There’s no doubt about it, Rolex reigns supreme in the world of highly sophisticated luxury wristwatches. The Swiss watchmaker has perfected the art of crafting timepieces of exceptional beauty and unrivaled quality, built to endure a lifetime of wear. In addition to designing top-of-the-line timepieces, Rolex boasts a long and fabled history, and a lengthy list of celebrity clients who became brand loyalists. It’s no wonder Rolex watches tend to come with an eye-popping price tag. Purchasing a Rolex from a retailer is one thing, but the priciest Rolex watches tend to be found at auction. This is where devoted collectors gather to try their luck at acquiring the rarest, most phenomenal Rolex watches ever created. Without further ado, these are the 10 most expensive Rolex watches ever sold.
10. Steve McQueen’s 1967 Rolex Submariner
During the 1960s and 70s, Steve McQueen was one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors, nicknamed the “King of Cool” for his effortless style and sophistication. Whether impressing audiences on the silver screen or posing for fashion’s most famed editorials, McQueen embodied a signature style all his own. The watch of choice for Hollywood’s leading man? Rolex, of course! A vintage 1967 Rolex Submariner to be exact. The Reference 5512 was first produced in 1959, and was very similar to contemporary versions of the Submariner. The most obvious difference was the absence of a date indicator. This watch doesn’t boast any intricate bells or whistles, so its value was based entirely on its famous owner. Selling for a cool $234,000 in 2009, Steve McQueen’s Submariner was the first of many Rolex watches to command an extravagant price at auction.
9. Rolex Platinum Diamond Pearlmaster
Released as a limited edition model in 2011, the Rolex Platinum Diamond Pearlmaster is a glittering emblem of quality and craftsmanship. The watch’s dial is made of meteorite diamond, and boasts a bezel fitted with 42 breathtaking baguette diamonds. Pair this with platinum and you’ve got yourself a fairly pricey timepiece. Upon its unveiling, the Platinum Diamond Pearlmaster cost $277,850, and has proven to retain much of its value thanks to its premium materials.
8. 1972 James Bond Rolex Submariner
Everyone’s favorite super spy has sported several luxury watches, from Rolex to Omega and everything in between. But, few Bond watches are as famous as the Rolex Submariner Reference 5513, worn by Roger Moore in Live and Let Die in 1973. Moore’s exact model sold at auction in 2015 for an astonishing $365,000, solidifying its status as an iconic timepiece. The watch was heavily modified specifically for the film, equipped with a circular saw bezel, and a “magnetic field” generator that could unzip women’s dresses. Thanks to many modifications, the watch could no longer tell time. But that didn’t stop it from selling for a staggering price. Besides starring in a blockbuster Hollywood film, this Submariner is signed by Sir Roger Moore himself, a fact that undoubtedly added to its value.
7. Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s Gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual
What makes the Rolex brand so special is its universality. Their products are revered by the most affluent among us, from CEO’s to celebrities, and even world leaders. One such individual, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, was a scholar, educator, and lawyer, and was elected as India’s first president in 1950. As an inauguration gift, Prasad received a remarkable Rolex watch, one of only two timepieces commissioned by the brand. This Gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual includes personalized hallmarks, including a map of India on the dial, and a notation of India’s first constitutional day, January 26, 1950. While Sotheby’s estimated the watch’s value at $444,000, it never actually sold for that price. It was set to be auctioned when the Indian government intervened, claiming the watch had been stolen from Prasad’s family. An investigation ensued, and Sotheby’s was forced to postpone the sale.
6. Rolex GMT Master II Ice
As if the Platinum Diamond Pearlmaster weren’t dazzling enough, Rolex truly outdid itself with the GMT Master II Ice. Upon its unveiling, the watch retailed for an astounding $485,350, making it one of the brand’s priciest offerings. Every inch of this eye-catching watch is covered in gorgeous, glittering diamonds, including the bracelet and dial. Living up to their legacy, Rolex only produces timepieces of the utmost quality and beauty, and the GMT Master II Ice is just one gleaming example of their superb standards.
5. Eric Clapton’s Rolex “Oyster Albino” Cosmograph Daytona
When it comes to collectible Rolex watches, few are as elusive as Eric Clapton’s Rolex “Oyster Albino” Cosmograph Daytona. The Reference 6263 is just one of four models ever produced, making this Rolex watch incredibly hard to come by. What makes this piece unique are the silver chronograph totalizers that match the watch’s silver colored dial, hence the “Albino” nickname. Typically, the Reference 6263 has black chronograph totalizers to create contrast, though this particular model was a rare exception. Thanks to its legendary owner, Eric Clapton’s watch sold for an astronomical figure not once, but twice. It was originally auctioned at Sotheby’s for $505,000 in 2003, and later sold again in 2015 for $1.4 million. Talk about a return on investment!
4. 1942 Rolex Antimagnetique
The most treasured Rolex timepieces are those that’re found in short supply! One of these finely crafted watches, the 1942 Rolex Antimagnetique, is a cult classic that any Rolex collector would be thrilled to get their hands on. This vintage collection was not available to the general public, and consisted of only 12 watches that were gifted to select racing teams and drivers. What distinguished the Rolex Antimagnetique was its 44mm dial, which was considerably larger than the average watch dials of the time. In fact, the Antimagnetique is still the largest watch ever produced by the Swiss brand. It’s also one of the most expensive, most recently selling at auction in 2016 for a cool $2,400,000.
3. Bao Dai Rolex
A Rolex that once belonged to royalty is sure to come with a sky-high price tag, which is exactly the case for the Bao Dai, reference 6062. Outfitted with a jet black dial and diamond indexes, the Bao Dai Rolex was genuinely one-of-a-kind. This treasured timepiece belonged to the last Emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, known for his extravagant taste and penchant for finer things. The watch features a yellow gold triple calendar and moon phase indicator that make it even more alluring to collectors. The watch first sold at auction in 2002 for $235,000, and again 15 years later for $5.1 million. It just goes to show how much a rare Rolex watch can truly be worth!
2. 1971 Rolex Daytona “Unicorn”
Unlike many of the other models on this list, the famed Rolex Daytona Reference 6265 is prized for its design and craftsmanship, rather than storied ownership. Known as the “Unicorn” Daytona, this mythical timepiece is the only one of its kind to be crafted from 18k white gold instead of the traditional stainless steel or yellow gold. Another unique feature of this watch is its metal bezel which is higher in quality than the original acrylic material used for most Daytona’s. Thanks to its peculiar design, the Rolex “Unicorn” sold at auction for $5.9 million in 2018, making it the second most expensive Rolex watch ever sold. The watch was listed by famed collector, John Goldberger, who donated the proceeds from the sale to charity.
1. 1968 Paul Newman Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
It may come as a surprise that the most expensive Rolex ever sold is not particularly rare, nor does it have any distinguishing design elements or complications. Rather, what gives this Rolex watch its iconic status is its legendary former owner. Paul Newman was a famous actor and race car driver whose name has become somewhat synonymous with the Daytona. When Newman first launched his professional racing career, his wife gifted him with a Rolex Daytona purchased from Tiffany & Co. in New York. She had the watch engraved with the message “Drive Carefully Me.” Newman wore the watch every day for many years before gifting it to his daughter’s then-boyfriend. The watch was only rumored to have existed before resurfacing at auction in 2017, where it sold for a jaw dropping $17.8 million. It’s out-of- this-world price tag makes the Paul Newman Daytona the most expensive Rolex watch ever sold.
Find Remarkable Rolex Watches in San Diego
Wondering where you can find vintage Rolex watches for unbeatable prices? Look no further than Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers, a trusted San Diego establishment for more than 40 years! We carry an impressive selection of pre-owned Rolex watches from the classic Cellini to the dashing Daytona. There’s a Rolex watch for every occasion, no matter your style. Stop in and visit the friendly folks at Leo Hamel’s today, and discover the Rolex watch you’ve always dreamed of wearing!
- All images courtesy of Beautiful Life