Luxury watches have always been rather aspirational items, but the growing number of people interested in them has resulted in many popular watch models becoming virtually unobtainable for most collectors. Demand far exceeds supply at a retail level, and this pushes up secondary market prices to values that are multiple times greater than their original retail prices. These “hype watches” are often objectively great timepieces, but the issue with their inflated prices is that it places them entirely outside the realm of possibility for most buyers and it skews the value of what these timepieces are actually worth.
It’s relatively easy to imagine a person saving up $10k for their dream watch, but when that same timepiece will cost them nearly $30k, that watch becomes a very different kind of purchase. Similarly, watches that already retail for $30k can end up costing six-figures on the secondary market, and don’t even get me started on some of the multi-million dollar prices that certain Richard Mille timepieces are commanding these days. Regardless of whether or not a person can afford a purchase, at a certain point, everyone must ask themselves, is this watch I’m buying actually worth the price I’m paying for it?
A love for these iconic timepieces often involves more than just an appreciation of their appearances. Just getting yourself a watch that looks like your favorite unobtainable model isn’t really going to scratch that itch unless it also has enough horological merits to stand on its own two feet. If you love these iconic hype watches but can’t justify their prices, then here are 4 of the most in-demand luxury timepieces and their more affordable alternatives.
Rolex Daytona & Omega Speedmaster
Among all of the standard-production Rolex models, the stainless steel Daytona is probably the one that is most difficult to buy at a retail level. Although ample examples exist on the secondary market, they will set you back anywhere between $40k and $60k depending on factors like dial color and overall condition. Don’t get me wrong, the Rolex Daytona is a fantastic watch, but when the company who produces it charges less than $15k for a brand-new one at retail, I have a really hard time justifying spending more than three times that to purchase one on the open market.
When it comes to Rolex Daytona alternatives, there are plenty of watches that look similar, but far fewer that rival it when it comes to brand-recognition, history, and overall prestige. With that in mind, the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch is easily one of the most famous chronographs of all time, and it has a truly impressive history, having been the official flight-certified watch of NASA and even worn on the surface of the moon. The word “bargain” is rarely used to describe watches that cost thousands of dollars, but when you consider that you buy a Speedmaster for roughly 10% of the price of a Daytona on the secondary market, the term starts to seem appropriate.
Patek Philippe Nautilus & Tissot PPX
The Patek Philippe Nautilus is the poster child for luxury watches that are unobtainable at a retail level, and in the time since the brand discontinued the fan-favorite ref. 5711, the classic stainless steel Nautilus has only become more expensive to purchase on the open market. To be fair, all Patek Philippe watches are fairly expensive items, but the standard Nautilus 5711 with a blue dial is now trading hands for values that are in excess of a quarter of a million dollars. At this price point, you can buy a modest house in many parts of this country, and as much as I love the Nautilus, it simply shouldn’t be worth several hundred thousand dollars.
There are numerous alternatives to the Patek Philippe Nautilus that occupy a similar premium price point, and some like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak can sometimes be nearly just as expensive and difficult to obtain. However, if all you really want is a Swiss-made luxury sports watch with an integrated bracelet and angular case design, then the Tissot PRX makes a fantastic alternative that can be purchased for a very budget-friendly price. Available with quartz or automatic movements, the PRX series offers its own take on the integrated bracelet sports watch, and even if you opt for one of the mechanical models, your grand total will still be significantly less than a thousand dollars.
Rolex Submariner & Monta Oceanking
It’s not like you can’t buy a Rolex Submariner, but the prices being asked for them on the open market are starting to reach a point where you can’t help but look at some of the other amazing dive watches that are currently available. As someone who owns a Submariner, I think it's an absolutely fantastic watch. However, when the least expensive models from the 1990s are trading hands for nearly $12k on the open market and anything from the current generation will set you back more than $18k, it might be worth looking into other high-end dive watches that will be able to make you just as happy.
The key to a good Submariner alternative is to find a model that checks all the same premium dive watch boxes, but doesn’t look too much like a Rolex Submariner with a different brand’s name stuck on the dial. While something like the Tudor Black Bay would initially seem like the perfect alternative, the entire collection is vintage-inspired, so you won’t get certain modern dive watch features like crown guards or a ceramic bezel insert. With that in mind, the Monta Oceanking offers a fresh take on the modern dive watch and it checks all the right boxes without looking like a design that already exists from another brand. Additionally, with a retail price of just over $2k, the Oceanking is quite a bit less expensive than anything available from Tudor, yet it even beats the Rolex Submariner when it comes to water resistance by offering an official depth rating of 304 meters (compared to the 300 meters offered by the Submariner).
Richard Mille & Casio G-Shock
The term “unobtainable” hardly even begins to describe Richard Mille watches. Prices start out in the six-figure territory and they can reach well-into the millions for certain highly collectible models. The brand is best known for its bold and futuristic designs, which incorporate high-tech materials and advanced mechanical movements that place an emphasis on resilience and functionality. Richard Mille is also famous for its various limited edition pieces; however, the brand’s watches exist at a price point that makes them virtually unattainable for anyone that isn’t capable of spending several hundred thousands dollars on a single timepiece.
In my opinion, the easiest way to describe Richard Mille to the uninitiated is to simply tell them that it’s like Casio G-Shock for incredibly wealthy people. Both companies offer watches with large cases, bold colors, ultra-modern designs, and advanced functionality. Of course, this is a gross oversimplification, but G-Shock prices start out at under $100 and you can literally purchase several thousand G-Shock watches for the same price as a single timepiece from Richard Mille. If all you really want is a futuristic sports watch with a crazy design and some bright colors, my recommendation would be to buy the Casio G-Shock of your choice, and spend the difference on a new vacation home or private jet.