Rolex Explorer alternatives for 2020 - the best sports watches
The Rolex Explorer is one of the all-time classic designs. Though it’s been through various slight changes over the years, it remains true to its original design and is a classic of the sports watch genre.
The problem is, it’s really hard to get hold of new. The whole line of Rolex stainless steel sports watches, including the Explorer and the Submariner, is produced in numbers far below demand. It’s probably a marketing thing, but it results in constant discussions about how hard it is to get hold of them and a fair amount of bad will.
As a result, there is a thriving market in Rolex Explorer alternatives. Some would be considered Explorer homages (pretty much a copy, with different branding), some are inspired by the Explorer but put their own spin on it.
Buying a Rolex Explorer
Buying a genuine Rolex Explorer is pretty hard. If you’ve had to Google it to find this article, you’re probably going to struggle. Your options are:
- Buy one used through a trusted jeweller
- Buy your Rolex Explorer on the “grey market”
- Find an authorised dealer, buy a load of other Rolex models that are easier to get hold of, and then get on the list for a genuine one.
Buying used is pretty self-explanatory, so we’re not going to go in details. But make sure you’re buying from a trusted company, the number of fakes out there is huge, and on the good ones even a really experienced buyer would struggle to tell the difference.
(Photo and header image from the Rolex website)
Buying on the grey market is the easiest way for most people to get a brand new, genuine Rolex Explorer. It’ll cost you, though. People that are able to buy a new Rolex Explorer will sometimes buy them, then re-sell them through third party companies as “brand-new” second hand. Unworn, unopened, and with $1k or more added to the price.
There are things to consider when doing this, such as warranty issues and ongoing support. If you’re going to do it, make sure you understand the limitations and potential issues you could encounter. If you’re buying from an overseas seller for example, your warranty might be invalid in your country. Be careful.
Buying a Rolex Explorer through an authorised Rolex dealer is the hardest of the options, but obviously the best if you can manage it. You’ll get great support and won’t over pay. However to buy through most authorised dealers you usually need to build a “relationship” with them. That’s a BS way of them strong-arming you in to buying a load of more basic Rolexes that you don’t want, such as the Date-Just, just for the privilege of being allowed to spend more on the watch you actually want. As a result you could end up spending £15k+ on watches just to get the £5k watch you actually want. It’s a horrible way to treat customers.
How much is a Rolex Explorer worth?
The currently Rolex Explorer, as of July 2020, costs £5,200 new from Rolex authorised dealers. But as I‘ve mentioned, getting one is going to be incredibly hard.
(Photo from the Rolex website)
Buying a new Rolex Explorer on the grey market is the easiest option, but you’re going to pay for the privilege. Currently the price is around £6,500-£7,500 for a brand new model on Chrono24, a £1,300-£2,300 premium over the list price.
So how much is a Rolex Explorer worth? Rolex would say £5,200, but in reality it’s currently worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. At +£2,300 over list price, that’s about 45% more in the real world than Rolex price it at.
Is the Rolex Explorer waterproof?
One of the reasons that the Rolex Explorer is so popular is that it’s such a great all-round watch. It works great with a suit at the office, dressed down casual with jeans and a t-shirt, or on the beach.
It’s slim enough to fit under a short cuff, but has enough wrist presence that you’ll know it’s there. It’s a classic for a good reason.
So of course the Rolex Explorer is waterproof. It’s rated water resistant to 100m/330ft, more than enough for anything except professional diving. If you’re wearing a Rolex Explorer you can be confident it will be there for you throughout whatever your day brings.
How can I buy a Rolex Explorer?
As I explained above, buying a Rolex Explorer is currently very hard. If you don’t have an existing relationship with a authorised Rolex dealer, you’re going to be looking at the grey market or second hand.
I would stay away from eBay, there is very little guarantee that what you’re buying there is legit. Stolen Hamtun models have ended up on there before, and eBay seemingly had little interest in getting involved.
So your best option is to head to the grey market and look for trusted companies. If someone has only sold 0-10 watches before I’d stay away. Look for the verified dealers with a long history and consistently good reviews. Chrono24 is one such organisation (not a recommendation or a sponsored mention, just a site I’m aware of), with some of their sellers having hundreds of positive reviews.
(Photo from the Chrono24 website)
Alternatively, do you know someone that has bought multiple Rolex Explorers before and would ask their dealer about getting one? If they aren’t interested in getting one for themselves, they may be willing to use their clout to get one through official channels. Worth a try!
Quartz Rolex Explorer alternatives
So you’re after a Rolex Explorer alternative but don’t want to spend a fortune? Then a quartz model might be the perfect solution for you.
Throughout these recommendations I’m focussing on models that are of the same feel/style, rather than direct copies. I think it’s better to find a watch that’s great in its own right.
What are the advantages of a Quartz Rolex Explorer alternative?
- Quartz movements are cheaper and usually more accurate than automatic alternatives
- Quartz movements often allow the watch to be slimmer
- If you’re wearing the watch in circulation with other models, the quartz movement will keep going. Just grab it and get on with your day, not messing around setting it
Option 1: Hamilton Broadway Quartz Day Date
Hamilton are a well known and long established US/Swiss brand that tend to focus on more expensive automatic watches, but this quartz offering is something a bit different.
Like the Hamtun Nanok, shown later, the Broadway has both a date and date complication, separating it from the time-only Explorer. But It adds the extra functionality with class, the presentation subtle and well integrated with the dial design.
It’s a Swiss made watch with Swiss movement for under £600, which considering the usual Hamilton build quality is great value.
(Photo from the Hamilton website)
Buy here from the Hamilton website for £520
Option 2: VAER C5 quartz
VAER is a Ventice founded brand that make a number of striking and fun looking watches at very fair prices. I personally own one of the GMT models and it’s a nice part of my collection.
There are a number of dial and strap options to choose from, and the watches are well made. I find them a little light for my own personal preference, but that largely comes down to my tastes rather than any explicit criticism of the watches themselves.
Of particular interest is the USA made movements. While the stuff I read suggested that it was only assembly of the movement done in the US, that’s still an exciting first step. Keep an eye on where the brand goes.
(Photo from the VAER website)
Buy it on their website from $ USD
Affordable Rolex Explorer alternatives
If you’re looking for an automatic movement but don’t want to spend a fortune, these affordable Rolex Explorer alternatives are worth considering.
Option 1: Smiths Everest PRS-25
While the current Smiths watch company has no historic relationship with the original Smiths, they’re still turning out good watches at good prices.
The current Everest is a recreation of the model that originally went up Everest with Hillary in 1953. At 36mm it’s at the smaller end of what’s considered a regular men’s watch, but having worn one it’s comfortable and wears nicely.
With a Mercedes handset, a high-beat Japanese automatic movement and 100m/10ATM water resistance, the look and feel of the whole package is very similar to the Explorer.
(Photo courtesy of the Timefactors website)
Buy one from the Timefactors website for around £325 GBP when they’re in stock.
Option 2: Sinn 556
One of my personal favourites of the Rolex Explorer alternatives listed here, the Sinn 556 is also one of my all-time favourite watches.
German made, built like a tank, and with a timeless design, it could very easily be the last watch you need to buy.
There is a wide range of dials, bracelets and straps available, so you’re certain to find one suits you. With 200m water resistance, it’s also one of the most capable watches on the list.
(Photo courtesy of the Sinn website)
Buy one from the Sinn website from around €995
Option 3: Hamtun Nanok
Yes, of course we’re going to include this! Inspired by a number of great watches, but certainly with a nod to the Rolex Explorer. The day-date complication also brings in hints of the Rolex Day Date, while the clean dial is reminiscent of German tool watches.
With a high beat Swiss automatic movement (Sellita SW240-1), a scratch-resistant treatment applied to the stainless steel or titanium case, and 100m water resistance, this is a watch designed to survive life!
With the latest release now available in a wide range of colours and with a scratch-resistant titanium case, it’s an incredibly versatile watch.
(Photo courtesy of the Hamtun website)
Buy one from the Hamtun website for around £445
One of the more blatant of the “homage” models on the list, the Armida A6 is very definitely a full-on Rolex Explorer Alternative.
At just 36mm diameter it’s also one of the smallest watches on the list, matching the Smiths Everest. Only one of the Tudor Black Bay options is smaller. 36mm was traditionally the Rolex Explorer size, so you could argue that these are more genuine alternatives than the others.
With a great looking domed sapphire crystal, strong antimagnetic performance and 300m/30ATM waster resistance, it’s also one of the best specified models here.
(Photo from the Armida website)
Buy it on the Armida website from $449 USD
Premium Rolex Explorer alternatives
Finally, you’ve got money to spend but don’t want to jump through the hoops Rolex require to get an Explorer? Then here are some premium Rolex Explorer alternatives that are all great watches in their own right, while having the same feel to them as the Explorer. Every watch here is great, and in my opinion worth every penny they’re asking.
Tudor North Flag
So you’ve got some money to spend on a Rolex, but don’t want (or can’t find) the Rolex? Then what about a watch from their sister company, Tudor?
The North Flag is one of their least popular models, but I really don’t understand why. It’s a very capable sports watch with a unique look that makes it stand out from many of the others on the list.
With a movement built in-house, it’s also incredibly priced. Rolex/Tudor movements tend to just go and go, and I see little reason for the Tudor to ever let you down. If you like the style, this is a hell of a lot of watch for the money.
(Photo from the Tudor website)
Buy one from the Tudor website for £2,880
Omega Aqua Terra
You’re likely to have heard of Omega. Along with Rolex, they pretty much own the mid-level Swiss brand market.
While they’re probably better known for their Seamaster dive watch collection, the Aqua Terra 150m is one of my favourites from their whole collection.
With 150m water resistance and an in-house movement, this is a high-end watch.
(Photo from the Omega website)
Buy one from the Omega website for £4,610
Bell & Ross BR V1-92
Bell & Ross are a French brand that I’ve long had a soft spot for. Their most recognised models are based on old plane cockpit instruments, but they have a wide ranging collection of incredible watches.
At 38.5mm this is close in size to the current Rolex Explorer, and it wears beautifully on the wrist. It’s water resistant to 100m and has a beautiful curved sapphire crystal. If you like the look, you can’t go wrong with this one.
(Photo from the Bell & Ross website)
Buy it on the Bell & Ross website for £1,700
Tudor Black Bay
The final watch on the list, and the closest to a genuine Rolex Explorer alternative without being a copy. It’s another from Rolex sister-brand Tudor, in-house movement and all. The Black Bay, available in 32, 36 and 41mm diameters to fit any wrist, is the most Explorer-like model they make. No date, a mix of polished and brushed finishes on the case, a beautifully made bracelet and clean black dial result in a beautiful watch that takes more than a few queues from the Explorer. The main difference is the lack of 3, 6 and 9 numerals on the dial.
if you want an Explorer, can’t find the real deal, but want something really high-end, this is probably your best bet.
(Photo from the Tudor website)
Buy it from the Tudor website from £1,890 (32mm) to £2,290 (41mm)