6 Steel Sports Watch Options That Are Both (Relatively) Affordable And Definitely Obtainable
Unless you have been residing under a large rock in recent years, you are most probably (and perhaps quite painfully) aware that the classic steel sports watches designed by Gérald Genta for Audemars Piguet (Royal Oak) and Patek Philippe (Nautilus) are both beyond the financial reach of most people and in many cases simply not available for purchase at retail even if you can afford them.
This leaves sports watch enthusiasts little option other than to consider similar designs from other brands.
To my mind, the criteria for eligibility as a Royal Oak or Nautilus alternative are fourfold:
1. It should be an automatic watch.
2. It should on an integrated steel bracelet.
3. It should be available with a blue or black dial.
4. It should have some degree of texture or structure and a bezel with something unusual going on such as top screws and/or a non-circular bezel (which is why the otherwise excellent Tissot PRX with its polished circular bezel doesn’t make the cut).
All of these elements have to be present without sailing so close to the wind that the watch is simply a Royal Oak or Nautilus “homage.”
With no further ado, here are some candidates that have caught my eye over the last few years.
Maurice Lacroix Aikon
The Maurice Lacroix Aikon is a watch that needs no introduction to regular Quill & Pad readers as Martin Green has already covered the Simon Nogueira edition and Joshua Munchow the Master Grande Date.
Maurice Lacroix started life as a third-party watch supplier in the 1960s before launching under its current name and finding a great degree of success in the mechanical renaissance era. The brand brought out the Aikon in 2016 as a reworking of its “iconic” (pun intended) Calypso model from the 1990s, an accessible quartz model that now looks as dated as Don Johnson’s mullet but that nevertheless sold more than 100,000 units per year in its heyday.
Its features have now been skillfully reworked in a steel sports watch that ticks all the quality and design boxes and then some, notably with a brash orange-and-black version of its Master Grand Date having been donated to the 2021 Only Watch auction.
Featuring a clous de Paris dial and “claws” on the bezel that echo the Calypso (and the Omega Constellation Manhattan in its updated versions as well) the base-model Aikon runs on the ML 115 automatic movement, which is a modified version of the Sellita SW 200-1.
The tapered, brushed, and polished steel bracelet, which owes more to the style of the Royal Oak than the Nautilus, flows perfectly into the case and bezel. There is also a stunning 42 mm Aikon with salmon dial (a color that Maurice Lacroix calls “champagne”).
Ranging in price between €1,500 and €2,000 depending on size and configuration, the Aikon hits a sweet spot in terms of price and quality.
Chopard Alpine Eagle
As with Maurice Lacroix and the Aikon, Chopard dug into its archives and revisited its 1980s St. Moritz model in 2019 to come up with the Alpine Eagle.
The St. Moritz was classic 1980s “look-at-me” wristwear in a similar vein to Ebel’s El Primero chronograph (Don Johnson again), but not sporty enough for the modern era. Now that I mention it, doesn’t Ebel have a steel sports watch worthy of mention in this article? Actually, it does: the blue-dial Sport Classic with its legendary wave bracelet (as sported by Don you-know-who) and screwed-down bezel, but it’s just a bit too dainty-looking to cut the mustard in the present company. But I digress . . .
The Alpine Eagle is fit for the twenty-first century with four pairs of screws on a brushed, round bezel, Nautilus “ears,” and a superb brushed/polished integrated bracelet, setting itself apart from the competition with its III, VI, IX, and XII numerals on an “eagle’s iris” dial.
The Alpine Eagle is in a higher price bracket than the other watches mentioned in this story, with the 36 mm blue-dial version starting at around €9,000. But for that you get Chopard’s 09.01-C C.O.S.C.-certified chronometer movement with 42-hour power reserve.
Girard Perregaux can claim an illustrious history going back to 1791 as a recognized manufacture capable of producing its watches in-house, so the Laureato is a definite option if you are looking for a brand with near-Trinity status.
Girard-Perregaux introduced the Laureato as a slim quartz sports watch in 1975, but this model did not pack an automatic movement until 1995 when it was fitted with in-house Caliber 3100.
Design-wise, the Laureato features a screwless octagonal bezel that looks like it could be opened with a watchmaker’s case-back tool and a tapered, polished center-link bracelet. It is generally considered to be somewhat understated in comparison to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak or Patek Philippe Nautilus.
The Laureato Classic starts at €12,000 with a “pyramid” clous de Paris dial. The current 42 mm Eternity edition features a stunning grand feu enamel dial in blue or green for €16,000.
Baume & Mercier Riviera Baumatic
Baume & Mercier’s Riviera was originally issued in 1973 as a quartz model with a dodecagonal screwed-down bezel. Now updated for modern tastes on an Oyster-style integrated bracelet, it combines the solid, sharply angled case reminiscent of the Maurice Lacroix Aikon with the Chopard Alpine Eagle’s Roman numerals.
Powered by either a Sellita movement for around €2,650, or Baume & Mercier’s in-house Baumatic movement at around €3,600, the Riviera is a handsome alternative to the Maurice Lacroix, despite being a bit more expensive.
D1 Milano Automatico
Coming back down the price chain somewhat, those on a budget or just looking for a fun purchase might consider Italian brand D1 Milano, founded in 2013 by business school graduate Dario Spallone.
This brand’s base design is an all-steel watch in the Patek Philippe Nautilus style, especially the bracelet, but with its own quirky bezel shape. The standard black or blue sports model is available from around €400 with a 24-jewel Miyota automatic movement finished with côtes de Genève.
D1 Milano’s website is light years ahead of its rather staid Swiss competitors, offering an entertaining glimpse of its movie-themed collections (from Willy Wonka to 2001: A Space Odyssey), its Casi-Oak GShock-beating “Chupa Chups” collection, and its “Shadow” proprietary black polycarbonate-finish watches. Vantablack for the masses, perhaps?
Michel Herbelin Cap Camarat
French company Michel Herbelin has been assembling watches in its Jura workshop since 1947. Its Cap Camarat is a steel watch available with a black, silver, or blue dial featuring a horizontal stripe reminiscent of a yacht’s decking, while the bezel features six screws.
The automatic version runs on a Sellita SW-200 1 with 38-hour power reserve and retails below €800, representing an attractive way into a solid sports watch with a Swiss movement.
The only weak point for me is the bracelet, which although integrated with the case, is a sort of reworked Oyster affair that lacks that element of sparkle that you want on a watch of this type.
So there you have it. I have a soft spot for the Maurice Lacroix Aikon as its bracelet integrates seamlessly with the case and circular bezel design with its Constellation-style claws, and of course for its attractive price proposition. But I am aware that the same movement can be had in much cheaper watches.
Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.
Quick Facts Maurice Lacroix Aikon “champagne dial”
Case: 42 x 11 mm, stainless steel, 200-meter water resistance
Movement: automatic Caliber ML115 (based on Sellita SW200-1), 38-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Remark: quick-change strap and bracelet system
Quick Facts Chopard Alpine Eagle
Case: 41 x 9.7 mm, Lucent Steel A223
Movement: automatic Caliber Chopard 01.01-C; 60-hour power reserve; 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, officially C.O.S.C. chronometer certified
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: CHF 12,450