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Feature: 5 amazing Rolex alternatives

If you’ve got oodles of cash and the Rolex you were planning on spending it on just requires too much grovelling, don’t sweat it. Put the kneepads back, ditch the mouthwash and take a look at these puppies instead.

Omega Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award 310.

This is what I love about Omega. They take themselves so damn seriously about the whole moon thing all the time and then they go and do something like this. I could tell you this watch is 42mm across and has the water-resistance of a newspaper, I could tell you it’s powered by the calibre 3861 and has to be hand wound like a Model T Ford, but really what we’re all here for is to see Snoopy fly past in his little command module.

That’s right, Omega decided to take one of its most valuable assets and put a fun animation for kids on the back. Driven by the chronograph seconds hand, Snoopy whizzes by once a minute likes he owns the joint. And just for gits and shiggles, the Earth he sails in front of spins too, drawing power from the running seconds. This is not serious watchmaking. Not serious at all. And I absolutely love it.

So on the day of the gas leak at Omega HQ when this thing was signed off, the logic went thusly: NASA dishes out this award, the Snoopy award, to brands and people who have contributed to flight safety and mission success in an outstanding way. Less than a percent of the people involved get one, so it’s pretty special. Omega received a Snoopy award for its part in bringing Apollo 13 home and so they decided to make a watch to celebrate.

More questions than answers, right? Why Snoopy? Well, after the Apollo 10 trip to “snoop” around the moon in the lunar module before the big landing, and so the nickname Snoopy kind of stuck. The astronauts, surprisingly, were very superstitious, and so they came to the conclusion that Peanuts characters brought them good luck and so they named the command module Charlie Brown as well.

Now that’s cleared up, back to the watch. It’s not cheap. £9,800. And it’s not easy to get. There’s a waiting list. So why am I suggesting it as a better way to spend your money than a Rolex? Because even then it’s still cheaper than a Daytona. And never mind all that—when have you ever seen a Daytona with a cartoon character literally flying around inside it? Never, that’s when.

Felipe Pikullik FPSK Skeleton

What is it you look for when you buy a luxury watch? Is it hand craftsmanship? Elegant design? Incredible attention to detail? It would be unfair to say Rolex doesn’t do those things. It does do them, but it does them in the same way I do exercise. I spend some time near the exercise bike and sometimes I even sit on the exercise bike to eat a biscuit. Once I even pedalled it but that was an accident when I was getting off after eating my biscuit.

If you want true hand-crafted, elegantly designed, incredible attention to detail, you have to think big leagues. F. P. Journe, De Bethune, Rexhep Rexhepi. Stuff like that. The kinds of watches where even a mortgage might not cover it. That’s why Rolex exists, so people who don’t have oil rigs in their back gardens can enjoy nice watches too. But what if I told you the £18,500 you could spend on the hot-off-the-press Rolex 1908 could be spent tangentially on something that really hits the hight notes?

This is a Felipe Pikullik. Granted, the name doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as Rolex, but forget about that. Instead, turn your attention to the everything else about this watch. You could be forgiven for thinking on first glance at this watch that those look like hand sawn, hand filed and hand polished bevels, and that’s because they are. You know how the very highest end watchmakers take great pains to tell you that a sharp inside corner bevel simply can’t done by machine and that’s why they’re so insanely expensive? Yeah, this watch has those too. Loads of them.

The cheat code is that Felipe Pikullik uses existing movements that you and I can purchase relatively cheap, but where the magic comes in is in the transformation. This is proper, “You will go to the ball,” stuff, as Pikullik carves up the movement with hand tools—as in ones that will continue to work during a power cut—to turn this movement into an utter gem. A Rolex is a beautiful watch, but this is something else altogether. This is the blood, sweat and tears of a real craftsman who takes real pride and pain in his work. Okay, maybe not the blood. But maybe. Those little hand saws are sharp.

Kudoke K2

Alright, so I might’ve got a little carried away with that last one. The 1908 may be a near-£20k Rolex but it’s also made of precious metal and doesn’t really represent the average price point of your typical Rolex. Let’s dial that down by half, to a watch that offers a unique perspective on the world: the GMT-Master. Great watch. They even make a left-handed one.

If you’re less about left-handed and more about left field, then maybe you want to hang on to the green needed for the GMT-Master green and save it for this instead, the Kudoke K2. It’s the handiwork of Stefan Kudoke, a man whose credentials include mentoring the guy from a few moments ago, Felipe Pikullik.

It’s a classic-looking watch with a German touch, but thankfully not the same German touch all the other German watches seem to get. It stands out as different with the sculpted hands and sparkly dial, not to mention the movement inspired by the 18th century watchmaking of Thomas Mudge. Okay, behave. It only looks a little bit like a thingy.

If you were actually paying attention, you’d be wondering why a German watch is drawing inspiration from an English movement. That’s because Mudge had a German pal called Hans Moritz von Brühl who was based just down the road from Kudoke. I love it when a plan comes together.

The real cherry on the cake for this, let’s face it, very tasty cake, is the twenty-four-hour display up top. It’s another unique perspective on the world that splits night from day with a hand engraved depiction of the sun and moon that’s even better-looking in person than it is in pictures.

To make it, Stefan sat there with what looks like one of those little pokey things bar tenders chip ice with and carved it all out from a piece of metal. Make a mistake and its game over, back to square one. Which makes looking at it even more satisfying. Can a Rolex GMT-Master do that?

Grand Seiko SBGY007

We’ve been over the various merits of Grand Seiko over Rolex in the past, but I enjoy it so let’s do a quick recap. It was founded before Rolex, has higher-quality finishing than Rolex and it is more creatively rich than Rolex. There, I’m done. I promise.

So let’s say you have around £8,000 to spend on a Rolex and all of the above makes you think about turning to the dark side—or should I say light side, considering Japan gets the sun before Switzerland—and you’re wondering which of the ten millions Grand Seikos you should go for. Yeah, I know. It’s a problem. They’re very efficient in Japan apparently.

I’ll do the legwork for you and throw the SBGY007 Omiwatari into the ring for your consideration. It’s an elegant watch, and I know this because Grand Seiko has helpfully categorised it into the Elegance collection. Overall, it’s pretty simple and straightforward. Nice and thin at 10.2mm.

You could say simple is easy and that the watch isn’t worth the money, but that’s where you’d be wrong. Simple, done well, is incredibly difficult, because there’s nothing to hide behind. But that’s no big deal for Grand Seiko, because getting the simple details to 110% is basically its whole deal. Scrutiny is this watch’s middle name.

It’s actually Omiwatari, which is the name of one of the many incredible natural wonders that seemingly goes on in Japan. In this case, there’s a lake which gets all frozen and then shifts and moves into these layers of ice that—look, all you need to know is that this dial looks like that and as such is incredible. That’s Grand Seiko’s other thing.

Grand Seiko’s other other thing is the Spring Drive movement, here in three day, 9R31 format. Rolex was recently very brave and put sapphire case backs on some of its watches, but you have to pay the price to get it. With Grand Seiko, that comes as standard. Okay, now I’m done. I promise.

Breitling Premier B25 Datora 42 AB2510201K1P1

We’re back where we started, at the Rolex Daytona’s £12,000. If the Omega Speedmaster didn’t tick all the right boxes for you, then let’s add a few more. I’ll see your chronograph and add a triple calendar. Yes, that’s right, three for the price of one. Day, date, month. It’s not going to self-change on the short months for you, but, but—it looks really, really cool.

If you’ve ever fancied yourself a grand comp Patek Philippe but then you noticed reality getting in the way, the Breitling Premier B25 Datora is probably going to be your jam. Be prepared to wear a big watch, because at 42 by 15.3mm it is a big watch, and that point three matters.

Once you’ve come to terms with the no annual calendar and big size, everything else is just right. Look at it! What a satisfying dial. The layers, the details, the materials, the finishes. You tell me a Daytona can match that. Don’t lie! If it didn’t have the Rolex crown on it you wouldn’t be so bothered. This has a Breitling logo on it and even that can’t stop it looking good.

Okay, so I’ve probably just delayed the inevitable purchase of a Rolex, but maybe even some of you considered the alternatives, if even for a moment. And if I’ve even encouraged just one of you to venture out and try something different, then I suppose that’s something. In any case, what do you think of these alternatives?

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