Strengths: Each generation of IWC Aquatimer has its own personality, but there always seems to be at least one steel model on a bracelet with a monochromatic dial that is probably a good analog to the Rolex Submariner. IWC has a lot of nice features as well, such as a quick-change system for the bracelet, as well as a neat ratcheting, rotating dive bezel system on some models. IWC goes for a slightly more modern look, which will appeal to those seeking a high-end watch experience without the attributes that come with a Rolex.
How it compares: To a large degree, three-hand Aquatimer watches are entry-level for IWC, so expect prices to be lower than Submariner. However, these watches do not use in-house movements (while Rolex does, of course). Also, the style of Aquatimer watches isn’t as timeless, or universal, as the Rolex Submariner. The Aquatimer also has a case that is a bit larger, as well.
Price: $6,750 on bracelet
Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver
Strengths: Seiko doesn’t have the name cache as Rolex, but it has a legacy of sport and durability unlike most other brands. Seiko watches are beloved around the world for their durability, design, and value even if they don’t have the wrist presence of a luxury Swiss timepiece. The highest-end Seiko watches are Grand Seiko, and one of their most simple and desirable dive watches is the Spring Drive SBGA209 (hands-on here). Rather than use a traditional mechanical movement, this timepiece uses Seiko’s own Spring Drive, which is mechanical movement with a quartz regulator. Essentially, you get the charm of a mechanical movement with the performance of quartz.
How it Compares: It is often the case that Japanese design language isn’t as refined as that of the Europeans, but the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver is as close to timelessness as you can get in a watch of this ilk. Produced as one of Seiko’s more high-end models, and with their legendary attention to dial detail, you get more than enough watch for the money, even if people don’t readily notice it as a high-end item.
Strengths: Sinn, known as a maker of serious German sport watches, stumbled onto a little bit of brand personality with the U1 (aBlogtoWatch review here) collection. These 44mm-wide, 1000-meter dive watches are designed to put up with anything (and perhaps more) a Rolex Submariner can put up with, save for bragging rights at a social gathering. The blocky hour markers and hands grow on you quickly, while the sheer utility of the U1 is almost legendary at this point.
How it Compares: While the Rolex Submariner has never been a showy watch per se, the U1 has a slightly more industrial look given its sand-blasted but ultra-hard German submarine steel construction that probably gives Rolex’s 904L steel (also pretty durable) more competition than your average 316L steel watch. Sinn doesn’t use an in-house movement, and the look is a bit more avant-garde than the Rolex Submariner. The red accents also make the U1 arguably less than ideal for formal occasions. Price is right, though.
Oris ProDiver Date
Strengths: If you want an Oris watch that more closely resembles a Rolex Submariner, then the Oris Sixty Five 42 (hands-on here) is a solid option. In terms of quality and materials comparisons, I am going to suggest the Oris ProDiver Date. This not only offers a more signature look for the Swiss brand, but also the durability (and boldness) of a 49mm-wide titanium case with 1000 meters of water resistance, safety locking ceramic bezel, and an automatic helium release valve.
How it Compares: Like many others on this list, the Oris name isn’t going to beat Rolex. The brand itself likes to say they make “real watches for real people.” Going along with that, the ProDiver Date is meant to be a real dive watch for real people who go diving. With that said, it works suitably as a daily-wear assuming you like the large size. It doesn’t have an in-house movement either, but for the money, this is a good amount of watch.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver
Strengths: The 42mm-wide steel version of the Royal Oak Offshore Diver (hands-on here) wears very nicely and does come on an optional matching bracelet (my choice). Audemars Piguet includes its typically high level of fit and finishing on this luxury timepiece, which also benefits from being quite exclusive given much lower production than the Rolex Submariner. Overall, it is a good-looking and sensible (by luxury watch standards) tool watch that gives the Rolex Submariner a run for its clout.
How it Compares: Like the Rolex Submariner, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver is both a tool and a luxury status item. This watch happens to leverage the great history of Royal Oak watches in pure dive watch form – that means you get the distinctive octagonal case shape of the Royal Oak as well as the “mega tapisserie” dial texture. Audemars Piguet also uses in-house movements, and even though it is more expensive than the Rolex, the Submariner’s movement is arguably a better performer. Status-wise the Royal Oak Offshore Diver is a bit more high-end, even though it isn’t as “sensible” a choice as the Rolex.
Breitling Superocean Heritage
Strengths: Breitling produces a large number of dive watches under the Superocean name, but in my opinion, the most aesthetically elegant is till the Superocean Heritage. Both it and the Rolex Submariner are essentially based on 1950s dial designs, which explains why they both have a nice timeless look to them. In 42mm- or 46mm-wide variants, the Breitling Superocean Heritage is a larger watch, which is enhanced by the all-polished finishing of the steel case. It also has a distinctive look compared to the Rolex Submariner given the available mesh metal bracelet.
How it Compares: An aging platform, the Superocean Heritage is still a handsome watch, but is a bit behind the times without an in-house movement or more durable bezel material. With that said, it is still pretty, and the Breitling brand is both known and beloved by many – making it not an equal to Rolex in name awareness, but more known than most other brands on this list. It would be even more attractive with a price decrease or spec update.