Over the past decades, Rolex watches have gained an exorbitant reputation as the ultimate sign of success. This has, in turn, made them much more difficult to buy, and even less likely to be found at a reasonable price.
As a result, countless watch collectors are now being forced to look into other watches, whether due to the inflated pre-owned prices or to the scarcity of the most popular models. For this reason, we’ve put together this page on alternatives to the hottest Rolex watches.
We’ve chased down watches that possess similar functions, a similar aesthetic, and which can be had for pennies on the dollar in comparison to a Rolex. Here are our categories:
- Submariner Alternative
- Explorer Alternative
- GMT-Master II Alternative
- Datejust Alternative
- Cosmograph Daytona Alternative
Use the links above to jump to a specific alternative, or keep scrolling to see them all.
Alternatives To Rolex Models
- Grand Seiko Sport Collection SBGA229 [Submariner Alternative]
- Tudor Heritage Ranger Ref. M79910 [Explorer Alternative]
- TAG Heuer Aquaracer Calibre 7 GMT Ref. WAY201F.BA0927 [GMT-Master II Alternative]
- Longines Record Automatic Chronometer Ref. L28214116 [Datejust Alternative]
- Zenith Chronomaster El Primero Ref. 03.2040.400/69.M2040 [Daytona Alternative]
Aside from the endless number of replica or counterfeit Rolex watches that exist out there, there are also what are called “homage” watches. These are designed to closely mimic a Rolex (or other brands) but are manufactured by smaller brands.
We’ve chosen to stay away from these “homage” varieties, and obviously ignored the possibility of buying a fake Rolex.
Instead, we’ve highlighted models which could serve as viable alternatives and which are outstanding watches in their own right.
Browse Certified Rolex On Bob’s Watches
Rolex Watch Alternatives
Grand Seiko Sport Collection SBGA229 [Rolex Submariner Alternative]
The Rolex Submariner is, as the brand themselves puts it, “the reference among diver’s watches.” It’s hard to argue against this or the rich history that the individual model possesses.
Fortunately, this doesn’t entail that it can’t be beat or at least challenged. In fact, we’d argue that the Seiko Sport SBGA229 is more than just a worthy contender.
The SBGA229’s case is larger at 44mm, as opposed to the Rolex’s 40mm. Quite honestly, we also find it to be more visually intriguing than the Submariner’s.
This style of case, which has become a trademark of Grand Seiko, has many more facets and alternating finishes than that of the sub. As a result, it is more time intensive to finish, and must be completed by the brand’s top experts in Zaratsu polishing.
The dial on the Grand Seiko is also more complex. Each individual hour index likewise touts intricate angles, all of which are sharp and beautifully finished. You could spend hours with a loupe admiring the details just on the dial, and still be left over with plenty more to scrutinize.
As you may already know, the bezel on the Rolex is Cerachrom (ceramic). While the SBGA229’s is not ceramic, it is crafted of steel and PVD coated, resulting in a very similar look.
Calibers: 9R65 vs. 3135
Functionality-wise, the SBGA229 is a clear winner. It’s got the date, but also a practical power reserve. Internally, the Grand Seiko once more rises to the occasion with their renowned Spring Drive caliber. It wins out not only in power reserve (72 hours vs. Sub’s 48 hours), but also in horological innovation.
Next, consider the bracelets. This may be where Rolex’s expertise is most pronounced; the Oyster bracelet is an icon in itself, and has only improved over the years. Nevertheless, the SBGA229’s bracelet is also intricate and advanced, providing the same desirable “tool watch” look.
Lastly, let’s talk money. The Sub retails for $8,550, but good luck buying one in new condition from an authorized dealer. Unless you’ve built a relationship already, you’ll have to get on a waiting list and hope your turn comes within the next 18 months. The Grand Seiko, which retails for $6,000, can easily be purchased for about $5,500 in pre-owned condition, if you’re looking to save some more cash.
All in all, the Grand Seiko provides an insane amount of quality and horological prowess with a similar look to the Sub. But perhaps what makes it most special is that it’s not trying to be a Submariner. This is Grand Seiko’s expression of the prevailing professional dive watch, and it’s resulted in an outstanding timepiece for those willing to look.
Tudor Heritage Ranger Ref. M79910 [Rolex Explorer Alternative]
The Rolex Explorer is one of the brand’s most popular steel sports watches, and has garnered quite a following. It’s relatively simple looks and uncomplicated functions also allow it to remain one of the brand’s entry-level offerings.
The Tudor Heritage Ranger fulfils a similar niche, but does so in a more robust way. Beginning with the case, which is 41mm in brushed stainless steel. On the other hand, the Explorer is 39mm with various polished components, including its bezel and case flanks. These differences help the Tudor appear more rugged, and less dressy, than the Explorer.
This slight discrepancy in style is also reflected in the dial. The Ranger’s is a flat back tone, and although the indices possess a similar conformation to the Rolex, they are painted in luminous directly on the dial. Conversely, the Explorer’s indices are white gold, hand-applied, and boast Rolex’s proprietary Chromalight luminous material.
Calibers: ETA 2824 vs. 3132
In the movement department, the Rolex is a clear winner. It possesses a COSC-chronometer certified in-house caliber with a 48-hour power reserve. Alternatively, the Tudor is powered by an ETA 2824 which, albeit a sturdy workhorse movement, is not a chronometer and only has 38 hours of power reserve.
The Rolex’s bracelet can also be considered superior to the Tudor’s in a head-to-head, but te Oyster is a very high standard to surpass. The Tudor’s bracelet is unique and fits the model perfectly, where the Oyster bracelet is a standard across many Rolex models. We also find the Ranger to be more amicable with strap changes, particularly Tudor’s camo option, which would not wear well on the Explorer.
On price: the Tudor sells for $3,000 in new condition, which is less than half of the Explorer’s $6,550 list price. It’s also true that the 214270 is easier to acquire from an authorized dealer than the previous sub, though with the current market trend (shall we say frenzy?) this may not be true a week from now.
TAG Heuer Aquaracer Calibre 7 GMT Ref. WAY201F.BA0927 [Rolex GMT-Master II Alternative]
The Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi”, released in 2018, is the most modern version of the beloved GMT-Master of times past. It’s red-and-blue bezel has become a horological icon, and arguably looks better than ever in Cerachron.
Finding inspiration in other brand’s most successful models, particularly when they’re Rolex, is relatively common in the watch industry. Well, it didn’t take long for other brands to see the success of a Pepsi-style bezel and follow suit.
In the case of the Tag Heuer Aquaracer GMT this isn’t exactly true as it was released at the same time as the 126710BLRO. It may have been more that TAG saw a niche that Rolex clients were looking for, and chose to fulfil it in their own way. With the Aquaracer GMT Pepsi, you get a very similar aesthetic in a very solid timepiece.
TAG Heuer was able to employ their established Aquaracer line and made it a bit more lively with the addition of the highly desired pepsi bezel. They’ve also maintained the black dial with white indices theme, and included a GMT complication. The GMT hand is, of course, in a deep dark red color that matches the GMT-Master closely.
When analyzed critically, the GMT-Master is almost assured to come out on top as the better timepiece over the Aquaracer. Nevertheless, this difference in quality pales in comparison to the asinine difference in price.
The Aquaracer Pepsi retails for $2,700 and can probably be picked up on the secondhand market for less. Alternatively, the Rolex 126710BLRO retails for $9,250, a price only a few privileged individuals will pay, and trades close to $20,000 pre-owned.
We don’t believe there’s an objective 10X difference in character between these two timepieces, yet their prices will lead you to believe that there is. And if you’re willing to forego wearing the Rolex brand name on your wrist, you can quench your thirst for Pepsi for much, much less.
Longines Record Automatic Chronometer Ref. L28214116 [Rolex Datejust Alternative]
As with the other Rolex models discussed above, the Datejust is itself established not only in the brand’s lineup, but in the history of watches as a whole. We’d even venture to say that most people looking for a luxurious and dressy watch would be completely fulfilled by a Datejust.
Nevertheless, the price of most Datejusts, even older varieties, doesn’t tend to go below $2,000. Even then, those on the lower end of the price spectrum tend to be in poor shape, so much so that they can seem cheap.
Alternatively, you can opt for a wide range of options from renowned Swiss watch manufacturers like Longines at a similar price and in new or like-new condition. A prime example of this is the Longines Record Automatic Chronometer.
Longines’ Record boasts a modern 40mm case size, a versatile white dial with Arabic numerals, a date function, and an attractive 7-link bracelet. It’s also COSC-chronometer certified, just like the Datejust.
You don’t encounter many chronometers at this price point. Actually, Longines doesn’t often go for the COSC certification at all, but they’ve chosen to do so with the Record. We find it makes the Record an even better Datejust alternative, as it ensures the accuracy of the watch. It also elevates the prestige of the watch high enough to butt heads with Datejust of similar specifications.
As we alluded to earlier, a Record can also be bought for the same price that a “banged up” Datejust goes for – $2,025 brand new from a dealer. Additionally, if you can find it on the pre-owned market, it’s likely to be even less.
Zenith Chronomaster El Primero Ref. 03.2040.400/69.M2040 [Rolex Daytona Alternative]
Are you interested in a historic chronograph model and movement, manufactured by one of the most prestigious watch manufactures in the world of horology, cased in steel with a full bracelet? Well, we’ve got a watch for you… and it’s not a Daytona.
Zenith has been making chronographs for a long time. Their most popular and widespread variety, the El Primero, was the first automatic chronograph movement in production.
So groundbreaking was the caliber, in fact, that Rolex themselves employed it in the Cosmograph Daytona model for a period of time. These “Zenith Daytonas” are worth, in some cases, upwards of $20,000.
Nowadays, Daytonas are powered by an in-house caliber but the movement that once beat insde them is now the backbone of Zenith’s catalog. It also makes for some beatiful timepieces in the Chronomaster line, which we consider a strong alternative to the modern Daytona 116500LN.
Not only is it available in more metal and dial conformations, it’s also more serviceable, given the movement’s prominence. This means cheaper service costs. It also easily stacks up to the Daytona in quality, and can be purchased for thousands (if not tens of thousands) less.
In the end, aside from massive bang for your buck, you get a champion chronograph revered by knowledgeable watch collectors everywhere. You also get a unique watch style which won’t be recognized by every wrist spotter in the room. Some people find this a virtue, and we think they’re right.
More Guides & Articles
This is the first of our ‘alternatives’ series of guides that we are going to be putting together. If you’d like to see one regarding alternatives to other popular models or brands, make sure to drop us a comment below. Otherwise, feel free to check out our most popular watch guides:
- How To Spot A Fake Rolex: Comparison Between Real & Counterfeit
- Affordable Rolex Watches That Won’t Break The Bank
- The Most Expensive Rolex Watches Ever
- The Top Italian Watch Manufacturers & Their History
- All Of Our Watch Reviews
"While I am a huge fan of Rolex watches, I can't justify paying double the list price. These are some good alternatives for relatively reasonable prices."Rating: 5.0★★★★★