Tudor Black Bay GMT
The big news of Baselworld 2018, after thirteen years in the making, was the announcement of a stainless steel edition of the red-and-blue–bezelled Rolex GMT-Master II. Or, it would have been, had Tudor not undercut Rolex’s big story with a sneaky release of its own—the Black Bay GMT.
It’s no secret that Rolex and Tudor have a special relationship. Always on the hunt for a new marketing opportunity, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf fitted his watches with cheaper movements, badged them ‘Tudor’ and sold them at a cut-price. That was in 1926—the story in 2018 is somewhat different. With Rolex watches rising in price significantly over the last decade or so, it has become apparent that an opportunity has opened up beneath it.
Gone are the days when a non-date Submariner or DateJust were reasonable first watches for an up-and-coming professional; with the cheapest Rolex starting at £4,150, the value proposition just isn’t what it used to be. That’s where Tudor comes in. As we entered the new millennium, the affordable sister brand lay dormant, having struggled for relevance in an era where Rolex already had the lower end of the premium market covered.
But rapid growth at the five-pointed crown changed that, and in 2010 the Tudor brand was revived through a global campaign to re-establish its sizable historic contribution with a new generation of consumers. Where Rolex was too conservative to go, Tudor trod with confidence, openly embracing a modern, younger audience.
The revival was a well-judged hit, and it didn’t take long for Tudor to establish itself as a significant player once again. This was reflected in the prices of vintage Tudor, which started on a journey towards the dizzying heights of its Rolex equivalents. And then something interesting happened: Tudor became its own brand; not in the sense that it was freed by Rolex to be independent, but that it stood on its own two feet without leaning on its bigger brother to stay up. People started to say, ‘I want a Tudor.’
Once again, Rolex had gained a hold on the lower end of the market with an alternative, non-competing product. But at Baselworld 2018, something changed—Tudor’s release posed a directly competing product, almost identical in specification, to the same audience at the same time. Is this some kind of uprising, the pupil becoming the master? Understanding that requires more of an understanding of the watch itself.
By this point, we’re familiar with the Black Bay concept. First released in 2012, a follow-up to 2010’s Heritage Chrono, it took the Submariner platform, added a dose of Tudor flavour and a touch of vintage caricature to help it stand out. Tudor branded Submariners are no new thing, a staple of no less than the French, Canadian and US Navies, but back then these were, at a distance, indistinguishable from their Rolex compatriots.
This time around, the Black Bay has its own identity. A thicker, wider case, bold colours, chunky features. The family resemblance may still be there, but it’s clearly a Tudor. And it’s also a platform to try things that are far too audacious for Rolex to ever consider—a rivetted bracelet, or a crown guard-less crown, for example—but an affordable ETA movement and an equally affordable entry-point makes the impulse factor stronger for our hypothetical up-and-comings.
But, over time, the lines have been blurred. The venerable ETA movement has made way for the in-house calibre MT5652, whose spec sheet reads more like a watchmaker’s wish list: it has a variable inertia balance with screwed weights and an antimagnetic silicon balance spring, mounted on a balance bridge, running at COSC-certified accuracy for 70 hours full to empty. It pegs the Rolex calibre 3285 brought out this year for the GMT-Master II—and it’s been around in the Black Bay line in one variant or another for two years already.
So, in the wake of over a decade of demand for Rolex to produce a GMT-Master II with a red and blue bezel—that isn’t made of white gold, very funny, Rolex—alongside the rise and rise of Tudor from its shadow, for the Black Bay GMT to appear at the same place, at the same time, at a price two-and-a-half times cheaper, is a real melon-scratcher.
How does this work? What does this mean? Never mind the up-and-coming, put yourself in the shoes of the already-made-it; you go to your local jewellers, ask to see a stainless-steel GMT-Master II, they don’t have any—but they do have the Tudor. You try it on; it’s a bit bigger, a bit more slab-sided, but not unreasonably so. The vintage-inspired details like the rivets and absent crown guards, they’re pretty cool. An in-house movement, huh? All for the price of a deposit on the watch you originally came in for. You’ll take it—and maybe you’ll put a deposit down on that GMT-Master II as well. They’ll let you know when it comes in.
When you look at it like that, it makes huge sense. The Tudor is, for the money—and even for double—a tempting and worthy purchase. You know in your brain that deep down it’s really a Rolex—it’s built like a Rolex, has the nice, well-thought out details like a Rolex, the performance of a Rolex—but ultimately, it’ll never be the Tudor that graces your desktop wallpaper, that has you scheming to raid the house deposit you’ve been saving, that you put your name down on a waiting list for. In the meantime, however, it’ll do very, very nicely indeed.
If you’ve been making eyes at the Rolex GMT-Master II in steel with the red and blue bezel, trying on one of these Tudors could be both a blessing and a curse—a blessing because it will cause significantly less damage to your bank account in the short term; a curse because one day, be it in a year or in a decade, you’ll just have to buy the Rolex, too.
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