Globally renowned as one of the toughest and ‘go-anywhere’ watches, the Rolex Explorer is the ultimate watch for the adventurous soul. The Rolex Explorer I and II continue to be the preferred tool watch for extreme environments by explorers, scientists, and mountaineers. Over the years, its stature, reputation, and demand have grown exponentially. Though sought after the world over, the hefty price tag remains a concern with many. For instance, a brand-new Explorer currently retails at over five thousand USD. However, many brands have unveiled watches similar to the Rolex Explorer at affordable prices.
This article will feature an array of watch alternatives to the Rolex Explorer from different brands. One by one, we will highlight the features of the recommended alternatives along with brand info. In addition, we will understand why the Explorer garners such great acclaim.
Originally launched in 1953, the Rolex Explorer strongly focused on functionality in extreme conditions. The first Explorer relied on a simple design for effective results. The black dial with large 3, 6, and 9 markers ensured legibility even in the toughest conditions. However, if darkness set in, the luminescent markers and hands continued to ensure readability. This made the first Explorer an ultimate tool watch.
Subsequently, the Explorer II followed in 1971. The new Explorer featured a date display, a fixed bezel with 24hour markings. In addition, an extra orange-colored hour hand helped distinguish day from night with the bezel. Over the years, the Explorer I and II have adorned the hands of explorers, mountaineers, volcanologists, and speleologists.
Made of 940L Oystersteel, the Explorers maintains its sheen even in extreme environments. Both watches feature a double waterproof system. As a result, the Explorers are water-resistant up to 100 m. While the Explorer I hosts the caliber 3132 movements, the Explorer II hosts caliber 3187. Both, Rolex built self-winding mechanical movements. Furthermore, the tool watch also features a Parachrom hairspring for better stability and Paraflex shock absorbers for greater resistance.
Do note, this article features alternatives to the 39 mm Explorer and not Explorer II.
Best Affordable Rolex Explorer Alternatives
Ball Engineer III Pioneer
The Ball watch company is a truly global brand. An American company based in Switzerland and owned by a Hong Kong group. Founded in 1891 in Ohio, USA, the Ball brand made its name with the growth of the American railroad. With watchmaking experience of over a century, the Ball brand continues to create beautiful timepieces.
The Pioneer model under the Engineer III collection shares a close look with the Rolex Explorer.
The 40 mm 904L stainless steel case hosts an automatic caliber BALL RR1103-C movement under the anti-reflective sapphire crystal. The black dial and luminescent hands and markers make nighttime reading easy. And, the watch is water-resistant up to 100 m.
To know more about the brand, read our review here.
Tudor Heritage Ranger
Being the sister company of Rolex, the Tudor brand checks out many boxes with regard to quality, craftsmanship, and technology. Over the years, the Tudor brand has become synonymous with tool watches.
As a result, the Tudor Heritage Ranger makes this list. Specifically, the Heritage Ranger black dial steel bracelet model. Inspired by the original icon from the 1960s – Oyster Prince Ranger, the updated watch is more than capable.
The luxury brand ensures a host of Rolex like features. The 41 mm stainless steel case houses Calibre 2824 self-winding mechanical movement. In addition, the watch is also water-resistant up to 150 m and comes with a five-year guarantee. The Heritage Ranger is also available in stylish leather and fabric straps.
If you like this watch but still find it too expensive we came up with a whole list of Tudor Heritage Alternatives here.
You can also read about Tudor here.
Sinn 556 A RS
Founded in 1961 by a former World War II pilot, Helmut Sinn started in Frankfurt. The German watchmaker offers a good alternative in the 556 A RS with the solid bracelet. The watch shares the simple and no-nonsense design aesthetics of the Rolex Explorer.
This includes the matte black dial and the large and luminescent hour markers. Featuring self-winding SW200-1 mechanical movement in a 38.5 mm stainless steel case, the watch is elegantly sporty. The watch also features a clear sapphire crystal back and is water-resistant up to 200 m. In addition, you also get a date display. You also have the option to choose either a silicone or a leather strap.
Auguste Agassiz founded the brand in 1832 in Saint-Imier, Switzerland. Having manufactured some iconic watches over the years, Longines continues to craft superior Swiss watches. This particular collection makes a good alternative to a Swiss luxury brand.
More specifically, the Longines Conquest L3. 776. 4. 58. 6, available significantly cheaper compared to the Explorer. The watch features a black dial with Super-LumiNova treated hands and markers in a 39 mm stainless steel case. Water-resistant up to 300 m, the Conquest also comes with a date display. Above all, the automatic L888 caliber movements garner wide acclaim.
Omega Seamaster Railmaster
If Rolex is too mainstream and you don’t mind the hefty price tag, consider the Omega Seamaster Railmaster. The Biel-based luxury brand, Omega came into being in 1848. Founded by Louis Brandt, the Omega brand crafts a premium line of Swiss watches. With a rich history, famous wearers, equal ability, this is an ideal alternative.
First launched in 1957, the Railmaster has constantly updated with time. The current model features a brushed black dial with “vintage” Super-LumiNova treated stainless steel hands in a 40 mm case. Above all, the OMEGA Co-Axial Master Chronometer Calibre 8806 drives the watch. Water-resistant up to 150 m, the watch also comes with a five-year warranty.
Grand Seiko Heritage Collection
The final watch on this list is a slight departure from the Rolex’s design. We want to present to you a Japanese luxury alternative. The Grand Seiko remains a great brand to embrace if you want to move away from the Swiss brands. While Grand Seiko watches cost almost as much as a Rolex, they are more than capable alternatives. For instance, a host of models under their heritage collection looks similar to the Rolex Explorer.
Unlike Rolex who prefers Arabic numerals, Seiko goes with elegant indices. We recommend the following models – SBGR257, SBGR317, SBGV223, and SBGH205. In addition, you get Seiko’s technical brilliance, superior quality, and Japanese craftsmanship. All of the above-mentioned watches are water-resistant up to 10bar.
Japanese brand Citizen offers great quality watches at affordable prices. The brand’s Eco-Drive technology garners acclaim from watch enthusiasts the world over as it never requires a battery. As an alternative for the Rolex Explorer, the Citizen Chandler makes a great case.
With a similar look, the Chandler features luminous hands on a black dial enclosed in a 43 mm stainless steel case. The watch hosts the J810 movement under the mineral crystal and is water-resistant up to 100 m. However, if you are looking for something more tough and capable, consider the Citizen Promaster Tough.
Seiko SNE327 Solar
Another Japanese brand that constantly produces technically capable and quality watches is Seiko. Founded 139 years ago by Kintaro Hattori, the Japanese brand also offers a good alternative to the Explorer. The Seiko SNE327 ticks all the boxes with looks, quality, and capability.
The SNE327 hosts the Japanese quartz movement under the black dial. The large hour markers similar to that of the Explorer remain well protected under the Hardlex mineral crystal. In addition, the affordable price stage also gives you both day and date display at 3 o’clock. The 43 mm stainless steel timepiece is water-resistant up to 100 m.
If you want to save big bucks, but remain still keen on the Explorer’s looks, consider the Armida A6. Based out of Hong Kong, the Armida brand made its name with diving watches. However, they do offer an alternative to the Rolex Explorer in the form of an A6. Alike from every angle in design and looks, the A6 is slightly smaller at 36 mm.
Powered by the Japanese Miyota 9039 movement under a double-domed sapphire crystal, the A6 comes with a one-year warranty. Moreover, the hour markers and the hands share a striking resemblance to the explorer are luminescent. In addition, the Armida A6 is water-resistant up to 300 m.
At the top of the list is the Alpha Explorer. Established in 1993, the Alpha brand manufactures affordable watches. This affordable timepiece shares an incredibly similar look and design with the Rolex Explorer. For instance, this watch replicates the oyster style bracelet, black dial, the unique hour markers, and even the Rolex hands.
Apart from the obvious design inspiration, the watch is water-resistant up to 5ATM and comes with a one-year warranty. In addition, the Alpha Explorer features automatic movement in a 38.5 mm 316L stainless steel case with hardened scratch-proof glass. A great alternative for a fraction of the price.
Smith’s Everest PRS 25
Smith’s watch brand made history with Rolex in 1953 after the first summit of Mount Everest. However, the brand has since faded, unlike Rolex. Sir Edmund Hillary wore a Smith’s during his legendary ascent to the top of the world. Currently, owned by Timefactors, after multiple owners, the Smith’s Everest PRS 25 watch makes a worthy Explorer alternative.
Apart from the pedigree on its side, the watch shares a near-identical design. The black dial, SuperLuminova treated markers, and Rolex-like hands make it almost indistinguishable from a Rolex. Besides, the watch hosts Miyota 9015 movement in a 40 mm 316L stainless steel case and is water-resistant up to 100 m.