Rolex Daytona Alternatives


Rolex Daytona

Who doesn’t want a stainless steel panda-faced Rolex Daytona? Who wants to pay $13k+ to own one – assuming you could find one to buy? Or shell out nearly twice that amount for a pre-owned RD. Not me. If we’re on the same page, it’s time to turn the page and find a cheaper, immediately available alternative. Criteria: it’s got to be a quality, white-faced stainless steel chrono. Here are the fab four . . .

Not a Daytona OMEGA Racing Chrono

OMEGA Racing Chronograph $8450

In terms of the quality of construction and movement, OMEGA builds watches that meet or beat their crosstown rivals‘. OMEGA just doesn’t have Rolex’s street cred. Dismissing OMEGA for any reason other than snobbery and bragging rights is a big mistake. And this is a BIG WATCH.

On display behind a transparent caseback, OMEGA’s most excellent Co-Axial Master Chronometer 9900 movement shelters inside the Omega Racing Chronograph’s 44.25mm case. Equally impressive, its two-tone steel bracelet equals the Daytona’s Oystersteel attachment for sensuality. I don’t dig the OMEGA’s “railroad track” indices, but I wish the Lord of the Rings‘ ORCs were as beautiful. Or not.

Not a Daytona: Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42

Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 – $8400

Breitling is famous for the Navitimer – a watch with a dial so complicated it comes with its own slide rule. In contrast, the Premier Chrono is a minimalist delight, sharing the OMEGA’s disdain for the Daytona’s three subdials. The market loves date windows so . . . there it is. There it isn’t – the Daytona’s or OMEGA’s steel bracelet – but you can dine on oysters for a year with the money you save by buying Breitling.

Also on the positive side – the flip side – the 42mm Breitling puts its in-house Caliber 01 under a transparent caseback. Launched in 2009, the COSC certified engine uses a vertical clutch interface with the column wheel to create positive feeling pushers, whose size, shape and position make the stopwatch a pleasure to actuate. It’s a practical, beautiful Rolex Daytona alternative.

Zenith El Primero Anniversary

Zenith 50th El Primero Anniversary A384 Revival – $7600

The El Primero Anniversary model’s small square case (37mm) screams 1969 almost as loudly as Led Zeppelin’s Good Times Bad Times. Lest we forget, the Rolex Daytona is also a child of the ’60’s. And make no mistake: Zenith’s 50th Anniversary recreation is a quality timepiece – with a welcome upgrade: a sapphire crystal. So you can’t scratch it off your list of Daytona alternatives.

The EPA’s transparent caseback also separates the Anniversary model from its forebears, showcasing Zenith’s legendary Automatic El Primero Caliber 400. That technological marvel made the El Primero the first ultra-thin, high frequency automatic chronograph, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. I mean, measure tenths of a second. The satisfaction of wearing this watch, however, is immeasurable. Except financially.

Not a Rolex Daytona either: Hamilton American Classic Intra-Matic

Hamilton American Classic Intra-Matic Auto Chrono – $2,215 (available for $1500)

When it comes to quality, the Hamilton Intra-Matic isn’t in the same league as the three choices above. But c’mon, that’s a damn high bar. If you’re looking for a hardy, dependable Rolex Daytona alternative for reasonable money, the Hamilton is an entirely defensible choice.

It’s powered by the Hamilton caliber H-31, a movement based on the ETA/Valjoux 7753 (with a custom H pattern on the on the oscillating bridge). Hamilton says the 40mm watch – complete with priapic pushers – is “a modern reworking of a 1968 signature piece.” And so it is, with admirable restraint and inescapable affordability.

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  1. The SS Daytona is surely not worth it’s current acquisition price unless you absolutely have to be one of the people that’s wearing one. That said, there is one watch here that I would much rather buy and own even if the prices were equivalent:

    The El Primero 50th.

    I have been obsessed with that watch since they rolled it out. It has a presence and a look that’s like no other modern chronograph under $20k. Yes it’s 37 mm, but no that is not a problem. The case shape is such that it wears a little larger than it is, and at it’s size it makes quite an horological statement without being obnoxious or garish.

    Professionally I spend a lot of time with modern Rolex buyers and intenders. I wish they’d see that this Zenith is an equally good watch that won’t be lost in a sea of duplicates at their next conference or golf retreat. Unfortunately I think the appeal of a unique piece like this is lost on the majority of the market. There is a lot of comfort in conformity.

  2. “Zenith? Didn’t they used to make radios?”
    – pretty much every Rolex-wearing executive at that golf retreat.

    It’s definitely one of those brands that has name-recognition issues, despite the history and quality. I would bet that very few people buy a Zenith as their first “expensive” watch, so you know the guy who is wearing it either has a certain amount of fuck-you money to play with…or is a watch nut. Respect either way.

    I’ve always been an El Primero fan (if only for the fun of being able to say El Primero) and have generally found it to be a brand that presents itself better in real life than in photos. And that A384 looks pretty fetching in the photos.

    It’s a brand that’s perpetually in my Top 5. But never seems to move up, despite others moving on and off the list.

    • Yeah, Zenith is definitely an “in the know” kind of brand. The pieces are beautiful, though. There’s never been much marketing horsepower behind the brand. I agree that they look better in person.

  3. Speaking as someone who would buy a Daytona today if he could find it for $13k (or 15)…these are some great alternatives. There’s a black and white Speedmaster Racing Master Chronograph for about $9k list that does the black-and-white subdials (vs the all black of the moonwatch) which I think is another nice alternative. As someone who wears his basic-b Racing everywhere, they’re very nice automatic chronos.

    And I just saw your article entitled “Stainless Steel Rolex Daytona: Worth $27k?”. I think Betteridge’s law of headlines applies here.

    • I had to look that one up! “Betteridge’s law of headlines is an adage that states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no”. It is named after Ian Betteridge, a British technology journalist who wrote about it in 2009, although the principle is much older.” Thank you wikipedia and sightline for the 411.

      As for the Speedy Racing Chrono, I considered putting it in, but felt the OMEGA Moonwatch Chronograph had a better vintage vibe. Thinking again, that’s my deal and the LE’s not really all that available. So . . . I’ll swap ’em out now.

      Thanks for the heads up!

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