Rolex is positively the most popular luxury watch brand in the world. Even a soft whisper of those 5 letters brings images of opulence, flashy diamonds, private jets, and stacks of hundred dollar bills to the mind.
Yet for those who are a bit more up-to-date (to not say obsessed) with the happenings of the watch world, Rolex is a watch brand highly concentrated on their professional-grade timepieces. It goes without saying that they’re quite good at making them, too, if not the best.
But what happens when the Geneva watchmakers decide to go all out on the bling front, and conceive the most luxurious Rolex watches with the highest price tags ever? On this page, we’ll see the result.
Additionally, we’ve included two of the most expensive Rolex watches ever, most notably due to the fact that the priciest Rolex that can be purchased new today pales in comparison to the price that the most elusive vintage examples fetch at auction.
Lastly, we’ve addressed why many out there may see Rolex as expensive watches, and if they’re truly worth the hefty price tag. Use the previous link to jump down to that section, or keep scrolling to read it all!
Paul Newman Daytona Ref. 6239. Photo: Phillips.com
The Most Expensive Rolex Models
- Rolex Cosmograph Daytona “Paul Newman” Ref. 6239 – Vintage – $17.75 Million
- Rolex Oyster Cosmograph “The Unicorn” Ref. 6265 – Vintage – $6 Million
- Rolex Day-Date 40 Ref. 228396TBR – New – $140,000
- Rolex Day-Date 36 Ref. 128349RBR-0012 – New – $125,000
- Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 116588TBR – New – $100,000
If you take a look at our quick-links above, you can easily see the wide discrepancy in prices between the most expensive new and vintage Rolex watches.
The vintage timepieces are going for insanely higher amounts than the new ones, but they’re not better watches per se. Evidently the physical watch isn’t necessarily what’s of value here, but more so the exclusivity of the piece and the distinct story that each one tells. We get into the individual factors of value for each below.
See Bespoke Unit’s Watch Reviews
Why Is Rolex So Expensive?
When compared to the many haute horlogerie brands producing $100k+ wristwatches nowadays, it can be easy to consider the average Rolex watch, which lies somewhere in the range of $6,000-12,000, as an “affordable” example. Nevertheless, buying a Rolex timepiece can often be one of the biggest purchases an individual can make.
Fortunately, there exists a vast and varied pre-owned marked on which many Rolex timepieces can be purchased for much less than the average price of a new Rolex. Those wary of the term “pre-owned” can compare this option to that of buying a pre-owned car where individual sellers, as well as established “dealerships”, form part of the action.
(If you’re looking for affordable pre-owned Rolex models, check out our list of the cheapest Rolex watches.)
Also consider that Rolex watches have become the ultimate gift of success, whether for another or oneself, and these situations often suggest a luxurious purchase. There’s also the fact that they’re a particularly popular show of wealth, which has arguably grown with the advent of social media.
Lest we forget the quality of the product itself, not merely the hype, which has become a standard for luxury timepieces everywhere. Most neophyte watch collectors start with a Rolex, confident in the prestige of the brand, and subsequently jump to other brands as they see fit.
The above factors along with countless others have kept demand high and rising, which the brand has known exactly how to foster and manage. Their prices have increased steadily, but always remained within the right range for their ideal client, which Rolex obviously understands very well.
So, while not the most expensive when considering the bigger picture, Rolex watches can still command extreme prices and break records. We take a look at the most notable figures next.
The Most Expensive Rolex Timepieces
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona “Paul Newman” Ref. 6239 [Most Expensive Rolex Vintage Watch Ever]
Previous to the Philips auction that made history in 2017, it was already known within the watch industry that just about any variation of a vintage Rolex Daytona was already considered rare and therefore highly coveted. Then, on October 26th, 2017, the entire world would be forced to take notice.
A Rolex Cosmograph Daytona reference 6239 with a “Paul Newman” dial sold for a total price of $17,752,500, making it the most expensive Rolex, in fact the most expensive wristwatch, in history. But, what made this Paul Newman Daytona so special to command such a high price?
Paul Newman’s Paul Newman
The individual watch sold at auction was owned & worn quite publicly by movie star Paul Newman. The moniker “Paul Newman Daytona” arose from printed ads that showed Newman himself wearing the watch with the specific dial. Indeed, this specific Rolex watch was Paul Newman’s Paul Newman (Daytona).
This kind of uniqueness is something that watch collectors worldwide kill over. Even more so if it’s a Rolex, being the most collectable brand in the vintage sector. Quite simply, there’s no other watch like it; there’s no supply, there’s literally only one. And this is reflected directly in the final hammer price.
Outside of the fact that the watch was owned by a famous figure, it’s a very cool model to witness nonetheless. It represents the early years of the Rolex Daytona, a watch that in the present-day has achieved icon status.
One is quickly able to detect which components are still found on contemporary models, albeit modified like the tachymetric bezel and pushers, and which have been left behind.
The watch is a relic of Rolex’s past, of the world of horology itself. It’s also one for the history books, and if you’re the one who wants to own it, it’s evidently not going to come cheap.
Rolex Oyster Cosmograph “The Unicorn” Ref. 6265
The Rolex reference 6265 Oyster Cosmograph more colloquially known as “The Unicorn” is the second most expensive Rolex ever sold (second to you-know-who). It came to fame in 2018 when it was bid up at auction to $5.9 million.
By this point, you may not be surprised to learn that it was also a Daytona model variant. More specifically, a full 18K white gold Daytona Oyster Cosmograph, in great condition nonetheless.
The vintage Rolex case was also accompanied by a bark-texture white gold bracelet, and although not original, it must be stated that it makes for an exceptional look. There’s elegance and character that no Daytona has ever shared. Do you start to see now why it’s called The Unicorn?
Much like the Paul Newman Daytona above, this white gold Daytona is one-of-a-kind. Purportedly created by Rolex for a special customer, the watch is the only white gold manual Cosmograph. That we know of, at least. Worry not, though, as the provenance of The Unicorn has been researched and confirmed.
Yet there’s a significant price difference between The Unicorn Daytona, arguably the better looking one, and the Paul Newman Daytona. Shockingly, the latter is more than three times more expensive than the former. It’s almost twelve million dollars.
This kind of comparison sheds a bright light onto the stories behind vintage watches, or better yet, all watches. A big part of the luxury watch sale is actually the story behind each. Undoubtedly, when it comes to the most extraordinary stories, we’ll keep seeing the most exceptional prices.
Rolex Day-Date 40 Ref. 228396TBR [Most Expensive New Rolex Watch]
Celebrities, professional athletes, and many music idols have helped a great deal in popularizing the look of the diamond-covered gold Rolex watch. Unfortunately, many of these “ice jobs” are poorly executed and often end up ruining the timepiece completely.
The Day-Date 40 ref. 228396TBR is Rolex’s answer to those who seek this extra bit of flash on the wrist. More importantly, it is executed in the only way Rolex knows – efficiently, skilfully, perfectly. This is exemplified by the 228396TBR.
It’s not just about covering the entire watch in diamonds, as that could easily cross over into gaudy. Plus, the shimmer of the hefty President bracelet, this time in platinum, is not something you’re going to want to hide under carats.
Instead, Rolex presents a full bezel of baguette diamonds along with a pavé diamond dial. Also accenting the dial are baguette indices and a couple of contrasting baguette sapphires at 6 and 9.
Up close is how the gem-setting work may be truly admired, particularly after noticing how each diamond facet has been carefully set so as to align with the adjacent diamond’s edges. This, nor any other detail, has been overlooked on this prestigious Day-Date 40.
With an estimated price of $140,000, this contemporary Day-Date 40 is the most expensive Rolex in the catalog. For this kind of price, you must demand perfection, and Rolex certainly achieves it.
Rolex Day-Date 36 Ref. 128349RBR-0012
What the previous 228396 had in flash within the larger 40mm Day-Date case is shared almost exactly by this lavish 128349RBR, but with a couple of important differences.
Markedly, the 128349RBR boasts the more traditional 36mm Day-Date case although this may be about as “traditional” as it gets. The watch also touts a channel-set diamond bezel, diamond pavé dial, and baguette-cut gem indices with a rainbow color pattern.
The President bracelet has also been outfitted with diamonds, though only in its center links. Where the high-polish center links shined on the Day-Date 40, three rows of diamonds now perform the same function, while altogether maintaining the President bracelet look we praised above.
Lastly, there’s the case metal. This Day-Date 36 128349 is constructed of Rolex’s own 18K white gold alloy which, although it makes for significant wrist presence, is not as sluggish as the larger and heavier platinum sibling. Overall a more restrained watch than the Day-Date previously discussed, this Day-Date 36 also possesses a more restrained retail price estimated at around $125,000.
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 116588TBR
So if the vintage Daytona models are generally the ones that command the highest premiums in watch auctions, what does the newest and most expensive variation of the popular chronograph watch line look like? Well, it’s a bit more eccentric than you might think.
At Baselworld 2019, Rolex announced the Daytona ref. 116588 TBR, now nicknamed the “Eye Of The Tiger”, with an estimated list price of $100,000. For the most expensive new Cosmograph Daytona watch, there’s no comparison in aesthetics between this and the previous Paul Newman and Unicorn vintage models.
The watch is constructed of 18K yellow gold and boasts a bold pattern on its dial. It uses yellow gold, factory-set diamonds, and black lacquer to seemingly replicate the pattern of a tiger’s stripes. The face of the watch is further enhanced by the diamond-clad bezel, a distinct upgrade from the now-standard Cerachrom of the Daytona model line.
This Daytona “Eye Of The Tiger” is clearly not for everyone. And we’re not just saying this because of the price or the limited production. The style is not one that just anyone can pull off, and even if someone could, maybe they wouldn’t want to in this case.
Nevertheless, when Rolex makes this kind of quirky statement piece, it’s hard not to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into the creation. Even though the brand may have stretched their creativity a bit here, the watch will nonetheless sell out. It’s still a Rolex, an oddball one at that, that is sure to fetch double or triple its retail price once the first customer orders start being delivered.
More Watch Guides & Articles
If you’ve enjoyed our page on the most expensive Rolex watches ever, make sure to check out some of our other horology guides, as they’re packed with new info and constantly being updated.
Also, if you have any questions or comments with regards to our article, make sure to leave us some feedback in the comments below!
- Rolex Brand Guide: Everything To Know About The Geneva Watchmaker
- Discontinued Explorer II “Polar” 16570 Reviewed After 18 Months
- Are German Watch Brands As Good As The Swiss?
- All Of Our Watch Reviews
- Take It From The Top: Bespoke Unit Watches Homepage
"I can appreciate the history and prestige behind those vintage Rolexes, but those prices are just insane. Even if I had those amounts of money, I could never spend it on a watch that I'd scared to wear. A great read nonetheless, great job BU!"Rating: 5.0★★★★★