9 Most Expensive Rolex Watches & Their Timeless Appeal

Think Rolex's reputation is overrated? The most expensive Rolex watches worth seven figures seem to prove otherwise.

Published June 14, 2024
Man looking on luxury watch Rolex on his hand.

Name a more infamous watch brand than Rolex. We’ll wait. While you’re mulling it over, we’ve got just the thing to keep you entertained — a list of the most expensive Rolex watches ever sold. And if you thought Rolex was an expensive brand, just wait until you discover what the one percent of the one percent like to snap on their wrists.

9 Most Expensive Rolex Watches Worth More Than Your Retirement

In the court of popular opinion, Rolex is the quintessential watch brand. Having a Rolex on your wrist signifies wealth and prestige just as much today as it did decades ago.

While the brand isn’t known for being affordable per se, the most expensive Rolex watches ever sold prove that there are Rolexes, and then there are Rolexes.

Most Expensive Rolex Watches Ever Sold Record Sales Prices
Paul Newman Daytona $17.8 million
"Unicorn" White Gold Daytona $5.9 million
Screen-Worn GMT  Master $5.12 million
"Bao Dai" ref. 6062 $5.06 million
"Lemon" Paul Newman Daytona $3.8 million
18K Pink Gold Stelline $2.48 million
Deep Sea Special No. 1 $2.1 million
1985 18K Gold & Diamond Daytona $1.8 million
John Player Special Daytona $1.5 million

Paul Newman Daytona: $17.8 million

Miami, FL, USA March 25, 2023 Rolex Daytona Paul Newman Ref 6241 1968 showing the dial

In 2017, a 1963 Rolex broke auction records when it sold for $17.8 million. An Oyster Cosmograph Daytona with a few unique specs wouldn’t naturally rise to the double-digit millions, but the previous owner made the race watch quite a covetable collectible.

Famed stage and screen actress Joanne Woodward gifted her husband, award-winning actor Paul Newman, this watch. Engraved with the words “Drive Carefully, Me,” the watch stands as a testament to their tenderness for one another.

Need to Know

Rolex Daytona quickly gained the nickname “Paul Newman Daytonas” after he adopted the model as his signature.

Unicorn White Gold Daytona: $5.9 million

The runner-up to the most expensive Rolex watch may have gone for substantially less than the top spot, but $5.9 million isn’t something to snub your nose at. This rare ‘unicorn’ shocked auctiongoers when Phillips brought it out to the floor.

While the white gold watch’s origin story may be murky, it doesn’t detract from the once-in-a-lifetime find. But what makes it a unicorn? It paired the more fashion-oriented white gold styles with the strictly stainless steel and yellow gold Daytona model to create a one-of-a-kind commission.

Related: 5 Most Valuable Vintage & Antique Watches

Screen-Worn Apocalypse Now GMT-Master: $5.12 million

Screen-worn memorabilia is always some of the most valuable stuff to hit the auction block. What can we say? People love the movies. And if you know anything about Francis Ford Coppola’s fraught production of Apocalypse Now, then you know how desperate collectors were to own a piece of the action.

In 2023, Marlon Brando’s screen-worn GMT-Master from 1972 came to a Christie’s auction and went for $5.12 million. With the back of the case hand-engraved by Brando himself, the watch performed just as well as you’d expect.

Related: Waltham Watch Values: What Makes These American Classics Tick

Reference 6062 “Bao Dai”: $5.06 million

Fourth up on our list is the “Bao Dai” Rolex that once held the title of the most expensive Rolex ever sold. Previously owned and nicknamed by the last Vietnamese emperor, this 18K yellow gold wristwatch is one of three, making it a particularly collectible model.

With diamonds on the even numbers instead of the odds, this departure from the other two just ups the watch’s value. Naturally, the competition was fierce, but one collector nabbed it for just over $5 million in 2017.

"Lemon" Paul Newman Daytona: $3.8 million

If you thought you’d seen the last of Paul Newman Daytonas, you were wrong. One highly rare — with maybe only 350 models ever produced — gold dial Daytona peaks at number five on our list.

According to Rolex Magazine, there are only 11 known examples of this “Lemon” 6264 model, making it extremely collectible. From the gold case to the unique ‘lemon’ dial, this watch was never going to perform poorly at auction. In 2022, it proved to be as collectible as anticipated when the bids rose to $3.8 million.

18K Pink Gold Stelline: $2.48 million

One of the least flashy Rolexes on our list is a 1950s 18K rose gold Stelline watch. Unlike other watches on our list that have boasted tachymeters and powerful movements, this one is special for its unique astronomical calendar and delightfully quaint stars and moon hour markers.

It’s a distinct departure from the more broadly masculine styles Rolex is known for today and hints at the curious inspirations the company drew from in the mid-century. This Stelline 6062 came to auction in 2023 and sold for $2.48 million.

1953 Deep Sea Special No. 1: $2.1 million

When you think of dive watches, Omega comes to mind. But Rolex has dipped its toes into the ocean’s depths before. What Rolex’s Deep Sea Special lacks in style, it makes up for in innovation. The company started tinkering with ways to create watches that could handle the extreme pressure of high depths.

Their first-ever prototype, the Deep Sea Special No. 1, was realized in 1953, making it a landmark watch in the dive community. In 2021, Christie’s brought it to auction, and it went for $2.1 million.

1985 18K Gold & Diamond Daytona: $1.8 million

This next Rolex on our list is the most “rolexy” of them all, decked out in 18K gold, diamonds, and sapphires. It’s flashy and glamorous and not at all interested in being hidden beneath shirt cuffs. But could you expect anything less from a watch that was made in 1985?

This watch was designed for the French market and is one of two bearing France’s importation marks. The 80s wristwatch is worth a ton on its gold and fine gem weight alone, so of course, it sold for just over seven figures in 2022.

John Player Special Daytona: $1.5 million

The third and last Paul Newman Daytona on our list is the hard-to-find John Player Special. While it has the standard three sub-dials and tachymeter, its 14K gold and black colorway is what really makes it stand out.

Thanks to its Art Deco color palette in a strictly warm-tone era, it has a timeless appeal that no doubt contributed to its high hammer price. In fact, it went for $1.5 million in a recent Sotheby’s auction.

3 Quick Ways to Identify a Rolex Watch

Rolex is one of those brands with such a high-dollar reputation that you want to be able to clock it from far away. Never pass up on a steal in an online auction lot or in an estate sale’s boxes with these easy identification tips.

  • Look for the Rolex crown. On most Rolex watches, you’ll find the five-pointed crown on the dial.
  • Check for the serial number placement. Rolex wouldn’t dare sully their cases with obviously visible serial numbers. Instead, you’ll find their serial numbers hidden behind the straps, engraved between the lugs on the case.
  • Check for the reference number. Rolex watches are commonly identified by a multi-digit reference number, which you can find between the lugs on the 12’ position of the case.

Rolex’s Reputation Is Justified

Rolex has garnered quite a pop culture reputation, and at first glance, it may seem exaggerated until you realize just how pricey rare Rolexes are. While the closest we’re getting to these expensive Rolexes is behind a glass case, you might be luckier.

9 Most Expensive Rolex Watches & Their Timeless Appeal