3 alternatives to the Rolex Daytona
Pump pushers that won’t break the bank
Okay, I’ll admit, it’s a bit clickbait-y. But, a friend of mine who doesn’t know much about watches, but knows that he “wants a Daytona” recently asked me where he could buy said Daytona. After struggling to explain the supply shortages for modern hype watches like his dreamy Daytona that plague the industry in 2021 A.D., I finished with “there are plenty of alternatives to the Daytona that you can buy, no problem.”
But, I soon realized I had some trouble identifying a true alternative to the Rolex Daytona. That is, a serially-produced chronograph with: a 40mm(ish) steel case, contrasting ceramic bezel (okay, we’ll allow aluminum too), and an automatic chronograph movement. Even harder is to find a watch with that “it factor” the Daytona certainly has. Something that makes it desirable and attractive, to watch and non-watch people alike. Of course, no other watch will get as close to the hype of a Daytona, but an alternative should try to approximate it as best it can.
Since the Daytona is essentially ungettable, the “serially-produced” is also key here. A watch that anyone can walk into a boutique and just get. Okay, fine. A chronograph where the waitlist is measured in months and not years at least.
With that, let’s take a look at a few alternatives to the modern Rolex Daytona ref. 116500.
Of course, this is the other chronograph from a major Swiss watch brand. Decades of history, went to the moon, etc. It lacks a few of the features that make the Daytona the Daytona, namely an automatic movement and ceramic bezel, but what it doesn’t have there it makes up for in purity.
Lucky for us, Omega updated the Speedmaster at the beginning of 2021. And while I haven’t historically been a “Speedy guy”, the newest Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch “Master Chronometer” finally has me understanding why there’s a common watch collecting axiom that “everyone needs a Speedmaster.”
The updated Omega Speedmaster features Omega’s caliber 3861, a master-chronometer certified manual-wind chronograph movement with 50 hours of power reserve that runs at 21,600 vph. The master-chronometer certification means it’s been tested to within +/-0.5 seconds per day.
The thing that got me about the newest Speedmaster though, is the bracelet. Compared to previous Speedmaster bracelets, the links are smaller, the clasp wears more comfortably, and it tapers more from the lugs to the clasp. The overall effect is a bracelet that wears much better than any recent Speedmaster I’ve tried on, seamlessly draping over the wrist.
Sure, the caliber upgrade is important to Speedy diehards, but when I tried on the new Speedmaster at a local boutique, it was the bracelet that immediately captured my attention (and had me thinking about opening my wallet).
Aesthetically, there are also some dial upgrades to add depth to the tracks and subdials, but the form of the latest version of the ST 105.012 will be familiar: 42mm in diameter, twisted lugs, robust and asymmetrical stainless steel case. But much like a Rolex Daytona, you don’t change a classic, you merely improve upon it.
Prices: Steel with Hesalite, $6,300 (bracelet) $5,950 (strap); Sapphire, $7,150 (bracelet) $6,800(strap); For more, visit Omega.
Zenith Chronomaster Sport
Ah yes, the “Zaytona”, Zenith’s Daytona killer. Does it look a bit derivative of the Daytona? Sure. But if any brand gets license to do something like this, it’s Zenith. The manufacturer quite literally supplied the movements for the first automatic Rolex Daytona in the 1980s and 1990s, so without Zenith, there might not even be the modern iteration of the Daytona. Before that, it produced the world’s first automatic chronograph caliber with the El Primero.
So sure, the Zenith Chronomaster Sport released in 2021 looks like the Daytona. But as a manufacturer of chronographs, Zenith’s got the horological chops to stand on its own pump pushers too. The new Zenith Chronomaster Sport features Zenith’s new caliber 3600, an updated high-frequency automatic chronograph movement. Unlike other chronographs you’ll find, this means the center chronograph hand zips around the dial once every ten seconds, and tick marks on the bezel measure the 1/10th of a second accuracy that the caliber 3600 measures.
Looks-wise: Sure, the Zenith looks a bit like the Daytona. But upon closer inspection you’ll notice inspiration from the classic El Primero line, too. The three overlapping and contrasting sub-dials; the case shape is more strictly round and symmetrical; and of course, the controversial, if consistent date window at 4:30 that defines much of the El Primero line. The bold ceramic bezel is the biggest similarity of the two, but the Zenith Chronomaster Sport’s serves the interesting functioning of helping to measure that center chronograph hand that zooms around the dial.
The Zenith Chronomaster (ref. 03.3100.3600/21.M3100) features a 41mm stainless steel case, a ceramic bezel, and a new automatic El Primero caliber that runs at 36,000 vph.
Price, $10,000 on a steel bracelet; $9,500 on a black rubber strap. For more, visit Zenith.
Tudor Black Bay Chronograph
I mean, if it’s quite literally Rolex’s alternative chronograph offering to the Daytona, it should be good enough for you too, right?
Tudor revamped its Black Bay Chronograph line in 2021 to commemorate fifty years of the brand’s chronograph-making efforts, and the facelift has made it one of the best chronographs on the market. It comes in two attractive variants: a white dial with black subdials (panda), or black dial with white subdials (reverse panda). Both feel a bit exotic, almost giving off Paul Newman-dial vibes. And while the new dials are gorgeous, this release was a full revamp: new case, new movement, new attitude.
Most important is the introduction of Tudor’s in-house MT5813 caliber (designed through its collaboration with Breitling), a chronometer-certified automatic caliber with 70 hours of power reserve. Importantly, this in-house movement allowed Tudor to slim down the case size to a more wearable 14.4mm.
The Tudor Black Bay Chrono ref. 79360N features a 41mm stainless steel case, 200m of water resistance (by the way, the most of our “Daytona alternatives”), and a COSC-certified in-house movement. All that for under $6k? It’s tough to beat.
Price: The Tudor Black Bay Chrono ref. 79360N runs $5,225 (on bracelet); $4,900 (on leather or fabric strap). For more, visit Tudor.
Bonus Pick: Rolex ‘Zenith’ Daytona
I’ve been lucky enough to try on all of the watches we’ve mentioned so far in-store this year. For someone with small wrists, they’re still very wearable, despite the diameter measurements that would’ve had me thinking otherwise by reviewing the specs on paper. I also mention this to say: They’re out there. Sure, these watches are all popular, but work with your local authorized dealer, express a real, genuine interest, and I guarantee you can find any of these. There’s no need to pay a premium.
But three alternatives later and you’re still probably thinking to yourself, “yea, but I still kind of want a Daytona.” Fair enough. But instead of buying a modern Daytona at 3x retail, at least dig into Rolex’s back catalogs and grab an out-of-production model. The Rolex ‘Zenith’ Daytona ref. 16520 that Rolex introduced in 1988 and produced through the 1990s was the brand’s first automatic chronograph. It featured a Zenith El Primero caliber, and dial iterations in both black and white. There are dozens of iterations that collectors swoon after (Patrizzi dials, “floating cosmographs”, inverted 6s, etc.), but for you, any Zenith Daytona will do.
And sure, the Zenith Daytona is suffering from huge price increases too, but at least they’re not making more of these, so you have a reasonable chance of not taking a bath.
Did I miss your favorite chronograph? Let me know in the comments.
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