The Rolex Daytona is one of the most legendary and coveted watches of all time. However, market prices for the iconic chronograph are higher than ever before. With pre-owned prices around $35,000, only a select few can purchase one for themselves. In light of this, I’ve selected five alternatives that are not only cheaper, but in some cases have more to offer, than the Rolex Daytona.
The Twin: The Zenith Chronomaster Sport
The Zenith Chronomaster Sport is a hand-wound, column-wheel chronograph that can measure to 1/10th of a second. The beautifully ornate El Primero movement is on full display through the sapphire crystal case back and provides the watch with a date display – two characteristics the Daytona lacks. That being said, the Zenith watch certainly takes design cues from the famous Rolex model. The Chronometer Sport’s dial, ceramic bezel, and overall look are strikingly reminiscent of the legendary Daytona – you’d be forgiven for confusing the two at first glance!
Upon closer inspection, however, any attentive watch enthusiast would recognize the finer details, including several nods to numerous preceding El Primero-powered chronographs. If any brand has the right to borrow Daytona design features, however, it is Zenith. The Rolex Daytona was powered by an El Primero movement up until the late-1990s, when it was replaced by an in-house movement. In short, this watch has a closely linked history, similar design, better complications, and a price tag around $11,800 – what more could you ask for? The Chronomaster Sport is undoubtedly one of the best Daytona alternatives on the market today.
Sporty and Elegant: The Breitling Premier B01 42 mm
The Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph masterfully blends sportiness with pure elegance, much like the Rolex Daytona. However, the Premier boasts its own unique history and style. The bicompax panda dial gives the watch a nice vintage look, and the tachymeter scale stands out on the dial as opposed to its usual position on the bezel. You can catch a glimpse of the in-house B01 movement through the sapphire crystal case back. The movement has a power reserve of 70 hours and, unlike the Daytona, Breitling’s chronograph comes with a date function. The 42-mm case is waterproof to 100 m (328 ft) and the material quality is second to none. The chronograph push-pieces have the optimal pressure point and the steel bracelet is likewise top quality. While the band is similar to the Rolex Jubilee bracelet, it has its own unmistakable Breitling aesthetic. All things considered, the Breitling Premier is a great Daytona alternative. It is on par with the Rolex in many ways and even boasts a date function – not to mention it’s priced just over $7,000.
The Other Legend: Omega Speedmaster Racing Co-Axial
I really wasn’t sure whether or not to include the Omega Speedmaster Professional on this list. After all, the Moonwatch offers its own unique story that even outshines the history of the Daytona. However, after some hemming and hawing, I decided against the legendary Moonwatch as an alternative to the Daytona. You’d have to make too many technical compromises even with the new METAS-certified movement: hand-wound instead of automatic, no ceramic bezel, and only waterproof to 50 m (164 ft).
The Speedmaster Racing, on the other hand, has nearly everything that the Moonwatch “lacks.” The automatic co-axial movement offers a power reserve of 60 hours, which is on par with the Daytona. In addition, the watch has a sapphire crystal case back, a ceramic bezel, and a date function. The Speedmaster Racing only lags behind the Daytona in terms of water-resistance. However, it makes up some ground with its timeless Speedmaster styling that rivals that of the Rolex icon. The 44-mm case may seem large at first, but with a lug-to-lug measurement similar to that of the classic Moonwatch, this Speedy is still easy to wear. The Speedmaster Racing has its own iconic design, a leg up with its display case back and date function, and is considerably cheaper than its Rolex counterpart at around $8,200.
The High-End Option: The Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Chronograph
In my personal opinion, the Polaris Chronograph from Jaeger-LeCoultre is the most elegant sports chronograph on the market today, even outperforming the Daytona in this regard. The Polaris Chronograph is a winner both in terms of external appearance and quality. The sports chronograph measures 42 mm across and stands just 11.9 mm tall. The overall design is individual and demonstrates admirable attention to detail. The watch’s water resistance of 100 m (328 ft) and 65-hour power reserve are impressive, but they pale in comparison to the beautifully decorated movement visible through the sapphire crystal case back.
However, I think the biggest highlight of this watch is its dial. It stands out with its varied textures and finishes that truly shine in full daylight. Priced between $10,500-13,000, the Polaris Chronograph is still notably cheaper than the Daytona, and you get a truly high-end chronograph that would cost many times more from brands like A. Lange & Söhne or Patek Philippe.
The Vintage Daytona: The Tudor Black Bay Chrono
To be honest, I don’t think the Black Bay Chrono is all that similar to the Rolex Daytona. After all, the Tudor is a bicompax chronograph and the Daytona boasts three subdials. Thus, it doesn’t really make sense to call this model “the vintage Daytona.” Nevertheless, you will instantly feel the similarities between the two when holding the Tudor in your hands, despite the typical vintage look and reduced finesse.
Unlike the Daytona, however, the Black Bay Chrono doesn’t come with a ceramic bezel. Of course, such a modern bezel wouldn’t exactly go with the rest of the vintage look. Nevertheless, the watch has it all in terms of quality workmanship and attention to detail. The Black Bay Chrono certainly stands out in its own special way, and the vintage exterior covers a good deal of impressive technology. The Breitling B01 movement, which is further refined by Tudor, offers an impressive 70-hour power reserve and date function, the latter of which the Daytona lacks. When it comes to water resistance, Tudor leaves Rolex in the dust with its 200 m (656 ft) depth rating. In terms of price-performance ratio, Tudor is, as always, way ahead. The Black Bay Chrono is already hitting market prices around $7,000, which is north of Tudor’s asking price. Although it was only released a few months ago, this watch is proving to be extremely popular – just like its sibling, the Daytona.