Whether worn on the wrist of everyone’s favorite British spy or the first man on the moon, a unique watch can make quite the statement and set trends for decades to come. Some of the world’s most fashionable watches achieved their popularity by their proximity to fame; people wanting to wear a tuxedo and order a martini—shaken, not stirred—need to have the appropriate wristwatch to go with the ensemble.
On the other hand, while some timepieces have obtained their elite status through high-profile product placement, others need no introduction. These watches, meticulously crafted by well-known luxury watchmakers, draw their exclusive appeal from the brand names inscribed on their dials—names like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Richard Mille…the list goes on.
While some watches gain prominence because of their association with fame, and others maintain a high profile due to their manufacturers’ reputation, one thing is undeniable: a unique watch is a priceless addition to any watch enthusiast’s collection.
Here are some of our favorite unique watches that have captured the attention of collectors throughout history.
The Name’s Submariner—Rolex Submariner.
Rolex should be applauded not only for crafting a high-quality luxury watch but also for their skill at marketing and product placement.
The luxury watchmaker released their first water-resistant watch, the Oyster, in 1926—and they knew to get it onto the wrist of Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the English Channel. The swim lasted for over 10 hours, and when Gleitze made it to dry land, the Oyster was still in perfect working order.
Likewise, when Rolex released the Submariner, another dive watch, their design found itself on the big screen, famously accessorizing Sean Connery’s James Bond.
While some watch collectors had bought up dive watches before the 007 movies, the Submariner’s popularity skyrocketed after Dr. No, the first Bond movie that featured the classic timepiece. It also appeared with Connery in From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball—and the watch is now so closely associated with the fictional secret agent that it’s referred to as the James Bond Submariner.
Because of the watch’s place in Hollywood history (and people’s desire to be compared to James Bond), Submariners fetch a very high price. In 2018, a Submariner 6538 with a rare dial design sold for $1,068,500, making it the most expensive Rolex Submariner ever sold at auction. Today, you can find secondhand Submariners online, starting at around $20,000.
If you want a dive watch to pair with your shaken martini but can’t afford the premium price tag of a Rolex Submariner, check out Jack Mason’s stunning Seatrek Automatic—a classic-looking dive watch with modern capabilities. Its movement is a Seiko (SII) Caliber NH35A, which houses 24 jewels and has a power reserve of 41 hours. This beautiful timepiece features dual-colored Swiss Super-Luminova® markings for high legibility—so you can easily read the time, even if you’re in high-speed, underwater pursuit of a brilliant supervillain.
A Watch For Astronauts
Highly specialized watches have found themselves on the wrists of adventuring professionals, such as pilots and racecar drivers. Still, very few timepieces have had the privilege of joining their wearers in outer space.
Enter the Moonwatch. Officially the Omega Speedmaster Professional, this watch got its nickname for being the first watch on the moon. NASA had provided Speedmasters (also called Speedies) to the crew of the Apollo 11 mission before takeoff.
In addition to the Omega, Rolex, Longines, and Hamilton all submitted their hopeful designs. NASA engineer James H. Ragan performed a series of rigorous tests on all of the watches to assess their ability to handle deep-space elements. The Speedmaster outperformed them all.
Featuring a signature black dial, a small seconds sub-dial, a 30-minute recorder, and a 12-hour recorder, this deceptively simple-looking timepiece came with many valuable tools so that astronauts could stay safe while far, far away from home.
The 50th anniversary of the lunar landing was just a few years ago, and a first-generation Speedy from 1958 sold for almost $410,000—an astronomical price (sorry, we had to) that indicates that many of today’s watch collectors care more about functionality and history than simple luxury.
The World’s Most Expensive Watch
Held in Geneva, Switzerland every other year, Only Watch is a high-profile luxury watch charity auction that features unique watches made by the world’s finest watchmakers. Each piece sold at Only Watch is one-of-a-kind, making this event a watch collector’s mecca—as long as those collectors are able to pay the exorbitant prices fetched by these unique timepieces.
Luc Pettavino founded the event in 2005. That year, Pettavino’s son had developed Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a horrible disease that eventually took his life. Since its inception, Only Watch has raised millions of dollars to benefit research on the disease, with 100% of the proceeds from the event going to this cause.
While these watches are well out of the price range of most collectors, their uniqueness can’t be denied—and we have to mention their top seller: the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime.
This unique timepiece sold at Only Watch 2019 for $31 million—the highest price paid for any watch ever sold at auction.
This watch was crafted specifically for Only Watch and is the only Grandmaster Chime that will ever be made in stainless steel. With four spring barrels driving 20 complications—including a minute repeater, instantaneous perpetual calendar with a four-digit year display, second time zone, day/night indicator, day/date, month, leap-year cycle, and many more—this is an exquisitely designed wristwatch, and the most complicated watch that Patek Philippe has ever produced. And just to remind admirers that this watch is one-of-a-kind, there’s an inscription on the dial that reads: “THE ONLY ONE.”
This is an especially sought-after timepiece because this kind of Patek Philippe watch has never been made available for purchase by the broader public. In the past, Grandmaster Chime watches have been considered “application timepieces,” which means that collectors need to submit an application to Patek Philippe in order to prove themselves worthy of owning one.
A Prototype of Olympic Proportions
Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille has a knack for crafting timepieces that combine sportiness with luxury; their uniquely-shaped watches are sought-after for their exceptional performance and distinctive style.
Yohan Blake, a Jamaican sprinter, was the original wearer of Richard Mille’s RM038. This famous watch would later appear at the Only Watch auction.
Blake won the gold medal for the 100m at the 2011 World Championships, making him the youngest 100m world champion in history, and would place second at the London Olympics for both the 100m and 200m races. As Blake became the second-fastest man ever in both races, he sported an iconic Richard Mille prototype that was sporty, fashionable, and eye-popping.
At Only Watch 2013, Richard Mille offered the prototype that Blake had worn across the finish line. Bright and flashy, the sports luxury watch featured the yellow, green, and white of the Jamaican flag. Artfully displayed in a magnesium case, the prototype movement is completely visible, showing the timepiece’s inner workings in all their Olympian glory.
So Many Unique Watches, So Little Time
While having millions of dollars in spending money certainly has its benefits, you don’t need to be a millionaire to own a high-quality wristwatch. There are countless models on the market that are made with painstaking care—but that don’t come with an unimaginable price tag.
At Jack Mason, we create watches that are able to be worn every day while lasting a lifetime—and they come with a lifetime warranty to prove it. We offer this warranty because we are confident that our watches come second to none. The Jack Mason watches are made from top-quality materials, including Japanese and Swiss movements, sapphire crystals, and Italian leather straps.
And because we believe that premium watches should be affordable to everybody, we make sure to offer Jack Mason watches at a reasonable price. Nobody should have to pay $31 million for a watch that they love—so our collection is full of exquisitely crafted watches that don’t break the bank.
Like James Bond’s Submariner, all Jack Mason watches are water-resistant, allowing them to be taken underwater. And while we haven’t submitted any offerings to NASA just yet, we hope that a Jack Mason Pilot Watch will someday fly among the stars. For now, we’re very happy with our unique collection—and we think you will be too.