At a certain point — say, around the million dollar-mark — a watch transcends “exorbitantly expensive” and moves into its own category of horological insanity. There’s no common name for this category of watches, but the general theme is, “Who in the hell would pay that much for a watch?” Someone who buys race horses like they’re a pack of gum at the checkout counter; someone whose yachts tow little yachts behind them, for entering lagoons that are too small for the primary yachts. In short: someone to whom money doesn’t mean that much, or anything at all.
Which means there’s an argument to be made that the following watches are not worth all that much — at least to their owners. Most likely, they are another item in a vast collection, locked away in some vault deep underground, never to be worn.
But that’s not fun to think about. What’s fun to think about is if they were somehow yours. You would wear them, wouldn’t you? You’d give them their place in the sun, and when someone asked you if that was the world-famous watch that had been stolen from an underground vault in Geneva, you’d shrug and say, “What, this old thing? I picked it up off eBay for a $300 bucks. Pretty cool though, huh?”
Richard Mille RM 56-02 Sapphire — $2 million
The Swiss ultra-luxury brand is relatively new for this category, founded in 2001 by watchmaker Richard Mille. What it lacks in centuries of snobbery, it makes up for in absurd abstraction and high-tech wizardry. (The brand’s website manages to proclaim this somehow “a pragmatic approach.”) The 56-02 Sapphire was created in 2014, after the brand’s first sapphire-cased watch was deemed not cool enough, apparently. Its case is milled from a solid block of sapphire; of course, its movement includes a tourbillon — because why not.
Rolex Daytona ref. 6239 “Paul Newman” — $17.7M
How about the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction? That’d be the Rolex Daytona reference 6239 owned by Paul Newman. It was given to him by his wife, its case back inscribed with the very cool note to “Drive Carefully, Me.” Even cooler: Newman later handed it to his daughter’s boyfriend, James Cox, as a gift, when Cox said he didn’t own a watch. Given Newman’s cool cachet, it wasn’t all that surprising when the watch hammered for $17+M including the buyer’s premium.
Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in Steel — $11+M
The watch that Paul Newman’s Daytona topped was another one in steel: the Patek Philippe 1518 perpetual calendar and chronograph. This was the first perpetual calendar and chronograph ever made in series, and only four examples were produced in steel. During World War II, no less, when most people were busy killing one another.
Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication — $24M
If you think wristwatches are expensive, just wait till you get into pocketwatches. This one, also from Patek, costs the same as 12 of the Richard Mille watches — which, to remind you, are straight up made out of sapphire. It was owned by Henry Graves, Jr, a NYC banker and one of the most important watch collectors of all time, and includes 24 complications. Which, you know, might be a bit much, but is fun as hell.
A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication — $2.6M
Enough with the Swiss! You want something sexy, and new, and, well, German. For blowing loads of dough, there’s only one Deutsche brand: A. Lange & Söhne. Their Grand Complication, unveiled in 2013, includes a perpetual calendar, split-seconds chronograph, and all the other bells and whistles (literally — it has a three chiming complications). Its 50mm case is made not of sapphire or plain old steel, but rose gold. If you’re dropping a couple million, isn’t that really what you want, anyway?
Vacheron Constantin Kallista — $11M
You’re not buying all these watches for yourself, are you? If you need something for your special lady friend (or mom), check out the Kallista, which Vacheron made in 1979. Back then, it — and its 118 emerald-cut diamonds — was worth $5 million. Today, call it a cool $11 million.
George Daniels “Space Traveler” Watch
George Daniels, the most famous independent watchmaker of the 20th century, was heralded as a watchmaking genius. This “Space Traveler” watch is proof. He created a watch with two trains, to better calculate both mean-solar time (calculated using the sun) and sidereal time (calculated using the motion of the earth). The result, he liked to say, was a watch that a traveler to Mars would covet. Hopefully that traveller have some cash left over after he buys his ticket.