The 10 Most Valuable Timepieces Ever Created
Haute-horlogerie, or the esteemed craft of fine watchmaking, is the point at which the most meticulous expression of engineering meets the worlds of art, luxury and peerless elegance.
For centuries, the world’s most talented craftspeople and the greatest timepiece studios in the world have consistently pushed the envelope, taking opulence and precision to wondrous new heights. New complications and awe-inspiring new techniques have achieved the barely-imaginable within impossibly-thin components, crafted from precious metals and gemstones. The phases of the moon, perpetual calendars, and timekeeping perfected to a thousandth of a second have been mastered, encased in beautiful housings, and collected by those for whom second-best is never an option.
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In the world of luxury goods, where the astonishing and the extraordinary are de rigueur, haute-horlogerie remains a pinnacle of sophistication.
As is the case in any of the luxury industries, fine timepieces have a zenith entirely of their own. Purchased as treasured possessions, status symbols and investment pieces, certain watches from a small number of workshops have risen to become far more than the sum of their parts; an elite scene within an elite scene, capable of fetching eye-watering prices at auction.
The world’s most expensive timepieces consist of a curious blend of items, their value arising from an array of explanations. Some, as one might expect, are imbued with historical significance – once gracing the list of Hollywood royalty and literal royalty alike. Others represent a pioneering breakthrough in the watchmaker’s artistry, presenting world-first and record-breaking complications. Others still justify their price tags from the materials used, gilded in the most precious metals and encrusted with a king’s ransom in diamonds.
Haute-horlogerie is a scene in which the limits of possibility are almost completely ephemeral, and present a testament to human endeavour in ways unrivalled by other creations within the luxury industries. In this article, we’re going to be peering into the truly fascinating and glimmeringly opulent world of the most expensive timepieces, and gazing in wonder at just what it is that makes them record-breakers like no other.
10. Vacheron Constantin 57260 – $8 Million
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For those in the know, there’s simply no Swiss timepiece brand quite like Vacheron Constantin. The last word in sleek and precision-led luxury, this maison of horlogerie has been astonishing collectors for centuries, bringing perhaps the most quintessentially Swiss vision of luxury to the world of fine watchmaking.
Ever the pioneers, the 57260 release embodies its astonishing price tag for good reason: it is the most complicated timepiece in existence on Earth today. That’s some feat in an industry where complications continue to become ever-more impressive, year on year, and even more astonishing when one sees that this record-breaking watch not only features an eye-opening list of features whilst still looking incredibly beautiful and peerlessly stylish.
Hand-crafted by three masterful artisans over the course of eight years, the 57260 boasts 57 complications across 2,826 individual components. An array of calendars, including a zodiac calendar and a beautiful moonphase, and unique features such as a double backward split-second chronograph make this timepiece a truly legendary creation.
9. Patek Philippe 1518 Stainless Steel – $11 Million
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It’s no great surprise to see Patek Philippe on this list – the Genevan watchmaking house has been astounding collectors and enthusiasts since the early 19th century, and has been responsible for many of the great leaps forward in haute-horlogerie across the past two hundred years.
The 1518 Stainless Steel chronograph, sold for $11 million in 2016 at a Swiss timepiece auction, is an unusual addition on this countdown of the world’s most valuable watches. Not least because it’s made from stainless steel – a relatively humble material, especially among the Patek Philippe range which usually utilises rose and yellow gold. However, it’s the uniquity of this watch that justifies its value; it’s the only perpetual Patek Philippe calendar chronograph crafted from stainless steel, and was part of an extremely limited 1943 run.
For completists and collectors, it’s considered one of the Holy Grail watches of the world, which goes some way towards explaining its astronomical price.
8. Paul Newman Rolex Daytona – $17.6 Million
Celebrity status and the Rolex house of fine watches go hand in hand – few other timepiece brands have a cult and household name status like Rolex’s… and its Hollywood A-lister clientele have often helped drive sales figures into the millions over the years.
The Paul Newman Rolex Daytona is perhaps the most iconic example of this kind of celebrity association. Hollywood royal and star of some of the most loved movies of the 60s and 70s, Paul Newman was a diehard Rolex aficionado, and the infamous Daytona model was gifted from his wife as a gesture of love and reflection of his enthusiasm for motorsports. Featuring a distinctive black and cream dial, the actual model Newman wore was originally a custom-made piece, but it spawned a line of timepieces in honour of the original after he wore it on the Daytona track while pursuing stardom behind the wheel.
Rolex, motorsports and a Hollywood legend combined? Of course the Paul Newman Daytona is on this list, and commanding a truly incredible price.
7. Jacob & Co. Billionaire – $18 Million
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When it comes to some of the most glamorous timepieces on this countdown, their value is almost immediately self-explanatory. That’s certainly the case with this item from Jacob & Co, which utilises a stunning full skeleton face to embody a daring watch which sparkles almost unlike any other.
To ensure the creation of a luxury timepiece worthy of its $18 million price tag, Jacob & Co encrusted the watch with 260 carats of flawless emerald-cut diamonds. The result is a sparkling gem – a peerless item which matches decorative panache with bold innovation – that never fails to captivate the imagination.
6. Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication – $24 Million
Yet another release from Patek Philippe, and one which rockets us into the $20 million plus bracket, this timepiece takes its name after the American banker Henry Graves Junior. Graves himself commissioned the watch to a number of exacting standards and demands, and the Swiss studio delivered in signature meticulous style.
The Henry Graves Supercomplication combines an 18-carat gold bezel and bracelet with twenty-four complications, formed from a stunning 920 interconnected components. It represented a number of challenges for the watchmakers of Patek Philippe, but their efforts resulted in a timepiece which was the first of its kind for the brand. A first-minute repeating complication came with major sonnets, a fixed clock, beautiful moon phase detail, split-second chronographs, astrological charts, chiming alarms and more.
A rather romantic detail: the star chart featured on the watch’s face features the view of the night sky from Graves’ home in New York, showcasing the spectacular attention to detail that typifies this whole creation.
5. Jaeger-LeCoultre Joaillerie 101 Manchette – $26 Million
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Valued at $26 million, the Joaillerie 101 Manchette from Jaeger-LeCoultre is a timepiece fit for royalty – literally so, as it was specifically commissioned by the French president as a gift to the late Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate her ongoing reign.
Gifted in 1952, the timepiece features no fewer than 576 brilliant diamonds and a vibrant sapphire dial, the combination of which reflects and references Elizabeth II’s crown jewels. Within the mechanism, you’ll discover the critically-renowned Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 101 movement – regarded for decades as among the finest anywhere, and until 2010 held the title as the tiniest movement in the world – and the winding crown adds further sophistication to this shimmering gem of a watch.
4. Breguet Grande Complication Marie-Antoinette – $30 Million
All of the timepieces on this list are, by their very nature, of historical significance. However, this particular watch takes the historical aspect of haute-horlogerie to new heights of wonder, and has an almost mythic quality lauded by watch-lovers worldwide.
A gold pocket watch of inestimable beauty, the Breguet Grande Complication was supposedly commissioned by Queen Marie Antoinette herself in 1782. No stranger to the headiest heights of luxury, the queen of France never lived to see the completion of the timepiece – which received its final finishing flourish in 1827, following 45 years of meticulous craftsmanship and the sourcing of eye-wateringly precious materials – as she had a historic date with the guillotine, kicking off the start of the French Revolution.
3. Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime ref. 6300 – $31 Million
As we’ve seen, Patek Philippe has forged a powerful and lasting reputation for the very utmost in excellence in watchmaking. The Grandmaster Chime ref. 6300 gilds and cements that reputation further than ever, presenting complications which go above and beyond even the loftiest heights previously attained by the Swiss brand.
With twenty meticulously-crafted complexities, a fully-detachable case and twin dials lasting ten thousand hours and tuned to the most exact timekeeping, this timepiece is as beautiful as it is wondrously engineered. With a pristine minute hand, time struck alert, instantaneous perpetual calendar, date repeater and four-digit annual display being just the beginning, it’s perhaps no surprise that there are 1,366 individual components in this watch, each working harmoniously to produce a creation that’s more than the sum of its parts.
While the $31 million price tag may put this timepiece out of reach to all but the uppermost elites of the world, there’s no doubt that this complex watch features craftsmanship, attention to detail and artistry worth every dime.
2. Graff Diamonds The Fascination – $40 Million
The second-most expensive watch in the world looks like no other, and sits almost entirely in a league of its own. Crafted by Graff Diamonds – arguably the world’s most exclusive jeweller, catering for royalty and billionaires with its timeless opulence and astronomical levels of sophistication – it’s a splendid creation that pushes at the boundaries of what horology can be.
Until just a couple of years ago, The Fascination was the most expensive timepiece in the world. Looking at this dazzling innovation, it isn’t difficult to see why: it’s literally encrusted with 153 carats of flawless white diamonds, providing a shimmering mirage of elegance that harkens back to the golden age of Hollywood glamour. In the very centre of the timepiece sits a 38.13 carat pear-shaped diamond ring – a detachable detail that can be removed and worn, showcasing the innovative heart of this astonishing work of art.
1. Graff Diamonds The Hallucination – $55 Million
At the very top of this list of the world’s most expensive timepieces, we discover an item of haute-horlogerie which is so opulent, so decadent and so valuable, it outstrips the nearest competitor by a full $15 million in price… and that competitor comes from the very same jewellery maison, and the very same designers.
With a client list that includes European royalty, Hollywood legends such as Elizabeth Taylor and contemporary mega-rich tycoons ranging from Donald Trump to Oprah Winfrey and beyond, Graff Diamonds knows that luxury has no limits. That’s the spirit behind the creation of The Hallucination; a fittingly-titled watch that showcases 110 carats of the world’s most dazzling coloured diamonds, resulting in a $55 million confection quite unlike any other on Earth.
With pink, yellow, blue, orange and scarlet diamonds – each cut to perfection to put their brilliance on a pedestal – covering the dial, face, bezel and platinum bracelet of this watch, it’s an item that truly goes beyond the most imaginative heights of luxury. Little is known about the nature of the movements and workings within the watch, but frankly, the timepiece’s appeal is all in that incredible sparkle and the craftsmanship that went into the jewelwork. Laurence Graff, the maison’s current leading jeweller, claims The Hallucination to be a ‘celebration of miracles’, and it’s hard to disagree – it’s a truly impressive feat to bring together so many beautiful coloured diamonds into a single flawless design.
The World’s Most Decadent and Valuable Examples of Haute-Horlogerie
There you have it – the run-down of the ten most valuable timepieces of Earth, each a shimmering example of brilliance, historical significance, innovation and peerless engineering.
The very nature of the luxury watchmaking and timepiece investment industry, of course, means that it might not be long before this list alters quite radically. New designs, new complications, new uses of gemstones or new desires and whims within the ever-shifting horology marketplace mean that next year may see plenty of new inclusions. However, that’s the very essence of the world of luxury goods… and that’s a big part of what makes it such a fascinating world to explore.