Famous watches worn by famous people have been going for extraordinary prices at auctions of late. Let’s delve into what’s getting sold and why bidders are shelling out big bucks for prestige watches.
We recently saw a rash of high-profile watches go up on the auction block in New York City when over $20 million worth of unique timepieces went to the highest bidders. The biggest ticket item was a Urwerk Atomic Master Clock that sold for $2.9 million, setting a world record for a timepiece from an independent brand. The high-tech black wrist watch comes in a large steel case with electronic readouts, gizmos, and buttons that seems most fitting for a futuristic supervillain. A more traditional offering that was dubbed the “pink on pink” watch, a rose-gold Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 with a rose-gold dial came close in cost with a final price tag of $2.3 million. And the millions just kept coming for Patek Philippe, with a yellow-gold Ref. 2499 selling for just over $2 million.
Famous Watches with Star Power
Fame also played a part in the recent bidding. A Rolex-Day Date that golfing great Jack Nicklaus wore (every single day, he says) for over 50 years sold for a cool $1.22 million. The cash went to a children’s charity. An item that generated arguably the most buzz at the auction was the Rolex GMT worn by Marlon Brando in the classic film Apocalypse Now. It sold for just north of $1.6 million, put on the block by Brando’s daughter Petra Fischer Brando. While he may be a bigger draw at the box office than Brando these days, Robert Downey Jr. didn’t come close to the price and the Urwerk he wore in Avengers: Endgame sold for $312,500.
Celebrity sales are nothing new for Rolex. An iconic exotic-dial Daytona owned by famed actor and race-car enthusiast Paul Newman went for $17.8 million in 2017, setting a record for the highest price ever paid for a wristwatch at the time. But there have been bargains in the mix as well. In 2013 a Rolex Oyster that was owned by film legend Charlie Chaplin went for a mere $51,250. Most watches with celebrity creds, however, fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to auctions.
James Bond Brings in the Bidders
Omega has created something of a cottage industry with its connection to James Bond. So it’s no surprise that the famous watches worn in the films are popular at auctions. The Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean that Daniel Craig wore while playing 007 in the 2012 flick Skyfall fetched $254,273 at an auction in London that same year. Omega donated the proceeds to a non-profit organization that brings vision care to developing nations. But the Skyfall watch fell just short of beating the previous record for a Bond watch, which goes to the Planet Ocean Craig wore in his debut as Bond in the 2006 film Casino Royale. That Planet Ocean went for a winning bid of $255,565.
An Omega Ultra-Thin worn by JFK was auctioned for $420,000 in 2005. A part of Formula One racing history itself, Steve McQueen’s Heuer Monaco (famously worn in the 1971 film Le Mans) sold for just under $800,000 in 2012. James Dean’s Elgin pocket watch sold for $42,000 at a Hong Kong auction in 2013. And a pocket watch that belonged to baseball legend Babe Ruth, awarded for the 1923 World Series, fetched $717,000 at an auction in 2014.
Famous Watches, A Mixed Bag for Musicians
Eric Clapton’s Patek Philippe Ref. 2499 fetched a nice price in 2012, going for $3.6 million at an auction in Geneva and setting a record at the time. To be fair, it wasn’t just the music legend’s connection. It was one of only two of the platinum versions that were ever made for the reference. Clapton’s 1971 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona 6263 Oyster Albino also went up for auction in 2015 and brought in $1.4 million. In contrast, Elvis Presley’s Omega went for something of a bargain in 2012. It was a rare black-dialed Constellation Calendar. And even more rare for its connection to the King, it went for just $52,500. Another of Elvis’ Omegas, a diamond-encrusted white-gold Calibre 510, sold for a whopping $1.8 million in 2018.
Patek Philippe Dominates the Auction Market
The most expensive watch ever sold at an auction? That title goes to the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A, which went for the record-smashing amount of $31 million in November of 2019. In 2014 it sold for $24.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction in Geneva. Paul Newman’s Rolex ranks next on the list. And Patek Philippe returns to round out the top tier of the most-expensive-ever watches sold at auction. A Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 1518, first sold in 1943, brought in $11.1 million at an auction in 2016. Current-year models continue the list, with a Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 5016A-010 going for $7.3 million in 2015 and a Patek Philippe Titanium Ref. 5208T-010 nabbing $6.2 million in 2017.
Keep your eye out for famous watches at auctions and maybe one day the auctioneer’s cry of “sold” will put an amazing watch on your wrist.