It’s practically impossible to get your hands on certain Rolex watches these days, especially when you consider the massive wait times and premium prices. This dominated many conversations in the watch world in 2019, and we don’t expect 2020 to be any better. It’s quite common to hear talk of attractive Rolex alternatives around the office these days. Of course, if you’re choosing an alternative brand, you don’t really want to compromise on quality or style. Additionally, a good alternative shouldn’t come with a long wait time nor sell for sums far above its list price. We’ve chosen three watches that we think tick all these boxes. All three watches are revered in the watch world, but each has its own unique character to offer.
Watch 1: Zenith El Primero
The first watch could really be considered a co-founder of Rolex’s success:
We’re talking about none other than the Zenith El Primero.
If you’re a watch enthusiast, you probably already know that the Zenith El Primero bequeathed its movement to the famous Rolex Daytona. In other words, Rolex used the movement from Zenith’s El Primero line in its Daytona models all the way up to the year 2000!
There are a few other aspects of the El Primero, however, that are lesser known and arguably outshine the Daytona to a certain extent.
Let’s begin by taking a closer look at the watch itself. The El Primero is 42 mm in diameter and 12.75 mm thick, making it the perfect size for just about any wrist.
The beautifully finished case is water resistant to 100 m (328 ft). Some of the most aesthetically pleasing features are the double-contoured edges that help this watch stand out from the crowd. The model featured in this article is paired with a leather strap. There are also rubber straps and steel bracelets available.
If you take a closer look at the dial, the unique design will certainly catch your eye. The most striking features are the three subdials in light gray, dark gray, and blue. The red chronograph hand offers the perfect level of contrast and is topped with a unique Zenith star.
The sunburst dial is a sight to behold. On a practical note, the hands and indices are coated in SuperLuminova so they are still visible in poor lighting conditions. Things get even more exciting when you look at the El Primero’s movement. First things first, it’s an in-house caliber built by Zenith, and as an added bonus, it has a 50-hour power reserve.
In addition to the hours, minutes, and small seconds at 9 o’clock, the movement also powers a chronograph function. This offers a major advantage in terms of frequency: the El Primero movement beats at 5 Hz, whereas the Daytona movement only beats at 4 Hz. That means you can measure times to within a tenth of a second with the El Primero, a clear advantage over the Rolex. Another feature missing from the Daytona is a date display. The El Primero elegantly displays the date at the 6 o’clock position.
There is one more major feature missing from the Rolex: a sapphire crystal case back! You can clearly view the El Primero 400B caliber at work in the Zenith, which is not the case with the Rolex. This is made all the better by the intricately skeletonized rotor and striking star, both of which are typical Zenith characteristics.
The Zenith El Primero is one of those watches that everyone has heard of but few have really taken a closer look at.
While we’ve covered the specifications, the biggest surprise is yet to come: While the Rolex Daytona sells for anywhere between $22,000 and 28,000, you can usually find a sound El Primero for around $5,500. That is just 20% of the cost of a Rolex Daytona. The only thing Rolex has that Zenith doesn’t is a long waiting list!
Watch 2: Omega Seamaster 300
The second watch on our list is a style icon today, but its history dates back to 1957, making it nearly as old as the Rolex Submariner.
The Omega Seamaster 300 boasts all the same characteristics that made the Rolex famous. And as you’ll soon find out, the Omega has even more to offer than the famous Sub!
The Seamaster was introduced in 1957 as a diving watch; a clear answer to the Rolex Submariner, which debuted the year prior.
The watch measures 41 mm in diameter and is water resistant to 300 m (984 ft). At 15 mm thick, the watch is by no means slim, but the bezel and case back prevent it from looking too bulky.
The case sides have a satin-brushed finish, while the top surfaces and edges are polished, emphasizing the timepiece’s shape.
The bracelet, like the case, is made of stainless steel. Again, similar to the case, the outer links have a matte finish and the middle links are polished.
Compared to other Omega watches like the Speedmaster, which has an arguably disappointing clasp, the Seamaster’s clasp is solid and has an easy-to-use quick adjust feature. You can operate it with the simple press of a button on the clasp – even Rolex’s Glidelock system is more complicated than that!
If you take a look at the dial, you’ll notice something that’s characteristic of both Omega and Rolex watches: maintaining tried and trusted designs. The design of the current model is remarkably close to the original from 1957, giving it an appealing vintage charm.
The scratch-resistant ceramic bezel is a typical unidirectional diving bezel with 120 steps.
By now it should be clear that the Seamaster can easily hold its own against the Rolex Sub. If you still have your doubts, however, wait until to learn about the movement.
Omega uses a Co-Axial caliber in this Seamaster, giving it an extremely high level of accuracy (between 0 and 4 seconds per day) and making it essentially anti-magnetic. It’s resistant to magnetic fields of up to 15,000 Gauss, making it 15 times more resistant than the Rolex Milgauss. Few brands other than Omega can make such a claim.
In terms of price, the Omega sits well below the Submariner. You can even find pre-owned models for less than $4,000.
Watch 3: Tudor Pelagos
If you’re looking for a 40-mm Rolex, you’ll find that your options are pretty limited. Add to that the waiting lists and premium prices and you have to question whether a Rolex Sea-Dweller is any better than other stainless steel sports watches that cost under $10,000.
What if you could call a fine steel sports watch your own for as little as $3,500?
Enter the Tudor Pelagos. This watch clearly stands out from other Tudor models and can stand up to timepieces from its sister brand, Rolex.
The Tudor is especially well suited to those with sizable wrists. With a diameter of 42 mm and a height of 14 mm, it’s certainly in line with Tudor’s typical robust look.
The case is not made of stainless steel, as you might expect. Instead, it’s made of titanium, making it hypoallergenic and significantly lighter. Thankfully, the metal looks great on the watch, too.
The clasp is where the Tudor really outshines the Rolex. Anyone who’s worn a watch knows how frustrating it can be if your watch is a bit too tight or loose on your wrist due to temperature fluctuations. That’s not a problem for the Pelagos. The watch features a 2-cm quick adjustment function as well as a spring system in its clasp, making it easy to readjust the size.
While we’re talking about advantages, we’d best mention the fact that Tudor has finally outfitted one of their watches with a ceramic bezel. This has long been a criticism of the beloved Black Bay collection.
If you’re worried that the bezel will sabotage the timepiece’s vintage look, fear not: The matte finish prevents unsightly smudges, and the bezel’s luminous material makes it much easier to read in the dark compared to other models.
The dial’s angled edge gives the dial a unique 3D effect, which is further complemented by central indices and an edgy font.
You’ll find a date display at 3 o’clock without a Cyclops lens, which is typical for Tudor. At 6 o’clock, you can see the watch’s depth rating of 500 m (1,640 ft) – well over what most of us would ever need.
From a purely factual standpoint, there is nothing about the Pelagos that makes it notably worse than the Sea-Dweller. At the end of the day, however, design is a matter of personal preference. That being said, one definite advantage of wearing a Tudor as opposed to a Rolex is that no one can accuse you of showing off. Both watches are easily recognizable to watch aficionados, and Tudor comes with a reputation as one of the most innovative brands in the industry in the past few years.
You won’t have to wait or pay extra surcharges for a Pelagos. The watch is available in several different colors and even in a left-handed version, all of which cost less than $3,500.