Twenty-nineteen was one of the best years on record for the watch divisions of auction houses. In November, the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 6300A-010 fetched $31m at Christie’s, making it the most expensive timepiece ever sold at auction.

Meanwhile, Sotheby’s watch division had its highest-grossing year, bringing in $109m, up 22 per cent from 2018.

What makes watches so appealing? James Marks, international specialist and director for watches at auction house Phillips, says it’s both about passion and trophies, a sentiment echoed by collectors. Watches are coveted for their investment value but also for their history, scarcity and design.

This year, the major watch trade shows and auctions have been postponed or cancelled on account of Covid-19, leaving little opportunity for seeing pieces in person. Yet online and private sales remain robust, auction houses say. Christie’s will hold its next round of watch auctions in July, including a Hong Kong sale of what it describes as “the most valuable single-owner collection of Patek Philippe timepieces ever offered in Asia”.

Could a new record be in the offing? First, a look at the 10 most valuable styles ever sold on the block.

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Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 6300A-010, $31m, Christie’s, 2019
Part of The Grandmaster Chime series introduced by Patek Philippe in 2014, the company says the model (above) is the most complicated it has ever produced, and this is the only one of its type made of steel. It features gold Breguet numerals, a hand-guilloched (an intricate engraving technique) hobnail centre, a year display and subdials. The strap is hand-stitched alligator leather with square scales. If that weren’t glam enough, it also comes with a steel case and a salmon dial inscribed with the words “The Only One”.

Above, left to right:

1933 Patek Philippe The Henry Graves Supercomplication, $24m, Sotheby’s, 2014 Named after the American banker who commissioned it in 1925, Patek Philippe describes this watch as the most complex it has made without the assistance of computer technology.

Rolex Daytona Ref 6239, $17,752,500, Phillips, 2017
Celebrity items tend to fetch high prices at auction, and this Rolex Daytona owned and worn by the late American actor Paul Newman sold for a record-shattering $17.8m after a 12-minute bidding war.

Patek Philippe Ref 1518, $11.1m, Phillips, 2016
This was the first perpetual chronograph wristwatch ever to be produced in a series. Just 281 pieces were made between 1940 and the early 1950s, and only four were made of steel (these are highly coveted among collectors and rarely come up at auction).

Above, left to right:

Patek Philippe Gobbi Milan ‘Heures Universelles’ Ref 2523, $9m, Christie’s, 2019
This 18ct pink gold two-crown wristwatch was manufactured for the luxury Milan-based retailer Gobbi. Collectors went crazy for the Reference 2523 model because of its unique double signature featuring both Patek Philippe and Gobbi. Only one other example, which is single-signed, is known to exist.

Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref 5016A-010, $7.3m, Phillips, 2015
Collector demand for this style surged after Patek Philippe stopped producing it in 2011. The watch combines three unique features, making it extremely rare: the tourbillon (a complicated mechanism that increases the watch’s accuracy, usually exposed on the watch face), a perpetual calendar and a minute repeater.

Patek Philippe Titanium Ref 5208T-010, $6.2m, Christie’s, 2017
Created for the biennial charity auction Only Watch in 2011, where it sold for a then record-breaking $6.4m, this was the only titanium version of the 5208 triple-complication wristwatch (a watch that displays the date, day and months with or without moon phases) to be made. However, the clincher was the reworked movement inside, a first for Patek.

Above, left to right:

Rolex Daytona Unicorn Ref 6265, $5.9m, Phillips, 2018
This one-of-a-kind watch, nicknamed ‘Unicorn’, is a white gold Reference 6265 Daytona manufactured in 1970. It emerged from the private collection of John Goldberger, an elusive Italian watch collector whose real name is Auro Montanari. Although he had pledged never to sell it, he eventually put the watch up for auction in aid of Children Action.

Patek Philippe Gold Chronograph Ref 1527, $5.7m, Christie’s, 2010
Manufactured in 1943, this 18ct gold perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch, stamped with the Geneva seal, has moon phases and a tonneau-shaped case. The first 37.6mm diameter watch of its kind to have appeared on the market for 20 years, it sold for more than double its pre-auction high estimate of $2.25m.

Rolex Bao Dai Ref 6062, $5.2m, Phillips, 2017
According to specialist watch website Hodinkee, only three models of this style are known to exist, and the watch that sold at Phillips in 2017 has an intriguing backstory. Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam, met with world leaders in Switzerland following the first Indochina war (1946-54). During his visit he went to famed Rolex retailer Chronomètre Philippe Beguin and demanded the rarest Rolex. It was here he procured the Ref 6062 in yellow gold, with a black dial and diamond indexes. The piece now belongs to a mystery buyer.

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