Most Expensive Rolex Watches Ever Sold

Rolex Cosmograph "Pre-Daytona" ref. 6240

Rolex has long held a position of unrivaled prestige in the world of horology. With a prestigious history spanning over a century, Rolex has consistently pushed the limits of innovation, design, and craftsmanship, solidifying its status as the ultimate symbol of luxury watches.

While its current editions are famous for their coveted status and lengthy waiting lists, it is not just the contemporary models that command staggering prices. Even vintage Rolex watches, with their timeless appeal and historical significance, have been known to fetch millions of dollars in auctions.

In this article, we delve into the captivating histories of some of the most expensive Rolex watches ever sold. Each watch possesses its own unique story, from the famous owners who once wore them, to the exceptional qualities that set them apart. These timepieces not only represent the pinnacle of horological excellence but also serve as a window into the worlds of renowned personalities and significant cultural moments.

6 Most Expensive Rolex Watches Ever Sold

1. Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona ref 6239
($17.8 million, 2017)

Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona ref 6239 is a legendary watch with a fascinating history. Produced in the 1960s, this reference gained iconic status due to its association with  famous actor, director, and race car driver, Paul Newman. A Paul Newman Daytona can only have the reference number 6239, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264, 6265 ­— Paul’s very own watch is a ref 6239 gifted by his wife, Joanne Woodward.

The special qualities of the Rolex Daytona ref 6239 lie in its design and dial. It features an “exotic dial” with contrasting sub-dials and Art Deco detailing. The artful combination of colors and unique font used for the numerals and sub-dials set it apart from other Daytona models of that era. Paul Newman was constantly seen wearing this style in the 1980s, which quickly led to it being nicknamed the “Paul Newman” Daytona in watch circles.

Newman’s wife, Joanne, purchased the watch for him around 1968 when he developed a keen interest in motorsports. At the back, it is inscribed with the words, “Drive Carefully Me”.

Newman was often seen wearing the watch during racing events, cementing its connection with his racing persona. The watch became a symbol of his passion for speed and racing, propelling it into the realm of legendary timepieces.

In 2017, Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona ref 6239 made headlines when it was sold at a Phillips auction for an astonishing $17.8 million, making it the most expensive Rolex ever sold at that time and to date. The high price was influenced by the watch’s historical significance, association with Paul Newman, and its rarity. The buyer of this iconic timepiece remains undisclosed.

The extraordinary sale of Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona ref 6239 showcased the enduring appeal and collector’s value of rare and iconic watches, solidifying its position as one of the most celebrated and valuable Rolex timepieces in history.

2. Rolex Daytona ref 6265 ‘Unicorn’
($5.9 million, 2018)

The Rolex Daytona ref 6265 ‘Unicorn’ is another remarkable watch with an intriguing history. Produced in the 1970s, what sets it apart is its white gold case, a departure from the more common stainless steel or yellow gold cases found in Daytona models. The use of white gold gives it an exclusive and luxurious appeal.

The ‘Unicorn’ happens to gain its nickname by being the only vintage white gold Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ever produced. Until the rare ref 6265, it was thought that Rolex only produced the manual winding Daytonas in stainless steel and yellow gold cases. This particular watch is rumored to be a special order for an exclusive German client.

In 2018, the Rolex Daytona ref 6265 ‘Unicorn’ was sold at auction for an impressive price of $5.9 million. The high price achieved at the auction was driven by its rarity, unique design, and the demand from passionate collectors seeking to acquire one of the rarest and most desirable Daytona models ever produced. All the proceeds from the auction benefited Children Action, a foundation that helps the lives of youths all over the world.

3. Rolex ‘Bao Dai’ ref 6062
($5.1 million, 2017)

The third most expensive Rolex watch ever sold is the Rolex ‘Bao Dai’ ref 6062, produced in the early 1950s. It features a triple calendar with moon phase display, making it one of Rolex’s most intricate and sophisticated watches ever created.

The yellow gold timepiece with a black dial is one of three models known to exist. All of these models have diamond hour markers, but the ‘Bao Dai’ is the only model to feature the diamond markers at the even hours.

The watch derives its name from its original owner, His Majesty Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy, who was the final Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty of Vietnam. He rose to the throne at the young age of 12 and was given the title Bao Dai meaning Keeper of Greatness.

Bao Dai was known for his opulent lifestyle and love for luxurious possessions, including high-end watches. As the story goes, the emperor was at a meeting of world leaders in Switzerland, when he went out for a stroll and walked into Chronomètrie Philippe Beguin, a famous Rolex retailer. The emperor asked for the rarest and most precious watch they could give him, and the rest is history.

In 2017, the Rolex ‘Bao Dai’ ref 6062 was sold at a Phillips auction for a staggering price of $5.1 million, setting a new world record for the most expensive Rolex ever sold at that time.

The buyer of the Rolex ‘Bao Dai’ ref 6062 remains undisclosed, but the watch’s sale showcased its desirability among avid collectors and the willingness to pay a premium for such an exceptional timepiece.

4. Rolex Antimagnetique ref 4113
($2.5 million, 2016)

The Rolex Antimagnetique ref 4113 is a highly significant watch in Rolex’s history and holds a special place among collectors. This steel Rolex produced in 1942 is the lone split seconds chronograph Rolex has ever made, and was never offered for sale to the public. Only 12 of these 44mm model watches were made by Rolex, and gifted to a number of famous racing teams and their drivers, including Ettore Bugatti.

Rolex Antimagnetique 4113 (Phillips)
Rolex Antimagnetique ref 4113 (photo: Phillips)

It is a vintage chronograph watch known for its split-seconds chronograph complication, allowing users to measure two separate events simultaneously. This complication was especially sought-after among racing enthusiasts and professionals.

The Antimagnetique ref 4113 stands out not only for its technical prowess but also for its material. Unlike many luxury watches of the time, which were predominantly made of precious metals, this Rolex model was crafted from stainless steel. The combination of its rare complication and steel construction contributes to its desirability and uniqueness.

The ownership history of specific Antimagnetique ref 4113 watches can be challenging to trace. However, in 2016, this Rolex Antimagnetique ref 4113 was sold at a Phillips auction in Geneva for nearly $2.5 million, setting a new record for the most expensive Rolex sold at that time. The buyer’s identity has not been publicly disclosed.

5. Marlon Brando’s ‘Apocalypse Now’ Rolex GMT-Master
($1.952 million, 2019)

Marlon Brando’s ‘Apocalypse Now’ Rolex GMT-Master has made an indelible mark on both the realms of horology and cinema.

The particular GMT-Master model worn by Brando in the movie was produced in the late 1970s. It gained immense popularity and recognition after appearing on Brando’s wrist in the 1979 movie ‘Apocalypse Now,’ where he played Colonel Walter E. Kurtz.

What makes it even more special is that Brando himself modified the watch by removing the bezel and even replaced the original bracelet with a leather strap. These modifications, along with the watch’s appearance in a highly influential film, contributed to its desirability and fame.

In 2019, Marlon Brando’s ‘Apocalypse Now’ Rolex GMT-Master was sold at a Phillips auction for an impressive $1.952 million. The buyer’s identity remains undisclosed. The exceptional price achieved at the auction was a testament to the watch’s historical significance, association with a legendary actor, and its status as a highly sought-after collector’s item.

The sale of Brando’s ‘Apocalypse Now’ Rolex GMT-Master highlighted the allure and value of watches with notable cinematic connections. Having gifted the watch to his daughter in 1995, she and her husband intended to donate a portion of the auction price to assist children living in hardship.

6. Eric Clapton’s Rolex Daytona Oyster ‘Albino’ ref 6263
($1.4 million, 2015)

The Rolex Daytona Oyster ‘Albino’ ref 6263 owned by English guitarist, singer, and songwriter Eric Clapton is one of only four watches ever made.

The special qualities of the Rolex Daytona Oyster ‘Albino’ ref 6263 lie in its monochromatic dial, featuring a silver dial with recessed silver totalizer chronograph sub-dials, hence earning the nickname ‘Albino.’ This monochromatic color scheme sets it apart from other Daytona models and adds a touch of elegance and sophistication to the watch.

The watch gained significant attention and value due to its association with the iconic musician Eric Clapton, who is renowned for his exceptional guitar skills and his passion for collecting very rare watches. This stainless steel reference was manufactured in 1971, but Clapton purchased it in the late 90s.

In 2015, Eric Clapton’s Rolex Daytona Oyster ‘Albino’ ref 6263 was sold at a Phillips auction for a record-breaking price of $1.4 million, setting a new benchmark for the value of vintage Rolex Daytona models. This auction broke two records both the sales price of a Rolex and specifically the sale price for a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. The buyer’s identity has not been publicly disclosed.

The sale of Clapton’s Daytona Oyster ‘Albino’ ref 6263 showcased the watch’s exceptional desirability and collector’s value. Its unique design, association with a legendary musician like Eric Clapton, and its rarity as a vintage Rolex Daytona model contributed to its record-breaking sale price and solidified its status as one of the most valuable and sought-after Rolex watches in history.


5 of the Rarest Rolex Watches Ever Sold or Auctioned

With Rolex’s large-scale production today, finding a Rolex watch that is limited to just a few pieces is extremely noteworthy. As a result, the interest in collecting these ultra-exclusive watches has grown in recent years, placing them at the top of collectors’ wish lists globally.

Rolex Day-Date Khanjar Stella Dial ref 18078 (photo: Christie's)
Rolex Day-Date Khanjar Stella Dial ref 18078 (photo: Christie’s)

Rolex Day-Date Khanjar Watch with Green Dial, Reference 18078

Number of pieces: only one known publicly
Sold for: 75,000 Swiss Francs (about $85,500) by Christie’s in 2016

The Rolex Day-Date Khanjar Watch with Green Dial, Reference 18078, is an exceptional piece distinguished not only by its rarity but also by its unique provenance. Commissioned by the Sultanate of Oman, for His Majesty Qaboos Bin Said Al Said, Sultan of Oman, this watch features the national emblem of Oman, the Khanjar. It is characterized by two crossed swords over a central dagger, painted in red.

This emblem is a symbol of the country’s royal family, making the watch a piece of political and cultural significance. This Day-Date model, crafted from 18k gold, is one of the very few examples of “Khanjar” Rolex watches with the emblem placed at 9 o’clock instead of 6; and it’s even more rare with its light green Stella dial.

Only five pieces of this reference are known to exist, and certainly only one of this green dial edition is known publicly. This exceptional piece was auctioned by Christie’s in 2016.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad's Rolex Oyster (photos: Wikipedia and Rare Book Society)
Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s Rolex Oyster (photos: Wikipedia and Rare Book Society)

Indian Republic Day Gold Rolex Oyster

Number of pieces: one of 2
Sold for: auction halted; Sotheby’s estimate is between $222,000 – $444,000 in 2012

The Indian Republic Day Gold Rolex Oyster stands as a testament to India’s rich history and its journey to independence. This particular Rolex Oyster was a gift from Bombay’s Rolex agent to India’s first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, on the occasion of India’s first Republic Day on January 26, 1950. The watch is crafted from 18k gold and features an engraving of India’s map on the case back, marking the date 26 January 1950.

What makes this watch exceptionally rare is not just its historical significance but the story of its disappearance and India’s ongoing efforts to reclaim it. Dr. Prasad’s Rolex was stolen from his residence in Patna, India in 1964, only to reappear in Geneva, Switzerland in 2011, presented by Sotheby’s in an auction of timepieces owned by famous leaders of the post-WWI era.

Dr. Prasad’s descendants did not approve of his watch being auctioned off, and petitioned the Indian government to intervene. Sotheby’s has canceled the auction of the timepiece.

This piece embodies a momentous day in India’s history, symbolizing the dawn of a new era and the nation’s aspirations for sovereignty and self-governance. Its disappearance adds a layer of mystery and urgency, accentuating its value beyond material to a national treasure eagerly sought after for its immense symbolic worth.

Rolex Datejust White Gold Honeycomb Dial ref 6605 (photo: Phillips)
Rolex Datejust White Gold Honeycomb Dial ref 6605 (photo: Phillips)

Rolex Datejust Honeycomb Dial, Reference 6605

Number of pieces: unknown, produced only between 1956 and 1959
Sold for: 87,500 Swiss Francs (about $99,790) by Phillips in 2018

The Rolex Datejust Honeycomb Dial, Reference 6605, introduced in the mid-20th century, showcases the brand’s innovative spirit through its unique dial texture. The honeycomb dial presents a geometric pattern that not only enhances the watch’s aesthetic appeal but also demonstrates Rolex’s experimentation with different textures and materials. Only a handful of these Datejust dials exist, having been produced only from 1956 to 1959.

The Reference 6605 itself is significant for being among the early models to feature the now-iconic Datejust design, with its date function magnified by a cyclops lens on the crystal, introduced in 1953. This model pushes the boundary of collectibility further, as it not only comes with the unique honeycomb dial, but also a white gold construction (where Datejust models from this era are often found in steel or yellow gold).

The intricate honeycomb texture adds depth and character to the dial, distinguishing it from other models and highlighting Rolex’s commitment to both form and function. This unique feature, coupled with the classic elegance of the Datejust design, makes the Reference 6605 a standout piece in the history of horology, beloved for its innovative aesthetics and timeless appeal.


Rolex Space-Dweller ref 1016 (photo: Phillips)
Rolex Space-Dweller ref 1016 (photo: Phillips)

Rolex Space Dweller, Reference 1016

Number of pieces: only 5 examples have surfaced
Sold for: $190,500 by Phillips in 2018

The Rolex Space Dweller, Reference 1016, is a watch steeped in the aura of space exploration and international appeal. Originally introduced after the successful 1963 Mercury Atlas 8 mission, the Space Dweller was marketed primarily in Japan, aiming to capitalize on the fascination with space travel.

The watch shares its case, movement, and dial design with the Explorer Reference 1016, known for its robustness and readability. What sets the Space Dweller apart is its exceedingly rare dial, bearing the name “Space-Dweller” in script, a testament to Rolex’s strategy of creating market-specific models. Its association with space exploration and limited availability make the Space Dweller a unique and highly prized piece among Rolex collectors.

This particular model, auctioned by Phillips in 2018, is only one of five examples of the Space-Dweller that have surfaced.

This exclusivity is underscored by the cultural context of its release, targeting a nation keenly interested in space and technological advancements. This watch is not only a symbol of human progress but also a collector’s dream, embodying the spirit of adventure that transcends terrestrial boundaries.

Rolex Zerographe ref 3346 (photo: Christie's)
Rolex Zerographe ref 3346 (photo: Christie’s)

Rolex Zerographe, Reference 3346

Number of pieces: only a dozen examples are known to exist
Sold for: 387,750 Swiss Francs (about $442,181) by Christie’s in 2013

The Rolex Zerographe, Reference 3346, is an emblem of Rolex’s innovative prowess in the world of watchmaking. Introduced in the late 1930s, the Zerographe stands out as Rolex’s first watch with a rotating bezel, a feature now synonymous with several of its models. This reference is also notable for being one of the earliest Rolex watches to feature a flyback function, allowing the wearer to reset the chronograph without stopping it, a significant advancement in timekeeping functionality at the time.

This particular piece was auctioned off by Christie’s in 2013, which was only one of twelve examples of the Zerographe known to exist.

Crafted in a stainless steel case, the Zerographe’s rarity is accentuated by its limited production and the few surviving examples known to exist today. Its pioneering features and the mystique of its rarity make the Zerographe a fascinating chapter in Rolex’s history, representing a blend of innovation and exclusivity.


Most Expensive Rolex Watches Ever Sold: Final Thoughts

The history and significance of these particular Rolex watches highlight the timeless appeal and enduring value of luxury timepieces. From Paul Newman’s iconic Daytona ref 6239 to the rare and prestigious ‘Unicorn’ ref 6265, and the historical ‘Bao Dai’ ref 6062, each watch embodies a unique combination of craftsmanship, design, and historical significance.

These watches have achieved remarkable prices at auctions, with the Paul Newman Daytona fetching an astounding $17.8 million, the ‘Unicorn’ selling for $5.9 million, the ‘Bao Dai’ reaching $5.1 million, and the Antimagnetique ref 4113 commanding $2.5 million. Furthermore, the cultural connections of Marlon Brando’s GMT-Master and Eric Clapton’s ‘Albino’ Daytona have solidified their places in horological and pop culture history.

The stories behind these watches, the notable individuals who owned them, and the remarkable prices they fetched at auction all contribute to the mystique and allure of Rolex as a brand. These watches transcend their utilitarian function and become symbols of status, craftsmanship, and history.

For more about watch history, check out SwissWatchExpo’s TheWatchClub blog. To explore our vast selection of pre-owned authentic luxury watches, go to

Credits go to Phillips Watches, Phillips Auctions, Christie’s, Sotheby’s GQ Magazine, Forbes Life, and Vintage Rolex Forum for the watch references.
Rolex Submariner Ultimate Guide

Toll-free US and Canada Only:
Outside US:

Customer service:

Swiss Watch Expo
315 East Paces Ferry Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30305

M - F 10 AM to 6 PM EST
Saturdays 10 AM to 5 PM EST