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.
Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona
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.
The Best Rolex Daytona Homage Watches
With new models scarce and vintage models prohibitively expensive, here I'll 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 I'm going to focus on the cheaper, more readily available watches.
Let's start with a familiar name.
Japanese giants Seiko are among the biggest watch manufacturers on the planet. This inexpensive model is the nearest of theirs to the Daytona.
And that's why this watch is first on the list. It's a little over $100.
It's a very affordable sports chronograph with an in-house quartz movement. It's far from a Rolex clone but does have a similar aesthetic.
It has the tachymeter, the three sub-dials and the neat indices. So the basics are there. There's a pleasing mix of Seiko design, but with a slight nod to the Daytona.
The specs are good considering the price. As mentioned, it benefits from a Seiko movement. There is also a Hardlex crystal and 100M of water resistance.
At this price, they've opted for a leather strap rather than a bracelet and that's the right choice. As for size? It's 40mm. That's ideal for me.
It's neither a Rolex homage nor an eye-catching piece. Rather, it's a great example of what Seiko do best. Solid, reliable watches that represent excellent value for money.
I recently included Danish brand Nordgreen on my list of best Bauhaus watches. The Pioneer isn't the most obvious sporting chronograph so bear with me.
Nordgreen is well-known as an ethical watch brand. They're a carbon-neutral business that emphasises sustainability and responsible manufacturing.
What does that have to do with the Rolex Daytona?
I like to mix it up.
Particularly when I enjoy the brand's backstory. This isn't a homage to the Rolex. But it's a handsome chronograph that appeals to the same market. Buyers of mens watches that are moving away from petrol to electric.
Think of this as a Tesla competing with Jaguar and BMW. It's the left-field alternative.
It adds a couple of features absent from other watches on the list.
- Sustainable packaging
- Carbon neutral
- A company Giving Back scheme
- Responsible manufacturing
Of course, the ethical side of the business is great, but what about the watch?
You're here because you like original watch designs. Nordgreen has an ace up their sleeve. Jakob Wagner.
He's an award-winning Scandinavian designer, best known for his work with Bang and Olufsen. He designed the Pioneer.
The result? An attractive chronograph. It's paired down compared to the Daytona and opts for a plain black dial. The minimalist approach continues with a plain bezel.
But here's another cool feature. You can customise the watch.
As standard, the watch comes in a mid-sized 42mm case. There are three options for the case colour. In the picture above I chose silver. Of the dial colours, I picked black. And finally, I chose the stainless steel bracelet.
If you'd prefer it more sporty there are a load more strap options. They even offer vegan straps!
My final watch design is recognisably Scandinavian and deserves its place among the best watches. It's a great alternative to a Daytona style model. It's a slim, inexpensive quartz watch that I've made less sporty with my choice of strap. Try it on a canvas or leather strap for a different aesthetic.
The guys at Nordgreen have offered my readers a 15% discount. It doesn't expire either. Use code 'CHRON'.
Invicta Speedway 9211 & 9223
Stay with me.
You came here having searched for Rolex and now I'm offering you an Invicta.
Like you, I first came across Invicta when I saw some of their over-sized and hideous creations. But that is only one aspect of the brand.
Trust me, they do have some impressive watches.
And they are Swiss-based. The headquarters are there and their current president is a third-generation watchmaker. They're a brand you should take a second look at.
Let's cut straight to it. The Invicta Speedway is one of the cheapest watches on this list. Like the Seiko, there's a lot of watch here for the money.
But unlike the Seiko, this is a faithful recreation of the Rolex. It's a true homage. With two variations - black or silver.
It's another very affordable quartz model, with an impressive 200M of water resistance. To give you a comparison. A new Invicta Speedway costs less than my Bulova was used.
The sizing works for me. It's a little smaller than the Seiko and very much in keeping with the original Rolex. You'll not get a watch that looks so close to the Daytona any cheaper than this.
Invicta Speedway 9211 & 9223
This is the Daytona homage that I settled on. I love this watch.
It's from Bulova's Marine Star line - so I'm assuming it's actually marketed as a dive watch.
But there's nothing nautical about this model. It's a sports chronograph that mirrors the styling of the Daytona. It has a simple colour palette of black and silver, with a busy but clean dial.
Although Bulova was an American brand - supplying the US Army with watches - they're now Japanese owned. As part of the Citizen group, the watches are powered by Japanese movements. That is the case with this model.
At 43mm this watch is 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's styling. And of course, it has the iconic tuning fork logo.
The only downside is that it's discontinued. You'll need to find a used version.
This is a big watch.
At 45mm wide it's aimed at a modern buyer. 1970s sports weren't this large. But it does offer that classic retro-styling in a different package to the others here.
US American fashion brand Fossil are on familiar ground here. From the start, they've specialised in producing reasonably priced retro-looking watches.
This is a fun watch that plays with the Daytona look.
It has a beige dial with camouflage sub-dials and bezel. That's not something that you'll see on a Rolex. But it works.
It's exotic and distinctive. And that's what I like about inexpensive watches. You can afford to buy left-field designs. The Fossil is a great example. It's a simple quartz model that won't break the bank.
If you like the Rolex but want more colour - try this watch.
Alpha Paul Newman
Alpha is a brand that specialises in Rolex homage watches.
They're a Chinese homage brand that lives by appropriating classic Swiss designs. But they do it well.
So this is another very affordable piece. But it has a big selling point. It has a mechanical movement. You get a mechanical timepiece at a quartz price. That's got to be worth further investigation.
Alpha offers a series of dial options with this model. The Panda dials are the most popular. Indeed, Alpha calls these models 'Paul Newman' in their marketing material. They're open about the inspiration.
The movement is a hand-winding Chinese made Sea-gull SG2903. Like Sea-Gull's other movements it's affordable and reliable. It's a thirty-minute chronograph rather than the full hour - if that matters to you. It's not much of compromise to make when taking into consideration the price.
The crystal is a domed acrylic, a cheaper option, but in keeping with the vintage styling.
This ticks the boxes of a Daytona homage. It's also a very affordable step into the world of mechanical chronographs. There are few other options in this price range.
Alpha Paul Newman
Hamilton Intramatic 68
The term 'affordable' is relative.
The Hamilton Intra-Matic is ten times the price of the Alpha Paul Newman.
It's affordable when compared to the Rolex Daytona.
So what do you get for £1500?
First, you get a US brand with a fine heritage. Like Bulova, Hamilton have supplied the US armed forces. Their marine chronometers, for example, were used by the US and Allied navies in World War Two.
They're now Swiss-owned, so you also get that all-important Swiss-Made wording on the dial.
You're paying extra for the brand and high-quality Swiss watchmaking.
The Intra-Matic 68 nearly didn't make it onto my list. The Hamilton Chrono Matic II was a much more obvious choice. A true Daytona homage. However, the Chrono Matic is long discontinued.
The Intra-Matic is not a direct homage. It's a chronograph influenced by the styling that made the Daytona and others so iconic. The most obvious differences being the two sub-dials and the 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 Swiss-made engine. The case is 42mm and it has an attractive reverse Panda dial.
It's a great watch.
With a Swiss automatic movement, and from an illustrious brand, it does mean that it's priced at well over £1k.
Hamilton Intra-Matic H38416711
Orient Neo 70's WV0041TX Solar
Orient are one of the staples of my blog. In most niches, you can rely on Orient to have a model.
This is the nearest that they have to the Daytona. And it's unique. It's the only model on my list that is solar-powered.
Like the Nordgreen, the Neo 70s is also missing the tachymeter. Again, it's not a direct homage to the Daytona. There are a couple of dial options, with the white panda dial most reminiscent of the Rolex.
Orient are a big name in the watch industry and have a compelling feature. They make their own in-house movements. At this price-point that's a big deal.
If you are interested in the environmental impact of your watch, then this is another model to consider. Solar power is a good blend of accuracy and sustainability.
This is a substantial watch. It's 42mm wide and has a 22mm bracelet.
The novelty of the solar-powered movement doesn't raise the price much. It's still a very affordable model.
With the Neo 70's chronograph you get Japanese reliability and innovation with cool retro-styling.
Hoffman Racing 40 RQ-11
New York-based Hoffman has released some stunning retro chronographs. There are a couple that I could have included here. I've narrowed it down to one. The Racing 40.
It's a classic black and white panda dial watch. Like Paul Newman's Rolex.
Launched in 2016 by Will Hoffman, the company has released several watches. The most notable include a sold-out vintage diver and this motor racing model.
There were two versions of the Racing 40 - a mechanical and quartz. Let's have a look at the quartz model.
This watch looks like the Rolex Daytona. It ticks the boxes. As the name suggests, it’s a racing watch. And it does a great job of recreating a motorsports watch from the 1970s.
There are a few nice touches that stand out. The dial is dual-layered and features a white upper dial and a black lower dial. Additionally, the sub-dials have a textured finish.
The result is an attractive vintage-inspired model. Although it looks dated, it's powered by a cutting edge hybrid movement. A reliable Seiko Meca-Quartz.
It's mid-sized - as it should be. The case is 40mm wide and 12 thick.
If hybrid watches are your thing, try the Hoffman. It's very affordable and faithfully recreates a vintage Rolex vibe.
Hoffman Racing 40 RQ-11
Stuhrling Original Concorso EU665B
The Stuhrling Concorso is close to a full Daytona homage. It's an inexpensive quartz watch. The major design points are all present.
Stuhring is a US-based company that claim to have sold fifteen million watches in the last few decades. That's a big number. It shows the brand's ambition and the publics response.
Stuhrling has followed the Daytona template closely. It has the Daytona DNA. It's one of the more dressy models, so is more versatile than a sports watch. I like it. It's similar to my Bulova.
The specs are as you'd expect at this price-point. Except for the glass. It's Krysterna crystal - the brands own innovation. There are a 40mm case and a reliable Japanese quartz movement.
On a tight budget? This is the cheapest way to get Rolex styling.
Stuhrling Concorso 665B
The Rolex Daytona is an icon.
Paul Newman's watch was one of the most expensive wristwatches ever sold. People love this watch.
But it's not very affordable. It will cost you five figures. And you'll have to go on a waiting list.
If you're unable or unwilling to get this famous motorsports watch there is another option. A homage. An affordable alternative.
I've given you a list of ten of the best. They're all realistic buys. A mixture of styles, brands and prices.
More to add? Let me know in the comments below.