Feature: The 15 best affordable Rolex alternatives
Is a Rolex beyond your budget, yet you can’t get that Tiffany-blue Oyster Perpetual out of your head? Or maybe it’s a GMT-Master that tops your wish-list—if only they were half the price. If your passion for Rolex runs deep yet your pockets are shallow, don’t worry. We’ve compiled a superb selection of alternatives.
Eterna 1948 Legacy Automatic
Of all the dial variations found on a Rolex Oyster Perpetual, perhaps none is so desirable as the so-called Tiffany-blue model. But why should anyone pay double the retail price for a watch just because they’re partial to turquoise? The solution? Get yourself an Eterna 1948 Legacy in an almost identical colour. You can wear this classic watch with anything, and even dress it up with a leather strap.
Ball Engineer III Outlier
This is a superb alternative to a Rolex Explorer II. Few people know that Ball uses superior 904L steel—the same as Rolex—for some of its watches, including this one, while the water resistance of this model is twice that of the Explorer II. Add to this the same anti-magnetic properties as a Milgauss and a magnified date lens and you’ve got one of the best value watches around.
Tourby Watches Art Deco
The 1908 is Rolex’s most sophisticated collection and, like many things with an ounce of class, it comes with a hefty price tag. Thankfully, German watchmaker Tourby rejects this sentiment with its stunning yet affordable Art Deco line. Featuring an automatic movement, a minimalist dial with Arabic numerals and feuille (“leaf”) hands, this rose-gold-plated model is a fine example of a classic dress watch and costs just 2,950 Euros.
Sinn 556 A RS
Frankfurt-based Sinn proves that Glashutte isn’t the only place in Germany making great watches. This brand was founded in 1961 by an ex-pilot, which explains its utilitarian, no-frills timepieces that look like they could survive blizzards, bullets or bear attacks. With its minimalist three-quarter Arabic numeral dial, it’s got to be on anyone’s shortlist if they’re seeking an Explorer-type watch for the great outdoors.
Longines has a reputation for sturdy dive watches and the HydroConquest certainly stands its ground against the almighty Submariner. Described by Longines as a “high performance timepiece”, the range combines technical innovation with solid dive-watch looks. Its 300-metre water resistance rivals the modern Submariner, and it comes with either a quartz or self-winding movement.
TAG Heuer Autavia
Late Hollywood legend Paul Newman’s Daytona is the most expensive watch sold at auction, fetching $17.8 million in 2017. But the fanfare around the Daytona continues, so no wonder countless alternatives are available. Boasting motor-racing roots, just like the Daytona, TAG Heuer’s Autavia, with its classic dashboard-inspired design, is our current favourite.
Omega Constellation Globemaster
Rolex vs Omega is the biggest rivalry in watchmaking and we’re pitting them against each other once more via the Datejust and the Constellation. OK, the Datejust may be more desirable, but Omega’s Constellation Globemaster isn’t to be scoffed at. It was the first watch to achieve Master Chronometer certification and, like the Datejust, boasts a fluted bezel and a date window.
With its tropical-brown dial and exotic chronograph registers, this limited-edition Watchfinder collaboration should come with a free pina colada. Eagle-eyed watch-spotters may already be familiar with the rising microbrand Maen, which has been releasing some interesting vintage-inspired timepieces recently. Its Skymaster collection is clearly influenced by early Rolex Daytonas.
In the 1950s, every leading watch brand competed to put out the best dive watch. Rolex created the Submariner in 1953 and Breitling followed four years later with its Superocean, which unlike the Submariner featured a lockable bezel. The Superocean collection has been through numerous design overhauls since then, but this particular model could easily pass for a Submariner across a crowded room.
Frederique Constant Yacht Timer
Admittedly this quartz-powered Frederique Constant could never be mistaken for a Yachtmaster II, Rolex’s technical marvel with its ten-minute countdown timer operated via the ring-command bezel. However, like the Rolex, this is very much a watch made for regatta races. The five circles turn white to blue, indicating five minutes has elapsed, then blue to red, indicating ten minutes has elapsed.
Tudor Black Bay Pro
Rolex rarely wanders down memory lane, despite a back catalogue of greatest hits to rival ABBA, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of bounds to sister brand Tudor. When the Black Bay Pro was released it was evident that it was an homage to Rolex’s Explorer II, reference 1655, from the 1970s. Not only does it look great, it’s far cheaper than the current Explorer II.
The glaringly obvious alternative to a Rolex GMT-Master is Tudor’s Black Bay GMT, complete with “Pepsi” bezel. But if you want to intrigue as well as impress your fellow watch aficionados, why not join the burgeoning tribe of Grand Seiko wearers? We love the icy tones of its bi-coloured bezel and the quirkiness of the date window and crown at 4 o’clock.
Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon
Rolex finally jumped aboard the titanium train this year, unveiling a new Yachtmaster in this lightweight, corrosion-resistant material. Of course, we all know by now that getting your hands on a brand-new Rolex model involves waiting lists as long as the Great Wall of China. Unless, that is, you’re happy to go with Ball’s titanium “Hulk” with its huge 1000-metre water resistance.
It’s a fact that possibly irritates Rolex, but Zenith can boast that it almost singlehandedly kept the Daytona alive during the doldrums of the quartz era when it supplied Rolex with its El Primero chronograph movements. These days the Daytona runs on an in-house calibre while the El Primero continues in many forms, including this Chronomaster with a rather familiar dial layout and ceramic bezel.
Any Rolex alternatives article will feature a few Tudor models, but we can’t recommend this one enough. The Tudor Royal makes a great affordable option for anyone who loves Rolex’s prestigious Day-Date, thanks to its combination of a day and a date window. Tudor is the closest you’ll get to owning a Rolex without actually owning one—considering they’re sister brands.