As anyone who has gone down the rabbit hole of watch collecting knows (and if you’re reading this, that’s probably you) it can become an expensive hobby. While there are plenty of covetable watches to be found at every price point, there is a natural progression towards more complicated, rarer and (inevitably) more expensive pieces over time. Whether you’re shopping with a six-figure budget or just fantasizing about your dream collection, here are a few exceptional pieces for any collector’s bucket list.
Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman”
When this watch, once owned by Paul Newman, fetched a staggering $17.8 million USD at auction, it become the most expensive wrist watch ever sold. While the watch itself is fairly straightforward compared to some of the other more complicated watches fetching millions at auction, its celebrity provenance helped push its price into the stratosphere and launch a worldwide interest in vintage watch collecting.
Panerai L’astronomo PAM920
This Italian watchmaker’s big, functional dive watches are notoriously unique looking, but for anyone looking for something even more distinct, there’s nothing quite like the PAM920. This watch features Panerai’s most complicated movement, including a tourbillon and an “equation of time” complication (showing the difference between apparent solar time and mean solar time) packed into a giant 50mm titanium case. The PAM920 is available exclusively by special order and can be customized in precious metals on request.
From $180,000 USD
Chopard Alpine Eagle “Frozen”
This extremely rare edition of Chopard’s Alpine Eagle is said to be inspired by the glittering snow on the Swiss alps, an effect recreated by its case, bezel and bracelet crafted in 18 carat ethical white gold and set with 765 diamonds.
Patek Philippe Supercomplication Pocket Watch
When it sold in 2014 following an intense bidding war, this spectacular creation set the record for the highest price paid for any watch, ever. Commissioned in the 1920s by American businessman Henry Graves, it features 24 different complications and remained the most complicated watch ever made until the late 1980s.
Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260
This spectacular piece, commissioned by a private client, was so complicated to design and build that the process reportedly took a team of master watchmakers eight years. With a whopping 57 complications (including a Hebraic calendar and a rattrapante chronograph with double retrograde action), it is nothing less than an horological masterpiece. Take that, Henry Graves.
$5 million USD (estimated)
Richard Mille RM 56-02
This brand known for its boundary-pushing creations outdid themselves with the RM 56-02. The manual-winding tourbillon movement is an achievement on its own, but most of the wow factor here comes from the case, which is milled from a single block of sapphire in a process said to require more than 400 hours of machining.
$2 million USD
Grand Seiko SBGD205
This recent 10-piece limited-edition from Grand Seiko combines their famously accurate “Spring Drive” movement with a 950 platinum case and a dial set with 56 diamonds and sapphires. In classic Grand Seiko form, this watch takes inspiration from clear, cold winter mornings in the Shinshu region of Japan.
Hublot Classic Fusion High Jewellery
This year marked the 40th anniversary of Hublot’s first watch, whose porthole-inspired design and pioneering fusion of precious metal with rubber were ahead of their time. This descendent of that watch, decorated with 427 baguette-cut diamonds set in a white gold case and bezel, proves that nothing succeeds like excess.
Jacob & Co. Billionaire Ashoka
This one-of-one creation is, as its name suggests, designed to appeal to the collector for whom more is more. As such, it is festooned with 189 carats-worth of Ashoka diamonds – a proprietary cut with 62 facets per stone – and a finely finished skeletonized tourbillon movement.
$7 million USD
Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Tourbillon Openworked Only Watch Edition
The annual “Only Watch” auction raises money for muscular dystrophy research while giving the world’s watchmakers an excuse to see who can create the best one-off. Among 2020’s standouts were this special edition of the Code 11.59 featuring an openworked dial.