock guitarist Eric Clapton. His timepiece of choice was not just any Rolex, but a 1971 Cosmograph Daytona (ref. 6263) known as "Albino".
Clapton's rare and highly sought-after vintage Daytona "Albino" was first auctioned in New York in 2003 for just over half a million US dollars and almost tripled in value by the time of its auction at Phillips in 2015, with a final price of 1.4 million USD. Incidentally, the watch got its nickname because of its completely white dial, which stands out strongly among the references with black dials.
8th Place: The "Apocalypse Now" Rolex for 1.95 Million USDHere is another watch that formerly belonged to a celebrity. It seems as if the Rolex-per-head ratio is higher in Hollywood than in any other area. That's good for enthusiasts of movies and watches, because one day your favourite actor's Rolex may be a special collector's item in your home!
This is the case with Marlon Brando's GMT-Master, for example. This watch is a Reference 1675, which the American actor actually wore on camera in the movie "Apocalypse Now". In 2019, the watch was sold at Phillips for a whopping 1,952,000 USD – financially expensive, but in terms of sentimental value, almost priceless for a collector.
ROLEX GMT-MASTER 1675
7th Place: The Paul Newman Daytona Oyster Sotto for 2 Million USDSome people will surely be asking, "Is the Paul Newman Daytona only the 7th most expensive watch? There must be something wrong with it". Nevertheless, this is correct. After all, this watch is not the Newman Daytona, but a Daytona model with the same dial. Strictly speaking, however, this is also not entirely the case.
The Paul Newman "Oyster Sotto" Rolex Daytona from 1969 listed and sold in 2016 at Phillips for about 2 million USD is one of only two produced. For one, these watches do not have the "Oyster" lettering on the dial between the words "Rolex" and "Cosmograph," as is usually the case, but this word stands separately below it. Second, both models feature a "reverse panda" dial, which is a black dial with white totalizers. On Newsman's watch, this is the opposite.
6th Place: A Rolex split-seconds Chronograph for 2.45 Million USDAre you a fan of vintage chronographs? Then, the 1942 Rolex Antimagnetique Split-Seconds Chronograph (ref. 4113) would certainly have appealed to you as much as it does to its current owner. This vintage heavyweight comes with a diameter of 44 mm, making it one of the largest Rolex watches ever built. Moreover, it was produced in a total edition of only 12 pieces. It is even more exclusive due to the fact that these models could never be bought, as they were made solely as gifts for the a winning motorsports team. Featuring a rattrapante mechanism and telemeter scale, the Rolex Split-Seconds Chronograph fetched a sale price of just under $2.5 million at a Phillips auction in Geneva.
5th Place: A Rolex GMT-Master from 1958 for 3.5 Million USDAnother unusual and surprising timepiece is the 1958 Rolex GMT-Master. However, this model doesn't boast any of the eye-catching features or have a famous previous owner, which might surprise some. The watch is made of solid 18-karat yellow gold and features an impressive, cognac-coloured Bakelite bezel. Furthermore, the condition of the watch was excellent at the time of its auction and could have been described as mint. All the participants of the Phillips auction in May 2016 must have been equally surprised when this GMT-Master changed hands for 3.5 million USD to seamlessly join the top 10 most expensive Rolex watches.
4th Place: "The Legend" for 4.18 Million USDHere comes yet another "Paul Newman" Daytona (ref. 6263) that has made it into the ranking of the most expensive Rolex. This model is a solid yellow gold chronograph. At first glance, that doesn't really seem impressive for this price range, but what is impressive, however, are the fine details on this watch.
Again, it was Phillips Auctioneers that hosted the auction in Geneva in 2017 and unveiled a true showstopper with the 1969 Paul Newman Daytona. One of only three watches in existence, this timepiece is also one of the two yellow gold Daytona models with a dial-in "lemon" grené (i.e. a very light, soft shade of yellow) and a case back stamped "6239". Because of this, this extremely rare model, aptly nicknamed "The Legend", fetched a price of 4.18 million USD.
ROLEX DAYTONA 6263
3rd Place: The Rolex of the last Emperor of Vietnam for 5.1 Million USDThe third-placed most expensive model goes to a watch that combines all the aforementioned elements: high-quality materials, a high-profile owner, and a limited-run edition. To be more specific, it is the only Rolex of its kind.
The world-famous 1954 Bao Dai Rolex is basically a solid gold Oyster Perpetual with a black dial, diamonds as indices, and an annual calendar with a circumferential hand date and a moon phase indicator at 6 o'clock. Manufactured for Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam, this watch first sold at auction in 2002 for 235,000 USD, only to change hands 15 years later at a Phillips auction with a bang for 5.1 million USD and enter history as one of the most expensive Rolex models to date.
2nd Place: The Daytona "Unicorn" – a Unicorn for 5.9 Million USDSecond place belongs to a watch that was not only nicknamed after a mythical creature but is equally exceptional – the Rolex Daytona (ref. 6265) "Unicorn".
Produced only once, this wristwatch – unlike its siblings produced specifically for the North American market – is not made of yellow or red gold, but is the only specimen of the ref. 6265 ever made in white gold. Due to its immense exclusivity, this Rolex was able to attain a price of 5.9 million USD. Incidentally, the former owner of the "Unicorn" Rolex made in 1971 donated all the proceeds from its sale to charity, which makes this unicorn immortal in a special way.
1st Place: Paul Newman's Cosmograph Daytona for 17.8 Million USDWe are pleased to introduce the world's most expensive Rolex: in the first place – unchallenged and world-famous – is the one and only Paul Newman Daytona from 1968. The watch, which helped all the other models get their nicknames and achieved fame worldwide on the wrist of the actor and motorsports enthusiast Paul Newman, was long considered to have disappeared. Newman had received his Daytona as a gift from his wife and gave it to James Cox, his daughter's college boyfriend at the time. From that moment, there was apparently no trace of the watch.
Collectors eventually spotted the long-lost model on Cox's wrist, where it stayed until he decided to put the watch up for auction in New York in October 2017. The starting bid of one million USD was immediately increased by tenfold the first bidder, after which only two bidders intensely drove up the price to a record sum of 17.8 million USD in a battle of bids, which lasted a heated 12 minutes.
This Daytona of Newman's is neither made of precious metals nor in a particularly limited run of watches. It is solely the history of this watch that makes it so desirable for collectors . That is why it's not only the most expensive Rolex to date but one of the most expensive watches worldwide as well.
The most expensive models by Rolex at a Glance
|Model||Winning bid at auction & year of sale||List price|
|1. Daytona (ref. 6239) "Paul Newman"||17.8 Mio. US dollars (2017)||ca. 200 US dollars (1963)|
|2. Daytona (ref. 6265) "Unicorn"||5.9 Mio. US dollars (2018)||n.a.|
|3. Rolex (ref. 6062) "Bao Dai"||5.1 Mio. US dollars (2017)||n.a.|
|4. Daytona (ref. 6239)||4.18 Mio. US dollars (2017)||ca. 200 US dollars (1963)|
|5. GMT-Master from 1958||3.5 Mio. US dollars (2016)||ca. 240 US dollars (ref. 1675)|
|6. Antimagnetique Split-Seconds Chronograph (ref. 4113||2.45 Mio. US dollars (2016)||n.a.|
|7. Daytona "Oyster Sotto"||2 Mio. US dollars (2016)||n.a.|
|8. GMT-Master 1675||1.95 Mio. US dollars (2019)||ca. 240 US dollars (1957)|
|9. Daytona (ref. 6263) "Albino"||1.4 Mio. US dollars (2015)||n.a.|
|10. Oyster Perpetual from 1949, Day-Date (ref. 1803) from 1967||1.22 Mio. US dollars (2014), 1.22 Mio. US dollars (2019)||n.a.|