In this final chapter of our series on budget watch guides, we’re going to focus on some of the most expensive and exceptional timepieces on the market, and ones that are rarely seen except on the wrists of the planet’s most respected and affluent individuals.
Many of the watches contained in this list are not available for public sale, are produced in minimal quantities or must be applied for before one is granted the ability to procure one.
With that said, there are ways to navigate the red tape and there are reputable dealers that have access to second hand timepieces that can be sold without warranty.
With that said, I am proud to introduce you to some of the most superlative and resplendent watches ever created.
Vacheron Constantin Tour De L’Ile – $1,400,000.00
Many horologists will argue whether the Vacheron Constantin Tour De L’Ile is the most spectacular grand complication ever produced or whether that title should go to the Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon – another timepiece featured on this list of exquisite watches. The remarkable and complicated Tour De L’Ile features 16 various complications utilizing 834 individual parts. A flawlessly designed work of art, this remarkably simplistic watch will forever go down as one of my favorite timepieces ever produced. After more than 10,000 hours of design time, just seven watches were placed on the market in 2005 and met such immense critical acclaim that it won the prestigious L’Aiguille d’Or, top honors at the 2005 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve. The timepiece is so seductively complicated that it leaves critics such as myself in awe even after almost a decade has passed since it was first introduced. This is one of the most exceptional timepieces ever created by a manufacturer that has continually deserved its ranking amongst the holy trinity of watch makers.
Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon Ref. 5002 – $1,200,000.00
My absolute favorite timepiece ever created, the Sky Moon Tourbillon by Patek Philippe is nothing short of a horological miracle. Designed by the legendary Patek Philippe, there is no other watchmaker in the world as revered as Patek. For centuries, Patek Philippe has led the watch industry by storm, and this particular grand complication is the pinnacle of their work in horology. Available in both platinum and gold, this timepiece is an elegant, but exceptionally large watch that demands respect for its ingenuity, aesthetic appeal and complicated movement that has rendered it one of the rarest and most exceptional timepieces ever created. While there is yet another version of this watch, called the Ref 6002, it is the 5002J that remains my personal favorite. This is absolutely, without question, equivocation or mental reservation, the crown jewel of any of the world’s finest watch collections.
Greubel Forsey Quadruple Tourbillon – $775,000.00
Not many watchmakers have managed to create timepieces quite like Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey. Their dedication to the use and perfected precision of the tourbillon is second to none and it’s that level of quality in such a prized complication that has lifted Greubel Forsey to the very highest echelons in the watch making industry. This particular timepiece showcases the very ultimate in refined timekeeping utilizing an absolutely exceptional movement that relies on two pairs of tourbillons connected seamlessly to a spherical differential and in inverse positions. Watching the performance of the watch is akin to watching a fine ballet or opera. It is a perfect blend of passion and grace which is representative of the special link between the timepiece and its collector. This is a truly unique timepiece that is worthy of the attention of the most discerning collector. It is rare and it is spectacular.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Hybris Mechanica à Grande Sonnerie – $2,500,000.00
Many of you know of my love for Jaeger-LeCoultre timepieces and it’s for watches such as this, that I have dedicated such an invested interest in the Swiss watchmaker.
When this timepiece came out in 2009 it was instantly recognized as the most complicated watch ever produced. With more than 1472 parts actively working in unison to move the watch, it is one of the most complex watches ever created in the history of horology. The primary interest that collectors have in this particular timepiece is the rethought minute repeater that Jaeger-LeCoultre recreated and then perfected again. Their exceptional ingenuity managed to create an absolutely stunning movement featuring a Grande Sonnerie with Westminster chimes that rings out the longest melody ever played by any watch with a striking mechanism. Combine that with a perpetual calendar and flying tourbillon and you’ve got one of the most sophisticated and elegant timepieces ever made. A truly rare diamond, it is one watch that is revered by virtually all horologists, including those who aren’t typically fans of the JLC brand.
Breguet Classique Grande Complication Tourbillon Messidor – $154,000.00
One of the most iconic, and certainly one of my favorite timepieces by Breguet, this particular timepiece was named in honor of the founder Abraham Louis Breguet as a tribute to his invention of the tourbillon which was first patented on 7 Messidor year IX (June 26, 1801) according to the French revolutionary calendar. The watch is quintessentially Breguet with a skeletonized dial showcasing the brilliant interior movement which is nothing short of superlative. The timepiece is a radiant piece of art that exemplifies some of the finest watchmaking skills in Switzerland. This is not a timepiece you wear on a daily basis with jeans and a polo shirt, but a timepiece that needs and deserves to be treasured, gracing your wrist on only the most special of occasions before being returned to a safe and secure place in your watch vault behind the Chagall in your home office.
Confrerie Horlogere La Clef du Temps Tourbillon – $410,000.00
In my opinion, this is one of the most unique and peculiar looking watches ever created for the luxury market. With just 24 of them produced, it resembles something you would see in an early 90’s sci-fi flick that takes place in the future. Made mostly of titanium what really separates this watch aside from its appearance is its ability to slow and increase the speed of the time keeping functionality. It really is a remarkable timepiece, but one that is reserved for a very select few who deem it aesthetically pleasing and not revolting to look at. What’s your opinion of this watch? Would you buy it?
Audemar Piguet Millenary No. 5 – $510,700.00
The good news is that you can purchase a Millenary for significantly less than this price point. This particular model is one of the more expensive and refined versions in the range. The less costly models actually begin around the $20,000 mark which is exceptionally reasonable considering the reputation behind this coveted brand. I chose this particular model because of it’s unusual and whimsical appearance. Unlike most watches at this price point, this particular timepiece helps to showcase its collectors personality. The oval shape of the watch allows for an almost three dimensional depth that’s typically only found in great architecture. Despite its rather unique appearance, it still remains a very elegant and refined piece of horological artistry that showcases the very best craftsmanship that Audemar Piguet has become so well known for. Another member of the holy trinity of watchmakers; Audemar Piguet is one brand that is cherished and celebrated by watch aficionados the world over. This timepiece is a testament to their limitless abilities and ingenuity. It is a worthy contender if you’re looking for a casual, yet refined timepiece in this price range.
Patek Philippe Grand Complication Ref. 5104P – $900,000.00
If you’re looking for a Patek Philippe timepiece that really stands out and costs less than $1 million this might be the timepiece for you. A harmonious blend of simplicity and complexity, this timepiece is an exquisite blend of rarified beauty, horological ingenuity and sophisticated technology. This particular watch is rare in many ways, but significantly due to its skeleton dial which showcases its absolutely stunning movement that is so complex it would prove impossible to follow for anyone who isn’t a watchmaker. It is awe inspiring, a breathtaking glimpse into one of the most significant timepieces of modern time. There really is no other watch like it in the Grand Complication Collection by Patek Philippe.
Hublot Black Caviar Bang – $1,000,000.00
Winner of the Best Design Prize at the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix in 2005, the Black Caviar Bang by Hublot is a watch that any rap artist would love. Unfortunately for them, it’s a limited edition of just one. Priced at $1,000,000.00 and already sold the watch is shockingly understated yet comes with an 18k white gold case that’s blinged out with 322 precision cut black diamonds on the case, 179 on the bezel and 30 on the clasp of the traditional rubber strap totaling a whopping 34.5 carats. In the vast majority of cases, including this one, I refrain from placing my name on watches that rely on precious gems to sell them. However, this is not a recommendation but a list of high priced, high budget watches and tastes vary which is why this timepiece has received a spot on it. The question I urge people to ask is “when I take away the bling – is the watch worth anything?” Fortunately, in this particular case it really is quite a well made timepiece. Of course the majority of the price tag is due to its diamonds, but overall it’s not a bad watch and would probably otherwise be listed around the $15-20,000 mark without its bling. So why is it such a desirable timepiece in the minds of a collector? Because it doesn’t get any rarer than just a single watch being made. That’s the definition of exclusivity.
Audemar Piguet Jules Audemars Tourbillon Grande Date – $245,500.00
This is quite possibly my favorite timepiece produced by Audemar Piguet. Despite their horological significance as a manufacturer, I often find their watches to be, quite simply, grotesque. I appreciate that they’re very popular, but the prolific Royal Oak collections don’t do anything for me. In fact, I think they’re an eyesore. However, this Jules Audemar collection timepiece is really quite exquisite in my opinion. It has the remarkably sophisticated movement that Audemar Piguet is so well known and respected for, but encases it in a dial of pure elegance and timeless beauty. The tourbillon of course takes center stage and is incredibly complex in comparison to the otherwise simplistic appeal of the watch. Hand crafted, it comes in two versions, one with a black face that’s ideal for evening wear and one with a creamy white face that pairs perfectly with a business suit during the day. While I never thought I’d say this, I actually prefer the black face, something that I don’t often like. Perhaps it’s due to the old Movado watches that I disdain, but something about the black dial has always revolted me. In this particular timepiece, it engages me. It even excites me. This is a truly remarkable watch and it is worthy of your praise and desire.
Bovet Tourbillon Jumping Hours – $299,000.00
Another uniquely styled timepiece, Bovet is certainly known for pushing the boundaries of luxury watchmaking and creating some of the most unusual and yet stylish timepieces on the market today. Exotic and original, this timepiece is really what the entire brand is about. It’s exquisitely decorated like a fine sculpture and yet boasts a movement inside that is equally original and brilliantly well made. This is a great addition to any collection and one that is perfect for those who enjoy social peacocking.
Patek Philippe Split Seconds Chronograph – $235,000.00
I’m only going to say this once. There is no chronograph in the world that compares to this timepiece by Patek Philippe. Certainly there are many that are just as accurate, however, none come from such a storied and well respected horological institution. Patek Philippe is arguably the most well respected manufacturer in the world and has, for centuries, created the most superlative timepieces ever seen. This watch is no different. It is a horological masterpiece that is without question worthy of its price tag. Of course, one does not acquire this timepiece simply because they’re looking for a chronograph. A collector procures a watch like this out of an unwavering love of haute horologie that is unexplainable to most but a defined part of his character and personality. This watch is a testament to the collectors soul and happens to offer a time keeping complication that can be used should he want to time how long it takes to drive his classic Jaguar XK120 from his estate to his office down the road. This watch is phenomenal in many ways and its movement is no exception. For any gentleman looking for the most discerning and exceptional chronograph on the market, this is the pick for you.
Graham Tourbillon Orrery – $330,000.00
With a movement inside that was designed by famed watchmaker Christophe Claret, this timepiece is as remarkable as it is accurate. More than just a watch, it is, as its name suggests, an orrey. What’s an orrey you ask? It’s a device that shows the orbital pattern of the Earth, the moon and Mars as they rotate around the sun. The technology uses a complicated and intricate system of steel rhodium, blue sapphire and red ruby balls that move harmoniously around the sun which is represented by an 18k fiery red gold lattice. For those with an interest in astronomy, this is an exceptional choice. For those without, it still remains a great pick. The movement is nothing short of exceptional and the watch is so storied and passionate that any collector would be proud to feature this timepiece. There really is nothing quite like it.
Girard-Perregaux Opera – $245,000.00
This is the Maria Callas of watches. A graceful and poetic timepiece with lungs on it that demand your utmost attention. It’s simplistically elegant, irrationally complex and yet boasts a certain je ne sais quoi that keeps hold of your eye. The movement is dynamic and exceptionally well crafted, the aesthetics are enchanting and of course, they feature a musical chime that is secondary only to the Westminster melody found on the Jaeger-LeCoultre listed above. What’s nice is there are actually a few different models, each with their own features and unique design. This is a valuable and praiseworthy addition to any fine collection and I encourage you to consider it for your own.
A. Lange & Sohne Tourbograph Pour Le Merite – $579,800.00
Arguably the greatest watchmaker in Germany, A. Lange & Söhne is single handedly responsible for making Glashutte the largest regional competitor to Geneve. Every watch that comes from them is exemplary and this particular timepiece is no exception. In fact, this watch is quite possibly the most remarkable watch ever made by them. Every last detail has been taken into consideration by A. Lange & Söhne and the movement is one of the greatest movements ever developed with just over 1000 parts including 41 operational rubies adjusted to five positions. The timepiece features a split second chronograph that’s capable of measuring one sixteenth of a second. If I was to compare this timepiece to any other watch manufacturer it would fall in the same category as any Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin. It’s remarkable.
This concludes our series on recommended watches in various budgets. Of course, we will continue to discuss watches in all price points and delve further into some of the timepieces featured in this series. If you haven’t already seen our low, medium and big budget watch guides, I would strongly encourage you to take a gander as you may just find your next timepiece worthy of your own personal collection.