The most expensive Rolex watch ever sold was the Rolex Daytona owned by Paul Newman, sold at auction for $18 million. It held the record for the most expensive watch ever sold at auction for only two years until it was outdone by the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime in a steel case and a salmon dial in a piece unique. The importance of Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona cannot be understated and I discuss it in detail below.
But rather than just giving you the most expensive Rolex watches ever sold at auction (the majority of them being Rolex Daytonas), I wanted to give you a category breakdown of the most expensive Rolex watches ever sold based on the different model lines to ultimately add a little bit of variety and introduce you maybe to some references that you’ve never seen before.
Most Expensive Rolex GMT: Marlon Brando’s GMT-Master II
The most expensive Rolex GMT ever sold was the reference 1675 GMT-Master II worn by Marlon Brando in the movie Apocalypse Now back in 1971. This Rolex ended up selling at auction for $1.95 million all in. It was really a breathtaking number, and ultimately broke the record for the single most expensive GMT ever sold at auction. It makes sense because of the provenance of that watch, owned by actor Marlon Brando with his first initial and last name actually hand-engraved on the case back itself.
Although this was the most expensive Rolex GMT ever sold at auction, I think that if a different variation of a Rolex GMT turned up at auction, it would probably break records, and this one specifically.
GMT-Master II reference 6542
The likliest Rolex GMT to break the record for most expensive Rolex ever sold is the Rolex GMT-Master II reference 6542 in a particular variation known as the albino dial. This was the original reference 6542 with a Bakelite Bezel, but it featured an extremely rare white dial. Although there are varying opinions of how many are out there, I’ve read anywhere from three to five examples of this watch are known to be in existence and circulating among the general public.
So if a watch like this (especially given how limited a quantity it ultimately is) were to turn up again at auction, I feel that it would definitely break therecord just because of the original provenance, it being the original GMT-Master reference and second of all, it being arguably one of the rarest Rolex watches ever made.
Now, one thing that I love about this watch is just its overall aesthetic, it has a white dial in contrast with that GMT-Master II Pepsi-style bezel. I absolutely love the design and I think that the modern iteration of it, namely the Rolex GMT-Master II Meteorite Pepsi, is the one that I feel kind of is the modern adaptation of it, although it is produced in much greater quantities overall.
Although I believe the albino dial 6542 would be the most expensive Rolex GMT-Master II ever to be sold at auction, if it did end up turning up, I think that the Rolex GMT by Marlon Brando still is a great placeholder, given the history and given, of course, the story behind that watch. At the end of the day, $1.95 million is not too shabby a result.
Most Expensive Rolex Sky-Dweller: Reference 326959RBR
The next most expensive Rolex on our list is an extremely rare watch and the most complicated that Rolex makes. It is the Rolex Sky-Dweller in the reference 326959RBR. It is a full pave set gem set watch with a meteorite dial. It’s a Rolex I’ve never even seen myself in person (probably because it’s so expensive) and I’ve only seen it come up once online in a dealer chat for $1.5 million.
That is definitely a hefty price tag, but it is warranted, given its lack of availability. It’s also been popularized as it was featured on the wrist of the one and only Drake. For that reason alone, it has become extremely collectible but is definitely a sought-after model just due to the rarity of this watch overall. You can get it on an oyster flex bracelet, but the rare example and the one that I saw for $1.5 million, had a full gem set bracelet as well.
Now this is all done factory by Rolex, and in terms of production, I really would be hard pressed to know exactly how many they make. I would be shocked if it was more than two to three per year.
Although that $1.5 million price is very expensive, it is warranted given the fact that Rolex only produces maybe a handful of these per year .They also don’t trade hands all that often, so that price very well may be a lot more in today’s market. One of the rarest of the rare modern current production Rolexes, and one that you have to appreciate simply due to the rarity and just the cool factor of this watch. It is a very good-looking watch, you cannot deny it, whether you’re a gem set fan or not.
Most Expensive Rolex Submariner: Reference 6538
Next is arguably Rolex’s most popular watch on the market. It is the Rolex Submariner and one of the most iconic watches of all time. The most expensive Rolex submariner ever sold at auction was a reference 6538 which sold for just over $1 million dollars.
There are a number of reasons why this particular version is extremely collectible, namely because it is a Submariner with what is known as an explorer dial. It has those three, six, and nine indices in a reference that is extremely limited in terms of quantity. In terms of dial variation, this is one that you will almost never see again. If it were to turn up at auction again, it would go for a lot more than it sold for.
It’s important to put in context that this number was achieved back in 2018. And although we had already witnessed the Paul Newman Daytona auction for about $18 million, which I’ll speak about in a little bit, it was a time previous to when auction prices and auction results in general exploded.
When you take into consideration the fact that these auction houses cater to people who are buying art pieces, for example, in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, it’s very easy for them to essentially push those clients into buying something like a watch, which is an alternative asset for a fraction of the price that they would typically pay if they were buying a piece of art.
If this watch were to resurface and would go to auction again, I would safely assume it probably would fetch upwards of $2 million at this point, just because of the rarity of this example, it being a unique watch and being a part of only a handful of watches that feature this specific dial in this specific reference.
Rolex reference 6062
The Rolex reference 6062 is one of the most rare and collectable Rolex models ever made because simply they didn’t make many of them. It’s one of the few Rolex watches that features a calendar complication.
The most expensive variation of this Rolex sold at auction was the one owned by Vietnam’s emperor by the name of Bao Dai, which reached just over $5 million. Now, the $5 million result is a shocking one considering the fact that the original family sold the watch back in 2002 for $235,000, which to be fair at the time, was a hefty price tag also. But it’s definitely a mistake in retrospect.
Now this Rolex watch reached such an expensive price because it is an extremely rare reference in a design that was only done one time in yellow gold with a black dial and diamond set hour indices. So it is, therefore, a piece unique from Rolex. About as rare as you can get, literally, because it is one of the rarest models Rolex has ever made historically in a variation that was only done once before.
Ultimately, it makes sense why it achieved that $5 million price tag, and there’s no doubt that if it were to go at auction again, it definitely would fetch a lot more.
Most Expensive Rolex Day-Date: Rainbow Khanjar
The second to last watch is Rolex’s flagship model, the Rolex Day-Date. The most expensive one ever sold at auction was a Rainbow Khanjar Day-Date that is extremely rare and definitely sought after, given the fact that it is one of the original Rainbow reference Day-Dates and really the first of its kind in terms of this reference.
The watch itself is a reference 18059 that features a pave set dial, pave set center links on the presidential bracelet, and a rainbow-colored sapphire bezel, which is one of the first of its kind ever made, especially given when this watch was produced. The result itself was a staggering $1.3 million at auction, the most expensive Day-Date ever sold, which makes sense given the fact that this is one of the original Rainbow watches ever produced by Rolex and just the rarity of a watch like this.
You simply will not find another one for a very, very long time, be it at auction or be it on the open market. Now, this is an important note for this watch and all the other watches that I mentioned earlier, you simply will not find another like it or in the condition that it was originally in or in the variation that it was ultimately made in. All of these factors are extremely important to Rolex collectors specifically, those who really look at those small idiosyncrasies and differences between different references and different watches to ultimately obtain what the value is of the watch itself.
Most Expensive Rolex Ever Sold: Daytona Paul Newman
Last but not least is a watch that really needs no introduction, the most expensive Rolex ever sold. Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona sold at auction for an incredibly expensive $18 million in 2017. Paul Newman himself actually had a second Daytona that came up at auction that sold for just under $5.5 millionas well.
I like to use it as a reference point for when the Rolex market and the watch market, in general, started to explode in popularity and in price. Never had we seen a watch achieve such an important and historic figure, especially at auction, which ultimately brought upon, in my opinion, a new market and a new watch collector, which started to really buy into watches as an alternative investment or watches as an asset.
So what makes this watch special and why did it sell for $18 million? Well, it’s a combination of factors. This is a 6263 in an exotic, what’s known as a Paul Newman dial nowadays, simply because of that auction result. The fact that it was also owned by Paul Newman himself is just a dead indicator of its value. Now, there’s a lot of speculation in terms of who ultimately bought this watch for this price tag. I’ve even heard rumors that potentially it was Rolex themselves who ran up the bid on this watch and ended up buying it for the price tag of $18 million.
Of course, it’s something that we’ll never know, but it’s always fun to speculate about.
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