Rolex makes a number of watches that have a huge following and are supremely popular on the watch market today, from the Daytona to the GMT, the Submariner, Milgauss, and Explorer II. It’s really an endless list of watches that are popular and highly sought after. But I feel there are a number of watches that make for great alternatives for those popular Rolex models that I would love to present to you today because they really are overlooked.
Rolex Daytona Alternatives
Starting first with the Rolex Daytona. Now, this is one of the most popular watches in the world today because, ultimately, the design is faultless. It’s so sporty, yet elegant. It can be dressed up or can be dressed down. You can really wear this to any situation, any occasion and it would never be out of place.
There are a number of alternatives to it. And one of them, I feel, definitely doesn’t get enough shine, and that is Tag Heuer.
Tag Heuer Octavia Jack Heuer
Now Heuer, about 50 or so years ago prior to it being acquired by Tag, was a historic chronograph maker. Heuer chronographs have become some of the most collectible and followed watches on the market today. Tag Heuer has released a number of faithful re-editions that I feel make for great alternatives to the Rolex Daytona.
One of them is the Heuer Octavia Jack Heuer edition. Now, this comes in a really nice 42-millimeter case with a three register format, same as the Daytona, in steel on a metal bracelet with that very functional bezel that I think is super functional and adds to the character of the watch.
You get a panda-style dial that is really reminiscent of the Daytona, yet has that history and heritage of Heuer chronographs of old. Overall, it’s just a faultless design that I feel is very versatile and super under the radar, and yet super underappreciated as well.
Tag Heuer Octavia Heritage
Another alternative from Tag Heuer is the Heuer Octavia Heritage. This is a reverse panda chronograph in that it’s a black dial with white sub-dials, and so this would make for a great alternative to the steel black dial Daytona.
It’s one of those watches that is very functional and I like the design a lot. From the discrete date window at six o’clock, that really nice rotating bezel all while also getting that chronograph functionality powered by an in-house movement from Tag Heuer. Super underrated watch and I feel it’s a fantastic alternative to the Rolex Daytona.
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Rolex Submariner Alternatives
Now we move on to maybe the most iconic watch of all time, and that is the Rolex Submariner, the Crown’s first dive watch. At least in my opinion, it’s definitely the most iconic watch of all time. But I think there are a number of alternatives that you can choose from that make for fantastic choices over and above it.
Back to basics: What is a Dive Watch?
The most obvious is the Omega Seamaster. Now there are a number of editions, the most famous being the Seamaster Professional 300 Meters, which was famously worn by Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond movies.
The modern Seamaster also features a lot of the hallmarks that we saw on that watch that Pierce Brosnan wore as he played James Bond, such as the H link style bracelet, the twisted lug case, and last but certainly not least that wave dial. I think overall it’s a knockout design that I feel is really great.
But I think there’s actually another Seamaster that makes for a fantastic alternative to the Submariner, and that is the Seamaster Heritage.
They recently released this last year in 2021, both in a blue dial and a black dial. It features a really nice sandwich-style dial that’s reminiscent of Panerai, but it evokes a great vintage-inspired design while having modern proportions and sensibility as well as the movement technology of a modern wristwatch. The fit finish of the case and bracelet overall is just fantastic, and I feel it really is a fantastic alternative to the Rolex Submariner.
Rolex GMT Master II Alternatives
The next watch is one that I feel actually is quite difficult to find suitable alternatives for, because it’s a watch and a design that is distinctly Rolex and really can’t be replicated as well by anybody else, and that is the Rolex GMT Master II. I just personally think that the Rolex GMT Master II’s design is the purest for the GMT format.
Back to basics: What is a GMT Watch?
Panerai PAM 1535
Now that’s not to say that there aren’t great alternatives to the Rolex GMT nonetheless, one of them being this watch, the Panerai PAM Reference 1535. It actually features a very practical 42-millimeter stainless steel case, so it’s actually quite wearable for a Panerai.
It’s in the luminor format, so it has the iconic crown guard that Panerai is really known for. But I think it’s done in a format with a kind of hobnail dial that I think is super well done with a GMT hand that can be hidden under the hour hand, so it can be super discrete as well.
It is all powered by a Panerai in-house movement. So overall, the techs and specs that you get in this watch are not only super functional and a great alternative to the GMT, but I think it’s super unique and also definitely lends itself to the Panerai history and iconic design that they’re ultimately known for.
Now there are also a number of other great options namely the Tudor Black Bay GMT, Longines just released the Zulu Time this year which I think also makes for a great alternative. But I think this Panerai is really something that’s off the beaten path and a little different from the GMT designs we are typically used to. And so I felt this actually would be the best alternative to the Rolex GMT overall.
Rolex Milgauss Alternatives
Now the next watch is one that’s actually quite difficult to find alternatives for because it’s so quirky and unique design-wise, and that is the Rolex Milgauss.
This was actually a watch that was originally released back in 1956, and it was a watch that was fully antimagnetic. It was hidden inside of an iron cage to avoid the movement from being magnetized given the fact that this was originally made for engineers and scientists.
When a movement is magnetized it ultimately has huge accuracy problems. Now, modern Milgauss are known for their lightning bolt hand, as well as for that GV glass that is so distinct from Rolex.
But there is one watch that I feel actually makes for a fantastic alternative, and that is the IWC Ingenieur. This is a watch that actually features a really stunning blue dial with a distinct second hand in the same way the Milgauss does.
This was a watch that actually predates the Milgauss. So in terms of functionality, it’s a watch that was done before the Rolex Milgauss, actually, one year prior, back in 1955 with the original reference being the reference 666.
Overall, it’s a fantastic watch that has a great design. It also was a model line that was redesigned by Gerald Genta himself back in 1976 with the reference Ingenieur 1832. This is a design that I feel is so great and I really hope that IWC re-releases it to the general public because it would present itself as a great alternative for a Genta-designed sports watch that isn’t the Royal Oak and Nautilus, which now sell for boatloads of cash.
So not only would it make for a great Milgauss alternative because of its history, but again, it would be a great sports watch alternative to those kinds of higher echelon Genta-designed watches, it being, of course, a Genta-designed watch itself.
Rolex Datejust Alternatives
Next is an alternative to a watch that’s actually worn by the current President of the United States – the Rolex Datejust. The Rolex Datejust is a very classic design that is super versatile, and so to find an alternative for that, you have to find something that really mimics it from a design and style perspective.
Vacheron Constantin Fiftysix
For me, the best option is the Vacheron Constantin Fiftysix. This is just a self-winding watch that has a very clean and classy design that can be dressed up or dressed down. And yet it’s made by a holy trinity brand and sells on the secondary market for less than a Rolex Datejust. All things considered this is a real travesty but represents a phenomenal value for the collectors in the know.
With a 40-millimeter steel case and a very elegant design, I think it lends itself really well as a great alternative to the Rolex Datejust. It’s super versatile because you can get it both in a blue dial or in a silver dial, which gives you different options for whatever suits your personal taste and style.
It coming from Vacheron Constantin means you’re getting a watch that is extremely well finished, and yet it’s at a very accessible price point. Overall, I feel it’s a fantastic alternative to the Rolex Datejust, and definitely without a doubt, the best one out there.
Rolex Explorer Alternatives
Last but not least is the Rolex Explorer. Now I view a Rolex Explorer really as a highly legible field watch. So the best alternatives in my opinion are those same field watches.
Glashutte Original Senator Excellence
The one that I feel does this the best is actually from a German brand, one that’s not super well known to the watch industry, and that is the Glashutte Original Senator Excellence. There’s one version in particular of this watch that has a highly legible dial with pilot-style Arabic numerals, high contrast because given the watch’s black dial with white hands and indices that are highly legible and great for field purposes. It’s a watch that comes in a really practical steel case.
Now the most impressive part of this watch is not its design, it’s actually its movement. This is powered by the Glashutte Original Caliber 36, which has a 100-hour power reserve, which is extremely impressive, especially because according to Glashutte’s in-house tests, it passes chronometer certification tests, although it is technically not a chronometer-certified watch.
Overall what you get is a highly legible field watch that can also lend itself as a great pilot’s watch and a watch that’s powered by a movement with a 100-hour power reserve so you can set it down for a couple of days and pick it back up and it’ll be right where it left off.
So those are my favorite alternatives to popular Rolex models. Now, of course, this list isn’t the end all be all. There are a number of other great alternatives that I didn’t mention in this list. At the end of the day, you have to buy the watches that speak to you, whether that is a Rolex watch or an alternative to a popular one.