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5 Watches That Are Better (And Cheaper) Than the Rolex Explorer

By Jorg Weppelink
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Skyrocketing Rolex prices… It has become a leading topic of conversation in the watch industry. For people who bought one or more Rolexes a couple of years ago, it can be a great opportunity to make some money. However, for those looking to buy a Rolex, it may be a thorn in their side.

The most obvious example of rising prices is the Rolex Daytona. However, prices for other models, such as the Rolex GMT-Master II and the Explorer II, have also increased quite significantly. When it comes to entry-level Rolexes, this appreciation may be frustrating to witness. You might finally be ready to buy your first Rolex, only to find out that you cannot purchase it from an official dealer and that market prices have steadily gone up. This can make watch collecting quite difficult, especially for an entry-level model like the Rolex Explorer. So, what to do? Save the extra money? Look at alternatives? Well, we’ve compiled a list of five cheaper and better options in place of the Rolex Explorer. Let’s get to the watches.

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1. Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M

The first alternative to the Rolex Explorer is the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M. Rolex and Omega have been fierce competitors for decades, so it’s always easy to pick a watch from the Biel-based brand. The Omega Aqua Terra is more affordable, more versatile than the Rolex Explorer, not to mention that it’s also technically superior. Let me explain why: First off, the Rolex Explorer measures 36 mm in diameter. If you prefer larger timepieces, you will have to resort to the two previous generations. On the other hand, Omega offers the Seamaster Aqua Terra in three sizes: 34, 38, and 41 mm.

Moreover, the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M comes with a variety of different dial colors, including blue, white, black, and a stunning dark green, all of which feature a nice teak-deck-style pattern. Inside each Aqua Terra model, you will find an Omega Co-Axial Master Chronometer movement, which many watch enthusiasts consider superior to Rolex movements. Add the very comfortable stainless-steel bracelet to the mix, and you have a perfect alternative to the Rolex Explorer. The 41-mm and 38-mm Aqua Terra models have official list prices around $6,000, making them more affordable than the Explorer, but – perhaps more importantly – you can find them for less than that on the secondary market.

The Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra
The Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra

2. Tudor Black Bay

The second alternative to the Rolex Explorer was also an easy pick. Tudor, Rolex’s little brother, has proven itself an excellent option for people looking for Rolex’s spirit without the Rolex price tag. While the standard Tudor Black Bay clearly takes inspiration from the Rolex Explorer, it wouldn’t be a Tudor if it lacked some typical Tudor elements. The Tudor Black Bay comes in three different sizes: The largest is 41 mm and is best suited for men’s wrists, the 36-mm version is a great unisex watch, and the smaller 32-mm watch is aimed at women.

Like the Omega Aqua Terra, the Tudor Black Bay also comes with various dial colors, such as blue, silver, and black, with the black version looking the most like a Rolex Explorer. But Tudor has equipped the watch with its characteristic snowflake hour hand and oversized hour markers, both of which make it recognizable as a Tudor. Inside the case of all three sizes, you’ll find the same Tudor T600 caliber. Prices for the Black Bay on a stainless-steel bracelet start around $3,000 for the 32-mm version and go up to approximately $3,500 for the 36-mm and 41-mm editions. This makes the Tudor Black Bay a perfect choice for people looking to spend a bit less but get the same spirit and flair as the Rolex Explorer. (As a side note: There are also versions of the Black Bay on a leather strap, but the best Explorer alternative comes on a bracelet.)

3. NOMOS Glashütte Club Campus neomatik

The third pick might not immediately come to people’s minds as an alternative to the Rolex Explorer. NOMOS is primarily known for minimalist timepieces rather than sports watches. Nonetheless, the NOMOS Club Campus has become a favorite among those looking for a sports watch with great design and minimalist touches that, first and foremost, looks stylish. The NOMOS Club Campus neomatik comes in two different sizes: 37 and 39 mm. The 37-mm version features a very nice white-

silver dial with rose gold accents. The 39-mm edition comes either with a white-silver dial with dark blue numerals or a dark blue dial with rose gold hands.

Both sizes come with your choice of a regular bracelet or a sports bracelet. My pick would be the sports bracelet. It does add around $300 to the price, but it looks stunning and is incredibly comfortable. Inside the case of both watches, you will find the in-house automatic caliber DUW 3001. This movement is just 3.2 mm thick, which keeps the profile of the NOMOS Club Campus neomatik very slim. Additionally, NOMOS puts their own twist on the iconic California dial, giving these models their distinct character. Overall, this is a fantastic choice if you are looking for an affordable and stylish alternative to the Rolex Explorer. The 37-mm size retails at about $2,500, and the 39 mm comes in at about $2,700. Add $300 extra for the sports bracelet, and you’ll have a great watch for around $3,000.

The NOMOS Club Campus: a stylish alternative to the Rolex Explorer.
The NOMOS Club Campus: a stylish alternative to the Rolex Explorer.

4. Grand Seiko SBGR317

Grand Seiko has long been a favorite of true watch enthusiasts, but over time more and more people have started to recognize the brand’s brilliance. Grand Seiko’s extensive history still shines through in their watches today. The Heritage Collection is modeled after iconic Grand Seiko models from the 1960s. Moreover, the manufacturer’s inspiring quest to create the world’s most accurate timepieces has led to some stunning results. Add the absolutely impeccable finishing that is unmatched in the watch world, and you get something truly special.

I have picked the Grand Seiko SBGR317 with a 40-mm stainless-steel case and black dial. The deep black dial features a refined sunburst pattern, razor-sharp hands that look like blades, and case finishing with characteristic Zaratsu (or mirror polishing), which looks stunning. Inside the case, you will find the automatic Grand Seiko 9S65 movement. It is an exceptional movement that is visible through the display case back. The five-piece link bracelet is a great final touch to this amazing handmade timepiece. Yes, you read that correctly: Grand Seiko takes great pride in ensuring all finishing is done by hand, and the watch is assembled and regulated by a master watchmaker. Rolex has a similar system where most of the watch is mass-produced, but a watchmaker makes the final adjustments. Grand Seiko, however, offers you this quality with a “human touch” for at about $5,000, less than half the price you’d pay for a Rolex Explorer on the free market.

The Grand Seiko SBGR317
The Grand Seiko SBGR317

5. Seiko Prospex SPB155J1

The last watch on this list is a pick for people who aren’t looking to spend a lot of money on a Rolex Explorer but would like to buy a watch that is part of the same category of stylish sports watches that make the perfect daily wearer. While Grand Seiko is a direct competitor of Rolex in terms of price, quality, and technique, its little brother Seiko offers more affordable alternatives that look great, have a lot of history, and don’t cost an arm and a leg. A great example is the Seiko Prospex SPB155J1, also known as the Seiko Alpinist among fans.

The Alpinist’s name shares some of its story with the Rolex Explorer. Both watches debuted in the 1950s, and both are linked to explorers trying to conquer the world’s highest peaks. The Seiko Alpinist SPB155J1 is part of a series of Alpinist models Seiko introduced last year. I picked the version with a green dial, as it is the only watch that comes on a stainless-steel bracelet rather than a leather strap. Of course, you could always add a bracelet to the blue or gray editions. The watch has a 38-mm case that is just under 13 mm thick and contains Seiko’s trusted automatic Seiko 6R35 movement with a date display at 3 o’clock. Once you have this watch on your wrist, I’m confident you will hardly take it off – it simply has great retro charm. At $700, this is one of the best options out there for less than $1,000. It is a budget-friendly yet stylish alternative to the Rolex Explorer.

The Seiko Prospex Alpinist with a green dial and steel bracelet.
The Seiko Prospex Alpinist with a green dial and steel bracelet.

There you have it: five cheaper and better alternatives to the Rolex Explorer. Whether you opt for the real thing or one of these alternatives, every one of these watches makes an ideal daily wearer.

About the Author

Jorg Weppelink

Hi, I'm Jorg, and I've been writing articles for Chrono24 since 2016. However, my relationship with Chrono24 goes back a bit longer, as my love for watches began …

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