The concept of the wristwatch dates back to the production of the earliest watches in the 16th century. We have come a long way since then. The design, features, and working principle of watches have evolved a lot over time.
These days expensive mechanical watches aren’t’ just about telling the time. They are more like functional jewelry that wealthy people purchase as an investment and hobby.
But what makes these watches so expensive?
- Incomprehensibly complicated engineering squeezed into teeny tiny cases.
- Use of expensive stuff, such as hand-cut diamonds, precious materials, and chunks of meteorites.
- Unique pieces (collectible) owned by celebrities or long-dead people.
To show you what exclusivity and luxury really look like, we’ve listed the fourteen most expensive watch brands in the world. The demonstration of near-perfect craftsmanship, unparalleled aesthetic sensibility, and the passion for pushing boundaries, distinguish these brands as luxury watchmakers.
14. TAG Heuer
TAG Heuer Carrera
Price Range: $2,000 – $30,000
Notable Models: Heuer Heritage, Carrera, Connected, and Autavia
TAG Heuer has a strong history of innovation and deep connections with sports timing and automobile racing. It was the official timepiece of the McLaren F1 team from the 1980s until 2015.
The company has won the 2007 iF product design award in the Leisure/Lifestyle category for its wristwatch Monaco Calibre 360 LS Concept Chronograph. The watch was chosen among over 2,200 pieces presented by manufacturers from 35 countries. A year before, TAG Heuer received the same award for its Professional Golf Watch.
Its most recent innovations, such as carbon watches, are made of the same high-tech material as Formula 1 race cars. TAG Heuer is also the first luxury watch brand to step into the world of smartwatches.
Hublot MP-09 Tourbillon Bi-Axis | Image credit: Watch-insider
Price Range: $4,000 – $300,000
Notable Models: Big Bang Sang Bleu II, Big Bang Unico GMT, Big Bang Meca-10
Hublot is a luxury watch manufacturing company founded in 1976. Its modern design and innovative strap made the brand an almost instant hit. Today, the company operates as a subsidiary of LVMH, a French multinational corporation.
One of its unique models, MP-09 Tourbillon Bi-Axis, was introduced in 2017. It represents the fusion between spectacular designs and revolutionary movements. The titanium version of this watch is limited to 50 pieces, while the King Gold version only has 20 pieces. Their price starts at $200,000.
Métiers d’Art Squelette 8 Jours
Price Range: $10,000 – $400,000
Notable Models: Fifty Fathoms, Villeret, Métiers d’Art
Established in 1735, Blancpain is the oldest surviving watchmaking brand in the world. It designs, builds, distributes, and sells luxury and prestige mechanical watches.
Blancpain’s most classic collection, Villeret, personifies customers’ roots and embodies their initial aesthetic choices. The clarity of dials, sleek lines, and the finesse of double-stepped cases of each model express the essential with timeless elegance.
The Fifty Fathoms collection, first introduced in 1953, is specifically designed for divers, researchers, and underwater photographers. All these models have a water-resistant level up to 91 meters.
11. Ulysse Nardin
Marine Chronograph Caliber UN-153
Price Range: $6,000 – $460,000
Notable Models: Freak Out, Skeleton X, Diver X
Ulysse Nardin is best known for creating complicated timepieces and highly accurate marine chronometers. It sells all products through a network of distributors and numerous boutiques across the world.
Between 1846 and 1975, the company won several awards and honors for its marine chronometers, including 18 gold medals and 2411 special prizes at International Exhibitions.
Today, Ulysse Nardin develops its own high-precision components, calibers, and movements. One of its latest models, Caliber UN-153, has a calendar mechanically programmed for one year. It comes on a rubber strap with an 18 carat rose gold 5N element and an 18 carat rose gold 5N folding buckle.
10. International Watch Company
Price Range: $6,000 – $750,000
Notable Models: Siderale Scafusia, Grande Complication Platinum, Portuguese Tourbillon Mystere
International Watch Company (IWC) was founded in 1868, and since then, it has designed and invented a number of breakthroughs in the watch industry. In 1885, the company released its first digital watch. In World War II, it created the first oversize anti-magnetic pilot’s watch.
IWC also successfully produced the first diver’s watch (that could withstand the pressure of up to 2,000 meters) and a chronograph watch (that featured a perpetual calendar mechanically programmed to tell data for the next 5 centuries).
The company’s most expensive model, Siderale Scafusia, costs over $750,000. It is one of the most complicated wristwatches ever manufactured by IWC. It features a tourbillon with an integrated constant-force mechanism, a customized celestial chart, and sapphire glass and anti-reflective coating on both sides. With more than 200 individual configurations possible, only a few pieces are produced each year.
9. Audemars Piguet
Royal Oak with its steel case and octagonal bezel
Price Range: $11,000 – $869,000
Notable Models: Royal Oak, Jules Audemars, Haute Joaillerie.
Audemars Piguet is the manufacturer of luxury and prestige mechanical watches and clocks. It’s an active member of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry and builds about 40,000 timepieces per year, which combine iconic designs with meticulously hand-finished movements.
Audemars Piguet is best known for producing the Royal Oak wristwatch in 1972, which help the company rise to prominence in the watch-manufacturing industry. It has manufactured some of the world’s thinnest watch, including the ultra-thin automatic tourbillon (1986) wristwatch.
In 2012, the company introduced a slogan
“To Break the Rules, You Must First Master Them”
Mille Miglia 2020 Race Edition
Price Range: $10,000 – $1,600,000
Notable Models: Imperiale, Mille Miglia, Alpine Eagle, Happy Diamonds
Chopard is best known for manufacturing high-quality Swiss watches as well as jewelry. It produces almost 75,000 timepieces every year and is an active member Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.
In 2015, the Chopard Happy Diamond wristwatch was sold in an auction for $1.67 million. This watch features a quartz movement and has a blue marquise-cut diamond (weighing 1.48 carat) and a pink marquise-cut diamond (weighing 2.62 carats).
The Omega Speedmaster, selected by NASA for all Apollo missions
Price Range: $5,000 – $1,800,000
Notable Models: Speedmaster, Bullhead, Planet Ocean, Skywalker X-33
While Omega has been around under three names since 1848, today’s lineup draws heavily on its mid-20th-century designs. The company has intelligently developed its watches such that they feel both modern (though not trendy) and historical (though not anachronistic) at the same time.
The most expensive Omega watch ever sold at auction was wristwatch Ref. H6582/D96043. Manufactured in 1960 and owned by Elvis Presley, the watch fetched $1.812 million in the 2018 Geneva auction. Another wristwatch, Omega Stainless Steel Tourbillion 201, was sold for $1.43 million at the 2017 Geneva auction.
The Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph was the first watch worn by the astronaut (Buzz Aldrin) walking on the Moon during NASA’s Apollo 11 mission. It was also worn during the first American spacewalk as part of the Gemini 4 mission.
Price Range: $7,000 – $2,500,000
Notable Models: Reverso, Joaillerie 101, Duoplan, Atmos
In nearly 200 years of operation, Jaeger-LeCoultre has registered 400 patents, produced over 1,200 different calibers, and created hundreds of inventions. The company is currently owned by the Swiss luxury group Richemont.
One of its most complicated wristwatches, Hybris Mechanica a Grande Sonnerie, features 26 complications, including a perpetual calendar and special chime function that mimics the chimes of Westminster. With only 30 of these manufactured, the timepiece will cost you $2.5 million.
The company has also produced the world’s smallest mechanical movement, the Calibre 101, whose 98 original components weigh a total of about one gram. In 1953, the Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, wore this wristwatch for her coronation.
5. A. Lange & Söhne
Price Range: $11,000 – $2,600,000
Notable Models: Lange 1, Lange 1815, Zeitwerk, Grand Complication
The meticulously handcrafted timepieces of A. Lange & Söhne are available in over 70 countries. Just a few thousand A. Lange & Söhne wristwatches are manufactured each year. All of them feature a unique design and appearance that is closer to the classic British style.
In Phillips’ Geneva auction 2018, A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Homage to Walter Lange was sold for $852,525. It was the first 1815 model that featured a jumping seconds hands, a complication developed by the founder Ferdinand Adolph Lange.
In 2013, the company unveiled a new model Grand Complication, which is one of the most complex wristwatches of the new era. It features a chiming mechanism with a small and grand strike, a minute repeater, a split-second chronograph with flying seconds, and a perpetual calendar. Its retail price was $2.6 million, and only 6 pieces have been manufactured.
Breguet No. 627
Price Range: $10,000 – $6,800,000
Notable Models: Breguet & Fils, Paris No.2667; Breguet, Paris, No.4111; Breguet Sympathique Clock No.128 & 5009
Breguet is one of the oldest surviving brands and a pioneer of several watch-manufacturing technologies, including the tourbillon, which was created by its inventor Abraham Breguet in 1801.
Timepieces of this brand are often recognized for their blue pomme hands, guilloché dials, and coin-edge cases. In addition to clocks and wristwatches, the company also produces women’s jewelry, cufflinks, and writing instruments.
In Christie’s Geneva auction 2016, one of its pocket watch, the Breguet & Fils, No.217, was sold for $3.33 million. The most expensive Breguet watch ever sold at the auction is Sympathique Clock No.128 & 5009, which fetched $6.8 million in New York in 2012.
3. Vacheron Constantin
Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260 pocket watch
Price Range: $15,000 – $11,000,000
Notable Models: Reference 57260, Kallista, and Tour de I’lle
Vacheron Constantin was founded in 1755, and since 1992, it has been a part of the Swiss Richemont Group. The company has opened 15 boutiques and over 500 shops in 80 countries.
In Antiquorum’s Geneva auction 2005, the Vacheron Constantin pocket watch Ref. 402833, once owned by King Fuad I of Egypt, was sold for $2.77 million. In the same event, the wristwatch Tour de I’lle fetched $1.56 million.
In 2015, the company unveiled the Reference 57260, the most complicated mechanical pocket watch ever built, featuring 57 complications by function. The watch took 8 years to assemble and has 2,826 parts and 31 hands.
Price Range: $20,000 – $18,000,000
Notable Models: Rolex Daytona, Rolex GMT Master II Ice, Sky-Dweller Oystersteel
Rolex is the biggest watchmaker of Swiss made certified chronometers. In 2019, it produced more than 800,000 timepieces, generating a total revenue of $5.2 billion. In 2020, Forbes ranked Rolex as the world’s 8th most valuable brand.
Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona currently holds the title of the third most expensive watch and second most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction, fetching $17,752,500 in NYC in 2017.
The company’s second most expensive watch, the 1971 Rolex Daytona Reference 626 Unicorn, was sold for $5.9 million in 2018. In terms of retail price, the most expensive Rolex ever manufactured was the GMT ice Ref. 116769TBR, which costs $485,350.
The company has also built specific pieces suitable for the extremes of aviation, mountain climbing, caving, and deep-sea diving. The Rolex Sea-Dweller produced in 1967, for instance, had a helium release valve to eject the helium gas build-up during decompression.
1. Patek Philippe
World’s most expensive watch | Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010
Price Range: $20,000 – $31,190,000
Notable Models: Patek Philippe Ref. 1518, Star Calibre 2000 Ref. 990/1, Star Calibre 2000 Ref. 990/1, and Henry Graves Supercomplication
Founded in 1839, Patek Phillippe is one of the world’s oldest watch manufactures with an uninterrupted watchmaking history. It has more than 400 retail locations worldwide and over a dozen distribution centers across North America, Europe, Oceania, and Asia.
The real beauty of the company’s product design lies in its movements. Only a watch-geek can truly appreciate the excessive detail of every individual part.
Whether modern or vintage, Patek Philippe resale value trumps all other watchmakers. As of 2020, among the world’s top 10 most expensive watches ever sold at auctions, seven are Patek Philippe watches.
At Sotheby’s Geneva Auction 2014, the Henry Graves Supercomplication was sold for $23.98 million. In Christie’s Geneva Auction 2019, Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010 was sold for over $31.1 million, which currently holds the title of the most expensive watch ever sold at auction.
Patek Philippe has also built some of the most complicated mechanical pocket watches. Henry Graves Supercomplication, for example, contains 920 individual parts, 120 removable components, 110 wheels, 430 screws, and 70 jewels — all handcrafted on a tiny scale.