Posted on June 08 2021
With two teenagers and two dogs, I'm skint.
Yes, we have a nice house and a car. But £5k spare to spend on a watch? No chance.
This is why I'm drawn to affordable brands and homage watches.
They're realistic buys. I can treat myself when I spot something exciting or I have a bit of spare cash. There's no saving and no sacrifices to be made.
I can keep my kids in new sneakers and still wear a watch that has that simple and spartan styling that I love so much.
The 6 Best Alpha Watches
I'll come back to the brand in more detail further down in the article. I'll also discuss the build quality and the ethics of buying a homage watch.
But first, I'd like to dive in and show you the six best affordable watches from Alpha. As you'll see, each is a homage to a Swiss luxury brand.
Of course, the first I'd like to highlight is their affordable alternative to the Rolex Explorer 1.
The Rolex Explorer 1 is the Swiss brand's pared-down sports watch. It was released following the first successful summit of Everest in 1953.
It's my favourite Rolex and top of my holy grail list.
But it's not a very affordable watch, so I've been keen to dig around looking for good quality alternatives. That's where I first stumbled across Alpha watches.
Alpha produce this homage and sell it for less than £100. That's got to be worth a closer look.
The first thing that strikes me about this watch is the size. It's 36mm wide. That's the size of the original. So not only does this watch mimic the styling, but it is also true to the ethos.
Interestingly, Rolex has started making the Explorer in a 36mm case again. It's what the watches fans want.
The Alpha is faithful to the original and has the same Mercedes hands and bold numerals. It has a Chinese Seagull automatic movement and a sapphire crystal. Not bad for a sub-£100 watch.
I've spent a lot of time researching Rolex Explorer homage watches and trust me, this is the best value for money.
Alpha Explorer 1
The Daytona is Rolex's motorsports chronograph. The most iconic version is Paul Newman's panda dial variation. It was one of the most expensive watches ever sold.
And if you want one? There's a waiting list to get a Rolex Daytona. It's measured in years and you'll then need over £10k to buy one.
This is where a good quality homage makes good sense.
Alpha do a few variations of this watch - my first choice would be the Paul Newman Daytona. It has the retro styling that we all love and the distinctive panda dial layout.
Again, this watch has a Seagull engine. In this model, it's a hand-winding chronograph movement. The case is a comfortable 39mm and the vintage aesthetic is enhanced with a domed acrylic crystal.
This watch looks the part. It's an inexpensive way to get the look of one of the world's most famous luxury watches.
Sticking with the theme, this is Alpha's homage to the Rolex Datejust. It's another celebrated watch, originally released in 1945 and worn by Winston Churchill.
As you'd expect, there are quite a few variations of the Rolex. I've got a preference for the plain bezel version, particularly when matched with an uncomplicated dial.
This Alpha model is ideal. It has a 36mm stainless steel case and a silver sunburst dial. The markers are straightforward and there is a cyclops lens over the date window.
It ticks all the boxes for a Rolex Datejust homage.
It's a Chinese made watch and is powered by the Seagull automatic movement favoured by the brand. It's also equipped with a sapphire crystal - that's good considering the price point.
The result is a smart dress watch that is sized like a vintage piece. It's subtle, stylish and very affordable. Again, it represents good value for money.
There are a variety of reasons why a watch becomes a legend. With the Rolex Daytona, it was simply Paul Newman's endorsement. He was cool, raced cars and wore that particular Rolex.
The Omega Speedmaster is different.
When NASA needed a watch for the moon landings they drew up a shortlist of the best watches that the Swiss watch industry had to offer. After testing the watches, Omega won.
This was the watch that was worn for the lunar walks. It's a stunning chronograph that performs like a sports watch and a piece to wear to the office.
Alpha has done a great job of affordably recreating the Omega. Again, they've used a hand-winding Seagull movement, and again, you're getting excellent value for money.
As expected, the watch has the major design points of the moon watch. It retains a simple colour palette and no-nonsense hands and markers. There's a vintage-style domed sapphire crystal and an elegant case.
The Yacht-master isn't one of Rolex's most popular designs, so it's refreshing to see an affordable homage.
At 40mm, this is a mid-sized watch and has a nice contrast between the bold blue dial and silver bezel.
It has the DNA of the Rolex Yacht-master. The Mercedes hands, round markers and date window with a magnifying lens. It's all there.
I would have liked it to have had a red seconds hand, but that's a minor point. It's not a dealbreaker.
You know the rest by now. Full stainless steel construction, a Chinese automatic movement and a sapphire crystal.
This isn't a watch that you see mimicked often, so it's worth taking a closer look at the Alpha.
This final watch goes most of the way in recreating the Omega Planet Ocean. It's not exact, but it's near enough.
It's a good way to get the style of this Omega Seamaster, without breaking the bank.
First, what does it get right?
Most of the main design cues are there. It has arrow hands, an orange bezel and distinctive orange numerals. The case is shaped correctly and it has the overall aesthetic.
But it's missing the helium valve at 10 o'clock. That's a shame, but it doesn't detract too much from the watch. And that does bring up another point. This isn't a legitimate dive watch - it just looks the part.
But if you can live with that, this is a handsome piece. Like the Omega original, the contrast of orange on black works well and gives the watch a sporty edge.
If you're ok with a homage that isn't an exact copy, investigate this model.
Alpha Seamaster Planet Ocean
An Introduction to Alpha Watches
You'll see on the dials of Alpha watches that the brand was created in 1993. That means that Alpha is a young watch brand.
However, compared to other Chinese homage brands, Alpha is an old hand.
When I say that Alpha is a Chinese brand, I'm speaking generally. They're actually Hong Kong-based - but have production facilities in China.
As far as I can tell, the Alpha branding is used only for exports. Alpha watches aren't for sale in China or Hong Kong. They have built their business around sales to the West and currently have a European distributor. Their US distributor seemed to be short-lived.
Where are Alpha Watches Made?
Alpha Watches are made in China.
While many Chinese brands use Japanese movements, Alpha tends to opt for Chinese movements. In practice, this means that most Alpha watches use Seagull mechanical movements. These are well-regarded among watch fans.
Are Alpha Watches Good Quality?
The consensus on watch forums and Facebook groups is that they are.
Chinese watch production can be hit and miss, but in general, you get what you pay for.
Buy a £20 automatic watch online and you’ll get a poor quality watch. Spend £100 on a well-regarded Chinese brand and you'll be pleasantly surprised at the quality.
Alpha isn't doing anything original. There are an array of Chinese brands that make homage watches. These range from Benyar and Parnis, to Corgeut, Pagani Design and San Martin.
For the most part, quality isn't an issue.
I won't kid you. You're not getting the same quality as you would when spending four figures on a Swiss piece. You certainly won't see the same levels of quality control.
But when you buy an Alpha you're not getting a cheap, quartz fashion watch. You'll get a full stainless steel watch, often with a sapphire crystal and always with a good mechanical movement.
When you're spending £100 on a watch, that represents really good value for money.
Should I Buy an Alpha Homage Watch?
This can be a difficult question.
What are the ethics of buying a homage watch? It's one that you have to answer for yourself. There are some compelling reasons for not buying a homage watch.
- Chinese watches are using stolen IP
- Swiss watch brands lose money
- Homage watches are poorly made
Are Homage Watches Fakes?
Let's be clear, homages watches aren’t the same as fake watches. I’m splitting hairs, but I need to stress that a homage watch is not a fake watch.
I understand, it's a subtle difference.
There is no doubt that Alpha is stealing the designs made popular by Rolex and Omega.
But they're not the only company to do this. You can see any number of Rolex Datejust clones online. You'll see them in brick and mortar stores too. None of these brands is claiming to sell Rolex or Omega watches.
There is no deception.
And you're not wearing an Alpha watch to trick people into believing that you're wearing a Rolex.
Who notices your watch anyway? And if they did? Who will care that it's a homage?
These affordable alternatives to luxury brands are for your own satisfaction.
Do Rolex and Omega lose money when you buy an Alpha homage watch?
In my case, they don’t. I suspect that you're the same. You may browse Ebay and see an affordable watch that you like. You buy it without knowing, checking or caring that it is styled like a luxury model.
Or you find yourself in a more likely scenario. You like the Rolex designs but don’t have the available cash to buy them.
That's me. And guess what? Even if the wife and kids let me keep some cash - I love watches too much! I'd want more than one or two.
If I had £10k to drop on that Rolex Daytona, I probably wouldn’t. Because there are several other watches that I also have on my wishlist.
Instead, I buy affordable brands. I'm also a fan of Microbrands. And sometimes I'll buy a homage. So no luxury brand loses a sale.
There’s nothing original with Alpha watches. They make watches that mimic your favourite Swiss watches.
I can't give you a great answer about the ethics of buying a homage watch. You may have some reservations and I understand that.
What I can tell you about are the price and the quality.
Alpha is renowned for making watches that give good value for money. Often that means an automatic watch with a sapphire crystal for around a hundred bucks.
And they aren't using poor quality movements. Alpha watches use Seagull movements. They may not have the reputation of Japanese movements, but Seagull has a very strong heritage.
The quality is there and it's very affordable.
The other components are of good quality too. They are often better than you’d find on most similarly priced high-street watches.
So follow some of the links in the post. Explore the brand further. It's not like you were really going to drop ten grand on that Rolex Daytona anyway...