Expensive taste in watches but don’t have the budget to keep up? Fear not; there are plenty of fantastic watches out there with price tags that won’t break the bank. We’ve rounded up some the most iconic (and costly) watches in the market today and found great looking alternatives to wear while you save for your grail. But who knows, you may end up loving these less expensive alternatives to famous luxury watches so much that you won’t bother spending your coin on the pricier ones.
Splurge: Rolex Submariner ($8,550)
Save: Tissot Seastar 1000 Powermatic 80 ($725)
Yes, the Rolex Submariner dive watch is the ultimate watch for many, but with its high price point and hard-to-find status in stores, it’s a watch that’s challenging to get your hands on.
Thankfully, because dive watches are so popular, there’s a whole world of divers out there beyond the realm of The Crown. One affordable alternative that caught our eye is the Tissot Seaster 1000 Powermatic 80. Priced at less than 1/10 of the Sub, the Tissot Seaster diving watch is packed with awesome features.
The Swiss-made Tissot Seaster 1000 Powermatic 80 sports a stainless steel 43mm case water-resistant to 300 meters. This particular version is fitted with a full stainless steel bracelet, complete with a folding clasp equipped with a diver extension. What’s more, the unidirectional dive bezel on top of the case is craft from black ceramic—similar to current Submariners. The matching black dial has plenty of lume for underwater reading and a date window for everyday practicality. Flip the watch around and you’ll see the automatic mechanical movement powering the watch with an impressive 80-hour power reserve, which is more than the Submariner’s 48-hour power reserve.
Splurge: Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional ($5,250)
Save: Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph ($520)
As the watch that journeyed to the moon on Apollo 11 fifty years ago, the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional is a chronograph that not only looks terrific but boasts enviable pedigree too. However, did you know that there is indeed another and less costly watch that made it to the lunar surface? If you didn’t, then meet the Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph—a watch that also went to the moon via Apollo 15 in 1971.
Aside from a shared space history, the pricey modern-day 42mm Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch and the affordable modern-day Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph have a few common design traits too.
The Bulova Lunar Pilot chronograph features a 45mm stainless steel case topped with a black bezel with a white tachymeter scale. The Bulova’s black dial includes a trio of subdials like the Speedmaster but the former has a date window while the latter does not. Both watches come with two interchangeable straps—a black leather band and a black nylon strap. However, unlike the manual-wound Speedmaster, the Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph runs on a high-performance quartz chronograph caliber.
Splurge: IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage ($13,200)
Save: Hamilton Khaki Pioneer Auto ($885)
Vintage-inspired timepieces have been trending in the watch space over the last decade or so and a particularly popular style is one based on old-school aviation watches. Take the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage model for instance, which takes its design cues from 1940’s piece. This big timepiece (46.2mm) has a big price tag to match, so we turn to another brand with a history of making aviation watches—Hamilton.
The Hamilton Khaki Pioneer Auto, also clearly draws its design inspiration from vintage pilot watches. The watch features a large 45mm steel case, beveled steel bezel, and over-sized winding crown. As was standard with aviation timepieces during the mid-20th Century to ensure optimal legibility mid-flight, the dials of both timepieces are black with large Arabic numeral hour markers. Finally, the leather pilot strap topped with stitching and studded with steel buttons is yet another throwback to yesteryear.
Inside the retro-looking Khaki Pioneer Auto is a modern automatic movement with an 80-hour power reserve, which can be viewed via the sapphire caseback.
Splurge: Panerai Radiomir Base Logo ($4,200)
Save: Spinnaker Hull Automatic ($250)
With its distinct cushion-shaped case, over-sized fluted winding crown, wire lugs, and stark dial with large hour markers, few watches are as recognizable as a Panerai Radiomir. If you love the look of the Radiomir but its luxury watch price point is out of reach, then there’s Spinnaker Hull Automatic.
Squarely in the homage watch category, the similarities between the Spinnaker Hull Automatic and the Panerai Radiomir are undeniable. Although the Hull does not have wire lugs and a flared crown, opting for thicker lugs and a straight crown instead, the cushion-shaped case and raised steel bezel characteristic to the Radiomir are there. Furthermore, while the dark dial of the Spinnaker features dots and lines for hour markers rather than numerals and lines, it is a sandwich construction where the cutouts in the top layer allow the luminous material to shine through—another Panerai hallmark.
The transparent caseback of the Spinnaker Hull Automatic provides a glimpse of the automatic movement powering the time and date functions of the watch.
Splurge: TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition ($5,900)
Save: Seiko Recraft Series SSC667 ($350)
For most fans of the square Monaco chronograph watch, there’s one image emblazoned in their mind: that of Steve McQueen on set filming Le Mans in 1971 buttoning up a Gulf Oil racing suit with a Heuer Monaco on his wrist. In 2018, TAG Heuer announced a global partnership with Gulf Oil International. Naturally, to capitalize on the new relationship, the watchmaker unveiled the TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf 2018 Special Edition dressed in the famed blue and orange racing stripes of Gulf Oil.
For a low-priced alternative that’s not only just as colorful but one that also looks to the past for design inspo, we found the Seiko Recraft Series SSC667 chronograph. Instead of a square case, the Seiko dons a 43.5mm round case with a silhouette that flaunts some serious seventies vibes. The blue, orange, silver, and black dial houses a tachymeter scale along with the customary chronograph subdials and a discreet date window tucked in between 4 and 5 o’clock.
The colorway of the dial continues onto the NATO-style strap, racing stripes and all. As a solar chronograph, the Seiko SSC667 requires no batteries at all and has a six-month power reserve once fully charged.
As we’ve clearly illustrated, a smaller budget should not be a barrier to owning a great watch. There’s an abundance of affordable watches out there that offer fantastic value for money if you look beyond the bright lights of the big-ticket brands. Let us know what your favorite luxury watch alternatives are in the comments section below!