The Watchlist│Most Expensive Rolex Watches in 2023

Born in 1926, these timeless pieces are an ideal addition to your collection with prices increasing by an average of 3.4% in the past year and the pre-owned luxury watch market set to reach $29 billion by 2025.

Updated Feb 4, 2023

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Rolex is an iconic, century-old brand that specializes in luxurious and high-quality watches. The Rolex Oyster, first introduced in 1926, was the pioneering waterproof wristwatch that played a significant role in the brand's success. Rolex watches are renowned for their subtle elegance and meticulous craftsmanship.

Are you looking to make a statement with a luxury watch? Look no further than a Rolex. These luxurious timepieces are not just symbols of status and wealth, but are also worthwhile investments. From the iconic Daytona to the exquisite Sky-Dweller, Rolex has created a selection of exclusive, expensive watches that will turn heads everywhere you go.

The Rolex Daytona Paul Newman has been a strong performer in terms of appreciation in value, with some editions experiencing an average increase of around 50%.

Over the past decade, prices of Rolex watches have outperformed gold, real estate, and stocks—making them a solid asset to invest in. Prices increased by an average of 3.4% in 2022, and some watches, such as the 18 karat gold Daytona, saw an amazing 348% increase in price.

The pre-owned luxury watch market is worth a whopping $20 billion and is projected to grow to $29 billion by 2025.

So, gear up to find out why Rolexes are so valuable and what makes luxury watches excellent alternative investments.

Why are Rolex watches so expensive?

First off, Rolex has a whole team of scientists and engineers working on innovative ways to craft their watches. They've even got some patents on their own proprietary designs, like the green sapphire crystal and the Oysterflex band. This means that when you're sporting a Rolex on your wrist, you're wearing something truly special.

Jennifer Aniston wearing a Rolex Daydate.

But it's not just the technology that makes Rolex watches so desirable—it's also the materials. Newer pieces are crafted from 904L stainless steel, which is known in the industry as "corrosion-resistant superalloy" and dubbed "Oystersteel" by Rolex. It's one of the most durable and highest-quality metals you'll find in a watch, and it's able to withstand rust, corrosion, and even magnetic fields.

Most Expensive Rolex Watches

There's a specific model for every type of enthusiast or traveler, such as the Air-Kings for aviation, Explorers for adventurers, Sea-Dwellers and Submariners for divers, and the GMT-Master for travelers. Not to mention the aesthetic appeal of the Rolex platinum diamond pearlmaster watches—well appreciated by collectors.

Paul Newman-style Rolex Daytona can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The pre-owned market for Rolex watches is thriving, making them an excellent choice to diversify an investor's portfolio. Rolex models come with varying price tags, from the relatively accessible entry-level watches to the most expensive Rolex watch models of the year. Whether you're looking to invest in a watch or purchase one out of pure passion, there's the perfect Rolex for you.

1. Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona

  • Price Range: $190,000 to $950,000 
  • Highest Sale Price: $17.75 million (Oct. 2017)
  • Supply: Approximately 14,000
  • Type: Race

The Rolex Daytona, also known as the "Paul Newman" watch, is a highly sought-after timepiece because of its unique "exotic" dials and Art Deco-inspired numerals. The reference 6239, produced from 1963 to1969, featured stainless steel and 14- and 18-karat gold.

The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona was designed for race car drivers and featured a tachymeter and three sub-dials. Later versions had a silver or black dial, while gold models had either. The watch was made legendary by Paul Newman who wore a version gifted to him by his wife Joanne Woodward inscribed "Drive Carefully Me".

Paul Newman wearing a customized Rolex Daytona in 1980.

The Daytona Paul Newman Dial is not only one of the most valuable vintage watches on the market, but has also been a strong performer in terms of value appreciation. Some editions seeing an average price increase of around 50%.

In 2017, the Phillips auction house in New York sold a flashy 1968 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona once owned by the legendary late actor Paul Newman. Paul Newman’s Daytona set the bar high by selling for an eye-watering $15.5 million, with a final price of $17.8 million when you throw in the buyer's premium. This sale was a record breaker, as it became the most expensive Rolex watch ever sold at auction.

2. Rolex GMT-Master II

  • Price Range: $10,750 to $115,000 
  • Highest Sale Price: $1.9 million (2019)
  • Supply: N/A
  • Type: Pilot

The Rolex GMT-Master II is a classic wristwatch, popular among pilots, NASA, and the US Air Force thanks to its bidirectional rotatable bezel and water resistance. Marlon Brando once owned the iconic Ref. 1675 "Apocalypse Now" piece, and its recent updates like a Chromalight display and an 18-carat white gold and meteorite dial make it luxurious and worth investing in.

Dustin Hoffman wearing a Rolex GMT Master in the 1971 film 'Straw Dogs'.

The Rolex GMT-Master II has undergone several iterations over the years. The first version, known as the "Fat Lady" or "Sophia Loren," was released in 1982 and was only available in stainless steel with a black and red "Coke" bezel.

The reference 16710, released in the late 1980s, was slimmer and had an upgraded movement, with various bezel and bracelet options. The reference 116710, released in 2005, featured a Cerachrom ceramic bezel and a new Maxi dial, with a notable edition being the "Batman" ref. 116710BLNR.

The current generation of the GMT-Master II, the 12671 series, was released in 2018 and features a new Caliber 3285 movement. The average price range for a Rolex GMT-Master II ranges from $15,500 for a vintage model (ref. 16760 "Fat Lady") in good condition to around $83,000 for a modern model in precious metal (ref. 116718LN in yellow gold).

The appreciation of these watches ranges from a minimum of 75% for a modern black ceramic bezel model (ref. 116710LN) to a maximum of 201% for the yellow gold model (ref. 116718LN). So when thinking of investing in a luxury timepiece, the Rolex GMT Master ref 1675, 16710, and 126710 and GMT Master II are highly recommended options.

Apart from their exclusivity, these watches are sturdy and functional. Although some variations can be acquired at a reasonable cost, rare models have been observed to fetch huge sums. And those with custom inscriptions or distinct characteristics are even more exclusive and valuable.

3. Rolex “President” Day-Date

  • Price Range: $37,450 to $277,000
  • Highest Sale Price: $1.2 million (2019, Phillips auction)
  • Supply: 400
  • Type: Dress

The Rolex Day-Date, AKA the Rolex President Day-Date, was first introduced in 1956. It's considered the crown jewel of the Rolex catalog and is crafted in either solid 18 karat gold or 950L platinum. The Day-Date is known for being the first timepiece to offer a calendar with both a day and date display, with small star hour markers and a special jubilee bracelet (AKA Presidential bracelet).

Throughout its history, the Day-Date has undergone several improvements such as different dial options, including a rare pie-pan color with baton hour markers resembling golf trees. The Rolex Day Date has long been a favorite among U.S. Presidents, with figures such as Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Trump all known to have worn the iconic timepiece.

In 2022, Rolex rolled out new variants of the Day-Date, including models in yellow gold and platinum, with a variety of dial colors and materials such as "Rolex" green, onyx, meteorite, and diamond pavé.

The Rolex Day-Date is a highly sought-after watch,  known for its luxury and exclusivity. Not only does a Rolex watch retain value over time, but the value of the raw materials used in the Day-Date may also increase.

The Rolex Day-Date is the ultimate luxury watch and remains one of the best Rolex watches ever sold. It's worth every penny for those looking for a high-end investment piece.

U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson wearing a Rolex Day-Date.

The Rolex Day-Date is a classic luxury watch that's available in 36-millimeter or 40-millimeter case sizes and with or without diamond markers. The Day-Date President is only made with precious metals such as gold (yellow, white, or rose gold) and platinum.

The value of this watch has increased significantly in recent years. Platinum ref. 228396TBR with a diamond-set bezel has seen a 90% increase in value between 2020 and 2022. Other variants have also seen a significant appreciation, ranging from 15% to over 70%. It's clear that the Rolex Day-Date is a great investment that could continue growing in value.

4. Rolex “Unicorn” Daytona Reference 6265

  • Price Range: N/A
  • Highest Sale Price: $5.9 million 
  • Supply: 1
  • Type: Race

Introducing the ‘Unicorn’ Rolex—the world’s only known white gold manual-winding Daytona. Manufactured in 1970, this unique timepiece has a black Sigma dial with white gold indices and an 18-karat hallmarked oyster bracelet with a bark finish.

Rolex Daytona AKA “The Unicorn” sold at auction for $5.9 million in 2018.

This special piece is garnering a lot of attention, as its initial bid is set at a whopping three million dollars—making it the second most expensive Rolex ever offered at auction. The ‘Unicorn’ Rolex aims to beat its predecessor, with an estimated price of three million dollars and an actual price of almost six million dollars—making it the second highest price for a Rolex wristwatch at auction.

This ‘Unicorn’ Rolex is truly a one-of-a-kind piece, and collectors everywhere are eagerly awaiting the final result of this highly anticipated auction. Who knows? Maybe this unique timepiece will be the new record holder for the most expensive Rolex watch ever sold.

5. Rolex Reference 6062 "Bao Dai"

  • Price Range: $50,000 to $400,000 
  • Highest Sale Price: $5.06 million
  • Supply: 40
  • Type: Chronograph

The Rolex Ref. 6062 is a highly sought-after 1950's timepiece, as it's one of the few in existence with a moon phase and triple calendar complication. Made famous by Vietnamese Emperor Bau Dai, the Oyster case houses a black dial with diamond markers and the automatic caliber 655, making it a valuable vintage investment for watch aficionados. Pre-owned versions of this Rolex are available and promise years of reliability.

The Rolex reference 6062 "Bao Dai" is the most expensive rolex ever auctioned at $5M.

The steel Bao Dai Rolex watch has been sold at auction for a range of $50,000 to $400,000 in the past decade. The last steel 6062 was auctioned in 2013 for $371,156. The next one is estimated to sell for between $702,000 and $1,404,000.

So if you're looking for a truly unique and one-of-a-kind watch, the Rolex Ref. 6062 is a perfect choice. It's the ultimate collector's item and is sure to become an heirloom in no time.

6. Rolex Daytona Oyster Reference 6263

  • Price Range: $88,163 to $227,481
  • Highest Sale Price: $3.7 million 
  • Supply: 26,000
  • Type: Race

The Rolex Daytona ref. 6263 is a highly sought-after vintage watch among collectors. It's one of the most desirable models in the vintage Daytona family. Production of this particular variant took place from 1971 to 1987 and it was produced in a variety of materials, including stainless steel, 14-karat yellow gold, and 18-karat yellow gold.

The watch features a 37-millimeter case size and is powered by the famous manual-wind Valjoux 727 chronograph movement. The dials of the ref. 6263 comes in a variety of colors, including black, silver, champagne, and exotic (Paul Newman) with luminous hour markers. Additionally, the watch has a black acrylic bezel with a tachymeter scale, box-shaped acrylic crystal, and is water resistant up to 165 feet.

Prices for the Rolex Daytona (Ref. 6263) easily reach into the six figures.

On Sunday, May 14th, 2017, an ultra-rare 18-karat yellow gold Rolex Daytona Paul Newman ref. 6263, nicknamed "The Legend" fitted with a "lemon" grené dial and case back stamped 6239, sold for a staggering $4,182,023 at auction.

This 1969 watch is one of only three known examples in existence. It had an original estimated value of $1,000,000 to $2,000,000. Other Rolex watches like "The Legend" broke all previous records, including the earlier most expensive Daytona ever sold at auction, the Rolex Paul Newman Daytona ref. 6263/6239, which sold for $1,089,186 on November 10, 2013, and the Rolex Daytona ref. 6239 nicknamed "The Doctor" sold for $1,089,186 on May 14, 2016.

It's likely that the price of the watch will continue going up, as vintage and rare watches are highly sought after by collectors and often considered a sound investment. On top of that, the scarcity and uniqueness of this watch, being one of the three known examples in existence, will likely contribute to its value appreciation.

7. Rolex Submariner

  • Price Range: $10,000 to $1 million 
  • Highest Sale Price: $1.06 million (June 2018)
  • Supply: N/A
  • Type: Diver

The Rolex Submariner is a timeless dive watch with a history that dates back to 1953. It's most notably known for its top-notch quality and design, making it a highly sought-after watch by collectors.

The modern Submariner comes in two sizes, 40-millimeter and the newer 41-millimeter, and has several key features such as a Cerachrom ceramic bezel, 300-meter water-resistance, Chromalight lume, wide bezel, and fat lugs. It's powered by Caliber 3135 and 3130 for the 40-millimeter models and Caliber 3235 or 3230 for the 41-millimeter models, and has a power reserve of 42 hours (or 72 for the 41-millimeter models).

Pre-owned modern Submariner watches range from $10,000 to $15,000 for steel models, $13,000 to $19,000 for two-tone models, and $36,000 to $44,000 for gold models, with prices varying depending on the reference number and materials used.

Three versions of the Rolex Submariner Ref. 126610.

The iconic Submariner worn by Roger Moore in the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die shattered records for a Rolex Submariner at auction in 2015 by selling for a mind-boggling $365,000 despite not even working.

Adding to the watch's worth is the fact that it was customized for the movie. It features a turning buzzsaw on the bezel. In the film, 007 used its magnetic power was used to unzip Miss Caruso's dress and grab a spoon off a saucer.

The Rolex Submariner is not only a high-value collectible for its time-telling capabilities, but also a great investment if you are looking for a quality timepiece that's both stylish and a conversation-starter.

The Rolex Submariner has seen a significant price increase over the years. In the late 1950s, the Submariner with no date could be purchased for $150, which is equivalent to roughly $1,248 when adjusted for inflation.

By the early 1970s, the 18-karat Rolex Submariner was introduced and could be purchased for $230, or $1,422 in today's money. By the year 1984, the two-tone Rolex Submariner 16613 had a price of $2,975, or $6,745 with inflation.

In 2008, the retail price of the Rolex Submariner Date ref. 16610 was $6,000, or $6,560 with inflation, while the 18-karat gold Rolex Submariner was set at a price of $27,500, or $30,060 with inflation. By 2012, the Submariner 116618 had a price of $34,250, or $34,850 today.

Rolex Submariner value has been on the rise over time, despite some fluctuations. Its price has gone up by more than 20x since the late 1950s, so it's likely to be a profitable watch investment.

However, it's important to note that the watch market is dynamic, so prices may fluctuate depending on the rarity, demand, and overall condition a particular timepiece.

8. Rolex Paul Newman Daytona "Oyster Sotto" Ref. 6263

  • Price Range: $600,000 to $1 million
  • Highest Sale Price: $1.66 million 
  • Supply: <25
  • Type: Race

When they say "the world's most expensive watches," the Rolex Paul Newman Daytona "The Oyster Sotto" Ref. 6263 always sits at the top of the list. This rare and limited-edition Oyster steel watch is one of the most coveted timepieces in the world, and for good reason. With only around 20 models ever having been sold at auction, it's an exclusive and luxurious treat.

Perfect for collectors, this 37.5-millimeter bezel and 36.1-millimeter case timepiece boasts a manual wind caliber 727 movement, cementing its place as one of the most desirable watches out there. The estimated value of this investment-worthy timepiece tops $1 million.

The Rolex Daytona "Oyster Sotto" is one of the rarest watches in existence, selling for upwards of $16M.

This incredibly rare piece of watchmaking history stands out with its unique font type for the “R” of Rolex and its “G” and “H” design features. Dubbed "The Legend," this timepiece is arguably the most sought-after Daytona ever sold at auction, making it an esteemed symbol of luxury and exclusivity.

Are Rolex watches a good investment?

Rolex is renowned for its history, design, and impressive performance over the last decade. These famous watches have seen impressive value growth since 2011 and remain among the most coveted in the world, with the average price increasing from $5,000 to more than $13,000, according to Bob's Watches.

Scarcity further cements Rolex as a truly valuable luxury watch investment, Just take a look at the Paul Newman Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, becoming the most expensive watch ever sold at $17.8 million.

All in all, if you’re looking for a sound investment with minimal risks and great returns, it's no surprise that luxury watches—particularly Rolex watches—are some of the most reliable luxury items to invest in. With the ever-increasing demand for Rolex watches, the market for pre-owned luxury watches has never been stronger.

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