Review: Tudor Black Bay Pro
This is by far and away the hardest review I’ve done in a long, long time. Not because I think this watch isn’t any good—it’s stunning—but because for me, a review of this watch isn’t asking myself if I like it or not, it’s if I like it more than my Black Bay 58. So … do I?
What makes the Black Bay 58 so special is that it packs such an enormous punch for such a surprisingly small price. If you laid out what makes that watch what it is and told someone it cost £5,000, they’d say it was unremarkable, it’s what they’d expect for that price. So, for it to do all that for £2,680 is what makes it so good. Rolex build quality, proper heritage, stunning looks and an in-house movement, all for £2,680. There’s a reason it sells like hot cakes.
The Black Bay Pro is no different. In fact it is different, because whilst it doesn’t blow the 58 away into oblivion, it does turn up the wick that little bit in just about every aspect. For an extra £160 over the 58’s entry price for the fabric strap version—take that to just over £3,000 total on the bracelet—you get a suite of improvements that make the Pro, well … the Pro.
Let’s start with the details. If you get the bracelet, you’ll enjoy the new T-fit clasp adjustment, which lets you size it perfectly without any tools. Ideal for those annoying hot, clammy days when your wrist just can’t decide what size it’s supposed to be.
Then there’s the dial. It does away with the metal-rimmed markers in favour of printed items like properly old-school Rolexes—except they aren’t printed. They’re little blobs of ceramic infused with luminous paint. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and we’re seeing it first with a watch that costs less than half the price of a Rolex.
The biggest and most obvious benefit here is the addition of the calibre MT5652, a chronometer certified, 70-hour power reserve, in-house movement—and it adds the long-awaited GMT function to the smaller of the Black Bay lines. People were asking for a 58 version of the Pepsi and instead they got this—but I don’t think anyone’s complaining. Not when the price difference isn’t even £200. To put that into perspective, to upgrade the non-date Submariner to a GMT-Master II will slap your wallet £1,250—that’s almost half the cost of the entire Black Bay Pro!
The Black Bay 58 isn’t a beautiful watch. It’s a handsome watch, quietly reserved. It’s the Ryan Gosling of watches. Catch it in the right light and it can make you take a second glance, but otherwise it just goes about its business without being needlessly distracting. And that’s a good thing. A Rolex used to do that, and now it doesn’t, and the mantle for reserved, effortless cool has ultimately been passed to Tudor. Some would call that a shame—I call it the opportunity to bypass the nonsense and get the watch I really want for a sensible budget.
As I mentioned, we Black Bay 58 owners were all pinning our hopes of upgrading to a Pepsi GMT version, downsized from the larger 41mm GMT, but of course, in true Rolex style, we didn’t get it. Usually that’s annoying. When buyers were pleading for Rolex to make a Pepsi GMT ceramic, Rolex gave them black and blue. When they pleaded some more, they got their wish—but in massively expensive white gold. Rolex is a big tease and it does gaslighting better than a pyromanic Baxi.
Tudor is a different player. It hears what we’re saying and it says nothing, with a knowing glint in its eye. So, when we saw the Pro, we took our hats off and humbly begged for forgiveness and promised never to question Tudor ever again. Like a parent that knows best, it knew the Pro was what we really wanted, even if we’ve been bleating on about the Pepsi all this time.
Borrowing from Rolex’s 1971 release, the Explorer II 1655, the Pro just looks—compared to its contemporaries—different, and in a very good way. The Pro isn’t quite as whacky as the 1655, but it does enough to clearly be inspired by the essence of that watch without being an outright copycat. From the faded orange GMT hand—thank you Tudor for not putting the luminous plot right at the tip, by the way—to the fixed, sunburst bezel, it’s a design that works impeccably well.
Some things I love about it that I’d like to draw your attention to: the main hour, minute and second hands are framed in white and capped in black for that authentically rugged look. The 200m water-resistance is picked out in the same faded orange as the GMT hand. The GMT hand itself tapers gently, again borrowing from the 1655 without doing it dirty. The crown is bigger and the knurling is deeper, fixing probably my least favourite thing about the 58.
Somehow, all that comes together to feel very much in line with Tudor’s brand rather than treading on the toes of Rolex. Even though it very clearly apes that 1655, it’s been so long since Rolex made anything even closely resembling that tonality that it’s got to the point where Tudor just owns it. Not sure how that works for Rolex, but it’s great for you and me.
Sounds like a slam dunk win, an easy decision to get the 58 out and the Pro in. Yes. Yes, it does. But there’s a problem. A big problem. Literally. The introduction of the GMT-functionality comes at a cost, because the calibre MT5652 is a bit of a chunker. Where the 58’s calibre MT5402 gives the watch a perfectly balanced 11.9mm thickness to its 39mm diameter, the Pro isn’t quite so well proportioned. It’s still 39mm across, but from the side the problem really becomes known. At 14.6mm tall, it’s a clear 2.7mm more, and whilst that sounds no thicker than an ant’s toenail clipping, it really does make a difference. This thing has got so much booty, I’ve already had to warn Ripley’s about it.
The question is, is that difference a deal-breaker? That’s the bit that makes this so tough. Tudor could have made life a little easier for themselves by really digging into Rolex’s back catalogue of parlour tricks and hiding the bulk of the difference into a bulbous case back, but they didn’t. Well, they did a bit, but they could’ve done it more. Instead, the rest goes into case sides that are the most slab-like things this side of the white cliffs. That’s a trait that steered me away from the original Black Bay and into the 58 in the first place, so is the Pro going to befall the same fate?
The answer is: well, it depends. I tried it, I wore it, I forgot about it. It’s not so thick it juts out and smacks you in the lip every time you go to read it, and it takes some real contortion to accidentally see it from the side. It’s heavier, it’s definitely heavier, but that’s not an issue. The main thing for me is that the majority of the wearing experience is based on seeing it from the front, and there we don’t have an issue.
But that’s me. I can’t tell you how you’ll feel about it. What I can say is that if you’re as enamoured by the way it looks, you’ll probably get over it. It’s the watch equivalent of the barber showing you the back of your head after a fresh cut. It’s irrelevant information to you. You quietly nod approval whilst secretly feeling disgust at the odd and unfamiliar shape, and then you go on living your life in ignorant bliss.
The bottom line for the Tudor Black Bay Pro is that, all things considered, the thickness is very much not a deal-breaker. The watch is packing a technical punch, looks like something you’d have to pay ten times the RRP to get and is priced so well the rest of Switzerland kind of doesn’t really know what to do about it. The thickness is a deal softener maybe, and that’s what makes this hard. I do like it, I do prefer it, but the difference isn’t enough to let me do something financially rash. At least, not right away. We’ll see what I think in a few weeks when I’ve stewed for a bit.
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