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The Most Expensive Rolex Watches Ever Sold

Paul Altieri

As one of the most recognized luxury watch brands in the world, Rolex timepieces have become synonymous with prestige, quality craftsmanship, and iconic design. While stainless-steel Rolex sports models like the Submariner and Daytona are highly coveted by watch collectors today, the most valuable Rolex watches to ever sell at auction have typically been ultra rare vintage models in precious metals.

When one of these exclusive pieces comes up for sale, they can fetch dizzying, record-breaking hammer prices in the seven or even eight-figure range. The enormous sums reflect the prestige and legacy of Rolex designs as well as the extraordinarily high level of preservation, distinguished ownership histories, or limited supply that make certain vintage Rolex references so worthwhile to serious collectors.

The most expensive Rolex watches share the ability to transcend their functionality as timekeepers and stand in as global symbols of luxury, innovation, and status. The astronomical auction prices paid for the rarest Rolex references over the years offer insight into the brand’s enduring collectability and the passions of horological enthusiasts pursuing once-in-a-lifetime acquisitions.

pre-owned rolex watches

Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona ($17.8 million)

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When Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona resurfaced in 2016 after a three-decade absence, it’s fair to say the vintage watch world lost its collective mind. The scale as to just how much that mind had been lost was revealed when the hammer dropped after just 12 minutes of furious bidding at Phillips’ inaugural New York auction in October 2017. An anonymous voice on the end of a phone gained ownership of the most important timepiece to be made public in a generation, and at $17.8 million, this white whale of the horological world became the most expensive Rolex ever sold.

It obliterated the previous record for the most expensive Rolex ever sold, held for just six months by the bargain basement Bao Dai moon phase. Owned by the movie legend from 1972, when his wife Joanne Woodward presented it to him as a gift to commemorate the start of his professional racing career, with an inscription on the back reading “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME.”  Newman gave it away to his daughter Nell’s boyfriend James Cox in 1984. Why? The boy didn’t have a watch of his own.

Cox wore the horological Holy Grail in blissful ignorance as to its prominence for thirty years before it was spotted on his wrist by a clued-up collector.

By then, he was the treasurer of the Nell Newman Foundation, a charity set up by his former girlfriend to carry on her father’s extensive philanthropic legacy. The mammoth proceeds of the sale of the Daytona are going to help fund the organization.

To say the auction was highly anticipated would be an incredible understatement. A watch that was only rumored to still exist, the model that had launched the vintage market as we know it today and the most sought-after variant once owned by the man who gave it its nickname – perhaps we shouldn’t have been so shocked at the financial lengths someone was prepared to go to secure it.

Even so, $17.8 million is likely to be the price to beat for some time, perhaps until Paul Newman’s owner decides to sell it again. When that happens, or another Rolex’s break into the top six, you can be sure you’ll be able to read all about it here.

Rolex Daytona Reference  6265 “Unicorn”  ($5.9 million)

The Rolex Daytona Unicorn

The Rolex is a reference 6265 Rolex Oyster Cosmograph Daytona, and this particular timepiece is the only known example of the reference 6265 to have ever been manufactured in 18k white gold – making it a true ‘unicorn.’

The reference 6265 was first manufactured in 1970 and uses the same Oyster case and screw-down chronograph pushers as the reference 6263 – however the reference 6265 was fitted with a metal bezel rather than one made from acrylic. Vintage Rolex Daytona watches were traditionally manufactured in either stainless steel or 18k yellow gold, and while some 14k yellow gold examples were produced for the North American market, this white gold reference 6265 is truly unique, and is the only known example of its kind.

While the watch itself is absolutely gorgeous and truly about as rare and exclusive as Rolex timepieces get, the most important detail about this white gold, reference 6265 is that 100% of the proceeds from its sale went to the charity, Children Action. This incredibly rare watch was sold by Phillips at auction in May 2018 for $5.9 million USD, instantly becoming the second most expensive Rolex watch ever sold.

Rolex ‘Bao Dai’ ref 6062 ($5.1 million)

The Rolex ref. 6062 is an extraordinarily rare and valuable vintage Rolex chronograph named the “Bao Dai” after its most famous owner, the last Emperor of Vietnam. At the time the watch was made in the 1950s, the ref. 6062 represented the most complicated and luxurious watch Rolex offered.

The Bao Dai Rolex features a black gloss dial and diamond markers in a yellow gold case. The imperial lineage of the watch stems from its original owner Bao Dai, who purchased the watch in 1954 to wear during his rule. After his death, the watch remained unworn in a safe for over 30 years before surfacing at auction in 2002.

In 2017, the Rolex Bao Dai ref. 6062 resurfaced at the Phillips Geneva Watch Auction, where bidding soared to an unimaginable final price of $5.1 million. This result catapulted ‘Bao Dai’ to the title of the most expensive Rolex ever sold at auction at the time. The remarkable price reflects the watch’s extraordinary history, perfect condition, and distinguished style and quality that represents the highest order of luxury and collectability.

1969 Paul Newman Daytona Ref. 6263  ($3.7 Million)

rolex daytona 6263-6262

When a vintage Rolex is given the nickname ‘The Legend,’ you know it’s not going to be cheap. Then when you consider this watch is one of just three ever made, and that it’s an example of what battle-hardened collectors describe as their grail watch, you realize a standard size check probably won’t be big enough to fit all the zeros on.

The ref. 6263, with screw-down pushers and the same Cal. 727 movement as Eric Clapton’s Albino – which now looks like something of a bargain – is topped with an exquisite lemon grené dial with contrasting black sub-dials, complete with their Newman-esque Art Deco font.  In perfect condition and with an incredible rarity value, it’s easy to see why this legendary example achieved the price it did.

The ref. 6263, with screw-down pushers and the same Cal. 727 movement as Eric Clapton’s Albino (which now looks like something of a bargain), is topped with an exquisite lemon grené dial with contrasting black sub-dials, complete with their Newman-esque Art Deco font.

In perfect condition and with an incredible rarity value, it’s easy to see why this legendary example achieved the price it did – surely the most anyone will ever pay for a Rolex Daytona!

Antimagnetique Reference 4113 ($2.5 million)


This ref. 4113 Antimagnetique chronograph held the record for most expensive Rolex ever sold at auction not once, but twice. The most recent $2.4M hammer drop at a Phillips’ auction in 2016 more than doubled its former sum just three years previously – a testament to the runaway popularity of the brand’s vintage collection.

Measuring 44mm in diameter this is the largest watch Rolex ever made. Only 12 were ever produced, all in steel and never made available to the public. Instead, they were given as gifts to a handpicked selection of famous racing teams and their drivers. The Rolex brand’s close ties to the glamorous world of motorsports go back as far as the 30s, and several of these oversize gems have made their way to auction through the families of the original recipients. Now that just one of eight are thought to still exist, Rolex’s only split-seconds chronograph could well set more records tumbling in the future.

1969 Rolex Daytona Ref. 6263 ($2 Million)

Rolex Daytona Ref. 6263

Formerly a highlight of one of the world’s most important private collections, the reference 6263 shown here is one of only two such known Tropical “Oyster Sotto” – aged to perfection with some beautiful chocolate and creme patina. The unique and stunning dial was one of the most important Paul Newman Daytona Watches offered up at auction when it was listed in 2016. It has since been eclipsed in price throughout the years, but this was one of the most important Daytonas to go up at auction.

Marlon Brando’s Rolex GMT-Master ($1.952 Million)

Rolex GMT 1675

Legendary actor Marlon Brando’s Rolex GMT-Master watch from the iconic 1979 Vietnam War flick ‘Apocalypse Now’ sold for an epic $1.95 million at Phillips Game Changers watch auction in 2019. Once considered one of the great “missing” celebrity watches, collectors were beyond excited to see this watch hit the auction block after his daughter Petra decided to sell it after seeing the astronomical price Paul Newman’s watch got – we’ll get to that below.

“This watch is like a tank,” Petra recalls Brando telling her when he gave her the watch for her graduation. “You can do anything you want to it, and it will keep on going.” Petra ended up giving the watch to her husband as a wedding present but told the press they decided the watch was a piece of history that “belongs in the hands of a collector who will give it the prominence it deserves.” The family donated part of the massive proceeds to charity.

So, what makes this watch so unique? Well, of course, Marlon Brando wore it. But Brando’s GMT-Master 1675 also misses its distinctive “Pepsi” bezel and is hand engraved with “M. Brando” on the case back.

Eric Clapton’s Rolex Daytona ($1.4 Million)

Eric Clapton’s Rolex Daytona is one of the most famous and valuable vintage Rolex watches in the world. The watch, reference 6263, was manufactured in 1971 and earned the nickname the “Albino” Daytona due to its distinctive white dial and silver sub-dial layout.

The watch was once owned by Eric Clapton, who purchased it in the 1990s. At the time, stainless steel Daytona models were not considered particularly popular or valuable. However, Clapton was drawn to the clean and understated look of the ref. 6263 Albino.

The watch gains its intrigue not only from its previous association with Clapton but also from its remarkable condition. The Albino dial layout is extremely rare among vintage Daytona models, valued for its uniqueness. Additionally, the crisp case and unblemished white dial have aged phenomenally, making the watch a holy grail among collectors.

In 2015, the Albino Daytona sold at auction for an astonishing $1.4 million after being listed by its private owner. At that time, the result represented a new world record for Daytona at auction. The final price reflects the watch’s extraordinary state of preservation and provenance, having previously been owned by the legendary Eric Clapton. Still today, the “Clapton Albino” marks one of the most desirable and coveted vintage Rolex chronographs in the world. Its condition and history cement its status as a grail watch for serious collectors.

1973 James Bond Rolex 5513 ($450,000)

5513 james bond

Anything to do with James Bond tends to do well at auction, and this watch isn’t likely to be an exception. The stylish 1973 watch was given a typical Bond makeover, including removing the movement of the timepiece to install a razor disc with a small pinhole and magnetic field generator, both of which were used in iconic scenes in the film. The watch itself features a white-on-black dial, a stainless-steel strap and chassis, and classic British details.

Gold Rolex Oyster ($444,000)

This distinctive gold watch was given to India’s first president, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, on India’s first Republic Day in 1950. Dr. Prasad became well known for his subtle yet elegant style, so it’s no surprise that there was no shortage of bidders when his famous watch went under the hammer. The watch has a very unique dial, featuring a gold map of India, and the date ’26th January 1950′ engraved into it.

Ferrari Red Paul Newman Rolex Oyster Cosmograph Daytona ($267,203)

The Rolex Ferrari watch pairs the famously bold Rolex Daytona design with a bright red dial, and it certainly lives up to its name. This Ferrari Red Paul Newman Daytona was made by Rolex who manufactured this special edition watch to honor Newman’s role in the 1969 film, Winning. We think they owed him at least that — since no one would even give the Daytona watch a second glance until Paul Newman strapped one on.

Only 22 of these watches were ever made, and it’s estimated just 8 still exist today, making it extremely rare. So, besides the dial what does this watch boast? Inside you’ll find a tachometer movement of 200 beats an hour, a 30-minute counter, a 12-hour counter and a seconds counter, along with 17 jewel components. The bracelet has a sturdy Tritium coating, and the dial is covered in stylish sapphires. Just gorgeous.

Rolex’s Allure and Collectability

The astronomical prices paid for the rarest and most valuable Rolex timepieces ever to go under the hammer represent far more than simply financial investments. For the world’s most ardent watch collectors and enthusiasts, owning a piece of Rolex’s history and lineage holds an emotional and sentimental significance that transcends monetary value.

When one of these milestone Rolex references surfaces at auction, the record-shattering final bids reflect the depths of personal connection collectors feel to these apex timepieces. For the select few who acquire them, possessing Rolex’s most important historic watches solidifies their reputation as the most serious Rolex authorities while allowing them to cement a tangible legacy around landmark moments in the collecting community.

Meanwhile, the anxiety-inducing auction room bidding wars over these top-tier Rolex lots fuels the intrigue, passion, and fervor felt by watch lovers everywhere following the action. The extraordinary prices bring the public spotlight to horology’s most coveted makers and models. For Rolex, such auction moments have come to epitomize the crown’s unrivaled popularity and the mythic allure still felt over certain vintage references dating back over half a century ago. The sky-high hammer prices stand in testament to Rolex’s enduring collectability and ability to transfix watch enthusiasts generation after generation in a manner quite unlike any other watch brand.

Paul Altieri
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