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Rolex is one of the most highly respected watch manufacturers globally, and their timepieces are coveted by watch enthusiasts and style icons of all ages and backgrounds. Models such as the Daytona, Submariner, and GMT Master are admired for their exquisite craftsmanship, the quality of the materials used, incredible accuracy, and undeniable beauty. Simply put, Rolex produces some of the most popular watches ever made. While there is a wide range of price tags on Rolex watches in the new and secondhand markets, both men’s and women’s Rolex watches are highly sought after and fetch some of the highest prices in auctions around the world. These are the threemost expensive Rolexwatches ever sold.
1. Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona: Sold at $17.8 Million
In October 2017, Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona was sold at Phillip’s New York City headquarters for a record-breaking $17.8 million, including fees, making it the most expensive watch of any brand ever sold. This jaw-dropping sale beat the previous record of $11 million for a 1943 Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph.
This particular Rolex Daytona had an unusual art deco style dial that was made famous by Newman in the 1980s, as he was frequently spotted wearing it. Although there are approximately two to three thousand of these models around the world today, the actor’s watch, which was given to him by his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, is a coveted piece of American watch and film history.
The watch was sold by an ex-boyfriend of Newman’s daughter, Nell Newman, who was given the watch by the movie star over 30 years prior. A large portion of the money made from the sale was donated to the New Newman Foundation, a charitable organization. The auction itself was notable, as the first bid was for a whopping $10 million because it was a sought-after timepiece.
2. The 1971 Rolex Daytona Reference 626 Unicorn: Sold at $5.9 Million
The second most expensive Rolex to ever be sold was also a Daytona, one of the most popular styles of Rolex watches for men and women. This model earned its price tag due to its rarity, leading to the nickname “The Unicorn.” As the only manually wound vintage 18-karat white gold Rolex Cosmograph Daytona to be manufactured, the stunning watch, with the reference number 6265, sold for almost twice its estimate at $5.9 million.
The Unicorn was sold by preeminent watch collector John Goldberger at the Phillips auction in Geneva. Goldberger donated 100% of the profits from the sale to charity. This rare and beautiful piece exists because it was a special request piece ordered by a German retailer. Rolex produced the watch in 1970 and sold it in 1971, but it was not until about ten years before it was sold at the Phillips auction in 2018 that the watch’s existence was widely known.
3. The Rolex Bao Dai: Sold at $5.1 Million
The third most expensive Rolex watch anyone has sold is the unique Rolex Bao Dai, inspired by the Rolex reference 6062. This Holy Grail timepiece was originally sold in 1954 to the 13th and final Nguyen Dynasty emperor of Vietnam. This emperor was Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy, who bore the title Bao Dai, meaning Keeper of Greatness.
Interestingly, the Nguyen family sold the Rolex Bao Dai in 2002 for $235,000. While this seems low compared with the $5.1 million it reached at auction in Geneva 15 years later, it was the most a Rolex had ever sold for at the time. This striking 18-karat yellow gold has a triple calendar with moon phase indication and is one of only three in existence with a black dial. What makes it unique, however, is the diamond placed at the even hour markers. The diamond at the twelve o’clock position is particularly unusual. For it to fit, Rolex had to alter their design, moving down the emblematic crown logo and other wording.
What Can You Learn from These Pieces?
Considering Rolex’s international reputation as a premium manufacturer of luxury timepieces, it is no surprise that their most unique pieces fetch some of the highest prices at auction. While you might not be in a position to invest in one of these Holy Grail pieces, you can look to these examples to understand what makes a watch valuable. A watch cannot be divorced from its context and, sometimes, such as the case with the Paul Newman Daytona, the story behind the timepiece is as valuable as the watch itself. Uniqueness and rarity are crucial to value, so special edition pieces always have a higher price tag.
If you’re ready to add a Rolex to your luxury watch collection, check out our full selection of men’s and women’s Rolexes at Luxury of Watches. We have both new and secondhand options, so there’s something for every budget and style.