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?”
While there are brands that slap a price tag on a watch like the ostensibly $55M Graff Hallucination, it's not confirmed that anyone ever paid that for it. Others, still, might be "value at" $30M like the genuinely fascinating Breguet Marie-Antoinette Grand Complication watch, but again, that doesn't mean they've been sold for that amount. Below are those that have actually realized the most eye-watering prices.
Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in Steel: $11M
Don't be surprised if you see more than a couple Patek Philippe watches on this list. Watches in stainless steel selling for these kinds of prices, however, is slightly unexpected. The 1518 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.
Rolex Daytona ref. 6239 “Paul Newman”: $17.7M
Another crazy-expensive steel watch, the Rolex Daytona reference 6239 owned by Paul Newman is the most expensive Rolex watch ever auctioned. It was given to the actor 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.
Jacob & Co. Billionaire: $18M
Jacob & Co. is known for its showy and totally over-the-top extravagance. Sounds just about perfect for the boxer Floyd Mayweather's style who purchased a watch titled the Billionaire for $18M in 2018. Although the watch itself might appear to be mostly made of diamonds, they're actually mounted on an 18k white gold (seriously, why not platinum?) case — and if you can see past all the bling, there's even a small skeletonized dial showing off a highly skeletonized movement featuring a tourbillon.
Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication: $24M
If you think wristwatches are expensive, just wait till you get into pocketwatches. You could get a couple dozen Richard Mille watches for the price of this famous one from Patek. 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.
Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime: $31M
In 2019, this crazy Patek Philippe watch took the mantle as the most expensive watch ever sold at auction. Even more striking (a pun!) is that it beats the next most expensive watch by a significant margin. A one-of-a-kind creation, it also holds the title of the most complicated watch Patek Philippe (known for complicated watches) ever made. It features 20 complications including a perpetual calendar and five different chiming modes.