In the world of men’s watches, conventional wisdom says that Rolex is the king of wrist candy. And for good reason. Immensely reputable quality and some seriously impressive vintage provenance from coveted collectors’ pieces have catapulted the brand to stratospheric heights. But what if you don’t have the funds to plunk down several grand for a Submariner or as much as $38k for a Rolex Daytona? And you can’t even entertain the idea of dropping even more on a vintage model but want similar levels of style and also impressive levels of quality? Believe it or not, there are some handsome options out there for much less. And all our selections boast quality above their asking prices.
Keep in mind that an affordable alternative to hard-to-find and expensive Rolexes doesn’t have to equate to near-copies or even homage watches. They simply need to bear a similar, classic look that will hold up well over time, as well as do a fine job of toeing the line between dress and sport, which all Rolexes manage to do remarkably well. Our Rolex alternatives all come in at a substantially lower price point than even the least expensive Rolex Oyster Perpetual, which costs about $6,500. While it’s still a good goal to save up for Rolex ownership in the distant future, any one of these Rolex alternatives will scratch that Rolex itch until that time comes.
Rolex Submariner Alternatives
Citizen Promaster Titanium
For less than three months’ worth of Starbucks coffee, you can get one of the best dive watches for the money. The Promaster BN0200-81E has a 44mm titanium case with a matching bracelet, a solar-powered quartz movement, luminous hands and markers, and a 200-meter depth rating. While it doesn’t have the round markers of the Submariner, it could easily pass for the real deal from a distance.
Squale 20 Atmos Classic Ceramic 1545
The Swiss-made 20 Atmos Classic Ceramic 1545 really does look just like a Submariner Date with the exception of the logo and lettering. Nobody would accuse you of buying a knockoff because Squale gets real respect in diving circles. The modestly sized 40mm stainless steel case houses a Swiss automatic movement with 42 hours of power reserve. The case is capped off by sapphire glass and a 2.5x date magnification window. The newest component is the tough and stunning ceramic bezel whose numerals are filled with white enamel and then polished.
Duxot might not be a household name, but they’re out of the UK and own a handful of microbrands. We’ve tested Duxot ourselves, and they’re impressive for the money. The Atlantica is built like a tank and takes its styling cues from the Submariner but delivers original touches like a red-accented lollipop second hand and a comfy jubilee bracelet. It’s sized at 44mm in diameter, powered by a Swiss automatic movement, and depth rated to a full 300 meters. The Mercedes hands, round markers, and date magnification window add just the right level of Submariner style.
TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 300
While TAG Heuer is also a luxury Swiss watchmaker, their offerings come in at an echelon lower than Rolex, even though their vintage pieces do command some serious money. Their own diver easily qualifies as a Submariner replacement thanks to a 300-meter depth rating, a Swiss automatic movement, Super-LumiNova lume, and a bonafide extension clasp that can be deployed on the fly (or the dive). Our favorite aspect might just be the 12-sided dodecagon ceramic bezel for easy grip and a unique look for a traditional diver.
Rolex GMT Master-II Alternatives
Jack Mason Halyard GMT
Finding a handsome two-zone automatic timepiece for well under $300 is a feat of magic. The Halyard GMT has a rare orange and blue bezel, a crisp dial and markings with Superluminova, tough sapphire glass, and a Swiss quartz movement. The second time-zone hand is clad in orange to match the bezel, providing excellent visibility for those jet-lagged moments.
Lorier Hyperion GMT
One of the most exciting microbrands to emerge in the past few years is Lorier. They pride themselves on vintage styles with domed Hesalite crystals, and they regularly sell out of most models. Their GMT offering is a new classic, for sure. The Pepsi bezel nods to Rolex, as do the round markers. The Hyperion GMT runs off a four-hand automatic movement with date and has a screw-down crown, 48-click bi-directional bezel, and lume on the hands, bezel, and markers. It’s one GMT that will get second looks even if it isn’t a Rolex.
Christopher Ward C60 Anthropocene GMT
The latest GMT from the UK’s Christopher Ward is a beauty mostly because of its frosty, translucent sapphire dial that shows off the movement, albeit subtly. Designed to mimic arctic frost, the dial is truly special and sets it apart from other, more traditional GMTs. More than just for travel, the C60 Anthropocene GMT was designed for extreme conditions. The SW330-2 Swiss automatic movement, which delivers a 56-hour power reserve, is robust and reliable. The watch, itself, is depth-rated to a staggering 600 meters, but it could easily pass for a dressier GMT that’s suit-ready.
Oris Aquis GMT Date
Some watch lovers might actually prefer the Aquis GMT to the much pricier Rolex GMT Master-II. Not only does it manage three time zones, but it also adds the Submariner’s 300-meter depth rating. The inner 24-hour scale captures a second time zone, and the black ceramic outer bezel is a bi-directional 24-hour version for the third time zone. The sunray-finished blue dial looks partially black at certain angles and lighting situations, adding a dose of personality to this already spectacular GMT. The Sellita-based and Oris red rotor-branded Swiss automatic movement boasts a 42-hour power reserve. The sliding diver extension clasp means quick adjustment for just about any occasion.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer Alternatives
This is one watch that can take more punishment than the much-lauded Explorer. It can withstand 200-meters of water depth, a 10-meter drop, the crushing weight of a 64-ton tank, and the wrath of your mother-in-law. It also boasts features like triple-coated/anti-reflective sapphire crystal, an end-of-life battery indicator, and even an accessory black bumper for truly harrowing adventures. The fact that it has a classic dial and can be worn with dressier fare makes it a truly versatile timepiece.
Astor + Banks Fortitude
The Chicago watchmaker’s second timepiece is an absolute gem. It looks and feels like a timepiece that should cost three times more than its affordable asking price. The matte finish dial is surrounded by a 38.5mm case that lands just below the largest Explorer’s 39mm diameter. The matte finish dial keeps things simple, but the tapering 20 to 16mm bracelet is a sophisticated thing of beauty. The Fortitude also happens to be aptly named because it can dive to 660 ft and manage 20,000A/m of magnetism without skipping a beat.
Seiko Prospex Alpinist SPB117J1
We love the way Seiko has its own flavor that remains distinct without encroaching on the premium brands. Case in point is the Prospex Alpinist Automatic that has the same case shape and look as the famed Explorer but shows off a dial peppered with short dart indices and a rotating inner compass ring, as well as sapphire glass with a magnifier date window. The case size is a well-balanced 40mm, and the automatic Caliber 6R35 automatic movement is reliable and has an astounding 70 hours of power reserve.
The Conquest is easily the watch choice in this set that most resembles the Explorer in that it combines Arabic numerals and baton indices, along with polished and brushed bracelet links. Although the 41 and 43mm versions are larger than the Explorer, you can also opt for the 39mm version. All of them carry the sporty and refined ethos of the Explorer. The Conquest’s sword hands are pointed at both ends, giving the watch a refined detail up close. It’s powered by the Longines Calibre L619/888 ETA-based movement that has 64 hours of power reserve, and the depth rating is an astounding 300 meters.
Rolex Daytona Alternatives
Seiko SSB297P1 Chronograph
This Seiko Chrono costs way under $200 but imparts a look that’s very Daytona. The contrasting subdials, baton markers, and tach bezel look truly premium. The see-through hands and the textured white dial provide a flavor all its own, and the 44mm diameter stainless steel case provides a strong wrist presence. The Japanese quartz movement keeps excellent time, and no one will know you spent as little as you did for a watch that could easily pass for a Rolex from across the room.
Nezumi Studios Voiture VQ2.101
It’s really hard to fathom the price of the Voiture because its styling should command far more. The three-subdial chronograph has a truly artistic dial with contrast framing around the subdials, an ornate “N” second hand, aluminum insert tachymeter bezel, and sapphire glass. The result is a chronograph that evokes vintage-style racing watches, but the modern Seiko quartz movement is reliable and rugged. Add the perforated rally strap, and you have the makings of a seriously affordable but truly premium-styled chrono.
Hoffman Racing 40 Mechanical Panda
The Racing 40 carries the spirit of the Daytona thanks to a beautiful Panda style and two, rather than three, contrasting subdials. The tachymeter bezel, traditional pushers, and the contrasting chapter ring bring an elevated look to a truly affordable manually-wound automatic chronograph. The nicely sized 40mm case is both polished and brushed, and it’s capped off by a sapphire crystal and a croc-print leather strap.
The resurgence of the French brand has watch lovers going gaga. The automatic version of the Speedgraf is about as good as the brand gets because of its stunning motoring look coupled with excellent materials quality. The mid-1960s-inspired racing watch employs a black and white panda dial, a domed sapphire crystal, and a 34-jewel Seiko NE86 mechanical chrono movement. The tachymeter scales around the dial and the red-tipped second hand, as well as the brown leather rally strap, all contribute to a look and feel that will make you want to get your hands on a Jag E-Type.