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Feature: The best alternatives to popular Rolex watches

It seems everyone wants a Rolex, and why wouldn’t they? They’re great, well-built watches that fit a variety of lifestyles and activities. However, demand for these timepieces has skyrocketed over the past few years, with even Rolex themselves not being able to keep up with demand, causing some pieces like the Daytona to fetch north of two times retail pre-owned. If, like me, you’re bored of the long wait times, the “special favours” for your local AD, or the prices you’ll pay to skip the queue and buy pre-owned, here are a few watches that are sure to fill that Rolex-sized hole in your life.

Rolex Submariner – Blancpain Fifty Fathoms

This watch needs no introduction. Even your nan knows what this is. The no-nonsense Rolex Submariner is the perfect diving companion, with it being easy to read and boasting a respectable 300 metres of water resistance. In this no-date configuration, coupled with its accurate chronometer-rated movement, rugged and reliable build, and aesthetic versatility—the watch looks at home in a suit or even a pair of shorts and a tee—the Submariner is not only one of the best dive watches around, but arguably one of the best daily wearers too.

An alternative to the Submariner? At around the same price, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms—the first-ever dive watch—gives the Submariner a run for its money. Like the Rolex, a diver gets everything they could need: a 60-minute dive bezel, a simple but highly legible dial with tons of lume for when lights scarce, and a tough stainless steel build with 300 metres of water resistance. In addition to it being the first, there's more that sets the Fifty Fathoms apart from the Submariner. You also get an additional 170 years of watchmaking experience—Blancpain being the oldest watch brand—a beautifully decorated, visible, movement, and a watch that flies under the radar. The only thing you have to worry about while wearing this bad boy is the amount of respect you’ll get from your fellow watch bros.

Rolex GMT-Master - Tudor Black Bay GMT

Introduced in 1954, Pan Am pilots were one of the first customers of the GMT-Master. The watch allowed them to track multiple time zones with ease thanks to its rotating 24-hour bezel and GMT hand. Fast forward to today, and not only is the GMT-Master still a top choice amongst airliner pilots, but it's also the perfect travel companion for us regular Joes—with the ability to read multiple time zones at a glance, preventing unwanted wake-up calls back home. For A GMT-Master, if you’re lucky, you’ll pay around £10,000, but what if I said you could have nearly the same experience for less than half the price?

Produced by Rolex’s more affordable sister brand, Tudor, the Black Bay GMT is, as promised, less than half the price of the GMT-Master. Ok, you don’t get the full brand weight—and the snowflake hands and vintage-styled riveted bracelet aren’t everyone’s cup of tea—but you do get an independent GMT hand, date, multi-coloured rotating 24-hour bezel, chronometer-rated movement and highly legible dial—all available in a range of colours and material options—just like the GMT-Master. Still not convinced? Well, there’s always the new 58 GMT, which comes in a smaller 39mm size and is equipped with a METAS-certified movement, METAS being one step further than regular ol’ COSC chronometer certification.

Rolex Daytona – Zenith Chronomaster Sport

Oh, how times change. Long gone are the days when a Daytona is given out as an incentive for a customer to purchase a different Rolex model; now you’re looking at around two times retail to jump the queue and call one of these your own. The Daytona is a great watch; there’s no denying that. It’s comfy to wear, it’s well built, and its complexity, chronometer-rated movement, and brand weight go a long way to justify its retail price of £13,200. But, if you’re not willing to sell your soul to jump on a waitlist, there’s another watch worth consideration.

This is the Chronomaster Sport from Zenith. Squint and it’s basically a Daytona. A Stainless steel build with bracelet, check. A ceramic bezel, check. A Three-register panda-style dial, check. However, the Chronomaster sport does have two things the Daytona doesn’t: a date—albeit one in a controversial position—and an incredibly precise 36,000vph 1/10th of a second chronograph. Just look at that thing go … It’s like a Daytona, but on steroids, and even at retail, it costs a few thousand pounds less too. What’s not to like?

Rolex Datejust – Omega Constellation Globemaster

The Datejust was first introduced all the way back in 1945, and the first featured a Jubilee five-link bracelet and a fluted bezel—features which are still on some Datejust models today. Although continually tweaked since its introduction, the Datejust today isn’t too dissimilar to the original released all those years ago. The classic, timeless design is not only one of the most recognisable, but it’s also one of the most versatile. Dress it up, dress it down. It doesn’t matter. This watch can do it all. But with the Datejust sitting between 7.5 and 10K new, what if you wanted a little more bang for your buck?

Like the Datejust, this Omega Constellation Globemaster is a simple three-hander with a steel case, fluted bezel, baton hour markers and a date, which here, is tucked in neatly at 6 o’clock. While the Globemaster ticks all the Datejust’y boxes, it does, however, pack a little more punch than the Rolex. In addition to the vintage-inspired “Pie Pan” dial, the Globemaster features a METAS-certified calibre beating away at its heart. The Calibre 8900 is not only visible, unlike the movement of the Rolex, but has a Co-Axial escapement and is more reliable thanks to the rigorous trials it had to pass to gain its METAS certification. Do those things, and its slightly more affordable retail price of £7,100—£4,500 pre-owned—make it better value than a Datejust? Well, that’s for you to decide.

Rolex Cellini/1908 – Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle

When it comes to Rolex, there isn’t a watch more overlooked than the Cellini. It’s a shame. The Cellini was value-packed, with its precious metal case and solid automatic chronometer-rated 3132 movement—the same as the 39mm Explorer—but the best part was that it offered something entirely different aesthetically to the traditionally sporty Rolex range. But fear not, the Cellini is still a bit of a Rolex bargain, especially since it was discontinued and now costs around £10,000. Its successor—the very handsome, vintage-inspired 1908—well, that’s a different story. Very few 1908s can be found in the wild, with prices hitting around the £25,000 mark pre-owned, £5,000 more than retail. So, what does 20-25,000 pounds get you in the dress watch world?

It's no surprise to anyone that you can get rather a lot, and this Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle is one of the best on offer. Made by one of the top three watchmakers in the world, this 38mm dress watch also has a precious metal case, leather strap and dressy aesthetic, like the Cellini and 1908. But that’s where the similarities stop. The dial is given an intricate guilloche pattern, applied the old way, with a rose engine. The movement ditches automatic winding to grant you greater visibility of the Calibre 4400 AS around back—a 65-hour movement complete with a Geneva Seal. And lastly, but most importantly, no unnecessary text on the dial, like “Superlative Chronometer” which surrounds the small seconds sub-dial on the 1908. Hmm … this one’s a tough choice.

What do you think of my choices? Would you have chosen anything different?

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