Feature: 5 Alternatives To The Rolex DateJust
Sometimes answers are so obvious it’s barely worth asking the questions. If you want a sporty two-plus-two, for example, that handles like a racer yet will happily sit in a Monday morning queue, you get a 911. Or, if you want a 3-hander that’s both rugged and elegant, you get a DateJust. It’s practically written in the stars, but yet—sometimes what seems to be the right answer isn’t always the best answer. That’s why cars like the McLaren 540C, Aston Martin Vantage and Audi R8 exist, and it’s why the watches you’re about to see exist as well.
Omega Seamaster Railmaster 188.8.131.52.03.001
A 41mm Rolex DateJust in steel currently starts at £5,700, and that’s a lot. £3,680 is still a decent amount, but it’s less, so it’s a good place to start—and it just so happens that it’s the price of Omega’s recently revised Railmaster. Seamaster Railmaster, if you’re being pedantic.
The Railmaster may be some £2,000 cheaper than the DateJust, but as far as specification goes, there’s not a lot you’re missing out on. Okay, so it doesn’t have a date, but it does have an in-house, chronometer-certified calibre with a silicon hairspring on a free sprung balance with co-axial escapement that’s anti-magnetic to 15,000 gauss—although, you don’t actually get to see it, which is a shame.
Omega’s abundant use of silicon makes anti-magnetism rife across its watches, however for the Railmaster, it’s a historical accuracy worth paying a little more attention to. When it was first released in 1957, alongside the better known Seamaster 300 and Speedmaster, it served as an engineer’s watch, utilising a soft iron inner case to resist magnetism, presumably in retaliation to Rolex’s Milgauss that came out the year before.
It’s a demonstration of the constant evolution in what outwardly appears to be a stagnant technology; the mechanical movement has made full use of modern materials to give it more robust performance, and the calibre 8806 in the entry-level Railmaster is a testament to that. Perhaps more of an incentive is the news that the use of this fetching shade of brown is optional.
Breitling Transocean A10360
You may know Breitling for its big, flashy watches, but don’t let the stereotype get in the way of a worthy consideration. Okay, so the 43mm Transocean may still be big, but if you’re the kind of person whose stature renders the DateJust a little diminutive, perhaps you should be turning your attention this way instead.
Like the DateJust—and the Railmaster—the Transocean’s design hails from the 1950s, the dawn of transatlantic air travel. Where the Navitimer is all fuss and frills, designed first with function in mind, the Transocean takes a step back from the cockpit and into first class, comfortable in amongst quilted leather seats and duck à l’orange.
The period is reflected in the simplicity of the design, placed most accurately with the crosshair dial set against a backdrop of light cream, segmented with skinny, unobtrusive markers. It’s the complete antithesis of the Navitimer—as well as the stereotype Breitling has got itself lumbered with.
This date-only version has since been discontinued, surpassed by the £4,410 day and date version, and both are powered by ETA movements; this is a shortcoming in present company, however it is strictly accurate, given that the original Transocean used an ETA 2365 to count the seconds, minutes and hours.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual 114300
Just because the DateJust isn’t the right answer for you doesn’t mean you should discount Rolex entirely. In fact, how about this—get a different Rolex and spend less money. That’s the dream, isn’t it? Well, dream no more, because at £4,350 you could be wearing a rather fetching Oyster Perpetual instead.
Sized somewhere between the new £5,250 DateJust 36 and the ever-popular 41, the Oyster Perpetual is probably the closest thing Rolex has in its line-up to a vintage reissue watch. It’s simple, well-sized at 39mm, lacks the glitz and glamour of the DateJust’s polished centre links and offers a preferable alternative for those who find the cyclops magnifying window akin to a pustule.
What’s more, it’s available with added variation from just black or white—as good as those look—with colour combinations like red and purple, grey and cyan, and blue and lime green on the spec sheet. And at this price, it’s closer to Omega’s Railmaster than perhaps Omega would really like.
It may seem like semantics to pitch the Oyster Perpetual as an alternative to the DateJust, but it really does have a personality all of its own. If the DateJust 41 is a comfortable and capable Carrera 4S, then the Oyster Perpetual is the enthusiast-focussed Carrera T, to grasp at parallels between these two similarly placed brands. If you’re looking for something with more honesty, more purity, then the Oyster Perpetual may well be for you.
IWC Ingenieur IW323310
Despite IWC’s uncertainty over what the Ingenieur should actually look like, the famous Genta-designed Ingenieur SL with its modern integrated case and bracelet and Swiss-cheese bezel isn’t the genesis of the Ingenieur name for IWC.
The antimagnetic watch for engineers actually hit jewellers windows some two years before Rolex’s Milgauss and three before Omega’s Railmaster in 1954, and although it was the model chosen to be given the Gérald Genta makeover—like the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet and the Nautilus for Patek Philippe—it started out life looking rather more sedate.
That’s where this IW3233 takes its inspiration, from the dauphine hands to the lightning bolt logo, and despite a little modern infill boosting the case to 42.5mm, and the addition of a date window, it really is the spit of that very first reference.
Part of that modern infill is the in-house calibre 80110, which—unless you have this particular Laureus Sport For Good—can be seen through the back to the detriment of the watch’s antimagnetic capabilities, but given how interesting it is to look at, perhaps it’s something that can be forgiven. The reason the calibre 80110 looks so unique despite its not unusual functionality is because of the Pellaton winding system.
Named after its creator, the Pellaton winding system does several things rather well: first, it integrates shock resistance on the heavy rotor weight using the intestinal ‘spring bridge’; secondly it uses a cam and rollers to rock a set of levers backwards and forwards to efficiently convert even the slightest movement into energy; and thirdly, it maximises that efficiency by winding both ways. The Ingenieur 3233 may for the most part no longer be antimagnetic, but it’s still packed with engineering.
Vacheron Constantin FiftySix 4600E/000A-B442
If budget is an issue, then Vacheron Constantin, primarily known for its high-end—and high-priced—timepieces, has been listening. This is a company that pitches its hand-wound, no frills models at a sizeable £17,700, that offers gold as its most inferior metal, that insists on its movements being certified with the Poinçon de Genève.
For someone looking at a Rolex DateJust for £5,000 or so, this isn’t likely a consideration. Added to that the traditional stylings of your average Vacheron, and the brand isn’t really in contention. Well, it wasn’t, until it was, when it gave us this: the FiftySix. The material: stainless steel. The movement: without hallmark. The price: £10,000.
So, not quite the budget-busting watch we would have hoped for, but then it still has standards to uphold. The calibre 1326 movement may not have been submitted for the Geneva Seal to save on cost, and it may have come from group movement supplier Horlogère ValFleurier and be shared with Cartier as the 1904 MC—but it is still assembled, finished and regulated by Vacheron Constantin itself.
It was long a common practice by the top three to source movements and finish them in-house, and by doing so once more it makes the FiftySix the cheapest mechanical watch from any of the top three by quite some margin.
The design of FiftySix is new, albeit with inspiration sought loosely from a Vacheron Constantin from—you guessed it—1956, placing it somewhere in the zone between sporty and dressy so well occupied by the Rolex DateJust. Only difference is this is a DateJust made by one of the top three watchmakers in the world.
At 40mm in diameter and 9.6mm thick, the FiftySix doesn’t forego any of the traditionalist standards of this illustrious watchmaker—in fact there’s nothing about it that’s weird or wacky, it’s just a fresh new look that’ll either work for you or not. The calibre 1326 is the real star here; where else can you spend £10,000 and get a view like that?
Bigger, smaller, cheaper and more expensive, the DateJust is not alone in the pantheon of watches that are a bit dressy, a bit sporty, but not too much of either. If Rolex’s timeless classic just doesn’t speak to you, then there’s plenty of choice to fall back on, a tiny amount of which we’ve shown you here—who knows, perhaps you’ll be inspired to get the watch that speaks to your heart as much as it does your head.
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