Every year since 2019, I’ve sifted through a year’s worth of celebrity watch sightings on red-carpets, VIP parties, talk shows, and papped-up coffee runs to find the most popular pieces and brands in famous-people-dom. I do it because I think it helps us understand which watches are bubbling into the mainstream. It’s also an index of desire: which watches most appeal to an audience with unlimited access, lots of funds, and plenty of events on the schedule? These are the people luxury watches are practically made for—and these are the watches they wore most.
The Most Popular Watch of the Year
For the first time in four years, the most popular watches among celebrities has changed. A little bit, at least. In the past, the list was stuck in stasis: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus, and a Rolex. This year, the final tally gives us a new, if less diverse, top three.
1. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
2. Rolex GMT-Master II
T-3. Rolex Daytona
T-4. Rolex Day-Date
The Royal Oak was far and away 2022’s most popular timepiece—so many celebs wore it I actually had to add columns to the Google Sheet I’ve used to keep track of the watches over the years. The reason for all the RO love this year? The watch was celebrating its 50th anniversary and AP turned out a large handful of different special-edition watches—that wound up on the wrists of LeBron James, John Mayer, Serena Williams, Anthony Davis, and Ben Simmons. The blue-ceramic Royal Oak was also a massive hit among celebrities. All these special editions pushed the watch to unprecedented popularity.
Meanwhile, the GMT-Master was the highlight of Rolex’s new releases from this year. The Crown put out a new destro (left-handed) version of the model with a green-and-black “Sprite” bezel. Folks like Russell Westbrook and Roger Federer wore that piece, while many others felt the need to show off their own GMTs. This isn’t just a celebrity-collector phenomenon, either. Whenever Rolex puts out a new version of a model, it always creates demand for adjacent models from the past. Apparently celebrities are just as easily persuaded. Out of all the watch’s flavors, the favorite was the black-and-brown Root Beer.
It’s not surprising that the Day-Date and Daytona are popular, but it is surprising to see which watch they bumped off the podium. The Nautilus, after a three-year run of being part of the popular crowd, has been unceremoniously dumped. Of course, it’s less like it lost status and more like its family pulled them out of school entirely. Patek discontinued its most popular version of the Nautilus, the simple 5711, because it was hogging too much of the spotlight. Ever since that decision, the watch’s numbers in this unscientific ranking have decreased. I don’t want to overstate the Nautilus’s decline too much, though. If we were to remove Rolex from this exercise, the Nautilus would be the next most popular watch after the Royal Oak.
The Brand of the Year
Rolex, again, was miles ahead of the competition. I counted 64 Rolex pieces on celebrity wrists this year, and AP was next with 33—only two of which weren’t a Royal Oak, Royal Oak Concept, or Royal Oak Offshore. That’s what makes Rolex’s dominance so impressive: it gets the job done with huge diversity. After the Royal Oak, the next most-spotted pieces were different pieces from Rolex: the GMT, the Daytona, and the Day-Date.
The consistency of these results over the years hides some of the changes happening in the background. Celebrity wristwear has definitely diversified since 2019. I’m spotting brands like Omega, Cartier, IWC, Tag Heuer, and even Vacheron Constantin much more than I was just a couple of years ago.
Tough run for Richard Mille, though. What was one of the top brands in 2019–35 spots!—is in freefall. I only saw the brand’s watches six times in 2022.
I saw twice as many Tag Heuer watches as I did last year. And, best of all, the brand is doing it without one killer watch sopping up all the attention. Celebrities are spreading the wealth around to watches like the Monaco, Carrera, and Aquaracer. Clearly, partnerships with folks like Ryan Gosling, Jacob Elordi, and Jimmy Butler are paying off. Now, I just need to find out which A-lister is brave enough to wear the brand’s new Mario Kart watch.
The Glad-You-Made-It Award
Vacheron Constantin went from the unenviable goose egg to six spots this year. Pretty good! And every time the brand reminded us why it’s so special, and why you might not see it on the wrists of that many celebrities. The brand’s watches are purposefully not flashy—but celebrities like Tom Cruise, Steph Curry, and Michael B. Jordan showed why they’re great red-carpet companions.