Buying Guide Alternatives to the Hyped Watches You Actually Can’t Find (Or Only At Premium)

Yes, other stainless sports watches do exist in the watch industry!

calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Brice Goulard | ic_query_builder_black_24px 8 minute read |
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin 15202ST.OO.1240ST.01

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.

Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711-

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.

Not only is the Explorer 1 39mm 214270 packed with qualities, but it also looks great and comes at a decent price.

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.

Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch
A watch unanimously regarded as legendary… The Moonwatch

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.

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 38mm
The Zenith El Primero 38mm Original 1969 – Image by Hodinkee

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.

Omega Seamaster Diver 300M SMP - Baselworld 2018

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.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding 41mm 15500ST

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.

8 responses

  1. I’d include the Omega Seamaster 300 Master as a good alternative to the Sub. The faux-patina lume on it actually looks nice.

  2. What is the point to buy a watch that is not the watch you want because you can’t get the watch you want? You STILL won’t have the watch you want, plus these alternatives will also cost you a lot and you’ll be forever looking at your ‘alternative’ and thinking about the other one.There’s no reason to spend money just because you have a compulsion to buy something or anything.
    Funny, but in my case I don’t want a Nautilus or Royal Oak, not even a little bit. I’d take the VC above, over both of those.All of the watches you suggest above are fine choices of course.

  3. I was the same with the VC – I had the white dial 15400st in front of me and chose the Overseas instead, so I don’t get the ‘what if?’ thoughts haunting me (and like you I don’t have any love for the Nautilus). Speaking about the AP, I don’t think that blue dial variant is available at most ADs, just the black or grey dials.

  4. @Steven
    I think most watch enthusiasts have their own “unattainable grail watches” because most of us don’t have an unlimited budget for watches. Saving for several years isn’t practical for everyone, including myself.

  5. This is a great series of articles. Far more customer focussed than “some” commentators who seem to be angling for a seat on the board. But I don’t think the alternatives went far enough. Omega, Chopard and VC? Is that all?
    If you want a kick-ass dive watch, don’t get a Sub. Get a German watch! If you want a slim, braceletted watch, get a GS. There are many many alternatives which are better than the Rolex models in that they are not effete, hyped, bejewelled perversions of the original mission of Mr Wilsdorf.
    Don’t play their game!

  6. Sadly, even the VC Overseas are starting to get hard to find.

    Personally I don’t understand the whole phenomenon of trying to get a particular watch just for the sake of it. Sure, Rolex, PP, and AP make great watches, but there are so many great watches out there that the idea of paying like 80% above retail for a Daytona or Jumbo just seems so absurd to me that I just can’t wrap my head around it. Oh well, to each their own, of course.

  7. I beg to differ. They are not alternatives, they have the league of their own. First of all, the hyped watches like Daytona and Nautilus are basically unwanted for ages until heavily influenced by social medias. The desire for them will soon die off, In addition to that, their look is just too in your face style which many watch connoisseurs would dislike. Imo , buy watches that reflects own personality and not to show off.

  8. Hay miles de marcas miles de usuarios y solo hay que buscar lo que te sienta bien buscar sustitutos de lo que te gusta realmente es seguir con ganas de lo que querés

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