The Top 6 Rolex Explorer Alternatives For All Budgets in 2021
James Elliott7 December 2020 | 7 min read
Rolex are one of the world’s most iconic brands, with them positioned right at the very top of the timekeeping ladder! One of their oldest and most well known models is the Rolex Explorer. As a watch first created to mark the British Mount Everest Expedition in 1954, it still holds its own today and is seen as one of the best ways to get yourself into the Rolex owners club.
Even as one of the cheapest Rolex watches on the market, a brand new Rolex Explorer will still set you back around $6,500. For those that don’t have that sort of budget to spend on a new watch, this article is for you.
We’re going to take a look at some alternatives to the Rolex Explorer across the Budget, Mid-Range and Premium markets. Whilst the Explorer is pretty unique we’re going to find watches that match two of the Explorer’s stand out characteristics – a steel bracelet, clean face design and the mix between numbered and batoned hour markers.
Right, the conditions are set – let’s take a look at some great Rolex Explorer Alternatives!
- The Best Rolex Explorer Budget Alternatives
- The Best Rolex Explorer Mid-Range Alternatives
- The Best Rolex Explorer Premium Alternatives
The Best Rolex Explorer Budget Alternatives
Within the Budget category we take a look at great alternatives to the Rolex Explorer that sit under $500. Whilst these watches won’t match the supreme mechanics of a Rolex, all of these watches come from reputable and high quality watch brands – so you know you’re getting that Explorer style whilst still getting a great watch!
We start off with a watch from one of the most well known budget brands in the world, Citizen. The Japanese outfit specialise in creating great watches well under the $500 bracket and this model is no exception!
The Chandler combines everything we’re looking for in an Explorer alternative, combining a lovely steel bracelet and case, with a clean black/white dial and large numbered hour markings for the 12,3,6 & 9 positions. At 43mm, it’s a decent size and incorporates features such as a mineral crystal and 100m of water resistance.
One of the great things about many Citizen watches is the Eco-Drive movement. The Quartz setup utilises the power of light to keep the battery charged meaning that there’s never any reason to change the battery. That movement also drives the added bonus of a date window with the Citizen Chandler, helping you keep track as you move through the month!
The look and feel of this watch is incredibly similar to the Rolex Explorer and serves as a great alternative. Better still, you’ll be able to pick this watch up for well under $200 making it a fraction of the price when compared to the Explorer itself!
Next we move onto another great Japanese brand in Orient who we’ve featured heavily in Watch & Bullion articles in the past. The reason for that is Orient creates fantastic watches, especially given their budget price. For today’s alternatives review, we’re putting the Mako II up against the Rolex Explorer.
The Mako II again meets the three criteria we set to match up against the Explorer but does have some key differences too! As a diving-inspired watch, the Mako II also features a rotating outer bezel, alongside a day/date indicator, giving a few added features over the Explorer.
The Mako II is an automatic watch, sporting Orient’s fantastic caliber F6922 movement which delivers 40 hours of power reserve and of course drives that day/date window. The 41mm watch also hacks, has that 120 click rotating bezel, a mineral crystal and 200m of water resistance.
As an alternative to the Explorer, it embodies those core characteristics whilst making some dive themed changes. We actually think in many ways this is a nice middle ground between the Explorer and the Explorer II, taking some of the best design features from each to create a solid choice for any watch fan!
The Best Rolex Explorer Mid-Range Alternatives
With our mid-range alternatives we move up a level in terms of build quality and start to venture into the Swiss-made models. As you’d expect the price rises further here, with these models costing anywhere between $500 – $2000.
Tissot are one of the most well respected mid-range watch brand with the brand the route for many into the world of Swiss watchmaking. The PRC 200 range stretches far and wide with many different models to choose from. The one we’re picking out today specifically is the T0554301105700.
The watch perfectly combines a clean black/grey dial with a mix of baton and numbered hour marking, with numbers specifically used in the 12, 6 & 9 positions. The 3 o’clock is occupied by a day/date indicator with the standard Tissot seconds hand accompanying baton style minute and hour hands.
The watch makes advantage of Tissot’s signature Powermatic 80 movement, providing great performance for a watch in this price range, with other premium features such as a sapphire crystal rounding off the whole package. Talking of price, you’ll find one of these from anywhere between $650-700 which again is such a great price for a small piece of Swiss watchmaking excellence.
As an alternative to the Explorer, this Tissot ticks all those characteristic boxes whilst being very much its own watch. Those already familiar with Tissot will love this watch. If you’re new to the brand and want a watch which emulates the Explorer whilst overlaying an even more simplistic design, you may find this PRC 200 model is right for you!
In Longines we start to take a real step up in the watch world, with the Swiss brand seen by many as an ‘entry-level’ step into the luxury market. In particular today, we’re going to pick out a watch from arguably their most iconic range, the Conquest range.
This watch is a real classic and serves as a great alternative to the Explorer. It hits those three criteria we set out perfectly; balancing off a clean black dial with a great mix of baton and numbered hour markings. Like many of the alternatives we’ve covered, this watch also incorporates a date window, this time at the 3 o’clock position.
As you’d expect as we start to move into the luxury world, the 40mm watch incorporates a high spec mechanical movement, a sapphire crystal and a beautifully engineered steel bracelet. Price wise, this watch tips the $1K mark, often found online at anywhere either side of $1,500.
This is the first alternative where what’s inside the watch starts to match up to the Explorer as much as the exterior design. This is a really great alternative to the Explorer and embodies the understated class you find with many Swiss luxury watches.
The Best Rolex Explorer Premium Alternatives
As we finish up in the premium bracket, we look at watches who put themselves right alongside the Rolex Explorer and in fact, the Rolex brand itself. These watches will all be above the $2000 mark, but will all offer prices lower than the Explorer’s $6,500 RRP.
We often include Tudor in our Rolex alternative articles and there’s a good reason why. The brand is actually a sister company of Rolex, so it’s no surprise we see so many similarities between their watches. For this review, we’ve picked out the Heritage Ranger model, which as you can see embodies many Explorer characteristics.
The 41mm piece keeps the design simple and clean with the no thrills dial and nicely spaced hour markings. The hands themselves follow an arrow.spear combination with the red seconds hand accenting the black/white nicely.
The automatic movement delivers 38 hours of power reserve and water resistance down to 150 meters. The watch also utilises high quality steel and a sapphire crystal to round off what is a really classy, luxury watch.
It’s always easy to recommend Tudor as an alternative to Rolex given the brands are so interlinked. With the design styles of the Heritage Ranger matches those of the Explorer quite closely and with the guarantee of a similarly high-spec movement, the Tudor is a no brainer at around $3,500.
We finish up this alternatives review with one of the most well respected brands in the watch world and that’s IWC. The brand is very well known for their pilot’s watches, with their large, no nonsense, face design and large numbering. We’re going to pull out the IW324002 for this review as it offers something slightly different from others we’ve seen before.
That key difference is in the large numbering, with this watch utilising numbers all the way around the dial. This is offset by the 12 o’clock position where this watch is the only one we’ve seen which matches the Explorer’s triangular marker. So it’s a bit of a compromise, and depending on which ensign tweaks you like best from the Explorer, the IWC may be the one for you!
The watch itself sits at a much smaller 36mm, utilises high quality steel and an anti-reflective sapphire crystal. As we’d expect from IWC, the movement inside is high calibre offering 42 hours of power reserve whilst also driving a date window.
The IWC is a fantastic premium alternative to the Explorer and offers something different in design to every other watch we’ve seen in this roundup. Price wise, this watch is the most expensive we’ve seen so far with prices often heading well above $5,000.
The Rolex Explorer is one of the most iconic Rolex watches and offers a great opportunity for watch fans to get a Rolex on their wrist for a comparatively modest price.
That modest price is still high by ordinary standards, but luckily there are a number of alternatives across the budget, mid-range and premium prices ranges. Whether that’s something from Citizen, Tissot or Tudor, there’s definitely opportunities out there to get an Explorer-like watch for a much reduced price.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this roundup today, we look forward to seeing you again soon for another article from the Watch & Bullion team.