04/03/2024
 5 minutes

Homage Watches: Viable alternatives or just poseurs?

By Tim Breining
Audemars-Piguet-Royal-Oak-Blue-Dial-2-1

A Look at Homage Watches

Watches with designs based on sought-after and exclusive icons are a hot topic. While the number of Rolex imitators has always been and remains high, new brands are also continuously entering the stainless steel sports watch with integrated bracelet space, no doubt inspired by the likes of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus. It’s not uncommon for them – like their muses – to be the best-selling models of their given brand. Every watchmaker deals with the homage game a little differently. Some don’t shy away from the source of their inspiration and call a spade a spade, while others leave it to customers to make the obvious connection.

The topic of homage watches is also controversial among watch enthusiasts. Some see them as their respective manufacturers intended: affordable alternatives to rare and expensive timepieces that give more people the opportunity to buy a watch in the style they desire. Others scoff at the borrowed designs and think it bold or even embarrassing to copy the more expensive pioneers.

The story of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak began with the "Jumbo."
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak – the coveted muse of many homage watches

We want to break things down a bit further and explore the topic with a few examples from different price points. One thing will soon become abundantly clear: There is little room for dichotomous thinking or blanket statements here, we’re working in shades of gray.

Homage Watch: A Working Definition

Regardless of whether you call it an homage, tribute, lookalike, or copycat, it’s essential that we differentiate the watches we’re talking about here from replicas. The term “homage watch” can cover a wide-range of phenomena. The cliché homage watch looks pretty much exactly like its muse, only the logo and engravings give away that it’s pretending to be something it’s not. Prime examples of this are watches from the Steinhart brand, which has just about every popular Rolex model covered in its range of homages. Of course, this is all out in the open, and no one is under the impression that these watches are true Rolexes.

But there are other examples that literally embody the true meaning of the word homage. The dictionary definition of homage is a public show of honor or respect. In the context of art, this is understood as a respectful reference to a great work and in no way a dull copy. In the watch world, you could argue that these are the watches that skillfully interpret a design feature without imitating the original. Examples can be found among the countless stainless steel sports watches inspired by the Royal Oak and Nautilus that feature polygonal cases, prominent screws, and integrated steel bracelets, but still have design elements all their own. For instance, the Maurice Lacroix Aikon collection is an entry-level watch that certainly has links to the Royal Oak, but also boasts plenty of its own DNA.

Maurice Lacroix Aikon
Maurice Lacroix Aikon

Copied design, inferior technology?

It’s easy to condemn homage watches as inferior versions of their role models. They’re usually cheaper and fitted with off-the-shelf movements housed in less elaborate cases. You’ll find a flood of different brands online whose entire portfolios consist of nothing but obvious copies. You may have come across the Pagani Design brand before, for instance, which not only copies the entire Rolex range, but also numerous models from Omega, Panerai, and, of course, the famous Royal Oak and Nautilus. All these watches are powered by entry-level Japanese or Chinese movements. There are plenty of brands like this out there that negatively impact the reputation of homage watches, making them all seem like poor quality imitations that only serve two purposes: to look like the original and be as cheap as possible.

You can counter this, of course, by pointing out that quality craftsmanship and in-house technology aren’t solely reserved for the originals. The demand for inexpensive yet technically-interesting timepieces with sound manufacturing is high. Just think of the resounding success of the Tissot PRX, which supposedly has a design inspired by the Tissot Seastar from the 1970s. However, if you look at its modern interpretation, there’s no denying that its design has moved closer to that of the Royal Oak. For an attractive price, buyers get ETA’s Powermatic 80 with an 80-hour power reserve as well as a solidly crafted and polished case and bracelet, all of which has garnered widespread praise from critics.

Available in various colors: the Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 (here in ice blue)
Well-executed homage and bestseller: the Tissot PRX

But it doesn’t have to be “cheap:” The Czapek Antarctique is the perfect example of an homage watch that isn’t an affordable alternative to something else. No, this timepiece costs over $20,000 and features an exclusive caliber with a micro-rotor. There is hardly a single detail of this watch that comes directly from the Nautilus or Royal Oak, and yet it’s abundantly clear what the boutique brand is going for with the collection. It’s not surprising that the Antarctique immediately became a bestseller for the brand with waiting lists.

Czapek Antarctique
The Czapek Antarctique

Homage of an homage?

Given watchmaking’s extensive history, it’s not always easy to tell which brand first introduced this or that design feature and thus can lay claim to being the original. However, sometimes it’s very easy to trace a watch’s inspirational timeline. That is certainly the case with The Twelve watch by British brand Christopher Ward. When the model, which looks strikingly similar to the Antarctique, first debuted in 2023, it caused quite a stir among enthusiasts. A quick search reveals that the same designer worked for both brands, which could well explain the similarities. While these two models have much more in common with one another than the Royal Oak and Nautilus do, it’s important to remember that both those icons were also born of the same pen. It’s not without reason that Patek Philippe relied on Gérald Genta’s proven recipe for success from competitor Audemars Piguet. And yet, in no way did the similarities detract from the popularity of the Nautilus.

Christopher Ward The Twelve
Christopher Ward The Twelve

Summary

Trends come and go, in fashion as well as in the watch industry. Brands that are currently in vogue and finding resounding success with their historic and well-established icons are sitting comfortably. Meanwhile, the competition is faced with trying to come up with something trendy that’s also still their own. Some brands inevitably assume the role of follower, while the design icon that everyone longs for is deemed the pioneer. This process of imitating the trendsetter is now so commonplace in the fashion industry, no one even comments on it.

Among watch enthusiasts, however, pandering to existing trends or borrowing designs is frequently spoken of as a negative thing. But the proof is in the pudding: It’s a successful approach. Have you ever searched for an alternative to the Royal Oak, Nautilus, etc.? How many articles or YouTube videos are there that list the best or cheapest “alternatives” to such and such icon. More often than not, these alternatives are timepieces that come as close to the original as possible, i.e., homages.

I don’t know your feelings about homage watches. I, for one, am not really bothered by the practice, regardless of whether it’s a more abstract homage or near-carbon copy. Every watch serves its purpose in a given target group, and I highly doubt that Rolex, Patek Philippe, or Audemars Piguet are losing a single customer to the countless budget brands churning out watches with similar looks.


About the Author

Tim Breining

My interest in watches first emerged in 2014 while I was studying engineering in Karlsruhe, Germany. My initial curiosity quickly evolved into a full-blown passion. Since …

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