For many people, a Rolex watch is the epitome of luxury watchmaking, an unmatched status symbol, and a sure sign that the owner has “made it.”
Through decades of innovations and millions of dollars in advertising, Rolex has implanted an itch into our collective subconscious that can only be scratched with a cool $10,000 shelled out for one of their timepieces.
But not all of us can afford to drop such G’s on a watch just because of how we feel. And let’s not mince words here: when you’re paying for a Rolex, you’re paying for the feeling of wearing a Rolex. They say as much in their ads.
Luckily for us, Rolex’s iconic designs are copied and imitated every day. Some are outright Chinese replicas (which I do not recommend), and some are homages (which I do).
So what is this “homage” category, which will give us all the wrist presence of a Rolex, imitate their style without being a blatant copy, and give us the feeling of wearing a luxury watch? Enter The Poor Man’s Rolex: looks like Rolex, but for under $200.
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Best Rolex Lookalike Watches
- Submariner: Invicta Pro Diver
- Daytona: Orient NEO 70’s
- Datejust: Seiko Datejust
- GMT-Master: Pagani Design GMT
- President: Bulova Day-Date
- Explorer: Rotary Henley GMT
Watch that looks like the Rolex Submariner: Invicta Pro Diver 8929OB
At the top of our list is the most popular homage for the most popular Rolex model – the Invica Pro Diver 8926OB. This watch is almost as ubiquitous as the Rolex Submariner itself, and for a fraction of the price.
Indeed, there are cheaper alternatives to the Invicta Pro Diver, but in my opinion this one sets the standard in quality and reputation. Does it look like a Rolex? Hell yes it does.
Sure, there are a few differences in the models: notably the Invicta logo on the seconds’ hand counterbalance and the logo itself (a winged diamond instead of a Rolex coronet) – but in the rest of the details, it looks quite like the Sub.
Moreover, the size is spot on: 40mm. The cyclops over the date windows is the same at 2.5x magnification, and it even comes with an automatic movement to retain the sweep of the seconds hand – the Seiko NH35A (which costs up to half of the watch itself when sold separately).
So you can shell out 100x as much for a real Rolex Sub, or 5x as much for a Steinhart (which prides itself on copying their designs even more faithfully…) or you can simply save your money and embrace the poor man’s Rolex. See if you actually like the design from a trustworthy and reputable homage model, and then make your own decision from there.
- Looks like the Rolex Submariner
- 40mm size
- 2.5x cyclops magnification
- Automatic movement (NH35A)
- See-through caseback
- Passable bracelet
- Invicta symbol on seconds hand makes it different than the Sub
- “INVICTA” engraving on the side (it’s not that annoying actually)
The Poor Man’s Rolex Daytona: Orient NEO 70’s Panda
If you’re looking for a Rolex Daytona lookalike, you should consider the Orient NEO 70’s Panda Chronograph. This watch comes from Orient – a subsidiary of Seiko – and with that comes their famous quality and value.
The Orient Panda Chronograph takes design cues from the most famous Rolex Daytona of all time – the Paul Newman model which sold at auction for $17M, skyrocketing the popularity of all panda-style chronograph watches since then.
Although it does take many design cues from the famous Rolex, this alternative pulls off quality and style while retaining an identity of it’s own. It comes in a modern 42mm case (compared to the 37mm Newman Daytona , or the 40mm modern Daytona). While it’s a bit larger, it wears like a smaller watch due to the moderate dial size and lug-to-lug measurement.
Because This Orient Panda features a Seiko Meca-Quartz movement (Seiko Solar V175), the chrono seconds ticks at 5x per second, giving it the smooth appearance of an automatic chronograph.
Overall, while it’s not an exact copy, the Orient Panda Chronograph is one of the best watches that looks like a Rolex Daytona, while also featuring a distinct flair. Not being a blatant copy is it’s strong point, while also looking quite sexy.
- Seiko Meca-Quartz Movement
- Solar Powered
- Panda Chronograph configuration
- Looks amazing on leather and NATO straps
- Stock bracelet is low quality
- Date window pretty recessed, thus hard to read
Seiko Watch that looks like Rolex Datejust: Seiko Datejust
Love it or hate it, the Datejust is one of Rolex’s most iconic models. It comes in a variety of dial colors and hour marker configurations, but this Seiko Datejust is a recreation of one of the more iconic versions out there – the silver and gold dual-tone.
Just like the Rolex it’s based on, this watch comes in very close to 36mm and on a jubilee bracelet. The fluted bezel, a staple of Rolex watches dating back to the 1920s, is featured on the Seiko as well, maximizing the polished and light-reflecting surface area.
This Seiko Datejust has been in production for over a decade, and is one of the staples of their classic collection. Fans of the Rolex Datejust style who are not ready to pay out 20-50 times the price will fall in love with this watch as a reliable, accurate alternative.
One difference in this watch is that it uses a quartz movement. This keeps the size of the watch down to a similar 36mm, while also giving it the benefit of Rolex-level accuracy. Sure, an automatic movement would make for a more faithful homage, but the people that wear this style don’t value that attribute as much as the style and class it provides.
Lastly, the Seiko Datejust features both a day and date complication, whereas the Rolex Datejust only has a a date (typically with a cyclops magnifier). For the money, it’s hard to find a more reputable alternative to the Datejust.
- Looks and feels like the Rolex Datejust
- Fluted Bezel
- 36mm size
- Quartz movement
- Hardlex crystal
Rolex GMT-Master II Homage: Pagani Design GMT
For a watch that looks a lot like the iconic Rolex GMT-Master II, it’s hard to find a better alternative than the Pagani Design GMT diver. This watch retains so much of the Rolex DNA that it’s more than a super homage – it’s almost a replica.
Made famous for the combination of a dive watch and a GMT (dual-time zone) function, the Rolex GMT-Master is both instantly recognizable on the wrist and one of the brand’s most sought-after models.
Pagani Design is a Chinese brand that makes super-homages (near copies) of the most famous watch brands for a fraction of the price. Normally I wouldn’t be recommending these, but Pagani Design delivers an exceptional quality and value for the money.
This watch has an automatic movement and a functional independent GMT complication. For a watch under $150, it’s amazing for it to have a ceramic bezel insert and a careful attention to detail. Like the Rolex, it has a cyclops magnifier, and looks almost indistinguishable in every way. Also it looks amazing.
- Looks like the Rolex GMT-Master II
- Automatic Movement
- Great attention to detail
- Only 100m water resistance
Watch that looks like Rolex President: Bulova Day-Date
The Rolex President (sometimes called Rolex Day-Date) is one of the brand’s more unique styles. Any watch that is bold enough to implement that day window at the top like that is certainly paying homage to the Rolex.
The Bulova Day-Date is a great poor man’s alternative that looks like a million bucks, yet still retains it’s own style. Bulova is an old and experienced watchmaker (which predates Rolex by 30 years), and is currently owned by Citizen Watch of Japan – one of the best and biggest watchmakers in the market.
With that pedigree comes a certain degree of quality that puts this Rolex lookalike a step above the rest. Like the original, it has both a date window (at the 3 o’clock) and a day window (at the top).
This watch comes in at 39mm (nearly the same as the Rolex’s 40mm variant), yet features a quartz movement, which is a common feature of Bulova watches. This gives it great accuracy and a thin profile, but sacrifices the smooth sweep of the seconds hand. It also doesn’t have a cyclops, and the bracelet style is different.
Despite the differences, Bulova is playing to it’s strengths when making this watch: a simple watch that looks and feels like a luxury timepiece. It has echoes of Rolex style and feel without being a blatant copy, is easy to read, and a pleasure to wear.
- Looks like the Rolex President
- Domed mineral crystal
- Easy to read
- Beautiful electric blue dial
- Quartz movement
- Different bracelet style
Rolex Explorer II lookalike: Rotary Henley GMT
It can be difficult to find a watch that pays a close homage to the Rolex Explorer II without being a blatant copy, and even harder to find one that’s an improvement over the original design.
The Rotary Henley GMT takes inspiration from the black-dialed orange-handed Rolex Explorer II, while transforming it into it’s own unique style. Notice how the hour markers and hands have changed from circular indices into thinner batons.
This watch comes in at a smaller and more reasonable 40mm case (compared to Rolex’s 42mm Explorer), and has the same 100m of water resistance. Unfortunately, it makes the trade-off in favor of style and size by using a quartz movement.
Rotary has also cleaned up the dial with significantly less text and noise, and removed the cyclops form the date window. It’s true that the Rolex it’s based on is far from the most popular Explorer model, but this Rotary brings it back to life in a new way. Furthermore, it retains that Explorer look and feel that’s prized among Rolex enthusiasts.
- Looks like Rolex Explorer II
- Smaller profile at 40mm
- Fresh design style while retaining Rolex feel
- Quartz movement
- Thicker than the Rolex by 2mm
Things to Consider Before Buying a Watch that Looks Like a Rolex
In most cases, buying a watch doesn’t need to be so complicated. But it’s always important to have proper expectations before making a purchase and opening that watch box, because it can lead either to great delight or great disappointment.
Here are some things to think about before you buy a Rolex lookalike:
Why are you buying it?
Most of us will buy a watch from this list primarily because it looks like a Rolex. Of course. You can see in the side-by-side photos where the watches are similar. Yet many also have notable differences.
With that said, it’s important not to try and pass it off as an actual Rolex, because this will lead to disappointment. You can walk into a room with the Seiko Datejust and just be happy that you didn’t have to shell out $5k on nearly the same watch.
Will people think it’s a real Rolex, or a fake Rolex?
When I wear homages, I tend to get a bit in my head about it when I walk into a room. Will people think it’s a Rolex? How is the conversion going to go if I get called out?
What I noticed after years of watch-wearing is that nobody notices anything. People that do notice your watch will generally see it as an extension of your personality (just like you wouldn’t notice the quirky rain boots on an ugly person, for example, but it’s a cool accessory on an attractive one).
As such, it’s important to prize your own experience over that of strangers. When you wear a homage, take the opportunity to genuinely ask yourself: do I actually like this design, or do I just like it because it looks like a Rolex?
What quality will I get?
Firstly, I want to disentangle the notion that “more money spent = more quality gained.”
I know there’s a cult-like following among Rolex fans, and a religious zealotry among Rolex owners, so this is somewhat of an unpopular opinion: the objective quality of Rolex watches is meh.
Are they amazing timepieces for $500? Certainly. For $5000? Not really. It’s hard to see beyond the hypnotic trance that the Rolex coronet puts you in, and I don’t want to spend much time removing the illusion for you either (maybe in another post).
There are $300 watches that are much worse than $100 watches. And there are $5000 watches that are barely better than $700 watches.
The watches in this list are all under $200 for the most part. Personally, I would price Rolex quality no higher than the $1000 level, including the chronometer accuracy and in-house movement. The rest is all branding and controlling the supply (subjective value).
So what quality will you get? It won’t be Rolex quality, but it will be much nicer than you expect. I have to say it so that you don’t go into the experience expecting to be disappointed.
Why you should stay away from replicas
I have done some research into replica watches, and briefly considering buying one. Ultimately what drove me to decide against it is that they only look like watches, but do not function well. Dive bezels will pop off, water submersion will destroy them, and parts will fail within months. The only concern of the replicators is how closely it looks like an existing model.
In contrast, every watch on this list can stand up on its own as a quality timepiece. I picked quality brands with solid reputations. Yes, they borrow from Rolex designs, sometimes very closely. However, that’s a secondary selling point to these watches in addition to being a solid, robust, and reliable timepiece.
Lastly, I want to mention that if you buy a Chinese replica, you’re sending a signal to your brain that you will never own the real thing. Think of it like settling for an ugly girlfriend instead of going to the gym. Eventually you’ll end up convincing yourself that you never wanted the real thing in the first place, to the degree that it sends disgust down your nervous system when you do see a genuinely nice luxury watch.
Is Rolex a Cult?
Since I could remember, I was always fascinated by cults. Even before watches. And let me be clear – I’m not against cults, I actually find them fascinating.
Their traditions, ceremonies, and rituals show me a part of human nature that’s in all of us. Most of our day-to-day originated to some degree in ancestral rituals that were dictated by the environment and our unique pre-modern landscapes.
So am I saying Rolex is a cult? I would not place an equals sign there, because in my estimation a cult needs a cult leader. But I would certainly say that Rolex approximates a cult, as the brain approximates a computer (but is certainly not a computer).
For better or worse, I like to poke fanatics in their beliefs. Most will never wake up, and that’s okay – I have little to give them, but much to take away. But sometimes someone will wake up, and there’s something godly about showing them the light.
I’ll be following up with an in-depth analysis on the subject in a future article.
If you found this section interesting or provocative, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Conclusions to the Poor Man’s Rolex
Our culture has an unusual fascination with Rolex watches, such that even watches that resemble them are prized. To some degree, this fascination has to do with our need for meaning – and I think it’s great that we find ourselves supplicating to the logo of a crown like we’re still living in the Dark Ages.
But luckily for all of us, there are affordable options that we can explore and experiment with for a fraction of the cost. Many of these watches come from reputable and reliable brands: Seiko, Orient, Bulova, Invicta, Rotary.
The choices in this list will let you approximate the feeling of wearing a Rolex without breaking the bank. Enjoy!
My name is Tom Leto, and I’m a watch enthusiast at heart. I’m here to steer you in the right direction when looking for your next watch, and to help you avoid common newbie mistakes. Right now my favorite brands are Orient Star, Longines, and Nomos.