The Most Expensive Rolex Watches Ever Sold at Auction: Counting Down the Top 10

The Most Expensive Rolex Watches Ever Sold at Auction: Counting Down the Top 10

Founded in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf, Rolex is today the most globally recognized Swiss luxury watch brand, one of the leading innovators in the watch industry from the 20th Century to today, and the maker of some of the most popular and coveted watch models in the world, from gents’ classics like the Datejust and Day-Date to sport-luxury icons like the Submariner, Daytona, and GMT-Master. As one might expect with such a horological pedigree, Rolex watches have also become some of the most valuable watches on the secondary and auction markets, with the most elite and exclusive pieces selling for $1 million or more. Acknowledging that the watch market is dynamic and the list will be fluid, here we count down the 10 most expensive Rolex watches sold at auction as of June 2024. 

10. Rolex Daytona Ref. 6263 “Oyster Albino” owned by Eric Clapton ($1.4 million, 2019, Phillips)

This watch was once part of the collection of legendary musician Eric Clapton, who, it turns out, is also a very serious wristwatch aficionado. Auctioned alongside the rest of the Clapton collection in 2019, this “Oyster Albino” version of the storied Cosmograph Daytona 6263 chronograph is one of only four that are believed to exist, and derives its name from the silvery-white color of both the dial and subdials, all framed by a contrasting black bakelite bezel with the model’s familiar tachymeter scale engraving. On most examples of this reference, the subdials are also in a contrasting black color. The watch traces its origin to 1971 and contains the manually wound Valjoux 72-based Caliber 727.

9. Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 1675, worn by Marlon Brando ($1.952 million, 2019, Phillips)

Brando wore this long-discontinued version of the GMT-Master in his memorable role as Colonel Kurtz in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now. The 39mm watch was made circa 1972 and features an “M. Brando” engraving on its caseback. It’s also, notably, missing the familiar two-tone GMT bezel that’s usually a hallmark of the model; Brando himself apparently removed it prior to filming. The actor gave the watch to his god-daughter Petra Brando Fischer, who in turn gifted it to her husband Russel at their wedding. The watch is extremely well preserved, with all its original facets and bevels and its luminous hands and hour markers now in a golden beige tone. Sales from the watch, which reached almost $2 million when it sold at Phillips in 2019, partially benefitted Petra and Russel’s charitable foundation to help abused and neglected children.

8. Rolex Ref. 4113 “Antimagnetique” ($2.5 million, 2016, Phillips)

The star of Phillips’ 2016 “Stop-Start-Reset” auction, which was composed entirely of vintage steel-cased chronographs, this Rolex reference is one of only 12 pieces known to exist. Made in 1942 and measuring 44mm, the watch looks unlike any Rolex models marketed today, with a silvered matte dial, thin gold baton indexes and Arabic numerals, two subdials, and concentric tachymeter and telemeter scales on the dial’s periphery. Probably one of a handful of watches gifted to automobile racing drivers, the model is outfitted with a split-seconds chronograph movement, an extreme rarity for Rolex and something that the brand doesn’t make today.

7. Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 6240 “Neanderthal” (3.01 million, 2018, Phillips)

While this watch is recognized as the first “Cosmograph” model to include screw-down chrono pushers, it is also notable, and rare, for eschewing not only the familiar name “Daytona” but also “Cosmograph” and “Oyster” on the dial. (It may in fact be the only one with this minimalist layout in existence.) Made exclusively in steel, with an acrylic tachymeter bezel, this reference also features perhaps the earliest example of the black-and-white “Paul Newman” dial, several years before the reference that bears that nickname was made (hence the “Neanderthal” nickname, apparently). Its 37.5mm case contains the manually wound, 17-jewel Caliber 72B, and its black dial has a set of oversized “Big Eye” white subdials that are also quite rare for this series.

6. Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 16516 Platinum, Turquoise Dial ($3.14 million, 2022, Sotheby’s)

Pulling in more than six times its pre-auction estimate of $515,000, this “Zenith Daytona” model is one of just five pieces in a 40mm platinum case and housing the Rolex Caliber 4030, the legendary Daytona movement based on Zenith’s groundbreaking El Primero caliber. Making it extra-special — and possibly unique —  is the so-called “Stella” dial, made of an exotic turquoise mineral stone that is said to be unique for each watch. The watch was made by Rolex in 1998 — just two years before the watchmaker stopped using the Zenith El Primero movements in the Daytona and ushered in its own in-house movements.

5. Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 6263 “The Legend” ($3.7 million, 2017, Phillips)

On the block at Phillips one day after the watch that follows it on this list, this 18k gold-cased “Paul Newman” Daytona with a striking lemon-colored dial and contrasting black subdials has been nicknamed “The Legend” because of its extreme rarity: it is one of only three known models with this dial/case combination. The white details on the black counters are an usual adornment that further differentiates this reference from other contemporaries. This particular watch was issued circa 1969 and easily blew past its highest pre-auction estimate of 1.6 million.

4. Rolex “Emperor Bao Dai” Ref. 6062 ($5.06 million, 2017, Phillips)

When we think of valuable Rolexes, we usually think of the brand’s coveted sport watches like the Daytona and Submariner, but one of the most expensive Rolex watches ever sold at auction was this classically elegant 36mm yellow-gold model, the only vintage Rolex of its kind to feature a moon-phase as well as a triple calendar (day, date, and month indication) on its dial. It derives its name from its most famous owner, Prince Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy, better known as “Bảo Đại” (translated as “Preserver of Greatness”), the 13th and last Vietnamese emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, which ruled from 1802 to 1945. In 1954, shortly before he was ousted from power, he bought the watch in Geneva while attending the international conference that would result in the division of Vietnam. First auctioned in 2002 for $232,000, and again in 2017 for $5.06 million, the Bao Dai held the title of most expensive Rolex watch in the world but has since dropped to number four.

3. Rolex “Paul Newman Big Red” Daytona Ref. 6263 ($5.48 million, 2020, Phillips)

Are you detecting a strong “Paul Newman” theme in this list? This watch, owned and worn by Newman, went up for auction in 2020, consigned by its owner, the actor’s daughter Clea Newman Soderland. The so-called “Big Red” Daytona, purchased by Joanne Woodward in 1983 and worn by her husband until his death 2008, got its nickname from the red-script “Daytona” over the subdial at 6 o’clock, one of three white registers on the black dial. The stainless steel case was notable for its screw-down chronograph pushers, which Newman was known to have frequently left unscrewed so he could quickly use the stopwatch to time racing laps. The “Drive Carefully - Joanne” inscription on the caseback attests to Woodward’s continuing concern for the blue-eyed actor’s safety on the racetrack.

2. Rolex Daytona Gold “Unicorn” Ref. 6265 ($5.937 million, 2018, Phillips)

Claiming the title for the second-most expensive Rolex ever sold publicly is this white-gold Cosmograph Daytona model, the only known one of its kind, hence its nickname, “Unicorn.” Made circa 1970, the watch is also notable and collectible due to its bark-pattern bracelet, also made of white gold. During the era from which this watch emerged, Rolex was known to use only steel and yellow gold for the Daytona, so the discovery of a white gold model was destined to generate heat in the collectors’ market, and this watch did not disappoint. Inside its 37mm Oyster case is the manually wound Caliber 727, with 17 jewels.

1. Rolex Daytona 6239 “Paul Newman” ($17.75 million, 2017, Phillips)

Sold in 2017, and still holding the number one spot among the most expensive Rolexes ever auctioned, is this “Paul Newman” Daytona actually owned and worn by Paul Newman himself. The actor/racer wore a rare Ref. 6239 Daytona during his successful motorsports career, and examples of that watch have been among the most valuable timepieces on the secondary market. Thus it was little surprise that this one made such an earth-shaking impact when it went on the block in New York on October 26, 2017. The 37mm-diameter stainless steel chronograph, with its telltale off-white dial, contrasting black subdials and minute track, and engraved tachymeter-scale bezel, was a gift to Newman from his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, its caseback engraved with the affectionate note of caution, “Drive Carefully - Me,” a reference to the beginning of Newman’s racing career around that time. Acquired in 1968, the watch had been kept within the Newman family for nearly 50 years before consigned for auction.


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