All Rolex watches are handmade, and the process takes about a year. The luxury Swiss manufacturer is based in Geneva and was founded as ‘Wilsdorf and Davis’ by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis in London, in 1905. The company registered the brand as Rolex in 1908, and in 2020 Forbes ranked the upscale watchmaker 80th most valuable label in the world.
As of the same year, out of the 10 priciest watches sold at auction, two were Rolex. What was the most expensive Rolex watch? The Paul Newman Daytona (ref. 6239), at $18,744,000 (inflation-adjusted).
High-end watch enthusiasts are drawn to Rolex, making it one of the top five horologists to invest in. Well-known and esteemed across the globe as well as continually in demand, Rolex watches are unlike any other.
Why? Privately held and independently run, their quality timepieces start life in an internal Research & Development lab before being crafted using expensive and hard-to-machine steel. The movements are hand-assembled and tested, with an in-house foundry making their gold.
What’s more, Rolex has a history of innovation and leadership in the field, with celebrities, sportspeople, politicians, and business magnates sporting the brand, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Che Guevara, Steve McQueen, Elle Macpherson, Winston Churchill, Dr. Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy, and Marlon Brando.
Impressive Rolex range
Alongside big-ticket auction pieces, regular Rolex collections range from $13,000-$34,000. For instance, the classic Rolex Submariner Date – the first wristwatch to take divers to 100 meters – starts at $13,337, and was popularised by James Bond movies. The Rolex Day-Date was the first of its kind to offer a calendar with both a day and date display and will set buyers back $34,500 and upward – choose from platinum, or yellow, white, or rose gold.
If you’re looking for something more prestigious, there are limited edition collections to peruse, including the Rolex Platinum Diamond Pearlmaster with 42 jewels and a custom bezel that sold for $277,850 in March 2011, and Steve McQueen’s 1967 Rolex Submariner that went for $234,000 in 2009.
And then we have other celebrity-owned pieces such as the Paul Newman Daytona mentioned above, Marlon Brando’s Apocalypse Now Rolex GMT-Master, which sold for $1.952 million in 2019, and Eric Clapton’s Rolex ‘Oyster Albino’ Cosmograph Daytona, exchanging hands for $1.4 million in 2015.
How about vintage Rolexes? These are virtually a fail-safe in terms of investment, with value often increasing over time. Their scarcity makes them desirable and exclusive, with each watch having a story to reveal. Rare pieces are very much in demand, as collectors and aficionados seek to be part of Rolex’s distinguished history.
Rolex watches – vintage, new, and pre-owned – are expensive to buy, and their worth often goes up as time goes by, too. But it also depends on demand and supply: The rarer the piece, the more people are willing to pay. If you’re thinking about investing in a Rolex, consider four main factors: Is the Rolex rare, is it vintage or collectible, is it one of the most popular models, and is it crafted from a desirable material?
In this article, we’re looking at the most expensive Rolex watches in terms of limited edition pieces. Read on for our top 10.
Most expensive Rolex watches you can buy in 2021
10. Rolex GMT Master II in white gold
The original was introduced way back in 1982, and has gained a reputation for functionality and robustness. This iteration features automatic selfwinding movement, a meteorite dial, and a Cerachrom bezel insert, customizable in red or blue ceramic. Also, the piece shows the time in two zones simultaneously – useful for intercontinental flights.
9. Carbon Daytona by DiW
With only three available, this brand new unisex Cosmograph dubbed ‘Lucky Player 2’ has a multi-colored fabric strap (if desired) with a velcro buckle. Automatic selfwinding, the piece comes with original papers and parts. Weighing in at less than 50 grams, the lightest Daytona is produced by Designa Individual Watches (DiW), specialists in technical custom watches.
8. Rolex Yacht-Master with multi-colored gems
With a rose gold case, a rubber strap, and automatic selfwinding movement, this timepiece – located in Hong Kong and coined ‘The watch of the open seas’ – is brand new and has five years of international factory warranty. With a bezel encrusted in an array of stones from green to yellow to blue, this is a dazzling piece.
7. Platinum Rolex Daytona Ice blue Anniversary Collection
Released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Daytona, this luxe piece features a chestnut brown ceramic bezel with engraved numerals. The sparkling icing on the cake? Diamond baguette hour markers. Automotive selfwinding, the watch boasts a power reserve of 72 hours and water resistance of 101 meters (330 feet).
6. Rolex GMT-Master II with sapphires and diamonds
Another exclusive 50th-anniversary celebration, this outstanding timepiece features a bezel with 29 diamonds and 30 sapphires, and lugs set with 76 jewels. The yellow gold oyster bracelet has a center link bedecked in gems, too. With a classic black dial, a power reserve of up to 50 hours, and water resistance of 100 meters (328 feet), the watch may be used, but you’d never know it.
5. Rolex Artisans De Genève: The Montoya Platinum Challenge
Artisans De Genève is a watchmaking workshop offering modifications to private customers. Enter timepiece aficionado and racing driver Juan Pablo Montoya. He presented Artisans De Genève with a new personalization, having worked with them on two previous occasions. The challenge? To customize Montoya’s Platinum Rolex Daytona. The end result? A sky blue dial that’s entirely openwork, a skeleton movement, and counters hand-painted to the colors of his native Colombian flag.
4. Rare vintage Paul Newman Cosmograph Daytona 6241
Hard to find and in mint condition, this legendary Rolex is located in Hong Kong and features a steel case and strap. Used, but with original papers, the automatic selfwinding piece has a trio of black sub-registers and a bezel in the same color. And most importantly, the exceptional piece boasts an ‘exotic’ dial – numbers in art deco style, and hash marks with a mini square at the end.
3. Rolex Day-Date studded with emeralds
With a solid platinum case and strap, this 2017 Day-Date model is automatic selfwinding, with original papers. Used but like new, there are both diamond and emerald baguette hour markers and an emerald encrusted bezel. One for lovers of the color green, a more striking piece is hard to find.
2. Vintage Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Middle East Edition
Used but in mint condition, this 1980 yellow gold automatic selfwinding timepiece goes by the name ‘Gold Khanjar’, and bears the royal crest of the Omani state in the middle sub-register – a j-shaped dagger over two crossed swords. The rare unisex watch also features an oyster bracelet, an 18-carat folding clasp, and is 37.5 millimeters in diameter.
1. Wow factor Cosmograph Daytona in rainbow colors
This multi-colored and gem-studded watch will certainly catch eyes. Combining rainbow jewels with a rose gold strap and case, alongside a bejeweled ‘rainbow’ 18-carat bezel, there’s bidirectional selfwinding and a 72-hour power reserve. For that extra bit of pizzaz, the piece also features a diamond-encrusted dial with rainbow-jeweled index hour indicators, a trio of rose gold sub-dials, and an oyster bracelet studded with diamonds.