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Affordable Alternatives to 5 Iconic Watches


August 14, 2019 Watches By

Everyone loves an iconnic watch, the Speedmasters and Submariners of the world. Their designs inspired countless other watches, and they went places other watches couldn’t. The good news is that these iconic watches — because they’re so beloved — remain in production today. The bad news? They generally don’t come cheap. There are, however, plenty of other watches that lack the recognizability but offer the same functions, features and design elements at a fraction of the price. They aren’t cheap homages or knockoffs, either — they stand on their own as timekeeping greats.

The Icon: Omega Speedmaster Professional

The watch that went to the moon is irreplaceable, which is probably why almost every watch collector seems to have one and why the Speedmaster Professional — with its no-nonsense black dial, Hesalite crystal and 42mm asymmetric case — has gone unchanged for decades. The Speedmaster is also one of the few hand-winding chronographs you can buy new today, adding to its charm.

Movement: Omega 1861 hand-winding chronograph
Case size: 42mm
Water resistance: 50m

The Alternative: CWC RAF Chronograph

Irreplaceable it may be, but the Speedmaster does have one other contemporary that ticks all the right boxes for thousands less: this CWC chronograph, based on a design made for the Royal Air Force in the 1970s. According to the brand, this iteration is built to the same spec, rocks an asymmetrical case protecting the crown and pushers and is powered by a hand-winding Valjoux movement, so what you’re getting is a flight-proven, hand-winding chronograph based on a decades-old design. Sound familiar?

Movement: Valjoux 7760
Case size: 41mm
Water resistance: N/A

The Icon: Rolex Submariner

The Submariner isn’t just one of the most influential divers of time, but one of the most influential watches, full stop. It helped make the “civilian diver” its own category when it debuted in the early ’50s and inspired countless other dive watches since. The modern version packs an in-house chronometer-rated movement, a ceramic bezel and water resistance to 300 meters.

Movement: Rolex 3130 automatic
Case size: 39mm
Water resistance: 200m

The Alternative: Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight

Many divers match the Sub in specs and have similar looks, but the Black Bay Fifty-Eight from Rolex’s little brother brand Tudor matches the Sub’s mystique. The Fifty-Eight mirrors the Tudor Submariners of the ’50s and ’60s regarding look and feel (a vintage-inspired 39mm case certainly helps) and speaks to the model’s utilitarian-yet-stylish nature. It also packs an in-house chronometer movement, just like its big brother.

Movement: Tudor MT5402 automatic
Case size: 39mm
Water resistance: 200m

The Icon: IWC Mark XVIII

The Mark XVIII is the descendant of what many consider the archetypal pilot’s watch, the IWC Mark XI. Built for the British Ministry of Defense, it was an accurate, anti-magnetic and legible pilot’s watch with big Arabic numerals and a triangle at the 12 o’clock position. The Mark XVIII offers all that today in a modern package.

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Case size: At vero eos et accus
Water resistance: Et harum quidem rerum facilis es

The Alternative: Stowa Flieger

Stowa’s own pilot’s watch follows the same no-nonsese formula as the Mark XVIII, so much so that you can get it sans any dial branding — how’s that for unencumbered legibility? What’s more, there’s a considerable amount of specification you get. In addition to speccing a logo or not, you can choose a date or no date, case size (36mm or 40mm) and can even choose between an automatic or hand-winding movement. The automatic is even the same base that forms the movement inside the Mark XVIII.

Movement: ETA 2824-2 automatic; ETA 2804-2 hand-wind
Case size: 36mm; 40mm
Water resistance: 50m

The Icon: TAG Heuer Autavia

The Autavia, recently brought back from the dead by TAG, is an iconic watch in motorsports, and was a staple on many racers’ wrists back in the ’60s and ’70s. Its modern guise is based on the reference worn by Jochen Rindt and rocks an in-house movement automatic movement and a rotating bezel. Its a bit chunkier than the original, but it still has the rugged good looks that made it so lovable in the first place.

Movement: Heuer 02 automatic chronograph
Case size: 42mm
Water resistance: 100m

The Alternative: Sinn 103

The Sinn 103 isn’t a racing watch per se, but it is a classic design and a descendant of the pilot’s chronographs that made Sinn a powerhouse maker of rugged tool watches in the first place. The watch features the venerable ETA/Valjoux 7750 automatic, as well as a bi-directional rotating bezel and the same kinds of looks and functions you’d expect from the pricer Heuer.

Movement: ETA 7750 automatic chronograph
Case size: 41m
Water resistance: 200m

The Icon: Cartier Tank

In the early era of the wristwatch, square and rectangular watches were incredibly common, and the watch most emblematic of these is the classic Tank. Designed by Louis Cartier in 1917 and inspired by the shape of WWI tanks, the Cartier quickly caught on as a unisex design icon worn by Hollywood legends, first ladies and royalty alike.

Movement: Quartz
Case size: 33.7mm x 25.5mm
Water resistance: 30m

The Alternative: Hamilton Boulton

So you aren’t a Hollywood star or royalty — that’s fine, because the Hamilton Boulton is the Tank’s everyman alternative. Initially launched in 1940, the Boulton became one of the watchmaker’s longest-running and most popular watches. Today, you can still get it, featuring a modern quartz movement and a gold-plated case, but the classic rectangular shape and dial remain.

Movement: ETA 980.163 quartz
Case size: 27mm x 31mm case
Water resistance: N/A
Who Makes the Best NATO?

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Testing Eight NATO straps, side-by-side. Read the Story

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