Hubert Burda Media

10 Watches That Cost Over a Million

Priced upwards of a million and nary a diamond in sight? We list 10 watches prized for their complicated mechanisms.

Vacheron Constantin Atelier Cabinotiers Ref 57260 (2015)
The world’s most complicated pocket watch

Price: Undisclosed, but Forbes estimates its value at US$8 million

To celebrate 260 years of uninterrupted history, Vacheron Constantin has just released a pocket watch so complicated it’s simply unimaginable. As a result, it sets a new record for “the most complicated watch ever made” — a title that does not change hands very often and is unlikely to be beaten anytime soon. A unique piece commissioned by an anonymous American customer, the Hallmark of Geneva-certified timepiece codenamed “Tivoli” was entirely developed and crafted by three in-house watchmakers exclusively dedicated to this project for eight years. In the industry, only a handful of brands have the means to build such a watch that comes equipped with a whopping 57 complications (including some that have never been seen before) and with 10 new patents. The massive white gold case — measuring 98mm in diameter and 50.55mm thick, and weighing 960g — houses the manual-winding Calibre 3750. Making full use of both sides of the watch to display the enormous amount of data, the designers were challenged to achieve clarity and harmony. Complications include regulator-style hours, minutes and seconds, moon phases, the age of the moon, a double retrograde rattrapante chronograph, an alarm, a minute repeater, a grande sonnerie using Westminster chimes, a petite sonnerie, three perpetual calendars (Hebraic, Gregorian and standard), a second time zone with day/night indicator, a world time display, a triple-axis tourbillon with spherical balance spring, sunrise and sunset times, a star chart, an equation of time and markings for the seasons, equinoxes and zodiac. The unusual double retrograde rattrapante chronograph is a first in watchmaking, as the two chronograph hands do not start together from the centre, but instead travel across arcs located at both sides of the dial. This is also the first time three perpetual calendars are being incorporated in a single watch; while the addition of an automatic “night-time silence” mode also allows the owner to stop the timepiece from chiming between 10pm and 8am.

H. Moser & Cie. Venturer Tourbillon Dual Time Sapphire Skeleton (2015)
The first sapphire crystal watch with 3D-printed strap

Price: CHF1 million

A two-year project developed by a team of 22 people, the one-off Venturer Tourbillon Dual Time Sapphire Skeleton was bought by Parisian retailer Chronopassion on the first day of Baselworld this year. Its value may be explained by the unique combination of a few factors: A self-winding in-house manufactured one-minute tourbillon movement in nickel silver that also features a second time zone; an entirely decorated and skeletonised movement; a three-part sapphire crystal case that required 588 hours to machine and 92 hours to finish; and a rubber strap crafted using 3D printing — a world first in watchmaking. The splendour of the three-day power reserve HMC 803 calibre with red gold bidirectional rotor, which took 15 months to develop, is also visible through the transparent sapphire case, front and back. As a nod to heritage watchmaking, nickel silver — the preferred material for calibres before the industry turned to solid brass — was chosen for the movement, even though it was more challenging to work with.

Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref 5175 (2014)
Patek Philippe’s most complicated wristwatch

Price: CHF2.5 million

Patek Philippe has played a lead role in the last 175 years of Swiss watchmaking history. And to commemorate this milestone, it introduced a collection of limited edition anniversary watches in 2014, including the star piece: The Grandmaster Chime Ref 5175, one of the world’s most complicated timepieces. It holds six different patents, is Patek Philippe’s first double-face reversible wristwatch and sports a 47.4-mm rose gold hand-engraved case that can be worn with either dial facing up. One dial side focuses on the time and the sonnerie, while the other showcases a full instantaneous perpetual calendar with a four-digit year display. Changing the face is incredibly straightforward, thanks to a clever reversing mechanism in the lugs of this user-friendly timepiece. This highly complex 1,366-part manually wound movement is powered by four spring barrels and boasts 20 complications, including grande and petite sonneries, a minute repeater, a second time zone with day/night indicator, power reserve indicators, moon phase display, three strikework displays and two patented world premieres: A time-striking alarm and a date repeater that sounds the date on demand. A product seven years in the making, it required more than 100,000 hours for development, production and assembly, of which 60,000 hours were devoted to the movement components. Only seven timepieces will be made, with one designated for the Patek Philippe Museum.

Richard Mille RM 56-02 Sapphire Tourbillon (2014)
The first watch made entirely in sapphire crystal

Price: US$2.02 million

The third and most recent iteration in Richard Mille’s line of sapphire tourbillon timepieces is the RM 56-02 that features a case, centre bridges, tourbillon and barrel made entirely out of sapphire crystal, as well as a movement suspended from an elaborate cable and pulley system. The specially developed single suspension cable is braided to 0.35mm thick and manipulated via pulleys situated at the movement’s four corners and additional points along its periphery. A ratchet at nine o’clock regulates the tension of the cable, while an arrow-shaped indicator at 12 o’clock allows easy examination of the tightness of the cord. This movement construction was originally used on the RM27-01 Rafael Nadal watch with the sole purpose of withstanding shocks and hard hits. Manufacturing the curved three-part case was particularly difficult because sapphire crystal is an extremely hard and scratch-resistant material. Experts Stettler in Lyss, Switzerland milled and ground the case from blocks of sapphire crystal, which cracks easily. It takes 40 days of round-the-clock machining to produce one RM 56-02 case while the movement bridges require an additional 400 hours of machining and finishing. Only 10 pieces of the watch will be made.

A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication (2013)
The most complicated wristwatch ever crafted by A. Lange & Söhne

Price: €1.92 million

Featuring a grande sonnerie, petite sonnerie, minute repeater, split-seconds chronograph with minute counter, flying seconds accurate to one-fifth of a second, perpetual calendar and moon phase display, this is the most complicated wristwatch ever built in Germany. Shattering expectations in more ways than one, the rattrapante mechanism, grande sonnerie and the perpetual calendar indications (that advance in jumps) can be activated simultaneously at midnight without loss of amplitude. Presented in a 50-mm pink gold case and white enamelled dial, the watch features a unique combination of seven complications that took Lange’s product developers seven years to develop. Only six of these watches will be offered, with each of the 876-part in-house manufactured manual-winding Calibre L1902 demanding approximately a year of assembly work from one experienced watchmaker.

Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatuor (2013)
The world’s first silicon watch with four sprung balances

Price: CHF1 million

The Geneva-seal stamped Excalibur Quatuor shows off the fully integrated manufacture’s expertise in complications. It features a high-frequency 16Hz movement — the 590-part Calibre RD101 — that incorporates four sprung balances and five differentials to tackle the challenges presented by gravity. As one of only a few brands that can manufacture sprung balances in-house, Roger Dubuis chose to include four in the same movement in a world first. They work in pairs to instantly compensate for rate variations caused by changes in a watch’s position and add a completely original power reserve indicator. It was actually the brand’s double flying tourbillon with a differential introduced in 2005 that laid the foundations of the seven-year research programme required to produce the Excalibur Quatuor. Offered in a case made of silicon, this is available in a strictly limited edition of three pieces.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Hybris Mechanica à Grande Sonnerie (2009)
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s most complex watch

Price: Estimated at US$1.5 million but only offered in an exclusive set of three watches worth US$2.5million

One of the most complex timepieces in the industry, the 30-piece limited-edition super-complication in a white gold case, measuring 44mm in diameter and 15mm thick, was first presented in 2009 as a concept piece, which then required an additional five years to fine-tune. More than 1,300 people worked on the production of the 1,472-part watch and it takes nine months for one watchmaker to assemble the timepiece. The manually wound Calibre 182 movement features a minute repeater, petite sonnerie and grande sonnerie with full Westminster chimes that plays the longest melody ever chimed by a striking timepiece; it also comes complete with the proprietary monobloc crystal gongs and trebuchet hammers that contribute to better resonance. Additionally, the watch also showcases a perpetual calendar, flying tourbillon and two power reserve indicators contained in the classic Duomètre case. One of the most advanced movements ever created for a wristwatch, the brand didn’t merely conceive a new minor adaptation based on existing striking watch concepts, but completely reassessed and improved the main principles of musical mechanisms by relying on its experience and savoir faire acquired over the past 182 years, a period over which it developed and produced more than 1,242 calibres.

Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1 (2013)
The first wristwatch with integrated micro-sculpture

Price: More than US$1.5 million

Imagine a creation so small that it can literally pass through the eye of a needle. Then pair it with Greubel Forsey’s iconic Double Tourbillon 30°, another work of micromechanics with its one-minute cage inclined at 30 degrees rotating within a second exterior four-minute cage. The result is the one-of-a-kind Art Piece 1, a collaboration between the independent watchmaker and English artist, Willard Wigan, who makes the world’s smallest sculptures. Known for making nano art under a microscope, Wigan crafts scenes and figurines — everything from Cinderella and the Statue of Liberty, to Michelangelo’s David — from gold, hair or diamonds inside the eye of a needle. His creations require enormous amounts of time and are so small that he has learnt to control his breath to sculpt between his heartbeats. The Art Piece 1 incorporates a built-in optical-grade microscope — the watchmaker’s most challenging technical contribution to this design — which enables the owner to admire Wigan’s tiny figure mounted inside: A three-masted sailing ship called Golden Sails, whose hull and sails were crafted from extremely thinned gold. Upping the challenge, the watchmaker also endeavoured to ensure there would be enough natural light filtering through to view the artwork without artificial illumination. With two small hands discreetly displaying the time behind a silvered shutter only when a pusher is pressed, the motivation behind the watch is undoubtedly artistic.

Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 (2009)
The world’s most complicated wristwatch

Price: US$2.7 million

Featuring a record-setting 36 complications, 1,483 components, 99 rubies, a 1,000-year calendar and five years of work, each Aeternitas Mega 4 takes one watchmaker approximately six months to assemble. The challenge for the Genthod watchmaker lies in incorporating all the complications in a single wristwatch. The watch features a Westminster-chiming grande and petite sonnerie, a large tourbillon visible on the dial, a minute repeater, a mono-pusher split-seconds chronograph, two 24-hour time zones, a perpetual calendar, an equation of time, a moon phase display and a power reserve indicator. Entirely designed and manufactured by the Franck Muller group, the Mega 4 is in fact the culmination of the Aeternitas project. While the research and development department focused on the case volume and shape, the dial also proved to be a challenge to ensure the display of almost all of the complications at the same time and retain high legibility in line with the design of the various mechanisms. The watch’s iconic Cintrée Curvex case in PVD-treated white gold measuring 42mm by 61mm features a sapphire crystal caseback enabling the observation of the stunning ballet of harmoniously hand-bevelled, diamond-polished and engraved pieces of the automatic Calibre FM 3480 QPSE with micro-rotor at six o’clock. Equipped with a double barrel, the movement’s first barrel guarantees a power reserve of three days, while the second barrel provides 24 hours of energy for the sonnerie.

Breguet Marie-Antoinette Grande Complication Pocket Watch No 1160 (2008)
Reproduction of the most complicated timepiece of the 19th century

Price: Not for sale but estimated at more than US$10 million

Royalty — among them the Empresses Joséphine and Marie-Louise and the Queen of France, Marie-Antoinette — was essential to Abraham-Louis Breguet’s success. Seduced by his watches’ functional simplicity and irreproachable technique, it was thanks to one of these illustrious clients that the brand would derive its legend. In 1783, Marie-Antoinette requested a very special skeletonised pocket watch by Breguet that had to be a paragon of sophistication and aesthetics. Breguet had carte blanche: No limits of time or price were fixed; gold had to replace all other metals; and all the innovations and complications known at the time had to be incorporated, including a clock, jumping hours, perpetual calendar, repeater, thermometer, chronograph and power reserve. Watch No 160, or the “Marie-Antoinette”, as it came to be known, set the benchmark of Breguet’s career. Unfortunately, neither the queen nor the watchmaker lived to see it: The pocket watch was only finished in 1827, four years after his death and some 34 years after her execution. The pocket watch was last owned by Sir David Salomons, who bequeathed it to the LA Mayer Museum for Islamic Art upon his death. In 1983, the pocket watch, along with the entire Salomons collection, disappeared in a heist. As a tribute to its founder, Breguet decided to bring this legendary timepiece back to life and had the manufacture’s workshops produce an exact replica using 18th-century materials and techniques. With only a few rare photos and archival documents to guide them, the watchmakers spent three and a half years completing the titanic task, which was unveiled at Baselworld 2008. The one-of-a-kind watch No 1160 features a self-winding perpétuel movement with 823 parts and is faithful to the original down to the smallest details, such as the polished blued steel screws and flawless hand-finishing. It was also presented in a box made from over 3,500 pieces of wood from the royal oak in the Château de Versailles. As fate would have it, in 2007, when the new Marie-Antoinette would soon see the light of day, the original suddenly reappeared in Tel Aviv, 24 years after the theft and 224 years after the initial order.