Who Needs A Rolex Daytona? Try These Five Alternative Chronographs And Thank Me Later
I’m setting myself up to receive some serious heat right now, but I don’t care. Even among my own team, there are several Daytona owners, so to say I’m walking into the lions’ den wearing a meat suit might be a bit of an understatement. But as someone who has become less and less interested in the Rolex Daytona and all the nonsense that surrounds it and the trials of its acquisition I thought I should say something. You know what? There are loads of excellent alternatives out there. Forget what the fashion mags tell you. Don’t listen to the brand fawners or status seekers. Buy smart. Try these five on for size and thank me later…
One quick note: I get that the Daytona is more than a watch. I understand that it isn’t just a product. The Daytona is a symbol. To some people that is all that matters. If that’s you, that’s cool. You can ignore this article and put me on your list of most hated journalists (don’t worry, I’m used to it). To others, the fact it is a symbol is what turns them off. If you’re sick of all the noise and fluff surrounding the Daytona, this article might be of interest to you. However, it is for the third group — the inbetweeners — that I’m writing this. Those who are close to being swayed by the overwhelming power and presence of the Rolex Daytona but feel — thanks to a nagging little voice in the back of their minds — that they might be being had.
Don’t worry: the Rolex Daytona is a good watch. If you truly, honestly like its aesthetic, and you have the readies to lay down for one of these unicorns, I’m sure you’ll be very happy together. But I’m here to tell you it isn’t the be-all and end-all. There are some sweet, creative, and highly credible alternatives for around the same price or less.
Not all lookalikes
Here’s the thing: I decided not to go with “the five best Daytona impersonators”. I’ve thrown in one lookalike on this list because it really can’t be kept out of the conversation these days, but I’ve actually chosen chronograph watches based on availability (second) and merit (first). Why did I choose this route? There are two reasons behind my decision. Firstly, I hate pale imitations of anything. I like character. I like originality. Above all, however, I like quality. Generally, if something is imitating something else’s style, it is of inferior quality. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s pretty consistent in my experience.
Secondly, I hate a blinkered market. We are trained (by exposure) and manipulated (by suspicious scarcity and engineered hype) to keep our focus on very few models. This is a travesty. There are some superb chronographs on the market. Some of these (like my top pick on this list) command similar money to the Daytona and yet, somehow, despite being tangibly better in many ways (in technical aspects and also in my subjective opinion which you’re at liberty to find ridiculous), come across as expensive simply because you can buy them at their asking price. Heck, given the intense obsession with the Daytona, you might even be able to get some of these under list if you’re buddies with a nice AD.
So if this list seems eclectic to you, that’s because it’s supposed to. If you think these watches have nothing to do with the Rolex Daytona and couldn’t possibly pose a question to a would-be Daytona owner, I’d beg to differ. Regardless, feel free to let me have it in the comments. I’m looking forward to it.
5. Hamilton Intra-Matic H Chronograph
I’m kicking this off as I mean to go on. This model is, admittedly, nothing much like the Daytona. I’m putting my weight behind the cream-dialed manual Intra-Matic. The standard panda automatic would have been a more “logical” choice as direct comp to the Daytona, but that’s not the point of this piece. I’m looking for chronograph alternatives that can stand on their own two feet because they aren’t the Daytona, not because they wish they were and come close be being “almost good”.
The Intra-Matic manual collection launched this year was a stunning drop by Hamilton. I love it. I was salivating when I saw the press shots. Honestly, I couldn’t believe the brand had got this model so right (about 97% right, in my estimation). What’s that 3% you ask? It should’ve (assuming it could’ve) been thinner. It was a bit slimmer than the auto, but not enough for my taste. Still, that doesn’t dissuade me from buying one at all. It is exactly what a modern chronograph from a major group brand should be.
This watch retails for less than €2,000, so if you had Daytona money put aside, buy this and a jet ski. Don’t talk this watch on the jet ski with you, just buy the jet ski to make a point. If you wanted a decent watch and were desperate to make a status statement, forget the Daytona and follow this plan instead. If you live in a land-locked country, even better. Nothing says “incredibly wealthy and I want you to know it” more than a bone-dry jet ski on your drive.
4. Airain Type 20
Curveball? Perhaps. Although we are a Dutch website and therefore quite keyed into the efforts of our countryman, Tom van Wijlick. Van Wijlick primary concern is LeBois & Co., but he’s also bringing Airain back from the dead with one of the finest Type 20 style chronographs I have ever seen (bar none).
Is it too expensive at €2,540? Well, there are a lot of ways to buy into this one so don’t judge a book by its cover, but the truth is it is not crazy money for what it is. It seems it because the brand is so new/obscure, but when you look at the product, you shouldn’t need much convincing. Sticking by my original remit, this is a Pilot’s watch and not meant for the race track. However, it is a chronograph, and I believe it to be one of the best releases of recent years.
3. Tudor Black Bay Chronograph
Here’s the lookalike. Surprise, surprise, it’s the pretty-much-faultless Tudor Black Bay Chronograph release from this year’s Watches & Wonders. Do I think this is a smashing watch for the money? I sure do. Do I love Tudor? You know I do. Would I buy this one? No way, José. Why? Because it’s a lookalike and it isn’t my favorite thing Tudor does (model-wise, it’s probably my fourth favorite). If I were to buy a Tudor Chronograph, I would certainly choose the bicolor version. That was a peach, in my opinion. If you’ve forgotten what that looks like, check out the below and tell me I’m wrong:
Ah, you can’t beat a good John Player Special colorway. But the JPS Tudor is not the official pick for this list. I wanted to throw those that simply love the looks of the Daytona a bone, so I’m going with the white dial version dropped in January. It really is an excellent value proposition.
2. Breitling Chronomat Red Arrows Edition
Oh my goodness, I can already feel the regret growing. I know I am going to look back in years and kick myself for not buying the best Chronomat ever made because I said it the second it dropped and haven’t had cause to question that claim since.
Look, the old Chronomat was gross. The bicolor versions were the grossest. They always made me think of a strip club owner that only bothered to button the bottom two or three buttons of his shirt. However, enough time has passed since their heyday for me to look back on them fondly. My feelings towards that era of Chronomat is actually quite similar to my feelings toward the Rolex Day-Date. A watch I once hated is a watch I would now wear happily without much irony.
But then the new Chronomat came along and improved the line in every way. It was just a total upgrade. The return of the rouleaux bracelet was a timely masterstroke. The new size, the new colors, the crisp steel exteriors (for the most part) were all welcome. The best of the best, however, would follow months later in the form of this black/blue/red dialed beauty. The case back decoration will not be for everyone (and this style is rarely for me) but its boldness won me over. At €7,900 it doesn’t sound cheap, but it’s still almost a Hesalite Moonwatch on leather (€4,800) cheaper than the Daytona (€12,250). Nuts.
1. Jaeger Le-Coultre Master Control Chronograph Calendar
Wow. I blew the non-existent budget. Remember, this isn’t one of those “five affordable alternatives to the Daytona” kind of article. This is about shining a light on real excellence that often gets shoved to the side by the juggernaut that is the Crown (and I love Rolex watches, by the way, before any says I’m Rolex-bashing, but we can’t deny the overwhelming coverage bias given to the Daytona’s papa bear).
The Jaeger Le-Coulte Master Control Chronograph Calendar is a masterpiece. I wore it for a week last year and it still calls me back to its loving embrace whenever I think of it. It retails for €15,000, which is close to 3k more than the stainless steel Daytona at list, but about the same below what you might reasonably expect to pay on the gray market to get one quickly. Is it worth it? In my opinion, it is. Every single penny. It is a bit of an exit watch proposition for me, however. It isn’t a GADA gem, but it is such a fine piece of horological workmanship, I could see myself being happy with this and a bunch of rugged beaters to get me through my active days.
*Prices quoted here are correct for Germany (incl. VAT). Please check VAT in your local region.