Posted on January 31 2018
Hailed as the most iconic wristwatch of the 20th Century, the Rolex Daytona is the Swiss manufacturers most desirable watch.
Introduced in 1963, the Daytona was named after the Daytona International Speedway in Florida. Very much designed as a race watch the Cosmograph Daytona was marketed at gentlemen drivers.
Men with style, money and a love of cars.
The automotive-inspired design is distinctive, but took decades to be fully appreciated by watch aficionados. The watch itself is a mechanical chronograph with three sub-dials on the face – referred to as a compax layout. This is a symmetrical pattern of sub-dials at 3, 6, and 9.
There is also a distinctive tachymeter, a scale that’s inscribed around the bezel of the watch. This can be used to measure speed and distance travelled. Ideal for racing drivers. (More about watches and Motorsports here).
The case is an 'Oyster' style, designed for use in water.
The early models of the watch were fairly inexpensive and not particularly popular. Powered by a hand-winding Swiss Valjoux movement they were attractive watches, but soon just a little out of sync with the public's newfound love of practical quartz watches.
This first series of watches was replaced in 1988 by new models that housed an automatic movement based on a Zenith Caliber 4030. This new model also upgraded the glass to sapphire crystal and increased the diameter to 40mm. It was this model that really began the watches popularity, due in part to its low production numbers, meaning demand began to outstrip Rolex's ability to supply.
Again, in 2000, Rolex released a new generation of Daytona's. For the first time with an inhouse Rolex movement. By now the Daytona had become firmly established as a classic, prices having gradually increased through the 1980s then rocketed through the 2000s.
Part of the popularity of the Daytona has been due to its association with actor and part-time race driver Paul Newman. The version of the watch he wore became known as the 'Paul Newman' or Panda model. Newman's actual watch, gifted to his daughter's boyfriend, sold at auction in late 2017 for a staggering £13m, making it the most expensive wristwatch in history.
Ironically, the exotic dialled watches of that era sold poorly at the time and were discontinued in the 1970s. Contrast that with the current waiting lists, sometimes measured in years, that buyers need to join to secure a new watch.
With new models scarce and vintage models prohibitively expensive, here we take you through some of the affordable alternatives. Watches that pay homage to the Rolex classic, or at least take design inspiration from this iconic timepiece.
There's a good selection of expensive chronographs currently for sale and a lively market for vintage models, but we're going to focus on the cheaper, more readily available watches.
Japanese giants Seiko are among the biggest watch manufacturers on the planet so it seems fitting that we should start our list here.
Founded in the late 1800s the company progressed from its initial production of clocks to the forefront of wristwatch design and manufacturing. Along the way, the company released the world's first quartz watch, the first quartz chronograph and introduced the innovative Kinetic models – a marriage of mechanical automatic watch features with quartz accuracy.
What stands out about Seiko is their affordability.
Seiko is renowned for producing high-quality watches at an affordable price. As we discussed here, some have become modern classics. The SSB033 gives a big nod to the Daytona, having both the three sub-dial layout and tachymeter bezel as expected.
Occupying space at the lower end of the watches we're highlighting, this Seiko unsurprisingly has a Japanese quartz movement, rather than the Rolex's automatic Swiss engine. But don't let the cheap price turn you off this watch. It's 40mm in diameter, has a hardex glass and a full Stainless steel case. There's also the addition of 100M water resistance. This is a great place to start to get a feel for this style of watch.
Invicta Speedway 9211 & 9223
Stay with me. You came here having searched for Rolex and now I'm offering you an Invicta – a cheap watch from a company known for its blingy timepieces.
First, let's take a step back. Although the company is American owned, Invicta has its roots in Switzerland during the late 1880s. Its corporate headquarters are in Switzerland along with its customer service centre and its current president is a third-generation watchmaker. We've looked at a selection of their dive watches here.
Now consider the second point. The Invicta Speedway is one of the cheapest watches on this list. Like the Seiko, there's a lot of watch here for the relatively small outlay.
With the silver dial of the 9211 and the black of the 9223 you have two of the classic Daytona options. With the addition of a date and 200M water resistance, this quartz-powered watch has to be a serious consideration for an impulse purchase having lusted after a Rolex.
Now that Bulova is owned by Citizen they're a part of the biggest watch manufacturer in the world. Historically Bulova is an American brand most widely known for its military watches, involvement with the Space program and the production of the Accutron - a watch that used a tuning fork, rather than a balance wheel, to regulate the timekeeping.
This Bulova, the 96B113, is part of their Marine Star collection. Unfortunately, this Daytona inspired model is now discontinued and therefore difficult to get your hands on ( I got mine used on eBay for around £100).
At 43mm this watch is slightly bigger than most of the others on this list. Like the Invicta there is a date at 4 o'clock and decent water resistance. With a few red touches on the hands and dial there's also some of Bulova in there rather than being just a straight homage to the Rolex.
American fashion brand Fossil, from their inception, have specialised in producing reasonably priced retro-styled watches.
This model, a quartz, is on the larger side at 45mm which may be a dealbreaker for some. Stylistically, it has a beige dial with camouflage sub-dials and bezel. Maybe surprisingly, it works. It's not been used before on a Daytona but the effect is reminiscent of the exotic and panda dialled Rolex's of the 1970s'.
Apart from the Invicta and Stuhrling this is the cheapest watch to make the list, so again, it's a very realistic starting point for your first chronograph. For a little over £100 the buyer can have a substantial, well designed, water-resistant watch.
Alpha Paul Newman
We've previously mentioned this Chinese brand in our article on affordable alternatives to the Rolex Explorer 1.
Alpha is essentially a brand that specialises in Rolex homage watches.
In regards to the Explorer Alpha's offering didn't quite make the cut as there were some other very well made, and very affordable alternatives. Here however the Alpha Paul Newman is a very credible option.
It's among the cheaper watches discussed, despite being mechanical. A mechanical timepiece at a quartz price. That's got to be worth further investigation.
Alpha offers a series of dial options, with the Panda dials being at the forefront. Indeed, they call these models 'Paul Newman' in their marketing material. They also do these homages on stainless steel bracelets, leather or silicone bands. There's a watch among this line for every chronograph lover.
The engine in all of these watches is the Chinese made Sea-gull SG2903 manual winding movement. Like Sea-Gull's other movements it's cheap and reliable, although it's a thirty-minute chronograph rather than the full hour. Still, it's not much of compromise to make when taking into consideration the price. See here for more about Chinese watches.
The crystal is a domed acrylic, again a cheaper option, but it works well on the watch. Overall, this ticks all the boxes stylistically and is a really affordable step into the world of mechanical chronographs. And there are not many other options in this price range.
Hamilton Intramatic 68
Before we get into the Hamilton, bear this in mind. We're now looking at a watch that is 10X the price of the Alpha. The term 'affordable' is relative. This is affordable compared to the Rolex original.
Hamilton was a US brand with a fine history producing watches for the railroads, the US army as discussed here, and their marine chronometers that were used by both the US and Allied navies in WWII. Having ceased manufacturing watches in America in 1969 the company is now Swiss-owned – a part of the Swatch group of brands.
Both its American heritage and Swiss ownership make this a well respected and popular brand that is usually available on the high street.
The Intramatc 68 nearly didn't make it onto this list. Because the Hamilton Chrono Matic II was a much more obvious choice. A true Daytona homage. However, the Chrono Matic is long discontinued and difficult to find so we're having a look at Hamilton's current retro-styled Chronograph.
So, it's not a direct homage, rather a chronograph influenced by the styling that made the Daytona and other chronographs so iconic. The most obvious differences being the two sub-dials and inner tachymeter. In reality, this watch is a homage to Hamilton's own watches from the 1960s.
It has Hamilton's own automatic movement, a 42mm diameter case, reverse Panda dial and a date window at 6 o'clock. It's a great watch, but with a Swiss automatic movement and from an illustrious brand it means it's priced at over £1k.
Steinhart Ocean One Vintage Chronograph
Founded by Gunter Steinhart, this German company have been producing watches for a couple of decades now. So not one of the larger established brands, but certainly a company that has built a solid reputation since its launch in 2001.
Stylistically Steinhart has made their name producing, among others, designs inspired by Rolex, with a strong preference for the vintage look. A quick scan of their current range will show models reminiscent of the Submariner, Explorer II and Daytona.
However, Steinhart is far from a homage brand like Alpha, with their watches being powered by their own movements – using a Swiss ETA base.
The Ocean One Vintage Chronograph is full Daytona Homage with a dial based on the Paul Newman watch. There's both a Panda and reverse Panda version.
This Chronograph is powered by a Dubois Dépraz DD 2020 movement. This Swiss automatic movement is based on the decorated ETA 2824-2 TOP with a gilded Steinhart rotor, which can all be admired through the sapphire crystal window in the screw-down stainless steel case back. Also screwed down is the large, well gripping crown with its discreet red accent as well as the two pushers, which allows for water resistance of up to 100M.
It's a very good quality watch, with real attention having been paid to the smaller details. It's priced accordingly at around the £850 mark.
ORIENT Neo 70's WV0041TX Solar
The Orient brand is part of the Seiko Group, so like the better known Japanese brand, they make well-regarded quality watches with their own in-house movements.
This particular watch is unique on this list as it's the only Solar-powered model.
It's also the only model missing a tachymeter which is a shame as it's clearly inspired by the Daytona. Of the different dial options the White panda dial is most reminiscent of the Rolex.
It's a reasonably substantial watch with a diameter of 42mm and a band width of 22mm. The novelty of the solar-powered movement doesn't really raise the price much and it's another model just into three figures.
Despite their Swiss heritage Rotary are now known as a high street brand producing mostly uninspiring cheap watches, so it was a pleasant surprise to stumble across this gem (See the Rotary dive watch we also love here).
There's a couple of dial and strap variations of what is a very cheap Daytona homage. Everything is expected for an affordable homage. It's 42mm in diameter, powered by a quartz movement, with a stainless steel case and boasting 50m of water resistance. At an RRP of £149 it's good value for an attractive watch. Most importantly, it looks the part.
Stuhrling Original Concorso EU665B
The final watch to make the list is another very cheap quartz option. This relatively new watch company sold over a million watches in 2017 and have positioned themselves as a brand selling affordable luxury. A reaction against Swiss dominance of brands like Rolex.
Like the other cheaper watches here, the Stuhrling takes its look from the Daytona but isn't quite a full homage. The numbers on the dial, rather than plain indices, marks this out from the others on the list. But for some, this may make the dial appear a little too busy.it also squeezes the date in at 4.30 too.
It's powered by a Seiko VD53 Quartz Chronograph Watch Movement which is impressive for the money. It's on the smaller end of the sizes with a 40mm case and 20mm band width.
There are ten affordable Daytona alternatives. There's more but we've kept the list at ten. We could have pushed the definition of 'affordable' and included more expensive models. The TAG Autavia, a couple of Tudor Chronographs and the Zenith El Primero. At the cheaper end, there were also a number of homages from Bagelsport, Henry Jay and others that didn't quite make the cut. But we had to draw the line somewhere, so hopefully, the first ten are enough to get you inspired by this iconic design.