The 10 Most Expensive Rolexes Ever Sold
There are only a few things that arouse a vintage collector’s interest more than the name Rolex. But whether you are a collector or someone with a passing interest in watches, you can’t but help fall in love with the world’s most famous luxury timepiece maker.
Every gentleman (and lady) would love to own the most expensive Rolex; the only problem with that is wishes are not horses!
But, come to think of it, how expensive are these timepieces, anyway?
Whether you are merely curious, or you actually plan to buy a vintage Rolex for your collection, here is a rundown of the top 10 most expensive Rolexes ever sold in human history.
Interested in other watch brands? Check out the best watches for men here.
10. 1950 Rolex Perpetual “Sleeping Beauty”
Sold for $1.14 million in 2013
Ranking 10th on this list is the 1950 Rolex Perpetual “Sleeping Beauty.” Pieced together seven decades ago, this limited edition watch is intricately built with a beautiful moon phase and triple date display. It was originally nicknamed “Pandellone” in Italian, which literally translates to “Big Frying Pan.” Perhaps, the name had to do with the watch’s complex features.
Only 100 pieces of the masterfully crafted 1950 Rolex Perpetual were ever made. Finding one of these pieces in good condition is going to take some solid luck and serious search. How many of these watches are still in existence? No one knows for sure. But one this is certain – this timepiece broke the records as the most expensive Rolex to be sold in 2013 when it showed up at the auction block.
The initial estimate for this rare Rolex was in the vicinity of only $250,000 to $350,000. Bids from four people cutting across four different countries were steep, and the competition was fierce. But since surprises are the norm at auctions, Christie’s New York auction witnessed one of the most surprising bids ever, with a bid several times the estimated price.
It sold at an unbelievable $1.14 million, immediately earning the 1950 Rolex Perpetual a new nickname – Sleeping Beauty. Obviously, someone saw the beauty in the Big Frying Pan and was willing to part ways with that amount just to own the beautiful Rolex Perpetual.
9. 1949 Rolex Oyster Perpetual
Sold for $1.2 million in 2014
The extremely fine 1949 Rolex Oyster Perpetual is an 18-Karat gold automatic watch, expertly crafted by renowned artist Marguerite Koch.
Here’s a quick description of this rare watch (just in case you’re wondering what’s special about it). It is beautifully fitted with star-shaped and baton numerals with sweep center seconds and a cloisonné enamel dial.
The dial depicts a sailing frigate on a stormy sea and a beautiful whale. It features a prominent Rolex logo in gold at the 6 O’clock mark. Although this piece was manufactured over seven decades ago, it comes in a water-resistant tonneau-shaped case with a screw-down crown. A truly uncommon design for a wristwatch, don’t you agree?
Okay, enough said already. How much did this piece sell for?
In 2014, the 1949 Oyster Perpetual was sold at Christie’s auction in Geneva for a whopping $1.2 million, making it the most expensive Rolex sold at the time. Considering the rare design and finish of this piece, it is not too surprising that an anonymous buyer thinks the watch is worth that much. I bet in 1949, even Marguerite Koch himself would hardly think his work would be that valuable.
But if $1.2 million seems too much for one of the oldest Rolex wristwatches, the other collections on this list will make that amount seem like an incredible bargain.
8. 1971 Eric Clapton “Oyster Albino” Cosmograph Daytona
Sold for $1.4 million in 2015
Eric Clapton was the original owner of the 1971 Cosmograph Daytona, nicknamed “Oyster Albino.” Rolex made only four of this watch as a limited edition series, making it an extremely rare piece to come by.
Here’s a piece of trivia about the “Albino” timepiece. Generally, Rolex combines two colors in its Daytona series to allow contrast between the dial and the chronograph totalizer. This unique Cosmograph Daytona has the same color in both components, with no apparent contrast. Now you know why it’s called Albino.
Back in 2003, at Sotheby auction in New York, the Oyster Albino was sold for a mere $505,000. The price was considered very expensive at that time, and it topped as the most expensive Rolex back then. But in 2015, that price tag was completely obliterated when the same piece was auctioned for an astronomical price of $1.4 million at Philips auction house in Geneva.
Considering the limited copies of the 1971 Cosmograph Daytona, it might be extremely difficult to come by these pieces. But the next rime Eric Clapton’s finely-tuned Albino wristwear or any of its very few brethren show up at the auction block, we might witness, yet again, one of the most insanely expensive wristwatch sales ever.
7. 1969 Paul Newman Oyster Sotto Cosmograph Daytona
Sold for $1.95 million in 2016
Right out of the bat, this is the rarest wristwatch to be ever made by Rolex. Only two of these are known to exist on our planet, with Paul Newman claiming original ownership to one of the units. Whether the second copy still exists or not is a question we might never find an answer to.
Besides being a rare piece, this 1969 Cosmograph Daytona breaks the brand’s norm with typical Cosmograph Daytona designs.
“Oyster Sotto” is Italian for “Oyster below,” which is why the dial of a Cosmograph Daytona Rolex usually has the inscription “Rolex/Cosmograph/Oyster” (also known as RCO). But this unique Paul Newman Oyster Sotto reads “Rolex/Oyster/Cosmograph,” defying the RCO nickname.
Any vintage watch collector would give their right arm to own this watch. Little wonder when it showed up at Philips auction in 2016, it sold for a staggering $1.95 million. Until this day, the 1969 Paul Newman Oyster Sotto Chronograph Daytona remains one of the world’s rarest, unusual, and most expensive Rolexes ever sold.
6. 1942 Antimagnetique Chronograph
Sold for $2.5 million in 2016
Setting the record as the largest watch to be ever engineered by Rolex, the 1942 Antimagnetique Chronograph is a manually wound split-second 44mm timepiece with a stainless steel case. It comes with raised Arabic and baton hour markers in pink gold color on a silvered matte dial. There are only 12 copies of this model, making it a rare collection.
Unlike other watches, this limited edition Rolex watch was never released to the public. Instead, it was manufactured in honor of a group of race drivers. To celebrate their victory, the watches were presented as gifts to the team. Currently, there are only eight copies of the Antimagnetique Chronograph known to be in existence.
Apart from Rolex’s record for the largest wristwatch, it is also the oldest watch (on this list, at least) to be auctioned at a seven-figure price tag. In 2013, it was sold for $1.16 million at Christie’s auction. It came up for auction again at Phillips, Geneva, in 2016, but this time it broke its previous record and sold for a staggering $2.5 million.
With most of the copies lost in the sands of time, it is not surprising that the price skyrocketed so much in only six short years. You never can tell at what price this old and rare watch will sell the next time it hits the auction block again.
5. 1958 Rolex GMT Master
Sold for $3.5 million in 2016
Most people who’ve watched the James Bond film Goldfinger will quickly recognize the first-ever GMT Master Reference 6542 worn by Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman. In 2016, the Philips auction house in Geneva witnessed the sale of the 1958 Rolex GMT Master at an unbelievable price of $3.5 million.
Clad in 18-karat gold, the GMT Rolex watch comes with a brown dial, stainless steel case, and a bezel beautifully adorned in dazzling Bakelite cognac-brown color. Although it was sold 58 years after production, all previous owners did a fine job preserving it in its state.
Apart from being one the most expensive Rolexes ever sold, the 1958 Rolex GMT Master is one of the greatest and most iconic Rolex watches used as a travel watch.
4. 1969 Paul Newman Rolex Daytona “The Legend”
Sold for $3.7 million in 2017
The ultra-rare Rolex Daytona watch comes in a 37.5 mm diameter case and is donned in 18-karat gold. It features black sub-dials on a grené color dial with chronograph buttons.
As far as we know, there are only three copies of the 1969 Rolex Daytona “The Legend” in existence. Why the brand chose to release only this limited number of copies is a mystery we might never uncover. However, there a couple of things we know for sure about this piece.
First, two out of three copies come in yellow gold color. Secondly, one of the two yellow gold options was sold to Paul Newman in 1969. Thirdly, it goes by the nickname “The Legend” in the world of timepieces. Number four, it was sold for almost a million dollars back in 2013.
But all of these facts are not our primary concern. The most important thing here is how much it was sold. In 2017, three years after it struggled to hit the one million dollar price point, “The Legend” was auctioned at Geneva for a surprising sum of $3.7 million, crashing its previous record and finding its way to the top of the food chain.
It’s been three years since 2017. Perhaps Paul Newman’s rare yellow gold wristwear will put up another legendary performance at the auction houses soon enough.
Okay, up until this point, we’ve covered Rolexes below the $5 million price point. But five million dollars is pale in comparison to the most anyone has paid for a Rolex.
The next timepieces are the top 3 most expensive Rolexes ever sold in human history, at least up to 2020.
3. 1954 Bao Dai Rolex Oyster Perpetual
Sold for $5.1 million in 2017
The Swiss watchmaker’s most expensive watch back in 1954 was the Bao Dai Rolex Oyster Perpetual. As you probably have guessed, Emperor Boa Dai of the Nguyen dynasty in Vietnam was the original owner. He was the last reigning emperor of Vietnam.
The watch comes in an 18-karat gold case with a black dial. It is outfitted with diamond indexes, a moon-phase indicator, and a triple calendar. These were uncommon watch features in 1954, making the watch a highly-sought-after piece. Even up to this day, the Bao Dai Rolex Oyster Perpetual is a one-of-a-kind wristwear.
In 2002, the Nguyen family auctioned the timepiece for 235,000. It was a supremely expensive watch at that time. Fast-forward to fifteen years later, in 2017 at the Phillips auction house, and the same timepiece sold for an astounding $5.1 million – that’s twenty-two times the initial price!
Makes you feel like holding down one of these timeless pieces for a couple of years. That’s a pretty great investment, don’t you agree?
2. 1971 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona “The Unicorn”
Sold for $5.9 million in 2018
Unicorns are rare – almost never seen. Guess what else is rare? Yep. You got that right! The 1971 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is such a rare timepiece that it was nicknamed “The Unicorn.”
This timepiece is in a class of its own, as there’s simply no other like it. The 1971 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is the only copy ever produced. On top of that, it is the only Rolex Daytona donned in 18-karat white gold. It is simply a gorgeous watch and a collector’s dream.
It hit the auction block in 2018 and was estimated at $3 million. But when the bidding and sales were finally over at Philips auction, the watch sold for a staggering $5.9 million, almost twice the estimated value! This makes The Unicorn the second most expensive Rolex ever sold.
More collectors are showing increasing interest in this Rolex Daytona, as other versions (with 14-karat yellow gold and 18-karat yellow gold) are hitting the market. As it stands, there’s simply no sign that the Rolex Daytona craze is about to slow down any time soon.
1. 1968 Paul Newman Rolex Daytona
Sold for $17.8 million in 2017
Coming last on this list, but ranking as the number one most expensive Rolexes ever sold is the 1968 Paul Newman Rolex Daytona.
Paul Newman, a legendary Oscar-winning actor, race car driver, and philanthropist, named this famous 1968 Cosmograph Daytona after himself. Etched on the timepiece are the words, “Drive Carefully Me” – apparently Newman’s wife had that engraved on the watch.
Long story short, the Cosmograph Daytona went “missing,” or that was what some vintage watch collectors thought until it resurfaced a few years ago.
The year was 2017, and the plot was set in New York. The Phillips auction house and bidders were ready for a bidding process that would last for a considerably long time (I presume). As usual, this bidding was expected to be a battle of some sort because the piece that showed up was the incredibly sought-after and exotic 1968 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 6293.
But, to everyone’s surprise, it all came to an end in only 12 short minutes! Reason? It was an incredible back and forth between bidders, but there’s hardly anyone who could bid further when someone decided to raise the bar from the usual six or seven-figure price to eight-figure.
It sold at a drool-worthy $17.8 million, successfully making other Rolex watches pale in comparison. Sounds crazy, but collectors would pay an amount that would cost most people an arm and a leg to own such a piece.
The world patiently waits for the day when the current owner will decide to auction this expensive piece of watch. Until that day arrives, it probably will be difficult for any wristwatch, Rolex or otherwise, to beat the insane price of $17.8 million.
Now that we’ve seen these insanely expensive watches, I invite you to check out some of these watch brands (regardless of whether you are willing to spend millions on a watch or not). Who knows, you might find and own a timepiece that you’ll be proud to wear anywhere, anytime.