As you’ve probably seen already, our three previous buying guides focused on a highly discussed topic; the most sought-after watches produced by Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet – which basically boils down to talking about the Daytona, the GMT-Master, the Nautilus and the Royal Oak. Our goal was never to promote this speculative market and to encourage you to buy these watches at a premium, but to warn our readers and to give them an objective, realistic view of the situation of today’s market. Now, it’s time to look at great alternatives to these hyped watches – because, indeed, the watch industry has many great timepieces to offer.
Before even considering to go to a watch dealer (official boutique, authorized retailer or second-hand seller) to check about availability and prices – as you might very well be aware of the shortage, market prices and premiums – you have to ask yourself why you are even considering adding a Daytona or a Nautilus to your collection? Is it because you actually love the watches for what they are or because of the unstoppable flow of photos you see on social media? Was the GMT-Master a watch you ever considered once, before the steel Pepsi model was introduced? Have you ever tried a Nautilus on your wrist for more than five minutes? Think about it first… There are intrinsic, tangible reasons why these watches are sought-after, no debate. But that’s not all. So think about it, take your time, remove speculation and potential investments from the equation… You then should have a good idea if you really want or don’t want one of these unattainable timepieces.
And if not, there are some very good alternatives available.
A steel Rolex alternative to other steel Rolexes
Currently, the market for steel sports watches produced by Rolex is slightly mad. The production, even though Rolex increased it, can’t meet demand. And, according to a basic principle of supply and demand, prices are going up. This situation affects almost all models, from the Daytona to the Submariner, the GMT-Master or the Sea-Dweller. Even a standard Datejust in steel is becoming hard to find at authorized retailers.
However, not all models from the professional range are subject to these premiums and shortage. Besides the Milgauss, another watch that can be relatively easy to find is, in my opinion, one of the greatest Rolex watches, the 39mm Explorer 1 reference 214270. Classic, timeless, robust and at the same time restrained enough to be worn on a daily basis, it is packed with history and qualities. In addition to that, it is one of the most accessible steel sports watches produced by Rolex, at EUR 6,000. A watch that needs to be considered.
Great, iconic Chronographs instead of the Daytona
The Ceramic/Steel version of the Daytona, the reference 116500LN, has been Rolex’s biggest success in the last 10 years. By adding a new black bezel and a (sort of) panda or reversed-panda dial to this already hyped watch, the Crown created the most sought-after model in its history. And besides its look, the Daytona is a great watch, with restrained dimensions (40mm and relatively thin for an automatic chronograph), top-tier quality and efficient movement.
However, if you look at what the watch industry is able to produce, there are many other options to consider – in fact, way too many options… So let’s narrow down the alternatives to these criteria: a legendary watch known by most watch enthusiasts with a long history and track record and timeless design. The obvious alternative comes from Biel, under the name Speedmaster. Equally iconic, equally respected, this watch has all the arguments to fight. In our opinion, the classic 42mm, hand-wound Moonwatch with sapphire-sandwich (front and back) certainly is the best alternative to the Daytona – and this specific model will never go out of fashion. Best of all, it is widely available and priced at “only” EUR 5,500. And if an automatic movement is a must for you, Omega has multiple options equipped with Master Chronometer movements, which certainly are best-in-class when it comes to innovation.
Another alternative to the Daytona is a watch whose history is linked to this model, the Zenith El Primero – from 1988 to 2000, the Daytona was powered by a Rolex spec-ed Zenith movement. Looking at the current Chronomaster collection, you’ll see that Zenith still produces a watch that looks 95% like the original 1969 model reference A386, with a restrained 38mm diameter, the same tri-colour dial and the same base movement. This “Original 1969” model is elegant, timeless, well-considered by most collectors and, in all fairness, it looks great. Price is about EUR 6,900. A 42mm model is also available.
Of course, there are dozens of other chronograph watches in the EUR 8,000 – EUR 12,000 category, which could be considered in place of a Daytona. Think Breguet Type XX, IWC, GO, Grand Seiko or even the model produced by sister-company Tudor, the Black Bay Chrono.
Alternative to the Rolex Submariner
When it comes down to alternatives to the Submariner, the task isn’t easy. Indeed, the market for dive watches is so large that you can easily get lost. And this might well be one of the reasons for the success of the Submariner. Even though the watch has been produced for over 65 years, a Submariner still looks like… a Submariner. Stability in the design is the key point of this watch’s success. The Submariner is a reassuring timepiece but more watches can easily compete in terms of status and efficiency.
In fact, if you think about it, there’s one natural competitor to the Submariner and it is, once again, produced by Rolex’s main challenger, Omega. With over 70 years of uninterrupted production and an undebatable iconic status, the Seamaster can easily be seen as the perfect alternative to the Submariner. While available in dozens of editions, shapes and complications, the model we’d recommend is the classic Bond-watch, the Seamaster Diver 300M, which was relaunched in 2018 with numerous evolutions. First, the overall quality is on a par with the Sub. Then, the design is relatively restrained – as always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Last, the new Seamaster features a movement that simply surpasses the relatively old calibres 3130 (no date) and 3135 (date) found in the Subs. The current Seamaster Diver 300M comes with a Master Chronometer movement, impressive anti-magnetic properties and Co-axial escapement. Price-wise, it is also more accessible, at around EUR 4,900 on steel bracelet and EUR 4,600 on rubber strap.
Alternative to the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711
When it comes down to finding an alternative to the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711, the classic time-and-date model, the task isn’t easy. While there have been numerous new luxury sports watches launched recently (Chopard, for instance), few can actually claim to be on a par with the Nautilus in terms of elegance, slenderness, its movement or its overall aura.
While the natural competitor to the reference 5711 is another example of shortage and premium-based market – the AP 15202ST – the best alternative on the luxury sports watch market comes from Vacheron Constantin with the Overseas model, reference 4500V. Frank extensively wore and tested this watch, and was able to compare it to its main competitors, watches he personally knows by heart. And there’s no doubt about the intrinsic qualities of the Overseas. The case is beautifully manufactured, though a bit thicker, the bracelet is simply exquisite and finished with extreme attention to details, the in-house movement has been developed with precision and reliability in mind and the interchangeable system for the bracelet/straps is a great feature. So it’s only a matter of design and not of the quality of the watch itself.
An AP Alternative to the Royal Oak 15202ST
Here again, let’s be honest, it isn’t easy to find an alternative to the most iconic and oldest watch in the luxury sports watch category. The design of the Royal Oak is truly unique and could alone account for the desirability of the watch. So, just like the Nautilus, we would recommend looking at the Vacheron Constantin Overseas. Or… to look at what Audemars Piguet has to offer in its wide collection of Royal Oak watches.
If the 15202ST and other editions of this watch with salmon dial or titanium case are today close to impossible to find, a great alternative is the current Selfwinding 15500ST model. Certainly less refined and sleek than the original Jumbo watch, it still offers this great RO look, the integrated bracelet and the patterned dial. Since this year, the 41mm Royal Oak has been facelifted with a new, cleaner dial and a new movement, calibre 4302, which was first presented on Code 11:59. The availability of the 15500ST isn’t immediate, however, waiting lists are much shorter – from recent posts on forums, below a year – and at EUR 19,500, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding 15500ST is an option to consider – along with the older versions, reference 15300 and 15400.