August 14, 2016
by Ariel Adams
The lauded Rolex Submariner is one of the most popular luxury watches in the world. Easily the most popular steel-cased (or otherwise) luxury diving watch, the Rolex Submariner sets the bar in many ways when it comes to timepieces of its type, at its price point. aBlogtoWatch has reviewed the Rolex Submariner here, offered a long-term review of the Rolex Submariner No Date watch here, and even compared the Rolex Submariner to its “cousin” watch the Tudor Heritage Black Bay here. With that said, the Rolex Submariner isn’t for everyone, and a lot of people who already have a Rolex Submariner still like the genre of high-end steel sports diving watches and are interested in other watches like it.
Let me first say that Rolex as a brand, and the Rolex Submariner as a model, are among the most copied things out there. Not only is there a vast underworld of fake (which we very much recommend against) Rolex watches, there are lots of “lookalike” timepieces out there which merely seek to emulate the look and feel of a Rolex Submariner for the benefit of another brand. Those aren’t the types of watches I’ll be talking about in this list. Oh, and I’d also like to say that all of the watches included in this top 10 list are being currently produced at the time of this article’s writing – but it is possible to find other stuff out there that is no longer in production.
To kick-off a possible new article series, I’d like to list my personal top 10 alternatives to the Rolex Submariner that still exist within the design, quality, and overall luxury pricing of the Rolex Submariner. Further, I’d like to focus on dive watches that share a few important things in common with the Rolex Submariner. Those things, for our purposes, are 1) available steel or titanium case construction with matching bracelet, 2) high-quality mechanical movement, 3) time-only display (date optional), 4) mostly (or entirely) monochromatic design with dark colored dial, and 5) a sporty design that can be feasibly be dressed up for a more elegant or formal look.
Nothing can absolutely replace the Rolex Submariner, and in many ways the Rolex Submariner is the best of its kind when blending price, features, and quality. Also, Rolex has some of its own “alternatives” to the Submariner which arguably include the Rolex GMT-Master II, Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000, and the Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller. I won’t mention those below, but you should know about these more “deep-diving” watches that Rolex produces which are technically Submariner alternatives as well (even though they arguably look very similar).
Last, I would like to mention a few basic tech specs of the Rolex Submariner to keep in mind. The watch is 40mm wide in 904L steel, water-resistant to 300 meters, and has a wonderful matching bracelet that has a handy micro-adjust system for a more precise fit that can be adjusted on the fly. Rolex uses their own in-house-made movement which promise arguably class-leading performance, and the Rolex Submariner’s bezel is produced from ceramic. Current retail price for the steel Rolex Submariner 114060 “No Date” is $7,500, and the Rolex Submariner Date 116610 is $8,550.
Strengths: 45mm wide and with an in-house movement, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique 5015 (aBlogtoWatch review here) collection has an available steel model with a matching bracelet and black dial that is thematically in the same category at the Rolex Submariner. It is expensive, but it is also well-made and beautiful.
How it compares: With a heritage similar to the Rolex Submariner in terms of origin and purpose, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms currently exists a bit higher on the price ladder than the Rolex Submariner, even though it arguably isn’t a “better” watch. The Fifty Fathoms does have an attractive curved sapphire crystal over the bezel (versus ceramic), and which you prefer is a matter of taste. Blancpain’s has a different look that some say is a bit more on the elegant versus “tool watch” side. The Blancpain is also the more original choice with a higher price premium and far fewer of them out there.
Strengths: Tudor is owned by the same people as Rolex (they are careful to say they are not owned by Rolex), so there is a lot of design and construction carry-over from “the crown” brand. Starting in 2016, the Tudor Heritage Black Bay (hands-on here) also has an in-house movement along with a handful of interesting design refinements. It is easily one of the best values around when comparing design, construction, and mechanics.
How it compares: The Tudor Black Bay is slightly larger than the 40mm Rolex Submariner with a 41mm-wide steel case, and it is a bit thicker as well. Perhaps the biggest “down-side” is its aluminum bezel insert material versus the Rolex Submariner’s more durable ceramic – though you do get more interesting color options in the Heritage Black Bay, such as burgundy red. Solid dial design was historically inspired by the Rolex Submariner, so the differences are only slight, though noticeable.
Strengths: Omega has spent decades refining and honing its Seamaster collection… which has actually resulted in a huge amount of variety. At the top of the ladder when it comes to fancy dive watches is the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean, which combines the appeal of a serious diving tool with a good-looking lifestyle product. The Planet Ocean is just sober enough to not look showy, but it certainly has an impressive wrist presence and a lot of very attractive movements today.
How it compares: Comparing the Omega Planet Ocean to the Rolex Submariner really depends on the model since Omega makes not only different sizes, but different versions – and that applies even to just the three-hand automatic models (the image above shows the Planet Ocean Master Chronometer). There is no perfect 40mm-wide analog, but there are Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean models similar to the Rolex Submariner in terms of features and size. While Rolex still arguably wins when it comes to fit and finishing, Omega is clearly chasing Rolex when it comes to movement performance, dial and case construction, as well as overall popularity. It’s certainly worth a close look.
Price: Starting at around 5,700 CHF
Strengths: The newest generation Bulgari Diagono Scuba (aBlogtoWatch review here) is the best Diagono diver watch made to date, offering an interesting Italian-theme to the idea of a Rolex Submariner alternative. Built on the Diagono family of watches, you see distinctive design elements such as the hinge-style lugs, bracelet, and dial design, which here is the cleanest we’ve ever seen it on a Diagono Scuba. It also happens to mix sportiness with elegance very well, just like the Rolex Submariner
How it Compares: The 41mm-wide Diagono Scuba is about the same width as the Rolex Submariner, and they have similar thickness profiles as well. On the wrist, they have a very different feel, even though they attempt to serve the same purposes. Both are 300-meter-water-resistant divers and contain in-house movements. The Bulgari Diagono Scuba doesn’t have a ceramic bezel (it uses an all steel design) but is an admirable and lower-priced Rolex Submariner alternative with a more modern, designer twist to it.
Price: 6,400 CHF