View all articles

Feature: 3 Chronographs CHEAPER and BETTER Than A Rolex

Would I say I was sulking about the fact I can’t have a Rolex Daytona. Yes, yes I would. It is a near-perfect example of the chronograph category, streamlined for a modern age of watch numpties like me, and I would happily sell my children into slavery to get one. If I had any. Probably best I don’t. So, here’s what I did instead: I compiled a list of three chronographs all cheaper than a Rolex Daytona that are all better in their respective ways. It starts right now.

The Value Choice: Breitling Chronoliner Y24310

Whether you’ve got the money for a Rolex Daytona at RRP or market value, you won’t be averse to a bit of good value. You show me a single person on this planet that doesn’t love a bargain and I’ll eat my strap. Getting value for money in this world is like waving a Red Bull to a software developer: we need it. It is precious. Sometimes I even buy things I don’t need or even want just because they’re on sale. Do some wonky maths and you’ve actually got more money than you started with.

Here are the criteria for a good bargain: brand, but for cheap, quality, but for cheap, and quantity, but for—you guessed it—cheap. The Breitling Chronoliner is indeed such a watch. Inspired by pilot’s watches of yore—you’re welcome to that as a tagline, Breitling, by the way—the Chronoliner comes from a name that may not get the herds stampeding quite as much as Rolex, but you’ll still be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of them.

It says it right there on the dial: this is a watchmaker that’s been in business since 1884, when Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf was literally learning how to potty train. Everyone from James Bond to Jeremy Clarkson has had one, and this one can be yours for nearly two-and-a-half times less than the Daytona’s list.

Quality, it’s there, too. Its calibre 24 may be based on a Valjoux but it’s still chronometer rated with two additional complications, the date and a GMT hand. The bezel is ceramic and the fit and finish excellent. And at 46mm, you’d better believe you get quantity. There must be about 30% more raw material here than a Daytona, and that’s got to be worth something. So, Breitling Chronoliner, a Daytona alternative that beats it in value—check, check and check.

The Collector’s Choice: Breguet Type XXI Transatlantique Flyback 3817ST/X2/3ZU

You know Patek Philippe? You know Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin? Yeah, well they’d be so lucky to even eat at the same table as Abraham-Louis Breguet. There’s no doubting the big trio’s watchmaking ability, but Breguet was something more: he was the last of a breed of genius watchmakers without whom the world wouldn’t be the same. It doesn’t go unnoticed that many core fundamentals in watchmaking have the word “Breguet” in front of them.

Ole’ Abe used to knock about with folk like John Arnold, Abraham-Louis Perrelet and King George III. He made the most complicated watch ever for Marie Antoinette. For goodness sake, John Arnold basically palmed his son off onto him so he could learn from the best. I didn’t even know you could do that.

Point is, a watch with the Breguet script on the dial is a very special one indeed, and this one has it. It is the Type XXI Transatlantique, a wartime pilot’s watch-inspired beauty that—well, just look at it. It’s a Breguet, it’s gorgeous—and do you want to know the best bit? It’s cheaper that a Daytona too. Oh yeah, cheaper than just the market price, maybe. No. Cheaper than the list price. Available from $9,500, it almost, dare I say it, makes the whole Daytona hype thing seem a little … weird?

So how does this watch offer so much apparent value? Well, I don’t know—you tell me! It’s in-house, it’s beautifully finished, it’s functionally interesting and unusual with the centre-minute chronograph hand, flyback seconds and 24-hour indicator, and it’s technical with ceramic ball-bearings and a silicon pallet and balance spring. You look at that calibre 584 Q/2 and you tell me this isn’t a bargain.

What’s the catch? At 42mm, the steel case wears well with its short lugs, but could be a bit big for some. The blend of shiny glitz and functional design might not be for everyone. Servicing could be a touch pricey. That’s all I’ve got. And I haven’t even told you about the Type XXI’s cheaper cousin, the Type XX …

The Prestige Choice: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore 26470ST.OO.A099CR.01

Not convinced so far? Well shush a sec because I’ve got something else for you to try on for size. Yes, you, Mr. I’m-contemplating-spending-market-value-on-a-Rolex-Daytona. Wait a minute before you do anything rash, because I’ve got four words for you that might be of interest: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Yes, the very same. Yes, for less than a Rolex Daytona. All because of a fifth and final word: Offshore.

Now, it’s true that the Royal Oak’s creator Gérald Genta wanted to do cruel, unspeakable things to the Offshore when he first saw it and yes, it’s true that mad genius and creator of the so-leftfield-it’s-in-the-bleachers MB&F Max Büsser described it as too much—but then that’s exactly how people reacted to the original Royal Oak when it first came out too. I’m old enough and ugly enough to remember a few decades ago when nobody wanted Royal Oaks at all. That’s how I got mine for less than $10,000. I don’t have it anymore. I sold it for what I paid for it. I thought I told you to shush.

But hear me out: this is a subset of one of the most desirable models from one of the most desirable watchmakers in the world, and if things continue the way they are, we’ll probably all find ourselves ten years down the line kicking ourselves for not getting one. There’s no denying the 42mm case is larger and less elegant and the colour schemes less refined, but when you lay it out on paper, you’re talking about a proposition that is incredibly hard to refuse.

Let me spell it out again: a member of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak family, with an in-house calibre 3126/3840—granted, with a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module—finished to perfection, for $10,000 less than the market price of a Rolex Daytona. I mean, tell me I’m wrong, but that just seems like a no-brainer to me.

If I got “the call”, would my money go on a Daytona? Faster than you could say “appreciation”. In this climate, it’s basically free money, and even Mr Morals Moralson would have a hard time turning that offer down. But if everyone got one we wouldn’t be in the position we are now, and whilst many might see that as a deposit down to get on the waiting list of a glass-half-full situation, I see a different side to it. It makes us work harder, look further, learn more. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s half the fun. I enjoyed discovering and rediscovering the watches in this feature, thinking about them and how they might fit into my personal journey, weighing up the pros and cons. It may not make me rich, but it does make me happy. Perhaps, at least in this scenario, that’s the same thing.

Looking for a pre-owned Breitling watch? Click here to shop now

Looking for a pre-owned Audemars Piguet watch? Click here to shop now

Looking for a pre-owned Breguet watch? Click here to shop now