The Watchlist│How to Invest in the Most Expensive Watches
Investing in luxury watches is all about timing. Coveted brands like Rolex and AP aren't just lying around for anyone to buy. Here are the most expensive timepieces to keep an eye on in 2023.
Updated Jan 6, 2023
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Decades of growth in the watch market came to a head in the past couple of years, and the prices of luxury watches are predicted to continue growing. Auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips have seen year-on-year growth with watches.
The global luxury watch market is expected to see compound annual growth of 5.2% from 2022 to 2030, and high-end brands like Patek Philippe and Rolex have contributed to this uptrend by producing timepieces that speak the languages of value and style. Apart from their functionality, luxury watches are garnering investor attention and generating millions of dollars for those willing to dish out the big bucks.
Luxury watches have proven to give better returns than most saving accounts and stocks and it's generally a good idea to invest in non-traditional alternate investment options.
Luxury watches have appreciated in the secondary market for years, be they the most expensive watch or just an entry-level timepiece. For instance, Girard-Perregaux Laureato was one of the most underrated performers of 2022, which rose from $8,000 for an unworn watch to over $17,000.
Luxury watches are some of the top-performing investment assets due to their strong resale potential. The Omega Chronograph Moonwatch had an expected price of $85,000 but was sold in auction for a sapphire-shattering $3.4 million, making it one of the most expensive watches ever sold.
Luxury timepieces bring physical ownership, utility, and heritage which speaks to the luxurious tastes of the top echelon of investors and collectors. High-end watches are great investments in both form and function because they deliver value in ways other than price appreciation.
Jean-Claude Biver holding the $5 million Hublot Big Bang.
High-end brands have historically made watches that last generations. Rolex is extremely particular about its watch manufacturing and materials, such as with its use of Oystersteal (AKA 904L) in most of its watches since 2018. This steel is more resistant to corrosion, holds polish better, and is generally harder than other types of steel.
Rolex believes in crafting handmade precision and putting their watches to the test, such as the chronometer, speed, and water depth tests. The Rolex Submariner 5512, which originally retailed for $90 in the 60s, was sold for $250,000 in a Gardiner Houlgate auction in October 2020. The astonishing build quality of Rolex is what helps it sell 60 years later, and the same goes for numerous other luxury brands.
Luxury watches are known for their detail and style. This is a product of case design, dial design, band style, complications, and other distinctive features. The look and feel of these design elements are what catch the eyes of collectors and investors. Apart from the potential of price appreciation, timepieces are a way of expressing one's fashion sense and a means of subtly projecting wealth with a tangible asset.
The high-end watches are embedded with luxury through the materials, craftsmanship, brand reputation, complications, and rarity. Just having access to rare pieces is an expression of affluence, but watches themselves can also yield decent returns because of their high demand and exclusive supply.
Collecting and investing
Since most high-end watches are handmade, they're limited in number, and scarcity creates value. Most limited and special edition pieces are seen as collector's items or alternative investments. Popular watches like the Rolex Submariner are in low supply and very high demand.
For example, the waiting period to get a Submariner can last a few years since there is such an exclusive supply of new ones on the market. So, investors and collectors try to find this luxury watch in secondary marketplaces where it's currently priced at around $10,000 (ref. 116610). The same watch was priced at around $8,000 back in 2018. Although it's not among the most expensive watches, it has been a great investment for the past few years.
What makes some watches so expensive?
What makes some watches so expensive?
Not all watches are created equal. While most of the market is made to serve entry-level users (looking at you, Invicta), there are analog watches that cost a fortune and a half. Luxury watches are sophisticated timepieces that are known for their innovative designs, materials, and attention to detail. These watches are generally hand-assembled by highly skilled watchmakers. Other than the design, there are a number of reasons why some of these watches can shine in auction houses.
Limited edition pieces are generally very high priced due to the low supply and a disproportionate demand. These watches are usually found in secondary markets where they're sold for amounts well above retail (depending on their condition). The Rolex Daytona (ref. 6239) is one of the best examples of how a low supply can bring up the price of an expensive watch.
Time to produce
Depending on the complexity of the watch, it can take quite a long time to design. Not only does this take years of training to become a watchmaker, but perfecting the movements of a complicated watch can be time-consuming. And that's not to mention the time it takes to manufacture them at scale.
Some watches use materials that are rare, expensive, and hard to work with. This automatically skyrockets the price of a watch. For example, the Graff Diamonds Hallucination costs around $40 million because it contains 152.96 carats of white diamonds and a 38-carat pear-shaped diamond dial in the middle, which can also be worn as a ring. This combination of luxury material plus functionality is often what draws people to a certain watch.
Some veteran brands like Patek Philippe have built their credibility by consistently providing value to their customers over the years. This reputation has given them the license to sell their timepieces to an exclusive market and charge high prices.
Many watches have special features or complications, such as a perpetual calendar, a tourbillon, or a chronograph. These complications add to the overall value of the watch because of how long it takes to produce them and take quality control measures.
Luxury watches are prized for their quality, innovation, and sophistication. A watch with a unique movement or feature will often draw investors willing to pay extra for something that can't be attained anywhere else. This is what makes the finest timepieces in the world highly sought after by collectors and watch enthusiasts, alike.
Are you investing in stuff you can wear?
Most expensive watches in the world
Most expensive watches in the world
Creating a list of the best watches can be subjective, depending on the design aesthetic, price point, and features. But this isn't the case with the most expensive watches, so here are the priciest watches that are available on the market or have been sold at auction.
Graff diamonds hallucination
Graff diamonds fascination
Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010
Breguet Grande Complication Marie-Antoinette
Jaeger-LeCoultre Joaillerie 101 Manchette
Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication
Jacob & Co. Billionaire Watch
Rolex Paul Newman Daytona Ref. 6239
Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 1518
Each brand created a timeless, intricate timepiece that holds millions of dollars in value.
1. Most Expensive Rolex Daytona
- Price: $17,750,000
- Price History: In 2017, Paul Newman Rolex Daytona sold for a record-breaking $17.75 million, making it the most expensive Rolex ever sold. This watch was previously sold for $195,686 at Christie's on November 14, 2016. Paul Newman gifted this watch to his daughter’s boyfriend when it retailed for $200.
- Supply/Rarity: The waitlist for this timepiece is usually 1 to 3 years due to limited production runs.
- Style: Three-color black, white, and red dial. This was the first Daytona model to move the tachymeter scale on the bezel.
Material: 18K yellow gold and stainless steel.
- Type: Race watch.
The history of Rolex dates back to 1905, with numerous incredible pieces under its belt. Although the company has mastered the art of making models that speak luxury, the Paul Newman Rolex Daytona reference 6239 stands high, being the most expensive wristwatch made by the Swiss watchmaker.
The Rolex Daytona is made of 18K yellow gold and stainless steel, making it a luxurious and coveted timepiece among collectors. It's a chronograph watch, meaning it's capable of accurately measuring elapsed time.
1968 Paul Newman Rolex Daytona Chronograph (Ref. 6241) worth between $125K to $250K.
Paul Newman Daytona is a sports watch that wasn't very popular when it was released in the 1960s, but its connection to the late Hollywood actor made the timepiece infamous.
The last owner of this watch was Paul Newman's daughter's ex-boyfriend James Cox. Paul gifted this watch to James in 1984, which he sold 33 years later for $17.8 million. Who would've thought that a Daytona worth $200 would become the most expensive Rolex of all time? James is said to have given a significant portion of the sale to the Nell Newman Foundation run by Paul's daughter.
2. Most Expensive Patek Philippe
- Price: $31 million
- Price History: In 2019, a Patek Philippe Grandmaster's Chime (ref. 6300A-010) sold at Only Watch auction for a record-breaking $31 million, making it the most expensive Patek Philippe ever sold.
- Supply/Rarity: It's a limited-edition timepiece with a scarce supply. The Grandmaster Chime (ref 6300-010) is one of a kind.
- Style: Double-faced wristwatch with a thick case of 16 mm and an overall size of 48 mm. There are two dials, one sleek black and the other salmon-colored with the words "The only one" etched on it.
- Material: 18K white gold plates, stainless steel, and various precious stones.
- Type: The Grandmaster Chime is a double-faced wristwatch.
The Patek Philippe ref 6300-010 Grandmaster Chime is the most expensive watch to be sold at a watch auction that broke the previous records of the Rolex Daytona ref 6239. With lots of complications that power its movement, the Patek Philippe ref 6300-010 is a true pinnacle of watchmaking.
This watch was rumored to have been created in 10,000 hours and was made in celebration of Patek's 175th anniversary. The watch has "The Only One" etched on one of its dials, which vouch for the piece's uniqueness.
The 2014 Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime sold for $31.2 million in Nov. 2019, making it the most expensive timepiece ever sold at auction.
With over 20 complications that power its movement, the Grandmaster Chime is considered to be one of the most complex watches ever created. The complications include a perpetual calendar, date repeater, chime, two time zones, a four-digit year display, a minute repeater, a chronograph, and more. Its 18K white gold casing features various precious stones such as sapphires, diamonds, and rubies, adding to its luxurious appeal.
The Grandmaster Chime was made specifically for the Only Watch auction and is one of the few modern watches to be auctioned at such a high price.
3. Most Expensive Omega Chronograph
- Price: $3.4 million
- Price History: In 2021, an Omega Speedmaster Chronograph sold for a record-breaking $3.4 million, making it the most expensive Omega ever sold.
- Supply/Rarity: The Omega Speedmaster Chronograph is a limited edition watch with only around 4,000 pieces made.
- Style: The Omega Speedmaster Chronograph is a classic, sporty timepiece.
- Material: The Omega Speedmaster Chronograph is made from 18K yellow gold and stainless steel.
- Type: The Omega Speedmaster is a chronograph watch.
The Omega Chronograph (ref. 2915-1) exceeded expectations as the price was estimated to be around $85,000, but the timepiece was sold in Geneva Watch Auction XVI for $3.4 million.
The Omega Speedmaster is easily the most significant Omega model to date. The watch was advertised as fit for people who "reckon time in seconds." This watch is considered one of the most valuable and sought-after watches due to its limited production and connection to the Apollo 11 NASA mission. The combination of precious metals and its classic, sporty design make it extremely desirable.
A 1957 Omega Speedmaster (ref. 2915-1) sold for $3,323,602.
The Omega Speedmaster Chronograph was sold at auction in 2021 for a record-breaking $3.4 million, making it the most expensive Omega ever sold. The hour hand is a broad arrow and features a tachymeter scale on the bezel. The watch face has a diameter of 38 mm, and the dial is milk chocolate brown making it dressy enough to be styled with a suit or dressed down for a semi-casual outfit.
Omega takes pride in the accuracy of this watch, which is why it was advertised to people who want to tell time to the second.
The Omega Speedmaster Chronograph (ref. 2915-1) is a limited edition watch with an estimated supply of only 3,300 to 4,200 watches. Although it's expensive, it's the first watch to be worn to the moon due to its extreme durability and accuracy.
4. Most Expensive Audemars Piguet
- Price Range: $1.1 million
- Price History: In 2022, an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Grande Complication sold for a record-breaking $1.1 million, making it the most expensive Audemars Piguet ever sold.
- Supply/Rarity: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Grande Complication is a limited edition watch. There are only 100 examples of the black ceramic version.
- Style: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Grande Complication is a classic, sporty timepiece with an octagonal bezel and a futuristic analog dial.
- Material: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Grande Complication is made from 18K white gold, titanium, and other metals.
- Type: Highly-complicated automatic ceramic chronograph wristwatch
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is known for its innovative design. It was first introduced in 1972 and now has become one of the most iconic watches. Celebrities like Jay Z, Steph Curry, and Serena Williams have been seen wearing versions of the Royal Oak.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak broke the million-dollar mark, becoming one of the most expensive watches in the world. The watch scored the price in an auction that lasted 5 minutes and exceeded the $200,000 pre-sale estimate.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Grande Complication is a classic, sporty timepiece made from 18K white gold and titanium, among other materials.
The Royal Oak Grande Complication sold for a record-breaking $1.1 million in 2022, making it the most expensive Audemars Piguet ever sold. This is an indication of the watch’s desirability and rarity. Its timeless design and luxurious materials make it the perfect watch for those who appreciate the finer things in life.
An AP Royal Oak Jumbo A-Series sold on Rally for $110K in June 2021, setting its annualized price appreciation at over 31%.
The Royal Oak Grande Complication is a complex watch that includes two time zones, a perpetual calendar, a minute repeater, and a tourbillon. The design and craftsmanship are truly remarkable, with intricate details accentuating its elegant casing. Such a combination of style, sophistication, and accuracy makes it perfect for any watch enthusiast. The watch has accrued a million-dollar value despite its heavy-duty modern design.
5. Most Expensive Hublot
- Price: $5 million
- Supply/Rarity: Hublot watches are limited in availability and highly sought after.
- Style: The Hublot Big Bang is a classic, modern timepiece.
- Material: The Hublot Big Bang is made from 18K white gold and over 1200 baguette diamonds, all of A-grade VVS quality.
- Type: Chronograph sports watch.
Hublot unveiled its most expensive watch, Big Bang, with a price tag of $5 million back in 2012. This watch looks like a billionaire timepiece embedded with diamonds and other precious stones.
The Hublot Big Bang comes with more than 1,200 diamonds and was given to Jay Z by Beyonce for his 43rd birthday. The watch has an extremely luxurious look with a 44 mm case that holds 302 baguette diamonds. The dial is made of 18K white gold, and it's packed with 179 baguette diamonds, while the 18k bracelet holds 782 more. The watch hands are rhodium plated and diamond-polished.
Rapper Jay Z at a Hublot event in Zurich, Switzerland.
The Hublot Big Bang is a highly sought-after watch due to its limited production and complexity. it's a classic, modern timepiece made from 18K white gold and featuring a variety of precious stones.
The Hublot Big Bang is powered by multiple complications, including a chronograph, a perpetual calendar, a tourbillon, and a moon phase indicator. This complicated piece of art took around 14 months to make, which is one of the reasons why the watch is so expensive.
Are watch investments profitable?
Are watch investments profitable?
Are watches good investments? Absolutely. Though Rolex has a lot of entry-level models, all their watches are known to hold their value over the long term.
For most people, watch investments make a lot of sense because they're stylish and functional tangible assets that are good at holding value.
As someone new to watch investing, here are some tips on what to think about before acquiring your first timepiece.
- Pick a few brands like Omega, Rolex, and Audemars Piguet that have historically performed well. Monitor the performance of their individual timepieces.
- Keep an eye on unique watches or limited editions.
- Steer clear of quartz watches because they don't historically perform as well as vintage mechanical watches on the secondary market.
- If your watch is a long-term investment, servicing it regularly keeps the watch in pristine condition.
- Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Manage your portfolio so that the watches make up 10% to 15% of your entire investment.
It's also important to consider the cons of investing in luxury watches.
- High upfront cost: One of the biggest drawbacks is that these time-pieces can be expensive compared to some other assets like stocks.
- Price appreciation isn't guaranteed: Most luxury watches have a good track record of increasing in value, but it can never be said for sure that the market won’t downtrend.
Overall, watches can be a good investment if you’re comfortable with the risks. Luxury watch investments are a lot more accessible now, so you don't need to drop a few grand to invest in a timepiece anymore. Alternative investment platforms like Rally securitize valuable items—such as a Rolex GMT Master—so investors can trade fractionalized shares.
Chart tracking direct asset sales of 1985 Rolex GMT Master with black "nipple dial" from 2008 to 2021 (not adjusted for inflation).
Rally lets people invest in things like sportscars, baseball cards, NFTs, luxury handbags, and pretty much anything valuable that isn't on the stock market. You have a wide range of luxury watches to choose from and can use their secondary marketplace to buy or sell your shares anytime. Investors make money when Rally sells the watch and distributes the profits to stakeholders.
Luxury watches have proven to give better returns than most savings accounts and stocks, and it's generally a good idea to invest in non-traditional alternate investment options. Things like Pokemon cards, baseball cards, and collectible toys have shown huge appreciation in value over the past few years and are some of the best alternate investments.