Earlier this week, a story by my colleague about the difficulty of buying a Rolex was a big hit. Obviously, this is a topic that really resonates, with watch enthusiasts giving recommendations on where to look, or watches that have stood the test of time. One thing to note – as someone who has been lucky enough to visit many manufacturers in Switzerland – the long waiting lists are not just due to a shortage strategy.
They exist – in many brands, not just Rolex – in part because the artisanal process is so exacting, intricate and downright amazing. I saw a craftsman paint the face of the dial using a single hair, invisible to the naked eye and seen with a magnifying glass. With such complex work, he begins to understand why watchmaking is such an expensive and slow process. Take into account that some materials might be more difficult to obtain thanks to Covid stopping the manufacture of certain parts or valuable materials, and you have a recipe for a long waiting list.
Expert James Gurney, editor of watch magazine QP, has some initial pointers on what Rolex alternatives to look out for. “If you want value, long term (and to enjoy the watch in the meantime), look for a design with a good 40-50 year history behind it, it’s iconic of the brand that made it and not too obviously a version adjusted to today’s fashions.
In the luxury industry, certain watches are design icons, totemic in their circulation and their history. Tellingly, one of the most mentioned brands among readers in the first article on this topic was Omega. The Omega Speedmaster, created in 1957, is a master class in marrying sporty dynamism with the finesse of a luxury house. The first chronograph produced by the house, it is known for its distinctive tachymeter bezel and that is what astronauts received in space.
Another brand to excite Telegraph readers was Zenith, a Swiss heritage house founded in 1865 whose name may be more under the radar than others, but as one reader notes, it’s a household name among the “connoisseurs”. It is known for its El Primero movement, incorporated into some of its most elegant and complicated watches.
Then, in the great pantheon of the most emblematic watches, a Reverso Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of the most sought after and the most beautiful. A dress watch, it was originally created for the polo field – which is why the dial can be flipped over and safely tucked away – and its sultry Art Deco lines make it a great option for the smarter end of your list. of watches.
Likewise, at the sartorial end of the market, the Cartier Tank is one of the most renowned watch designs of all time, the name taken from Louis Cartier’s outline of the rhomboid shape of tanks during World War I. world. The rectangular shape and classic Roman numerals on its dial mean that its sense of classicism has never gone out of style.
Sporting and military activities have long inspired the most renowned watches of the 20th century, and this is the case with the Carrera by Tag Heuer. Created by Jack Heuer, great-grandson of the house’s founder, out of a love of motor racing, its automatic versions are offered from £2,100 entry-level and special editions usually become collector’s items.
Two other brands that sparked debate were Breitling and Longines. The former’s Navitimer is a masterclass in masculine design; developed as a pilot’s watch in 1952, its hallmarks are the bi-directional slide rule bezel and that distinctive trio of sub-dials. The Longines Master Collection is also exalted among watchmaking insiders; classic and refined without being too “mannered” or kept strictly as a dress watch. A version with the moon phase on the dial will always carry weight with watch connoisseurs.
Within the firmament of the Rolex family, Tudor – a sister brand to the house – has its own roster of iconic timepieces. Most notably, the Black Bay, which only saw the light of day in 2012 but has a distinctive design identity; anyone in the know will notice that snowflake dial and its distinctive triangle, circle, and stick numerals from a mile away.
And then, of course, there is the grand master of luxury watchmaking houses: Patek Philippe. Its Nautilus line is whispered to many watch enthusiasts as the “Grail watch” with good reason. As is the case with Rolex, sometimes the waiting list is well worth it.