There are three good reasons to buy a Rolex: quality, design and status. There’s one good reason not to buy one: everyone wants one. Wearing a Rolex shows a distinct lack of imagination. If you don’t want to be a horological sheep, here are three inexpensive Rolex alternatives – watches well below the $5,900 entry price for a Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41mm. I reckon these watches meet or beat Rolex in each of the three categories, but not all three at once. Because Rolex . . .
Inexpensive Rolex Alternatives – Quality – Ball Engineer III Armor – $1,849
Rolex are extremely well made. What does that mean in practical terms? At its core, they’re accurate and durable. Sure, we could talk about finishing. If we did, we’d have to accept that less expensive Grand Seikos are superior. But let’s not.
Let’s define quality as a watch’s ability to keep accurate time for a long time, no matter what.
Some Rolex are COSC-certified chronometers. All Rolex are tested in-house to be accurate (better than the officially required -4/+6 seconds per day). They’re built to remain accurate when running in various positions, temperatures and humidity levels, and after being whacked with a plastic hammer (true story).
The Ball Engineer III Armor is a COSC-certified chronometer, also tested in-house to ensure build quality, temporal accuracy and warrantied longevity. To triumph over hammer time, the American-born (now-Swiss) watchmaker deploys “Endurance Technology”: SpringLOCK, SpringSEAL and Amortiser. Click here to read the deets.
Suffice it to say, the BE III is as much of a horological M1 Abrams as a Rolex. As the dial reminds you, Ball’s 130th anniversary timepiece is as resistant to magnetic fields as the Rolex Milgauss and equally water resistant (100m).
That said, there are other [relatively] inexpensive Rolex alternatives built Rolex tough. (Let he without Sinn check out the German manufacturer’s kugelsicher tool watches.) But this new sub-$2k Ball has it all. Except for looks . . .
Rolex Alternatives – Design – Bell & Ross BR V1-92 – $1,990
Any discussion of non-Rolex design smashes into a brick wall: “But it isn’t a Rolex!” It’s damn near impossible to separate a Rolex’s looks from its recognized role as a status symbol. (More on that below.)
How about we put it this way? A suitable alternative has to share the Geneva-born Mack Daddy’s ability to withstand the test of time (i.e. changing fashions).
To that end, I’ve chosen a little known watch: the 38.5mm Bell & Ross three hander.
I know: there’s nothing terribly exciting about a black dial automatic BR V1-92, save the second hand’s Mirage-shaped end. But it’s boring in the same sense that a Louisville Slugger, Zippo lighter or pair of Ray Ban sunglasses is dull.
All of them share something more important that pizzazz. They all possess quintessence.
“They exhibit a rare and mysterious capacity to be just exactly what they ought to be,” the authors of Quintessence, The Quality of Having “It” explain, playing the Zen card. “We get excited about them, not because they are the ‘best’ but because they have an elusive combination of style, class and utility.”
I reckon the BR V1-92 meets the criteria: it’s a perfectly handsome watch that will never go out of style. One that hardly anyone will recognize . . .
Rolex Alternative – Status – Mr. Jones Watches A perfectly useless afternoon – $245
Reality check! There isn’t a single non-Rolex watch under $5,900 that comes anywhere close to matching a Rolex’s status.
In fact, the same holds true for watches above that price point. Patek? Audemars Piguet? Vacheron Constantin? You hurt your what?
Watch nerds can argue over high horology until they turn blue in the face, but Rolex is the universally recognized luxury wristwatch, bar none.
The only way to compete with Rolexian status: go the other way. We’re talking anti-status status.
Mr. Jones sells inexpensive Rolex alternatives that meet the total obscurity requirement and tell the Rolex-loving crowd sorry, I’m out. Not playing. I’m more interested in enjoying life as it comes than chasing horological bragging rights.
I could have chosen the Apple Watch over Mr. Jones’ The perfectly useless afternoon. Cupertino’s miniature computer says you’re too damn busy, too damn important for a Rolex – or any traditional watch.
The Apple Watch is another way of opting out of the Rolexian wrist race, but we all know it makes you just as much of a sheep as a Rolex Submariner. Maybe more of one; there are some 50 million (and counting) Apple Watches out there telling people to breathe.
Meanwhile, Mr. Jones (and J.J. Cale) recommend you ride the river, just float. It’s not a bad idea if you think about it.