The Most Expensive Watch Brands In The World Today (And What They Cost)
These 8 luxury marques combine craftsmanship, brand cachet and exclusivity to create some of the most sought-after and expensive timepieces on the market.
How can you compile a list of the most expensive brands in the world? For starters the word ‘expensive’ is highly subjective. A £200/$200 Tissot could seem a bit pricey, while for those with deep pockets £300,000/$350,000 is small beer.
Then there’s the question of how do you define what makes a brand expensive – is it the minimum price of a watch or the maximum? Should Rolex have been on the list because it has gemset GMT Master IIs worth hundreds of thousands, despite technically being able to buy an Oyster Perpetual for £4,100/$4,750? What are the parameters?
It was decided the best way to compile this list was to combine ‘expensive’ with ideas of exclusivity and low production numbers alongside decent performance at auction, which is why Rolex and Omega aren’t included despite their very robust resale presence.
Generally speaking, the minimum buy-in is £10,000/$12,000 or above. An exception was made for Jacob & Co, but he has created an $18m timepiece, which seems the very definition of expensive. However, as with all lists this is subjective, so if you do disagree… answers on a postcard, please.
Why is Patek Philippe so expensive?
First, because they are so exclusive. Patek Philippe allegedly only makes 60,000 watches a year, and president Thierry Stern has said that to increase production he would have to compromise on quality; something he isn’t prepared to do.
That quality is the other reason Patek Philippe commands the prices it does – movements and cases are all beautifully hand finished and some of the grande complications are even engraved. Numerals are hand applied, some of the dials enamelled by hand as well.
Patek Philippe is so assured of the superior quality of its team’s handiwork, it set up its own set of standards and devised an eponymous seal because it believed the Poinçon de Genève, which the rest of the industry recognises, wasn’t stringent enough.
Auctions have also helped drive up the pre-owned prices. Henry Graves’ Supercomplication, which Patek Philippe made for the banker at his request, with 24 functions and 920 individual parts, went under the hammer for $24m in 2014 (approx. £20.4m). Eric Clapton’s Ref2499 in platinum also fetched $3.65m (approx. £3m) in 2012.
Entry-level Patek Philippe watch
Aquanaut in steel (£17,760/$20,650). But you won’t be able to buy that so realistically it’s the Ellipse in gold (£27,150/$31,550).
Most expensive Patek Philippe watch
At auction it’s the Grandmaster Chime, sold at Only Watch auction in 2019 for CHF31m (approx. £27.4m/$31.8m). In store, probably the 6301 in platinum, which has both a petite and grande sonnerie, and a minute repeater. It’s listed as POA but the internet reckons £1.1m/$1.25m.
Jacob & Co.
Why is Jacob & Co. so expensive?
The buy-in is comparatively low, but it’s the prices at the top end that earn Jacob & Co a place on this list. Unsurprisingly for a man who once ruled the diamond district in 80s and 90s New York, diamonds and the excessive use of them is one reason why these timepieces command the price tags they do.
However, Jacob isn’t all sparkle and no substance. His watches are also incredibly complex. The Astronomia Casino (below) has a fully operational miniature roulette wheel on its dial, while the Quettin has a vertical movement, with lateral-side tourbillon.
He’s also created watches with five time zones; numerous Astronomia designs, one of which had a spherical 288-facet Jacob-cut diamond; and the Opera Godfather Edition, which has a triple-axis tourbillon, a musical mechanism that plays The Godfather theme and a miniature of Don Corleone at its centre.
These watches may not be to everyone’s taste, but you can’t deny the creativity more than justifies the many zeroes on the receipt.
Entry-level Jacob & Co. watch
The Palatial Classic (£7,250/$8,400).
Most expensive Jacob & Co. watch
The Billionaire Ashoka (£15m/$17.5m), but this is a unique piece and only one has been made. At retail it’s probably the Astronomia Casino Roulette Skeleton (£565,900/$657,800).
Why is Audemars Piguet so expensive?
In part you are paying for the name. The rising popularity and lyric namechecks, among hip-hop stars and A-listers, has meant that a stainless-steel Royal Oak has risen dramatically in price from around £13,000 for a boutique exclusive less than 10 years ago to commanding upwards of £25,000 on the pre-owned market.
In 2019, CEO Francois Bennahmias announced that in five years, or hopefully sooner, the brand would only retail in its monobrand boutiques, ramping up its exclusivity, which was already pretty high given that AP only makes around 40,000 watches a year.
There is also the fact that Audemars Piguet watches are incredibly well made. All calibres are produced in-house, and it’s a brand that spends time and money on R&D – something not all brands are keen to do. All this adds up but, if you do have the money, an AP is well worth your investment.
Entry-level Audemars Piguet watch
The Royal Oak in stainless steel with a quartz movement (£13,800/$16,000). If you want a mechanical movement it’s £19,200/$22,300.
Most expensive Audemars Piguet watch
The Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon was sold for $5.2m at a charity auction in 2021. At retail, it’s the Royal Oak Openworked Grande Complication, listed as POA on AP’s website but on Chrono24 at ~£460,000/$535,000.
Why is F.P.Journe so expensive?
Maybe not a name everyone is familiar with, but F.P.Journe is the eponymous brand of Francois-Paul, who started in the industry as an apprentice antique timepiece restorer in the 70s, where he worked on original pieces from the likes of Breguet; something that greatly influenced his own brand, which launched in 1999.
Every component of his watches is designed, constructed and made in his workshop in Geneva, and he only produces 700 a year. Most references are made in tiny quantities and have waiting lists because collectors want a timepiece made by a living legend.
Prices of F.P.Journe timepieces on the pre-owned market have risen recently thanks to new collectors snapping up designs at auction, in order to bypass the waiting lists. Technically masterful, F.P.Journe is the only manufacture to win the top prize at Geneva’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie three times.
Entry-level F.P.Journe watch
The Elegante (£15,000/$17,400).
Most expensive F.P.Journe watch
The Tourbillon Souverain (£300,000/$350,000).
Why is Richard Mille so expensive?
While celebrity endorsements from the likes of Jay-Z, Rafa Nadal and Michelle Yeoh help, Richard Mille watches are expensive because they are technical marvels. Firstly, there’s the materials he uses, from carbon nano tubes and toughened ceramic to gold-infused carbon as well as experimenting with an entirely sapphire crystal case that takes two years to mill.
Then there’s the movements – invariably skeletonised and featuring everything from tourbillons to automated flowers that open, to G-Force detectors for F1 drivers and a ‘silent’ mechanical alarm for private-jet users.
Finally, they are super light and incredibly durable. Rumour has it that at his first Baselworld in 2001, Mille threw one of his watches, containing a tourbillon no less, on the floor to prove its resilience.
Entry-level Richard Mille watch
The RM 016 (£36,000/$42,000).
Most expensive Richard Mille watch
The RM056-02 was priced at £1.9m/$2.2m in 2014. It has a full sapphire crystal case and there were only 10 made.
Why is Vacheron Constantine so expensive?
While not as well known to the average person on the street as Rolex or Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin has been making watches continuously since 1755 – that’s 84 years longer than Patek and 150 more than Rolex.
Everything is made in-house (bar the cases and bracelets), and the brand has been integral in preserving crafts such as enamelling, which were nearly killed off by the dominance of quartz watches in the 80s, as well as having watchmakers onsite who are able to restore a watch the way Vacheron would have done in 1755.
All this attention to detail and craft maintenance is written into the price of a Vacheron Constantin. You also have the added cache of it being ABR (anything but Rolex).
Entry-level Vacheron Constantine watch
The FiftySix in steel (£10,800/$12,300).
Most expensive Vacheron Constantine watch
The 57260 pocket watch. The world’s most complicated pocket watch was commissioned by an anonymous collector, contains 57 complications and is estimated to be worth around £5m/$5.8m. If you’re buying, the Overseas Tourbillon boutique edition is £108,000/$125,000.
Why is MB&F so expensive?
It says everything that the eponymous Max Büsser calls his watches ‘machines’. These are no ordinary timekeepers but horological masterpieces for which time telling is a mere side function.
Büsser is able to create these incredible concepts by bringing together talented horological professionals (the ‘F’ in the name stands for ‘friends’, which both helped him get the brand off the ground and regularly collaborate) and allowing their creativity free reign. This has led to pieces inspired by spaceships piloted in 80s Japanese anime, jellyfish or that bear a striking resemblance to Wall-E’s head.
Obviously, this type of innovation cannot be done on a tight budget, but it’s worth it to have something quite so breathtaking on your wrist.
Entry-level MB&F watch
The LM101 (£62,900/$73,000).
Most expensive MB&F watch
The HM09 Flow Air Edition (£178,500/$207,000).
Why is Breguet so expensive?
A lot of the value of Breguet lies in its history. This is the resurrected marque of the man who invented the tourbillon and made watches for European royalty, including Empress Josephine, Napoleon and Carolin Murat, the Queen of Naples after whom a line of women’s watches with oval cases is named.
However, Breguet is still an innovative brand, with over 100 patents filed, combining tradition with up-to-the-minute technology such as silicon, and its skill with guilloche is unparalleled.
It might not be as luxe as the likes of Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin, but it still delivers a decent watch for the price.
Entry-level Breguet watch
The Type XXI Transatlantique (£10,300/$12,000).
Most expensive Breguet watch
Technically that would be the Marie Antoinette No160 pocket watch that Breguet made for Marie Antoinette, valued at $30m/$25.3m. However, if you’re looking to actually buy something then its the Double Tourbillon with diamonds (£677,000/$800,000).