Unless you’ve been living under a horological rock, you would have heard about the Swatch X Omega collaboration called the ‘Moonswatch’. It has drawn a lot of attention to the watch world, particularly amongst newcomers to the hobby for whom an Omega-branded, Speedmaster-styled watch with an asking price of A$380 is very appealing. For many, it has seemed to make a “luxury Swiss watch” financially viable for the first time. A friend of mine recently reached out to ask my opinion of the Moonswatch, as someone who is looking to buy their first good watch.

The Moonswatch is many things, but I would hesitate to recommend it to someone looking for an everyday, reliable timepiece. Its success is largely due to styling borrowed from its big brother, the Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch, an icon of watchmaking if ever there was one. The addition of fun colourways for what has historically been a rather subdued watch also helps, injecting some playfulness into the collection. But beyond that, the Moonswatch has some notable drawbacks that any prospective owner should be aware of, particularly if you want it to serve as your main timepiece.

The water resistance rating of 3ATM (aka “splash-resistant”) on the Moonswatch prohibits it from getting involved in anything water-related, and owners of the ‘Mission to Neptune’ version have also reported that the case leaks dye onto their wrists in hot/humid conditions, certainly a worry from a quality control perspective. The dial is covered by plastic glass, not hardened mineral let alone sapphire crystal, so expect it to show scratches easily. The “BioCeramic” case in reality is a mix of plastic and ceramic, and won’t show the level of durability one expects from a ZR02 ceramic case typically used by Omega. Finally, the supplied Velcro straps are rather lacklustre and uncomfortable, creating a protrusion on the inside of the wrist where the strap feeds through the fixed keeper. Granted, this can be solved with a strap swap, but that requires an additional purchase unless you have a selection of 20mm straps already.

While A$380 may seem inexpensive in comparison to the actual Omega Moonwatch, you need to be conscious of what your money is really buying you here; a plastic quartz Swatch on a Velcro strap with quality control issues, that is also really difficult to buy at retail. We can do better, particularly if you’re on the market for your first ‘good’ watch and have been seduced by the looks and hype surrounding the Moonswatch. Below are some affordable chronographs I would recommend you look at instead, which will serve you better than a Moonswatch if you’re just starting out.

Image: © hodinkee.com

1. G-Shock ‘CasiOak’ GA-B2100 – A$329

While a G-Shock might not be the obvious choice when looking at alternatives to the Moonswatch, I would argue that the Casio GA-B2100 is the perfect candidate for someone looking for a horologically-inspired, highly functional first watch that won’t break the bank. The nickname ‘CasiOak’ comes from the resemblance to an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, with its octagonal case and stepped bracelet. Much like how the Moonswatch imitates a Speedmaster Professional, this G-Shock provides a look that is instantly recognisable to watch afficionados without the hefty price tag of the original. But where the Moonswatch stumbles – in durability, water resistance, and comfort – the G-Shock excels.

Being a “tough solar” watch, the GA-B2100 is impact-resistant thanks to its carbon core armour around the movement, while a solar cell underneath the dial ensures that the owner never need worry about battery replacement. In addition to chronograph/stopwatch functions, the GA-B2100 has Bluetooth connectivity to link to a smartphone for automatic adjusting of things like daylight savings and timezone changes, along with the slew of functionality one would expect from a G-Shock like world time in 38 timezones, countdown timer, alarms, backlight, and perpetual calendar to the year 2099. Water resistance is rated to 200M, making this watch suitable for diving with. And just like the Moonswatch, you can opt for more sober and discreet colours or brighten things up with the yellow, green or blue versions. Priced at A$329, it is also cheaper than a Moonswatch, making this a compelling value alternative.

Image: © Tissot SA

2. Tissot Carson Premium Chronograph, ref T122.417.16.011.00 – A$625

On the opposite end of the spectrum we have the ultra-conservative Tissot Carson. For those of you looking at the ‘Mission to Mercury’ or ‘Mission to the Moon’ options for a semi-dressy daily wearer, this Tissot provides a handsome alternative with a number of durability improvements. You trade a ‘BioCeramic’ (aka, mostly plastic) case for 316L stainless steel, a plastic crystal over the dial for scratch-proof sapphire, 3ATM water resistance for 5ATM, and a Velcro strap for leather. Both utilise a Swiss-made quartz chronograph calibre from ETA, but with the Tissot you also get a date function which can be handy for a daily wearer. There’s nothing truly revolutionary here, but if your goal is a solid Swiss chronograph on the cheap that can be worn practically anywhere, the Tissot Carson fits the bill.

Image: © 2022 Unimatic

3. Unimatic UC3 – A$786

Unimatic is an Italian microbrand specialising in robustly-made minimalist watches, and the Unimatic UC3 certainly fulfills that ethos. This is a proper diving watch with a depth rating of 300M and a uni-directional timing bezel, in addition to a bi-compax chronograph courtesy of the mecha-quartz Seiko VK64 movement within. With a 2.5mm thick sapphire crystal over the dial, a brushed stainless steel case and a thick nylon NATO strap, the UC3 is well suited to an active lifestyle and won’t need to be coddled by its wearer. While Unimatic may lack the brand recognition of Omega or Swatch, they are quickly making a name for themselves among watch collectors for their signature design language and build quality. If a diver-style sports watch appeals to you and you’re not too fussed about tenuous connections to Moon landings and NASA, then the Unimatic UC3 is worth a look.

Image: © hodinkee.com

4. Studio Underd0g – $A881

British microbrand Studio Underd0g make some great alternatives to the Moonswatch if vibrant colours are your primary objective. Unlike all the other watches in this list, the Underd0gs all feature hand-wound mechanical movements, specifically the Chinese-made Seagull ST-1901 which is shown off via an exhibition caseback. Both the front and back crystals are sapphire, with a 316L steel case and 5ATM water resistance. The included leather straps are of high quality too, in either Italian Saffiano for the ‘Desert Sky’ and ‘Watermel0n’ colourways or Alran Chevre Goatskin for the ‘Mint Ch0c Chip’ and ‘Go0fy Panda’ versions. Mechanical chronographs in this price tier are very rare, making the Underd0g live up to its name as an incredible value proposition in addition to being full of fun and character.

Image: © 2022 Bulova Australia

5. Bulova Lunar Pilot – A$950

No list of Moonswatch alternatives would be complete without mentioning the Bulova Lunar Pilot, aka the “other Moonwatch”. If the styling looks familiar to you, it is because Bulova were vying for the same NASA specifications contract to become officially flight-certified for manned space missions. Omega won that contract, but a Bulova was actually worn on the Moon nonetheless. During Apollo 15, mission commander David Scott was piloting a lunar rover when the crystal on his NASA-issued Speedmaster came off. He switched to a personally-owned Bulova chronograph instead to time the mission, thus the name of this watch becoming the ‘Lunar Pilot’.

So this Bulova has as much claim to spacefaring fame as the Moonswatch, but it brings to the table several improvements over the latter, including a sapphire crystal and 5ATM water resistance. Perhaps most importantly, the Lunar Pilot is powered by a special high-frequency quartz movement operating at 262Khz, eight times faster than the standard 32Khz quartz movement used by the Moonswatch. This higher frequency provides greater rate stability and timekeeping accuracy, as well as a smoothly-sweeping seconds more akin to a mechanical watch than the typical one-second ticks of a quartz movement. Although priced at more than double the cost of a Moonswatch, the Bulova Lunar Pilot is worth it for those looking to own a piece of space history with a story to tell, while offering more horological bang for buck than a plastic Swatch.

Article first posted on Hailwood Peters