When it comes to the most expensive watches ever sold at auction, there is one name that dominates: Patek Philippe.
The last family-owned Genevan watch manufacturer is revered by collectors the world over thanks to an irresistible combination of heritage, hand-craftsmanship, technical excellence and rarity.
Despite maybe not quite achieving the same household name status as its younger Swiss siblings Rolex and Omega, the 182-year-old manufacturer’s watches have steam-rollered past all others in the auction room. In fact, its timepieces take all but one place on our list of the most expensive watches ever sold at auction. Elite Traveler takes a closer look at these most prized collectibles.
Patek Philippe 5208T — $6.23m
The 5208T sold for $6.23m in 2017/ ©Patek Philippe
Created especially for Monaco’s famed Only Watch auction – the biennial charity auction of luxury timepieces that raises funds for research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy — the Patek Philippe Titanium 5208T sold for $6.23m in November 2017.
A one-of-a-kind titanium version of the 5208 model, it was crafted using an inky blue color pallet and features a sapphire-crystal case back, hand-guilloché details, gold indexes and an 18K gold dial plate.
Ahead of the auction, Thierry Stern, President of Patek Philippe told Christie’s: “Not only is the Ref. 5208 one of our most complex watches to produce, in titanium the intricate case is even more difficult to make.”
Patek Philippe 5016A — $7.26m
Patek Philippe 5016A is one of the watchmakers most sought after models / ©Patek Philippe
The second on our list of the most expensive watches ever sold at auction is the Patek Philippe 5016A which sold at the Philipps watch auction in Geneva in 2015 for over ten times its pre-auction estimate.
One of the most sought-after pieces from Patek Philippe’s Grand Complications Series, (a complication is any other function on a watch other than the display of the time) the auction gave bidders the rare chance to get their hands on a highly-coveted model that ceased production in 2011.
The watch features 506 parts, all painstakingly finished by hand, and is unique in that it combines three highly-prized features: a tourbillon (an exposed mechanism that offers higher accuracy), a minute repeater, and a perpetual calendar with a moon-phase display.
[See also: Vacheron Constantin Opens Flagship Boutique in New York]
Patek Philippe Gobbi Milan ‘Heures Universelles’ 2523 — $8.97m
The Patek Philippe Gobbi Milan / ©Christie’s Images Limited 2019
Only seven Patek Philippe Gobbi Milan timepieces in pink-gold with blue enamel centers were created. This is why in November 2019, the watch smashed Asian auction records when it went under the hammer in Hong Kong.
Created in 1953 —long before the internet was even a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye — the watch can tell its wearer the time in 40 global locations from Samoa to Buenos Aries.
One of just two 2523s in pink gold with blue enamel centers known to have survived, this one was unique in that it is the only one known to be double-signed by both Patek Philippe and Gobbi (Patek Philippe’s prestigious Milan retailer.)
Patek Philippe Stainless Steel 1518 — $11.14m
This 1943 1518 model became the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction when it went under the hammer at the Phillips watch auction in 2016 / ©PHILLIPS
Historically significant, the 1518 model was manufactured by the Swiss watchmaker from the early 40s to 50s was the world’s first perpetual calendar chronograph.
This 1943 model became the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction when it went under the hammer at the Phillips watch auction in 2016 but has since been overtaken by others on our list.
In the past, it was the pink gold 1518 that was the most prized by collectors but the stainless steel version has now taken its place thanks to its rarity. Out of all 281 1518’s models produced, today only four stainless steel versions are known to have been completed and still exist.
Paul Newman’s ‘Exotic’ Rolex Daytona 6329 — $17.75m
Paul Newman’s ‘Exotic’ Rolex Daytona sold in New York in 2017 for a record-breaking $17.75m / ©PHILLIPS
The only one on our list of most expensive watches ever sold at auction to not bear the Patek Philippe name, Paul Newman’s ‘Exotic’ Rolex Daytona sold in New York in 2017 for a record-breaking $17.75m.
A lover of the Rolex’s iconic Daytona model (built for timing car races), a number of watches from Newman’s collection have broken records but this one from 1968 was particularly special. Given to Newman by his wife it is engraved on the back with the words ‘Drive Carefully Me’ following his 1965 accident. The actor was subsequently pictured wearing the watch regularly, including at high-profile races.
Not every Rolex 6329 possessed the exotic dial like Newman’s — now known as the ‘Paul Newman dial’. The dial was manufactured by Singer and came in multiple styles but collectors coined its new name after its most famous wearer in the 1980s.
Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication – $23.98m
Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication is the world’s most expensive pocket watch / ©Patek Philippe
Not only is Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication the only pocket watch to make our shortlist; it is thought to be the most complicated ever created.
Taking 8 years to complete, the timepiece is named after the American banker who commissioned it in 1925. The 18k gold pocket watch features 24 complications including Westminster chimes, a perpetual calendar accurate to the year 2100 and a celestial chart for the nighttime sky of New York City as seen from Graves’s Fifth Avenue apartment.
The piece, which sold in 2014 at Sotheby’s, is still the most expensive pocket watch ever sold at auction. Apparently last wound in 1969, it is thought to still be working today.
Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 6300A-010 — $31.19m
The most expensive watch ever sold at auction is the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 6300A-010 / ©Christie’s
The most expensive watch ever sold at auction is the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 6300A-010 selling for $31,19m at the Only Watch Auction in Geneva in 2019.
Created especially for the charity auction, this particular model is the first and only Grandmaster Chime in steel, a material rarely used by the watchmaker to create a Grand Complication.
Said to be the most complex Patek Philippe wristwatch ever made it features 20 complications, including a number of acoustic functions, two of which are patented premières: an alarm that strikes the preprogrammed alarm time and a date repeater that sounds the date on demand. Just to up the exclusivity stakes, the dial is also inscribed with the words ‘The Only One’.
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