Auction-spotting: 2023’s Most Expensive Pre-Owned Watches

GMT India’s picks of million-dollar watches at this year’s auctions include the Paul Newman Daytonas and a Patek Philippe, once worn by China’s last emperor
Auction-spotting: 2023’s Most Expensive Pre-Owned Watches
August 24, 2023
Auction-spotting: 2023’s Most Expensive Pre-Owned Watches

The auction market has never been a stranger to watches with million-dollar price tags; the hottest watches from this year’s auction scene so far have stayed true to that spirit. One-of-a-kind models with unique complications, limited editions with sentimental value, watches with fascinating backstories that spotlight their historical legacy — there has been an impressive variety of timepieces that have raked in millions this year while setting some global records. While, as usual, Patek Philippes and Rolexes ruled the roost, a couple of independent brands made a lasting impression as well. Here are some of GMT India’s favourites from the lots.

Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon (US$ 5.8 million)

Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon
Image credits: Christie's

Sporting an 18 ct white gold case and a stunning blue cloisonné enamel dial, this ultra-rare Patek Philippe fetched a staggering $5.8 million in Hong Kong at Christie’s ‘Top of the Time Watches Online’ auction. As per reports, it was the highest price ever paid for a timepiece in an online auction. The 44 mm Ref. 6002G-001 boasts a total of 12 complications, including cathedral minute repeating, tourbillon, perpetual calendar, retrograde date, sidereal time, and sky chart. The blue of the dial is perfectly complemented by the stylish dark blue crocodile strap and the 18 ct white gold hand-engraved Patek Philippe deployant clasp that amps up the elegance of the timepiece.

First JC BIVER prototype (US$ 1.3 million)

JC BIVER prototype
Image credits: Phillips

When industry legend Jean-Claude Biver and his son launched their brand earlier this year, it took the watchmaking world by storm. Big things were expected to follow, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise when the first ever JC BIVER 00/00 prototype sold for CHF 1 million (US$ 1.3 million) in Geneva through Phillips. The prototype — for the brand’s Tourbillon Minute Repeater Carillon in titanium, a unique piece with a silvered obsidian stone dial — fetched a record amount, the highest ever for the first watch of a new brand yet to begin production. An American collector won the bid online. The watch will be presented in a 42 mm round case with a concave bezel, the overall boldness emphasised by the large crown and the angular soldered lugs.

Rolex Paul Newman Daytonas (US$ 1.1 million each)

Rolex Paul Newman Daytonas
Image credits: Sotheby's

In June, at Sotheby’s in New York, two Rolex Daytonas that once belonged to Paul Newman showed up and, expectedly, sold for a million dollars each. In the world of vintage Rolex models, a Paul Newman Daytona is rare and rarer still are Daytonas that have been owned and worn by the Hollywood legend and veteran race car driver. These timepieces — Reference 16520 ‘Zenith’ Daytona and Reference 116519 Daytona — formed part of ‘The Important Watches’ auction, one of the three auctions that made up The World of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, a catalogue of 300 on-sale items across various departments that the legendary actors owned and enjoyed throughout their 50-year marriage. The models hold high sentimental value; the 116519 is, in fact, one of the only three known Daytonas gifted by Joanne to Paul. This auction marked the very first time the watch was offered in the market. The timepiece also comes engraved with the inscription, ‘Drive Very Slowly Joanne’.

Patek Philippe Reference 96 Quantieme Lune (US$ 6.2 million)

Patek Philippe Reference 96 Quantieme Lune
Image credits: Phillips

In May, Phillips Hong Kong sold the super-rare wristwatch, once owned and worn by China’s last emperor, Aisin-Gioro Puyi (the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty whose life was the basis for the 1987 film, The Last Emperor) for a whopping $6.2 million. The auction house reported that three years had been spent in verifying the provenance of the 86-year-old watch, which Puyi gave to his Russian interpreter Georgy Permyakov while he was imprisoned in the Soviet Union after World War II. Only eight of these models are known to exist and this one, with its platinum case and a dial whose bottom half is scraped, functions as a reminder of its imperial past. The strap is the original as well. The watch was sold alongside 11 other items that belonged to Puyi.

F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain ‘Souscription 2/20’ (US$ 3 million)

Image credits: Christie's

The Christie's Watches Spring 2023 live auctions in Geneva in May featured two separate sections, namely The Art of F.P. Journe and Rare Watches. The former comprised 24 lots, the highest grossing among which was a rare platinum Tourbillon Souverain ‘Souscription 2/20’ wristwatch, crafted circa 1999. It was sold for an impressive US$ 3,033,735. Sized at 38 mm, the platinum tourbillon wristwatch is the second timepiece ever commercialised by François Paul Journe in his extraordinary watchmaking career. The yellow gold dial instantly stands out and is one of 20 numbered pieces that are known to exist — this particular model is number 2 of the 20. It represents the beginning and the very essence of the F.P. Journe brand as we know it today, making it a highly covetable collectors’ item.

With some highly-anticipated auctions coming up later in the year, we will have our eyes peeled for all the unique timepieces going under the hammer, and, of course, we expect more than just a few million-dollar tags.