How do the watches sold at auction for extreme amounts become that expensive?

Well, it’s not just about the sum of their tiny rarefied parts, their uniqueness, the jewels, or the materials. It’s often because of their superlative status usually attained through a curious blend of history, celebrity, rarity, and of course….hype!

Here we take a look at four watches that have seen the auctioneers hammer come down at prices that exceeded all expectations.

1. Rolex Daytona Cosmograph Daytona (October 2017  –  US$17.7M)

When he wasn’t making iconic films Paul Newman was a budding race driver and a devoted watch fan. While he was photographed wearing a few different models over the years, one in particular, a 1968 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, became something of a signature. Daytonas with “Paul Newman” dials were already trending hard in 2017 when Newman’s daughter decided to put her dad’s up for sale, and the combination of celebrity ownership, rarity, and pure hype led to the highest price for any wristwatch ever sold at auction, at the time. Perhaps the words, “drive carefully, me”, that Newman’s wife had engraved on the back of the piece added to the hype.

2. Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 6300A-010 (November 2019  –  US$31M)

In the world of record-breaking watch auctions, one name stands out more than any other: Patek Philippe. There are plenty of reasons for this, from their watches’ notoriously stable resale value to their undisputed mastery of high-end complications like perpetual calendars and minute-repeaters. All of this makes any Patek watch collectible and of course, the rarer a model is, the more valuable it is.

So when the Geneva-based brand announced a one-of-one version of its Grandmaster Chime, the most complicated Patek Philippe wristwatch ever made, the watch world justifiably lost their marbles. With 20 complications jammed into its reversible case, there was no shortage of bidders, but when the hammer fell the result was a surprise, even for Patek. The price paid beat the previous record, Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona, by more than US$10M.

3. TAG Heuer Monaco (December 2020  –  US$2.2M)

Paul Newman wasn’t the only 1960s movie star to become synonymous with a watch. In the case of Holywood heartthrob and king of cool, Steve McQueen, it was a 1969 TAG Heuer Monaco chronograph, which was highly advanced for the time and famously worn in the 1971 film, Le Mans. Designed specifically for timing motorsports events and named after the biggest of them all, the Monaco Grand Prix, it wasn’t just the world’s first waterproof automatic chronograph, it was also the first with a square case.

While the movie came and went without too much fanfare, the image of McQueen squinting trackside in his Monaco stuck. As filming wrapped the actor took the Monaco off his wrist, gave it to the film’s chief mechanic, and said “I want to thank you for keeping me alive all these months”. We said he was cool! When the watch went to auction it became the most valuable TAG Heuer ever.

4. Omega Speedmaster Ref. 2915-1 (November 2021  –  US$3.4M)

It’s not just being owned by a celebrity and associated with a major historical event that drives up vintage watch prices, there’s another important factor: patina. Unlike classic cars or paintings, where scratches, discoloration, and other signs of wear are considered a bad thing, watch lovers pay big bucks for them. This Speedmaster is the first generation of the watch that’s widely considered Omega’s most historically important model, so the Ref. 2915 is viewed as the “grail” by collectors. The watch came with a tachymeter bezel, something that had never been seen on any timepiece until 1957 when it was produced. This would have seen it sell for a hefty price regardless of its condition, but having a dial that aged from white to the color of milk chocolate definitely helped push the final bid to a level that makes it the Omega watchmaker’s most expensive piece of all time.

Thanks to the unprecedented enthusiasm for watch collecting there have never been more people willing to spend fortunes on rare and collectible pieces, from crazy one-off super complications to pieces once owned by celebrities.

My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.