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Most Expensive Rolex: 16 of the Most Expensive Timepieces Ever Sold

You can tell a lot about a man but their watch. Rolex sits proudly atop the timepiece mountain, but do you know what is the world’s most expensive Rolex and why they always carry such a heft price tag?

Most Expensive Rolex

When you think of pricey watches, I’m sure the brand Rolex comes to mind. Even though you probably know that a Rolex watch will do serious damage to your bank balance, I’m sure you’ll be surprised to know the price tag of the world’s most expensive Rolex. I’ll give you a hint; it’s in the ten-figure range.

There’s No Shortage of Expensive Rolex Watches

As with many expensive things, Rolex has become a status symbol, and a lot can be told about the wearer and their life accomplishments by their chosen Rolex timepiece. 

Expensive Rolex Watches

Rolex reportedly sells between 800,000 and 1,000,000 timepieces a year, and although the cheapest of their watches, the Oyster Perpetual, will set you back $5,700, some will truly make your eyes water. 

Oddly enough, though, some of the most understated pieces from Rolex have become the priciest. Their storied histories sitting on the wrists of movie legends like Paul Newman have skyrocketed their price tags, putting them up on our list of the top 16 most expensive Rolex watches.

So, without further ado, let’s get into the most expensive Rolex ever sold, and trust me, you’ll be shocked.

A Brief History of the Rolex Watch?

If you’ve never heard of Rolex, you’ve probably been living under a rock. The most recognizable brand of watches in the world has been around since 1905, after Hans Wilsdorf had a dream to make high-quality wristwatches. I think we can all agree that those dreams did come true. 

Most Recognizable Watches in the World

Hans founded the company in London and originally equipped his watches with small, precise movements that a Swiss watchmaking company manufactured.

In 1908, Wilsdorf and his business partner Alfred Davis registered the name Rolex before upping the company and moving to Geneva in 1919.

Hans purchased the patent for the world’s first waterproof watch – the Oyster. And although Rolex didn’t invent the waterproof watch, they heavily marketed it and became known for the incredible technology after submerging the watch in an aquarium.

Since then, dedicated watchmakers and designers have kept up with Wilsdorf and Davis’ legacy, producing high-quality timepieces with only the best materials.

When Wilsdorf’s wife died in 1944, he established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, where he left all of his Rolex shares. And before his death in 1960, he ensured that some of the Rolex income would go to different charities.

After a century of success, the Rolex company is worth approximately $7.9 billion. And with a brand value that high, it’s no wonder some incredibly expensive pieces have been produced.

16. Rolex Platinum Diamond Pearlmaster – $277,850

One Very Expensive Rolex Watch
via HashtagWatchCo

The Rolex Platinum Diamond Pearlmaster is a limited-edition Rolex. It has 42 diamonds on its bezel and a meteorite diamond dial. As the world sees diamonds as a luxury, put them on a Rolex, and you have one of the most expensive watches the company has produced.

The 39mm dial watch features diamond markers and has a shiny opulence look that truly catches your eye. As Rolex launched the Pearlmaster to be a limited edition piece, it’s no wonder that the price tag is $277,850.

15. James Bond’s 1972 Rolex Submariner – $365,000

The Rolex Submariner is one of the Most Expensive Watches
via Esquire

This watch can thank its wearer for its value. The James Bond 1972 Rolex Submariner was worn by Sir Roger Moore in the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die. 

Before the movie began, Moore modified the watch and changed the bezel to look like a saw. If you’ve ever seen the movie, you’ll know the Rolex is used to cut a rope, and Bond also uses it to unzip the dress of Miss Caruso. 

Due to the heavy modification for the movie, the watch now can’t tell time. But, even though the hands won’t move, it is still one of the most expensive Rolex watches ever sold. The Rolex Submariner went for $365,000 at a 2015 auction in Geneva. The fact that Roger Moore signed the back probably helped fetch that kind of money.

14. Rolex GMT Master II Ice – $485,350

Rolex GMT Master Sold In Store
via Watches

If you’re a Cristiano Ronaldo fan, you may be familiar with the Rolex GMT-Master II Ice, as it was what he wore during the Dubai International Sports Conference. However, unlike some other watches on our list today, you can purchase the GMT-Master II Ice from Rolex for around $485,350, making it the most expensive new Rolex you can buy in-store.

The GMT-Master is a show stopper with white stones encrusted in the entire white gold strap, case, and dial. The GMT Master II Ice features are the same as the Rolex GMT II, just in a more in-your-face eye-catching setting.

14. The John Player Special Daytona – $1.2

An Expensive Rolex Watch at over $1million
via Hodinkee

The John Player Special Daytona Ref. 6264 is significant because of its pump pushers that mirror the original Rolex Cosmograph watches. Other models of this type were crafted in stainless steel. However, yellow gold editions were also made, which collectors consider rare.

As only ten of these yellow gold models exist, they are some of the rarest Rolex watches. In addition, these ten watches feature a Paul Newman dial created in champagne, lemon, or black. Black, as seen in this particular model, is the rarest of them all.

The John Player Special Daytona Ref. 6264 sold for $1.2 million at an auction, putting it up there with one of the most expensive Rolex watches sold at auction.

13. Jack Nicklaus Rolex Day-Date – $1.22

Jack Nicklaus Owned One of the Most Expensive Rolex Watches Ever
via Professional Watches

Rolex gifted the yellow gold Day-Date in 1967 to famous golfer Jack Nicklaus. The watch rose to fame because Nicklaus wore it during 12 of his 18 championship wins. It was the only watch he had ever owned and the only one he wore throughout his career.

The president bracelet matched with the yellow gold Day-Date is one of Rolex’s most prestigious models, which only bumped the price tag up higher. 

To raise money for his children’s charitable foundation, Nicklaus put the Day-Date up for sale, where it sold for $1.22 million.

12. Eric Clapton’s Oyster Albino Cosmograph Daytona Rolex – $1.4 Million

Phillips Auction House Sold this Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Watch
via Haute Time

Eric Clapton’s Rolex Daytona is also known as the “Oyster Albino” and has sold twice at auction for large amounts of money. The first auction occurred in New York in 2003, where the watch fetched $505,000. That number alone is extremely impressive, but it got overshadowed when the watch sold for a second time twelve years later.

At a Phillips auction in Geneva, Eric Clapton’s Daytona sold for $1.4 million, almost three times more than in 2003.

The watch is sought after because of the famous guitarist who once owned it, but it is also one of only four pieces with a single dial color. Daytonas usually have two colors throughout their dials, but Eric Clapton’s only has one, giving it the name “Oyster Albino.”

11. The Oyster Sotto – $1.6 Million

Paul Newman and Rolex Make and Expensive Watch Combination
via RobbReport

Rolex designed their Daytona Reference Oyster Sotto in stainless steel chronograph, which dates back to 1696. In addition, the Oyster Sottos feature rare “tropical” Paul Newman dials, which have an outer red second division track. 

The dial is dark brown with an art déco style and features Arabic numerals and square-shaped markers on its subdials. Its name Oyster Sotto comes from the vintage Rolex watches dial. Oyster Sotto translates from Italian as “Oyster underneath.” As you can see on the watch’s dial, the word “Oyster” lies underneath “Cosmograph.”

Only two Rolex timepieces carry the name Oyster Sotto, and both pieces were the first Paul Newman style dials to have enhanced water resistance because of their screw-down pushers.

10. Marlon Brando’s Rolex GMT-Master – $1.9 Million

Not Quite the Most Expensive Rolex Watch
via Fortune

The Rolex GMT Master Ref. 1675 is a prime example of a Rolex watch that gained its price tag thanks to its original owner. Marlon Brando, a 20th-century American actor, wore the timepiece in the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now.

Brando had the watch in his possession until he passed it on to his daughter, Petra Fischer, in 1995. However, it wasn’t until the watch sold at auction in 2019 that the world discovered Brando had etched “M. Brando” into the case back. That 2019 Phillips Game Changers auction saw the Rolex GMT Master Ref. 1675 sell for $1.9 million, well above the watch’s expected price. 

Brando wore his Rolex, which lacked a bezel on a black leather strap. The lack of bezel was so the Academy Award Winner could wear his watch on set. His plan to make the piece less conspicuous worked and resulted in the unique-looking timepiece we know today.

9. Rolex Antimagnetique – $2.5 Million

An Older Rolex is Still One of the Best Watches in the World
via RomaineRea

The oldest Rolex to make the list is the 1942 Antimagnetique Ref. 4113. The stainless steel watch with its brown leather strap has a 44mm case. This size case is the largest case Rolex ever built. 

What makes this watch even more unique is that Rolex only ever made 12 of them. The company initially produced the Antimagnetique Ref. 4113 exclusively for racing teams and never made them commercially available. 

Rolex designed the Antimagnetique Ref. 4113 with a pink-colored baton and Arabic hour markers and a blue telemeter scale. They also included a split-second chronograph to help the wearer time different events. 

A Cristie’s auction in 2013 saw one of the Antimagnetiques sell for $1.6 million. However, a Geneva Phillips Auction just three years later set the record for the most expensive Rolex Antimagnetique Ref. 4113 with a price tag of $2.5 million. This shows the rapid price increase for rare and unique Rolex models.

8. The Neanderthal Rolex – $3 Million

One of the Best Vintage Watches
via OracleOfTime

The next most expensive Rolex watch ever sold is the Rolex Daytona Ref. 6240, also known as the Neanderthal. Rolex designed this model in 1966 out of stainless steel and included oversized subdial counters, an acrylic bezel, a tachymeter scale, and screw-down chronograph pushers. 

The Neanderthal was the first Cosmograph to feature screw-down pushers, which now have a layer of patina on their original brass metal.

In 2018, a Phillips auction sold the Neanderthal Rolex Daytona Ref. 6240 for $3 million, making it one of the most expensive Rolex ever sold at auction.

7. Cosmograph “Zenith” Daytona with Turquoise Dial – $3.1 Million

Rolex Daytona are Some of the most Famous Watches
Via Tech Talk

Although the Paul Newman Daytona watches are by far the most sought-after Daytonas, a few others have crept their way onto the most expensive Rolex watches list. 

One of them is the Cosmograph “Zenith” Daytona with a Turquoise Dial. The turquoise dial Daytona is considered ultra-rare as Rolex only ever made five. An auction in Hong Kong witnessed the watch smash its estimated price and sell for $3.1 million. 

Former Rolex chief executive Patrick Heiniger requested five of the Zenith Cosmograph Daytonas to be made in 1998. The company created the timepiece with a 40mm platinum case and originally got its name from the brand’s famed 4030 calibers. This caliber was based on the Zenith El Primero movement, hence the name Zenith. 

The unique dials make the Zenith so special, and this particular model has a turquoise mineral stone that is accompanied by a brown alligator leather strap and the Zenith platinum case.

A turquoise watch may not be for everyone, but Rolex sure made theirs look classy.

6. Cosmograph Platinum Zenith Daytona with Lapis Lazuli Dial $3.2 Million

A One of a Kind and Highly Precious Rolex Watch
via WatchesBySJX

An even rarer Cosmograph Platinum Zenith Daytona sold at auction for $3.2 million. This Platinum Zenith Daytona is the only one of its kind with a lapis lazuli hard stone dial. The high price tag is understandable with a watch as rare as this one. 

Like the Zenith Daytona with a turquoise dial, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona lapis lazuli is powered by the Rolex caliber 4030 and has a beautiful platinum case. Although the lapis lazuli Zenith Daytona was believed to be manufactured in 1999, the case back is dated XII 1998, so it’s unsure when it was actually manufactured.  

The expensive watch also features a unique turquoise calf strap to make it stand out even further in a crowd. One thing is for sure, whoever purchased this million-dollar watch sure does love the color blue.

5. Cosmograph Daytona The Legend – $4.1 Million

Fine Watches from on of the Best Watch Brands
via Watch Collecting Lifestyle

The Cosmograph Daytona Legend Ref. 6263 was once the most expensive Daytona to sell at auction through a dramatic and intense bidding war. This bidding war was so dramatic because Rolex collectors debated if a yellow-gold Paul Newman Rolex with screw-down pushers ever even existed.

In 1969, the Cosmograph Daytona Legend Ref. 6263 was launched, and both examples of the watch feature extremely early Rolex serial numbers. 

The Legend is a beautiful Rolex watch and is one of only three Paul Newman yellow-gold oyster Daytona models ever to exist. It features screw-down pushers, blue subdials with white graphics, and a black bezel to contrast the 18 karat yellow-gold metal case and strap. 

Of course, the most breathtaking aspect of the Legend is the creamy dial that shimmers in the sun. If you know anything about Rolex watches, you’ll know that all contemporary models have the word Oyster written on their dials, and Cosmographs feature the word Cosmograph.

Nowadays, the Oyster on the dial features serifs. As the Legends dial doesn’t feature any serifs, it indicates that this is one of the earliest batches of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytonas ever produced.

4. Rolex Bao Dai – $5.1 Million

Rolex Bao Dai One of the Rarest and Most Valuable Watches
via Hodinkee

The Bao Dai is a one-of-a-kind Rolex with an interesting story. The final emperor of Vietnam entered a local Rolex boutique in Geneva in 1954. He asked to be shown the rarest Rolex ever made and was presented with the Bao Dai.

This yellow gold-cased watch with a black dial and diamond indices was one of three reference 6062s. However, the Bao Dai’s five-diamond layout was unique to only it, giving it its one-of-a-kind title. 

The emperor’s descendants put the watch up for sale in 2002, where it fetched $235,000. At the time, this was the highest price a collector had ever paid for a Rolex watch at auction.

Although they pocketed over $200,000, I bet they wished they had held onto the Bao Dai. Fast forward 15 years to a Phillips auction in Geneva, where it sold for a staggering $5.1 million, making it one of the most expensive Rolex watches ever.

3. Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona The Big Red – $5.5 Million

Paul Newman's Daytona Watches
via Watchonista

Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona, the Big Red, makes it into third place on the most expensive Rolex list after it went to auction in 2020 and sold for $5.5 million. 

The most expensive Paul Newman Rolex, which, spoiler alert, takes the top spot, has an engraving on the case from his wife, Joanne. The Big Red also features a similar engraving of “Drive Slowly, Joanne,” making it a truly unique, one-of-a-kind piece.

Newman reportedly wore his Big Red for 25 years, making it his most worn watch. Before his passing, he gifted the Big Red to his daughter Clea, who later sold it to raise money for her father’s charitable causes.

2. Rolex Daytona Unicorn – $5.9 Million

Almost the Most Expensive Rolex Watch
via Esquiresg

One of the most dazzling Daytonas Rolex ever produced is the Daytona Ref. 6265 The Unicorn. It was the only Daytona to be made from 18 karat white gold, which gave it the name Unicorn because of its rarity. 

The white-gold Cosmograph has a black SIGMA dial and bracelet that John Goldberger is responsible for. When Rolex created the Unicorn in 1970, the original German retail owner requested a leather strap. Once Goldberger got his hands on it, he changed the strap to the bark-finished bracelet seen on it today.

When the watch surfaced in 2013, collectors were stunned by its existence as there are no other watches quite like it. Prolific Rolex collector John Goldberger put the Unicorn up for auction in 2018 to raise money for the Children Action Foundation, which helps health care, education, and prevention of youth suicide. As it sold for $5.9 million, this watch truly earned its spot on the most expensive Rolex list.

1. Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona – $17.8 Million

This Paul Newman Daytona is the Most Expensive Rolex Watch in History
via Town and Country Magazine

The moment you’ve all been waiting for. The top spot for Rolex’s most expensive watch to be sold is taken by Paul Newman’s Daytona Rolex Ref. 6329. 

Paul Newman Rolex dials get their name from the once unpopular dial worn by the racer and actor. This extortionate Rolex, however, actually belonged to Paul himself. 

The watch, a gift from his wife Joanna, has “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME” engraved on the back. Paul Newman wore this watch practically every day from 1969 to 1984. 

Newman passed his iconic Daytona down to his daughter’s boyfriend, James Cox, who kept it in his possession until 2016. Cox later got in touch with auctioneer Aurel Bacs, who sold the watch at auction for $17.8 million.

Why Are Rolex Watches so Pricey?

It’s not uncommon to wonder why Rolex watches carry high price tags, and I’m sure after reading about the most expensive Rolex watch, you’re probably wondering the same. 

Phillips Auction House Handles Many Vintage Watch Sales

As I previously mentioned earlier, Rolex watches are a status symbol, and normally only the rich, famous, and successful wear them. So what exactly is it that makes Rolex so expensive? Let’s take a look at a few important factors.

Leading Innovation

At the Rolex headquarters in Geneva are several labs that dedicate their time to perfecting new watches and manufacturing techniques. This constant innovation keeps them ahead of the game, producing the best quality watches possible.

Manufacturing

Rolex doesn’t just rely on machines to do all the heavy lifting. The movements and bracelets in each watch are assembled by hand, and machines and robots step in at points along the way to assist.

Materials

Did you know that Rolex actually produces its own gold, platinum, and steel? They also take raw 24 karat gold plates and turn them into rose gold, white, or yellow gold materials, which they then use in the production of their watches

For its diamonds, Rolex has a department that buys, tests, cuts, and places diamonds into the watches to ensure every stone is of high quality. This hand selection and hand setting of the diamond match up to the processes used by renowned jewelry brands.

Dedication

Making a Rolex watch isn’t an easy process, and from the raw material production all the way up to the watch being ready for sale, it takes roughly a year. 

Humans actually place all the markers on the watch dials by hand because Rolex did extensive testing into whether humans or robots would be better for the job. Turns out humans are the better positioners.

Should I Invest in a Rolex?

After reading that a Rolex can go for $17.8 million, then “should I invest in a Rolex?” is an understandable question to ask. 

Rolex Watches Are a Great Investment for the Future

Some watch collectors dedicate their lives to investing in rare Rolexes, which they plan on selling back in future years. For example, take watch collector John Goldberger, whom I mentioned previously. Since the 70s, he has had a passion and interest in watches and has made millions buying and reselling timeless Rolexes. 

With that in mind, however, the contemporary models we see today aren’t going to sell for $5.9 million like his Rolex Daytona Unicorn, but keeping the watch in pristine condition will more than likely make you money in the future.

Most Expensive Rolex Watch: Our Final Thoughts

Rolex has been around for over a century, and from the prices listed in this article, it is obvious that they haven’t gone and won’t be going out of fashion anytime soon.

As we wrap up the most expensive Rolex in the world, we’d love to know your opinions.

Do you think $17.8 million is an extortionate amount for a watch? And if you were the lucky owner of the Paul Newman Daytona, would you wear it or put it on display?

Let us know in the comment section down below!