Most watch lovers instantly associate a brand with one or two key models: Audemars Piguet and the Royal Oak, Rolex and the Submariner, Omega and the Speedmaster – you get the idea. In reality, all of these brands offer multiple collections, each of which houses a myriad of options. Not all of the models are winners, of course. Some languish in relative obscurity, largely ignored by the companies that make them and the watch community in general – and rightly so. However, others unfairly get cast in the shadows of their more famous peers. These models often have passionate followings, but they are decidedly of the niche variety. In other words, these watches still sell, but you’re not likely to see them on the wrist of every other guy or girl at the bar.
This is a good thing – particularly for those hunting for a great deal on the secondary market. The fact is, when it comes to quality and production standards, brands don’t vary between models. They can’t afford to. Yes, some models may be more complex or offer better finishing, but fundamentally, they all adhere to the same basic standards. That means it’s possible to buy from a well-known brand and get all the associated benefits without paying ultra-premium prices. To get you started, here are four watches from big brands that we think are underrated.
IWC Aquatimer Automatic
The International Watch Company – or IWC – is best known for its functional yet stylish pilot’s watches. Those who prefer something more classic might opt for an elegant timekeeper from the Portugieser or Portofinocollections. But there is another lesser-known option available for the active water lover: the IWC Aquatimer Automatic. A member of the IWC lineup since the 1960s, the Aquatimer is a robust ocean-going watch that you won’t see on the wrist of every desk diver.
Presented in a comfortable 42-mm stainless steel case measuring 14.2 mm thick, the Aquatimer features an external bezel with gently rounded and recessed grips. Its looks are inspired by the Porsche-designed Ocean 2000, a remnant of the brands’ collaboration in the 1980s. The defining feature of the Aquatimer, however, is its internal rotating bezel complete with a luminous triangular index and dive time scale. Rotating the external bezel causes the internal bezel to rotate simultaneously thanks to a smooth sliding clutch system. It’s a bit of a novelty, but one that I quite enjoy. As you would expect from IWC, the dial layout is very clean and easy to read, even under poor lighting conditions. It also includes a handy date display. Inside is the caliber 30120, which offers a 42-hour power reserve. Newer versions also feature IWC’s quick-change bracelet system, meaning you can easily switch between a rubber strap or steel bracelet without any tools.
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M
Like it or not, the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M will always sit in the shadow of its elder sibling, the iconic Seamaster Professional 300M. This is a shame because it’s a really great entry-level watch with terrific value for money. Of course, in recent years, Omega has been working hard to get its junior Seamaster into the spotlight. Celebrity endorsements, design updates, and, of course, the inclusion of a chronometer-certified in-house movement mean that the Aqua Terra doesn’t fly quite as under the radar as it once did.
Newer versions come in a 38-mm or 41-mm case (versus 41.5 mm on older models), with the latter offering a viable – and considerably cheaper – alternative to the classic Rolex Datejust 41. The case has a mix of polished and brushed finishes, and the dial features a horizontal “teak” pattern inspired by the wooden decks of luxury yachts. Behind the dial is the Omega Master Chronometer caliber 8900, featuring twin barrels and offering a 60-hour power reserve. Rated water resistant to 150 m (492 ft), the Aqua Terra is probably best thought of as a casual sports watch you can wear in the water rather than a professional-grade diving watch like the Seamaster 300M.
Rolex Explorer II
It’s hard to make the argument these days that any steel sports watch from Rolex is underrated. That said, I’m convinced the Rolex Explorer II still doesn’t get the full recognition it deserves. Offering more or less the same functionality as the Rolex GMT-Master II for markedly less money (at least on the secondary market), it’s a great alternative for those who prefer something a little less ubiquitous.
Admittedly, it doesn’t have a ceramic bezel or a new generation movement (yet), and at 42 mm, it’s a little less versatile than its smaller peers. Even so, the Rolex Explorer II is an icon in its own right, having been in the Rolex lineup since 1971. Available with a white or black dial, it’s powered by the automatic Rolex caliber 3187, which is certified as a Superlative Chronometer. That translates to an accuracy rating of +/-2 seconds per day. Like the GMT-Master II, it features a second time display via a central orange GMT hand; although unlike the former, the bezel on the Explorer II is fixed.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Automatic
In spite of Vacheron Constantin’s best efforts, the Overseas Automatic has never managed to stay in the spotlight for any extended period of time. To be fair, the brand is best known for its highly complicated, traditionally-styled timepieces. While there is no doubt that VC is more than capable of making a top-quality luxury steel sports watch, the Overseas has never quite taken off like its would-be competitors: the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
Ironically, that’s actually good news for those not interested in spending years on waiting lists or paying heavily inflated prices on the secondary market. The reality is, the Overseas Automatic is still an excellent luxury sports watch that is quite accessibly-priced – particularly in steel – compared to its peers. The 41-mm case wears comfortably on the wrist and houses a self-winding in-house movement adorned with the Geneva Seal. The minimalist dial is elegant and understated and available in a range of colors. I prefer the black dial, but the blue version is also quite alluring. Let’s not forget the beautifully finished steel bracelet which offers an “easy-interchangeable” system so you can switch between the additional leather and rubber straps that come with the watch.