Is there such a thing as a better and cheaper alternative to the Rolex GMT-Master II? At first, you might think it’s impossible to top one of Rolex’s most legendary timepieces. Introduced in 1955 with its signature blue and red color scheme, the watch has become an industry icon. Given its star status, it’s little wonder that prices for many of the available Rolex GMT-Master II models have gone through the roof. A current stainless-steel Rolex GMT-Master II has a list price of $10,500, but prices on Chrono24 indicate that you should expect to pay around double to actually call the Rolex icon your own. That’s why we’ve come up with a list of five alternatives that are not only cheaper but also, in some cases, have more to offer than the Rolex GMT-Master II. So, let’s jump in and find out more.
The In-House Option: Rolex Explorer II
Is that competition coming from within Rolex’s own catalog? Absolutely! The first Rolex Explorer II, introduced in 1971 and produced until 1985, looked nothing like the current Explorer II. The design we know and love today came with the introduction of the second-generation Rolex Explorer II, which has been updated but never really drastically changed over the last 35 years. The manufacturer designed this timepiece for cave explorers. As such, it has a 24-hour hand that, together with the bezel, can both serve as a day/night indicator and indicate the time a second time zone. It essentially creates a watch that has the same basic functionality as the Rolex GMT-Master II.
Earlier this year, the Rolex Explorer II received an update with a new movement and a slightly altered case design. As a result, the new Explorer II ref. 226570 is powered by the exact same automatic Rolex caliber 3285 as the Rolex GMT-Master II. The new case design is slightly slimmer and more elegant, making its larger 42-mm size more in line with that of the 40-mm GMT-Master II. The watch comes with your choice of a white “Polar” dial or a black dial. Both versions sell for $9,500. While they can also be hard to find at your Rolex authorized dealer, the upside is that you can pick up these Explorer II models for generally $7,000–8,000 less as a Rolex GMT-Master II on Chrono24. Considering it has the same movement, comes from the same brand, and has a similarly iconic look, the Explorer II is the perfect alternative to the Rolex GMT-Master II.
The Versatile Option: Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M Co-Axial GMT
Omega’s Seamaster Planet Ocean was introduced in 2005 as a modern addition to the Seamaster line-up with increased diving capabilities compared to the regular Seamaster Professional 300M. While previous generations of the Seamaster Professional 300M had GMT versions, the current collection does not have one (yet). But the perfect option comes in the form of the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M Co-Axial GMT. This 43.5-mm watch combines deep diving capabilities with a GMT function.
The watch is water-resistant to 600 meters (60 bar, 2,000 ft) and features a helium escape valve for some serious diving chops. Additionally, the watch features the watch world’s first two-tone black and white ceramic bezel. This combination of colors is notoriously hard to achieve in ceramic, but Omega has pulled it off. Another great feature is the in-house Omega Master Chronometer caliber 8906, which you can view through the sapphire case back. Many consider this movement technically more interesting than the movement of the Rolex GMT-Master II, and with the added functionality of a diver, this is a perfect option for $9,300.
The Superior Option: Grand Seiko SBGJ237
The next option is the brilliant Grand Seiko SBGJ237. Grand Seiko has steadily made a name for itself by creating some of the best watches at competitive price points. Seiko’s timepieces are often technically superior to those of its competitors, and they boast an unmatched finish. The brand is known for its famous Zaratsu mirror polishing technique that makes Grand Seiko watches look truly stunning. But this SBGJ237 has even more tricks up its sleeve.
While the 44.2-mm case is significantly larger than the Rolex GMT-Master II, don’t worry; it looks smaller than that on the wrist. Additionally, the Grand Seiko 9S86 movement is an incredible caliber with great accuracy, just like the GMT-Master. What makes the Grand Seiko even more spectacular is the Lumibrite bezel, which glows in low-light conditions and sets off the watch’s features in a dazzling way. At $8,200, this timepiece is more affordable than the Rolex GMT-Master II while having a better finish and an equally great movement, making for a true connoisseur’s option that is hard to beat.
The Smarter Option: Tudor Black Bay GMT
If you’re not willing to spend a lot of money on a GMT watch, but you want the Rolex connection, the Tudor Black Bay GMT is your pick. Tudor has had great success with the Black Bay line, including the GMT edition introduced in 2018. The watch features the same iconic “Pepsi” bezel as classic Rolex GMT-Masters. The difference between the Black Bay GMT and the current Rolex GMT-Master II is that the former has a much more traditional look. In terms of charm, it comes a lot closer to GMT-Masters of the 1950s and 60s.
Besides its vintage charm, the 41-mm watch features a modern movement, the Tudor caliber MT5652. This automatic movement is chronometer-certified (COSC), just like its Rolex cousin. On top of that, the watch comes with the choice of a black fabric strap, brown leather strap, or a stainless steel bracelet. If you’re looking for a worthy Rolex alternative, the bracelet is the way to go. And the best thing? The Tudor Black Bay GMT is available for a very affordable $4,500, which is a lot cheaper than the Rolex GMT-Master II.
The Iconic Option: Panerai Luminor GMT
The last alternative to the Rolex GMT-Master II for today comes from a brand that has a history with Rolex. Panerai turned to Rolex in the late 1920s to procure movements for their first diving watches, also known as the Radiomir. While the current Radiomir might also be considered an excellent alternative to the GMT-Master II, I have chosen Panerai’s iconic Luminor GMT. The brand makes numerous GMT models in various sizes and with different movements. In my opinion, the best option is the Luminor GMT PAM00531. This 44-mm timepiece combines the iconic looks of the Luminor with an extra hand and a 24-hour scale around the dial’s outer edge.
Inside the stainless steel case, Panerai equips this watch with the completely in-house-produced automatic Panerai P.9003 movement, which has received wide praise for its technical quality. Combined with its classic looks, the Luminor GMT is the perfect option with a history that dates back to three decades before the introduction of the Rolex GMT-Master. What’s more, this option is available for $10,400 – that is, just under the GMT-Master II’s $10,500 list price (which, as we know, is nowhere near the actual price you have to pay to acquire the Rolex timepiece).
There you have it! Five better and cheaper alternatives to the Rolex GMT-Master II. While the Rolex icon may attract large crowds, the options available for a fraction of the current market prices of the GMT-Master II are just as impressive. The only question remaining is which one to pick? That will be up to you to answer. All that’s left for me is to wish you good luck when making your choice and happy hunting when searching for your preferred option at a great price.