Everyone seems to love Tudor’s return to the United States. Well, except for competing watch brands because, let’s face it, they have a lot to be afraid of now that the house of Rolex just became more accessible to America’s watch buyers. Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf, created the Tudor brand in 1946 in order to provide the market with a lower priced offering with looks and quality that rivaled the crown. Tudor was sold alongside Rolex at authorized dealers until 2004 when sales of Tudor were discontinued in the United States.
All that changed a few years ago when Tudor announced its return to United States. The “poor man’s Rolex” was back; in fact, I remember looking up at several billboards and wallscapes in New York City advertising the newly announced Heritage Black Bay with certainty that one day it, and probably all of its other heritage releases, would be mine. Tudor’s watches represent a solid value and the Black Bay in particular boasts the most striking vintage-inspired look I’ve seen on a throwback.
Throughout the review, I’ll compare the Heritage Black Bay to a Rolex Submariner. Not because they’re manufactured by the same company or because they share design cues. Instead, I aim to highlight the exceptional luxury, design and build quality that you receive with the Black Bay. Rolex watches are often regarded among the finest mass produced items in the world. Their quality and provenance puts them, new or vintage, on nearly every collector’s wish list, and I’m astounded at how much of the “Rolex experience” one can purchase for the price of Tudor’s Black Bay, which retails for less than half of Rolex’s least expensive Submariner, the 114060.
Tudor Heritage Black Bay
What I love about this heritage release is that, unlike watches from a lot of other brands today, this isn’t based off of any single reference. Instead, Tudor introduced a diver that celebrated Tudor’s diving history, spanning a few key references, in a single tribute–a smart move for a brand reacquainting itself with an old market. The Heritage Black Bay is the culmination of two historic watches born in the middle of the 20th century, the 7922 and the 7021. It’s from the 7922 that the Black Bay inherits the big crown, bezel and dial. The last signature characteristic, the snowflake hands, are borrowed from the 7021.
As it is a heritage release, the dial and case exude vintage. The bezel, dial and hands are designed to appear aged, and in some cases the styling is subtle. In the right light, the black dial transforms to a rich chocolate, pairing extraordinarily well with the gilt chapter ring, logo and hands. At other times, the vintage cues are more obvious, as in the maroon 60-click bezel, the creamy lume and the peaceful absence of a date window. Although it’s meant to echo Tudor’s divers of yesteryear, its elements are not faded by any means. Beneath a perfectly clear sapphire lens, the colors are fairly rich and amount to a striking execution that you just have to see to believe.
The brushed and polished steel case seems to be of no frills save for its Oyster technology borrowed from its parent company, but the subtleties of the case grow on you. If you don’t collect vintage divers, particularly Rolexes or Tudors, then you may not immediately appreciate the silhouette of the Black Bay. Today’s dive watches have sturdy, if not bulky, crown guards that serve little or no practical purpose to desk divers who barely put their hands in a sink full of dishes, much less scuba dive. The crown, signed with the same Tudor rose as is on the dial at 12 o’clock, isn’t smothered by two chunks of steel and therefore offers a more elegant shape. Pragmatically, the result is a crown that doesn’t get any easier to use. Finally, the case is simple but not without its class as beveled edges separate the polished sides from the brushed top, a finishing touch that Rolex used to apply to its own Submariners.
Tudor doesn’t have access to all of Rolex’s technology, its in-house calibers topping the list. Inside the Black Bay ticks caliber 2824, which is, you guessed it, an ETA 2824. The good news is that it’s a top grade caliber, adjusted in five positions with an average rate of +/- 4 seconds per day. With the standard 38 hours of power reserve, it’s the good old 2824 that a lot of brands trust but is unlikely to excite collectors like Rolex’s caliber 3130 would. On the one hand you may feel the price tag is steep for such a ubiquitous although reliable movement; on the other, it’s only one part of the Black Bay package, and that’s how I would encourage you to look at this fact because the rest of it–the whole watch–absolutely exceeds expectations.
On the Wrist
The Black Bay is available for purchase on a stainless steel oyster-style bracelet or a distressed leather strap with deployant buckle. Both of these options come with a textile strap similar to a NATO, though it isn’t one and, frankly, it’s way better. Not only is the fabric weaved in the same factory that produces the Vatican robes, but it’s adjustable with only two keepers, saving you from tucking in extra fabric and ultimately dressing up what is a typically rugged strap option.
The leather straps and fabric straps each match the color of the watch, although the blue is slightly better coordinated. The red version has brown leather and black fabric (almost chocolate at the right angles, just like the dial) while the midnight blue version comes with blue leather and fabric, both which quite unabashedly match the blue bezel.
Both the leather and fabric straps lend the most vintage appeal, but the oyster bracelet offers the Black Bay a slightly more modern and active look. The bracelet is another aspect of the Rolex experience you get with this watch. In addition to a beautifully finished oyster case, the Black Bay comes with one of the nicest steel bracelets for the price point. Of course, Tudor doesn’t get access to the incredible Glidelock technology found in Rolex’s sport watches, so instead tool-assisted fine adjustment exists in the Black Bay’s clasp to aid in achieving a comfortable fit. Other than the clasp and the less pronounced tapering (the Black Bay tapers from 22mm to 20mm; the Submariner from 20mm to 17.5mm), that’s an oyster bracelet around your wrist.
It’s worth noting that no matter which option you pick, the leather or the steel, the clasps on them are built to last. Each use tiny ceramic friction bearings to ensure proper, durable closure.
Red or Blue?
Since Baselworld 2014 there are two variations of the Black Bay to choose from, and the most difficult part is deciding between them if you don’t have the budget or interest to pick up both. Whether you wear your Black Bay on leather, fabric or steel, it’s a versatile and comfortable sports watch. However, the color you choose–red or blue–has a small impact on everyday wearability.
The red is the original inspiration, the 2013 winner of the Revival Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. If Tudor only had one shot to produce the Black Bay, it was going to have a maroon bezel and a gilt dial–a distinct and inconspicuous combination. The blue version, however, is a striking reintroduction. Icy and modern, the midnight blue version isn’t as bold but instead is sophisticated, masculine and quick to pair with nearly any outfit in the closet.
If you already have a nice luxury sports watch, then consider the red; if not, then the midnight blue would make a great first everyday piece. While it’s true the red is the award-winning original, the blue is just as likely to be considered a classic.
The Heritage Black Bay retails for $3,425 on the bracelet and $3,100 on the leather strap. Even slightly educated buyers are likely to balk at the price tag–why pay so much for a watch housing a movement found in watches that command fractions of the price? It’s a question you’ll hear all too often throughout the online watch community when it comes to the Black Bay and others.
That feeling you get when you’re head over heels for your watch and you keep stealing looks at it during meetings? That infatuation is all that matters when it comes to wristwatches, but the technical merits of Parachrom hairsprings or co-axial escapements are much easier to talk about and for everyone to understand since they’re rooted in technical facts that don’t have much wiggle room as far as the truth is concerned. But when you hold the technical merits on a pedestal, you risk reducing any watch to its specifications, especially when you can’t see and feel the watch in person.
Reductive, feature-by-feature comparisons make sense sometimes, like when we buy televisions, but not when we’re considering fine wristwatches like the Black Bay. We need to be considering the whole watch before we write it off as overpriced. The Black Bay is a dramatic execution bound to make the wearer feel something when he puts it on. The chocolatey gilt dial with creamy luminous paint; the proud but invisible domed sapphire crystal; the big unguarded crown protruding from an expertly finished stainless steel Oyster case; and, yes, the proven and serviceable movement inside of it–these details and how they work together to form a wristwatch that punches above its weight class in terms of design, fit and finish. If a Rolex Submariner is out of your reach, then the Black Bay is the most realistic and modern alternative you can buy today.