In the world of watch collecting, there are those who obsess over minute details of a timepiece, compelled by the thrill of the chase to add every variation to their collection. At the other end of the scale are the folks who simply want one good watch, to wear every day no matter if it’s gardening or a board meeting on the calendar that day. For many of those after a single quality timepiece, the Rolex Explorer ticks a lot of boxes, but if it doesn’t tick them all, hunting down the best Rolex Explorer alternatives is the next logical step.
There are a lot of reasons why the Rolex Explorer is a compelling wristwatch. The 36mm steel case is a great size for most wrists (and has also been available with a 39mm case in the past), the black dial with large hour markers is ultra legible, and with 100m of water resistance, you can wear it almost anywhere without fear of moisture intrusion.
However, if you’re after a comfortable watch that is easy to read, robust and water-resistant, there are a number of excellent options out there you can get on your wrist straight away. No waitlists, no spending history – just a smooth transaction to get a great daily companion.
Here, we’ll take a look at a few of our favourite alternatives to the Rolex Explorer, which tick all of the same boxes as an adventure watch that won’t look out of place next to a French cuff. We’ve also done our best to include a range of different brands, some of which you might not have come across before, as well as offering a great Rolex Explorer alternative at every price point. Without further ado, let’s jump in.
Rolex Explorer Alternatives
Omega Seamaster Railmaster
The Omega Seamaster Railmaster is a collector’s favourite for good reason. With a history that dates back to 1957, when Omega released a trio of technically focused tool watches (including the Seamaster 300 and broad arrow Speedmaster), the Railmaster was an anti-magnetic watch created for those working with strong electric currents.
While there was a limited edition reissue of the ’57 Omega Railmaster, the modern standard production reference is a very compelling timepiece, featuring a 40mm steel case and a matching stainless steel bracelet. The vertically brushed black dial contrasts nicely with the beige-tone luminous hour markers, which in turn work nicely with the railroad minute track. Beneath the dial is the 55-hour power reserve Omega Co-Axial Master Chronometer Calibre 8806, which just like its forefathers, is anti-magnetic and can withstand magnetism of up to 15,000 gausses.
There are a number of other sites that suggest an Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra as the best Rolex Explorer alternative from Omega, but we believe the Railmaster is even better, with more interesting historical provenance as well as a host of more robust tool watch features. It’s more cleanly designed than the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra, and within the watch world, is regarded very highly.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII
Sure, the IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII was born to explore the skies more than it was for adventuring across terra firma, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great watch for any occasion. With a no-nonsense three-handed layout, approachable case size and the option of a bracelet that might be even more comfortable than an oyster style bracelet, it is an ideal everyday watch.
Featuring a 40mm steel case that’s just 11mm thick, it also has a screw-down crown for improved water resistance. Similar to the Omega Railmaster, the Mark XVIII has a soft-iron inner case for protection against magnetic fields and a solid caseback with an engraving of a Spitfire aircraft.
Within the ultra-legible pilot’s watch style, the black dial features high-contrast Arabic numerals, as well as a date window for everyday practicality. Powered by the IWC 35111 calibre, the watch runs at 28,800vph and offers a reasonable power reserve of 42 hours.
For many watch fans, the IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII is a must-have in any serious watch collection, but if you’re only looking to make one watch purchase, you could do a lot worse than this very versatile watch.
Within the world of watch microbrands, there are only a very few who swing for the fences successfully. Serica is one of them. Despite only launching toward the end of 2019, French-founded Serica has made an impressive impact on the collecting community with its thoughtfully sparse approach to tool watch design.
The Serica 4512 is one of the best affordable alternatives to the Rolex Explorer reference 122470, featuring an approachable 37.7mm stainless steel case, with a heavily domed sapphire crystal that brings the overall thickness up to 11.3mm. Its glossy black dial is almost void of any branding or text, offering a minimalist approach that should appeal to any tool watch enthusiast.
With a form that is focused on clearly communicating the time, its field watch features include a large screw-down crown for winding the movement, boldly shaped luminous hands and an impressive 200m of water resistance. One of the coolest things about the Serica 4512 is the option to have the crown on either the left or right-hand side of the case, making it a great option for left-handed enthusiasts. The watch arrives on a vintage-inspired stainless steel bracelet, which despite its unusual look, is extremely comfortable.
With a bullet-proof construction, impressive water resistance and a sparse dial aesthetic, there’s a lot to love about the Serica 4512 before you even arrive at the value stacked price.
Tudor Black Bay 36
Perhaps one of the most direct comparisons to the Rolex Explorer, the Tudor Black Bay 36 is another fantastic watch that is well-loved by watch enthusiasts. With a near perfectly proportioned case and restrained dial, it reminds of one of the most famous vintage Rolex Explorer references in the 1016 from the golden age of Rolex.
Featuring a 36mm case with a comfortable stainless steel bracelet, the Tudor Black Back 36 is a watch that can easily be dressed up or down thanks to the blend of brushed and polished finishes to the case. The black sapphire-crystal-covered dial is clean, with simply shaped white hour markers that match the iconic Tudor snowflake hour hands. The screw-down crown guarantees it 150m of water resistance, while it’s powered by the calibre T600 automatic movement with 38 hours of power reserve.
Offering much of the Rolex manufacturing pedigree, but without the price, the Tudor Black Bay 36 is a solid choice as the perfect alternative to the Rolex Explorer.
Grand Seiko SBGM245
Admittedly, the Grand Seiko SBGM245 is a little closer to the Rolex Explorer II than it is to its smaller, non-GMT sibling, but that doesn’t make it any less of a great alternative. As a true sports watch from the Japanese watchmaker, it offers everything you might want from a time-only Rolex Explorer, and a little more.
Featuring a classically-styled stainless steel case shape, the SBGM245 measures 40.4mm in diameter and 14.4mm thick. Sure, it’s a little thicker than most of the other watches on this list, but with the added bonus of a GMT hand to track a second timezone, you can understand why. With an eye-catching sunburst blue dial, the GMT hand is easy to read thanks to its bright contrasting red tone, and engraved 24-hour bezel that frames the dial.
Powering the SBGM245 is the automatic calibre 9S66, which boasts a GMT and date window function, with an impressive 72 hours of power reserve. The watch arrives on a brushed stainless bracelet, secured with a folding clasp.
If you’re open to a little more functionality than the Rolex Explorer offers, then the SBGM245 could be the everyday adventure watch for you.
The Longines Spirit collection is a relatively new addition to the Saint-Imier-based watchmaker’s catalogue, launched to the watch industry near the end of 2020. With a pilot’s wristwatch aesthetic that is similar to the IWC Mark XVIII mentioned earlier, it’s perhaps Longines’ most versatile timepiece since the HydroConquest was first launched.
While there are dozens of different references within the Spirit collection, the one we’re focused on is the 40mm stainless steel case version, with a matte black dial and matching steel bracelet. Its dial is designed for optimum legibility, with luminous Arabic numerals around its circumference, a date window at 3 o’clock, and the 5 stars that are a nod to watches from the Longines archives.
Measuring 12.2mm in thickness, including the slightly domed sapphire crystal over the dial, it’s guaranteed to 100m of water resistance thanks to the screw-down crown. The wristwatch contains the automatic movement L888.4, which is chronometer-certified by the COSC and boasts 72 hours of power reserve.
All considered it’s a great affordable alternative, that could well be one of the best watches for everyday wear on this list.
Seiko Alpinist SPB155
The Seiko Alpinist SPB155 is another one of the best affordable alternatives to the Rolex Explorer, with a rich history that shares the same spirit of adventure. The first Alpinist was first released as a new watch back in 1961, designed with Japanese mountain climbers in mind.
With a modestly sized 38mm steel case, it features a smooth bezel that neatly frames the textured green dial. With a case thickness of 12.9mm, it’s not the most svelte alternative to the Rolex Explorer, but is designed for maximum robustness. With a see-through case-back that shows off the 70-hour power reserve automatic caliber 6R35, this Alpinist arrives on a comfortable bracelet.
If you’re after an awesome watch that is also a thoroughly affordable watch, we expect you’d be a big fan of the Alpinist SPB155.
Breitling Aerospace Evo
Visually, you’ll immediately notice the Breitling Aerospace Evo is a little different from the other worthy alternatives on this list. While several of its design features are slightly different, it remains one of the best adventure watches in the game, albeit with a more modern approach.
Cased in 43mm of titanium with a matching titanium bracelet, it’s kept impressively slim with an overall thickness of just 10.4mm. This is mostly thanks to the chronometer-certified and thermocompensated SuperQuartz movement inside, which informs the complex dial thanks to features such as the 1/100th of a second chronograph, countdown timer, second time zone, and more.
With a 100g lightweight build thanks to the titanium construction, the Breitling Aerospace Evo is guaranteed to 100m of water resistance, while its battery has a life of between three and four years. Sure, it doesn’t remind us of the first Explorer that ever left the Rolex factory, but it could be the perfect watch for anyone looking for greater functionality in their adventure watch.
The main claim to fame of the Rolex Explorer is that it accompanied Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay during the first-ever ascent of Mt Everest. However, the Rolex was actually left at basecamp, and the watches worn by the two pioneering explorers were in fact made by the Smiths watch company.
The Smiths Everest is a tribute to that relatively unknown history, featuring a period correct 36mm steel case that neatly matches the brushed steel oyster bracelet. Its dial is immediately reminiscent of the Explorer reference 1016, with the classic 3-6-9 Arabic numerals, Mercedes hour hand and lollipop seconds hand. It’s extremely wearable with a thickness of just 11.3mm, as well as boasting 100m of water resistance so you can wear it without worry. Inside, the Smiths Everest is powered by the Miyota 9039, which goes a long way to keeping the timepiece affordable price-wise, as well as offering at least 42 hours of power reserve.
So if you’re after a timepiece, which not only has a historically significant legacy as the first watch to summit Everest, but is affordable and has a design that is well-loved by the watch world.