I have to admit, I’ve never looked to the Tudor Black Bay Chronograph with any degree of affection at the start. Even when I was there during its launch at Baselworld in 2017, I considered the watch merely as a necessary release for a brand needing to broaden out its lineup. It did not, like the Tudor Black Bay GMT that came only one year later, inflame any particular desire to own one.
Why was this so? Well, there were too many problems with it.
Intellectually, I couldn’t reconcile the reason why it had been put into the diving oriented Black Bay line. I mean, what was it? A diving watch without a bezel but with a motorsport type tachymeter scale? Or a motorsport chronograph that happened to have diver level 200m water resistance? It didn’t make sense to me and so I never warmed to it.
It did not help that the pundits were expressing thoughts along the same line, and so the watch languished in my attention.
Quest for an everyday watch
Meanwhile I had come to the conclusion that the classic 40mm sized Rolex sports watch was the perfect all rounder, which is a decidedly uncontroversial opinion that many people share. After all, I have a Rolex Explorer 2 (older reference 16570) that I have owned for many years now and I have found it the ideal watch to wear for almost every occasion. It is perfectly sized, being big enough to read properly, but small enough not to be an encumbrance, making itself almost disappear from my attention when I need it to. It has also been, extremely tough and reliable, working as it should every time, and all the time, rain or shine, underwater or on land.
Because of this, I had somehow gotten it into my head that I should get another Rolex, partially because I did not want not to wear out my heavily worn Explorer 2, and partially because I am a hopeless watch addict that just loves spending money on watches. Furthermore, because I was in a bit of a chronograph phase at the time, the decision on which 40mm sized Rolex to get was simple – the Rolex Daytona, a watch that I have always admired for its design.
Notwithstanding the difficulty of getting one new and the eye-watering prices pre-owned, I came to the conclusion that the Daytona would be perfect. Yes, it doesn’t have a date function, which I consider mandatory on any watch I own to have. Yet I was willing to forgive this omission considering the history of the watch and the looks. My criteria was simple – I wanted the now discontinued non-ceramic stainless steel version with either a white or black dial and powered by the Calibre 4130.
Why the stainless steel bezel over the newer ceramic one? Well, I have somehow always liked the look of a stainless steel bezel. That’s why I like the Rolex Explorer 2 and even prefer the Broad Arrow Speedmaster from Omega rather than the Moon watch. Even among the Tudor Black Bay watches, the one I really like is the Black Bay Steel. Of course, I am well aware of the fact that a stainless steel bezel shows scratches more easily than other options but I’ve learnt to accept this since I know that over time the scratches blend together and sort of ‘disappear’ from view.
It was in the midst of this deliberation that I was offered an opportunity to try out anything from Tudor’s lineup. As I looked through the possibilities, I saw that the Black Bay divers were nice, as was the 500 metre water resistant and titanium Pelagos. Even the Black Bay GMT would have been a good choice. Yet, something was pushing me towards the Black Bay Chronograph.
Perhaps it was the fact that thoughts about the Rolex Daytona were hanging over my head at the time, and I was seeing something of its DNA in the Black Bay Chronograph. Certainly, while there are clear differences between the two watches, it could also be argued that there are quite a few similarities. Furthermore, it also has a stainless steel bezel just like my preferred version of the Daytona (albeit brushed for the former and polished for the latter).
It made sense then to explore the watch more thoroughly, and so with that I went down to the Tudor office to pick up a sample for a loan.
As I walked out of the Tudor office with the watch on my wrist, with the bracelet sized and all, I wondered whether I had made the right choice. It seemed as I looked at the watch, that something was a little off. The hour hand for example looked too thin. Also, because I had just taken off my Rolex Explorer 2 to put on this watch, the Black Bay Chronograph felt too heavy and thick. At 42mm wide and 14.9mm thick, the feeling was unfamiliar when compared to my Explorer 2 at 40mm wide and 12mm thick. It was not a good start.
I sometimes borrow watches from brands to try out and usually I’m very careful with them, only putting them on in low risk situations after the requisite photo shoot, and attempting to retain as much as possible, the same condition as when I borrowed it. But the people at Tudor encouraged me to wear it and keep wearing it. And so I did, which helped in my evaluation process as I was not overly stressed in keeping the watch in pristine condition. Obviously, this particular sample had been worn before by others, and showed some wear marks.
Here’s the thing, I continued wearing the watch nonstop to the end of the day on that first day. Not only that, when it came time to pick up a watch to wear every morning, I found myself gravitating to the Tudor Black Bay Chronograph. Slowly over time, the unthinkable began to manifest in my mind – I started to dread the day when I would have to return it because I might have to buy this watch after that.
So what happened?
Yes, it is bigger than a 40mm sized professional Rolex from a width and height perspective but not overtly so and I found that it didn’t encumber me as much as I thought it would. In my experience, watches bigger than 40mm on a stainless steel bracelet have to be tried on first before buying as it is easy for the weight of the watch head and bracelet to venture into uncomfortable territory. Typically I look for watches on a bracelet that are wider than 43mm to be made of titanium in order to avoid this.
The Black Bay Chronograph though on a bracelet, sized for me, comes in at about 158 grams, which is on my personal border of comfort.
The heavier weight though, does lead to one big plus, and that is how the watch feels in the hand. It was an unexpected pleasure to pick it up and handle, as everything feels overbuilt, substantial and solid. I know it sounds weird, but the tactile sensations of a beautifully made watch are part of the pleasure, giving much of the positive impression even before the watch is worn on the wrist.
The bracelet is certainly part of what contributes to this feeling, as it feels as good as the latest generation Rolex bracelets of the six digit sports models, which were themselves an upgrade to the older style stamped bracelets like the one on my Rolex Explorer 2. It has a 22mm wide lug width with no taper to the clasp that feels solidly made, and has the additional benefit of making the mass of the watch head feel planted on the wrist. Add to that the ceramic ball bearings in the clasp that keep the feel of opening and closing tight and secure.
The bigger size and heavier weight as well has another hidden advantage and that is how good it feels when you put the watch on a strap. I can see why Tudor has gone full bore into offering leather and fabric straps with most of their watch models. The reason why is because they feel so good together. By contrast, I have always felt that my 40mm Rolex Explorer 2, while being just right on a bracelet, always felt a little too light and insubstantial on a leather or rubber strap. No such problems with the Tudor Black Bay Chronograph or indeed most of the Black Bay line (save for the Black Bay 58), since the case size is essentially the same.
The best thing though about the watch by far however, was its readability. This is a watch that can be read so easily it is ridiculous. Whether it’s day time, night time, from oblique angles, or from far away, nothing gets in the way of me knowing the time quickly and easily. No doubt it comes from the dial and handset design, with its diving watch roots, and how well it performs makes me forget about that whole diver/ motorsport conundrum I was talking about earlier.
The ease of telling the time has also made me appreciate the snowflake hour hand, since it makes it so easy for the eyes to lock onto its position on the dial. Similarly, my initial judgement of the minute hand being too thin was I would come to realise, a little premature, as I went to mock up a thicker minute hand in Photoshop and it did not look right. The people at Tudor who designed this watch definitely knew what they were doing.
Lastly, the watch has a handsome design that just looks right. The little details add to the visual pleasure, like the way that the polished surrounds of the hands gleam in the light, and the domed box sapphire crystal that imparts a vintage vibe. Then there are the meaty pushers and a nice big crown that are easy to unscrew, that in the interaction with the watch reinforce a feeling of solidity to the visual presentation.
Of course, while the externals of a watch are important, it’s the internals that close the deal for the watch nerds like me. The inclusion of the refined chronograph movement from Breitling in the form of the B01, heavily modified by Tudor to become the MT5813, comes with the headline features of a column wheel and a vertical clutch. These premium features make the purchase decision much easier, with the former offering a nice feel for the pushers, and the latter allowing a jitter free start and stop of the chronograph function.
For the in-house movement snobs among us, it’s nice to see Tudor getting away from using ETA calibres in their watches. In the case of the chronographs that Tudor has offered in the past, the MT5813 betters them all by having the aforementioned column wheel and vertical clutch, as well as goodies like a silicon balance spring and a longer power reserve of 70 hours.
The Tudor modifications to the movement include a free sprung versus the original Breitling regulated balance, and modified 30 minute chronograph sub-dial to 45 minutes.
Of course, the initial movement partnership between Tudor and Breitling was a controversial thing when it was first announced with this watch. For me though, it makes sense from a cost and performance perspective, and I happen to like the B01, since it is a well regarded movement with the right features. My Breitling Chronomat GMT 44 for example carries the B04, a variant of the B01, and the whole thing is a non-issue for me.
The Tudor also has screw down chronograph pushers that are welcome from a water security standpoint. Incidentally, it was related to me that Tudor have tested the chronograph pushers underwater and they do indeed work, although I think that this isn’t official.
Lastly, and when compared to the aforementioned Rolex Daytona, the Black Bay Chronograph has a date function, which is a huge plus. Furthermore, the date isn’t adjusted via corrector pushers on the case, unlike previous ETA 7753 based Tudor watches.
Of course, while I reference the Daytona quite a bit, I do know that the watch has a style all its own. It’s not referencing any particular model from the past, instead it references the genre of a sports chronograph and makes it its own. Certainly, the best feature of this watch, just like all Rolex watches, is that is has the same kind of set and forget and feel that makes you believe, as you hold it in the hand, that it can last forever.
The Tudor Black Bay Chronograph however is not without its shortcomings, even though on balance these are quite minor. My first gripe is that the chronograph only measures to 45 minutes, which I feel isn’t particularly useful. This even though I have really only relied on a chronograph on a mechanical watch to time how long I’ve been boiling my pasta.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, because a chronograph just looks too cool, but I hardly ever make use of the function on a real life basis. Because of this, the “issue” that people have with the snowflake hour hand blocking the minute sub-dial at certain times of the day is also in my mind, a non issue.
Also, I am not a fan of the faux rivets that decorate the bracelet, even though I know that they are a design feature that references the older bracelets of the past. They don’t really bother me on the wrist though, so there.
Lastly, the one thing that I would really like Tudor to consider, is to make the watch thinner, since it sits quite tall on the wrist. Although on that front, I think that the next update of this watch will probably address this, as it already has been on the new Chronograph Dark.
In many ways, it is difficult to say anything useful about a watch until you’ve lived with it. That’s why many watch reviews are useful to a point. It’s the perspective of a real owner of the watch, or someone who has actually lived with one for a reasonable amount of time that is useful. On the Tudor Black Bay Chronograph, what I discovered, despite my initial misgivings was that this was a watch that integrated into my life so seamlessly it was amazing. It possesses the looks that I like, and it has the robustness and the feeling that I can enjoy everyday.
And certainly despite being its own brand, with its own design perspective, a Tudor is still, and this is a point that must be emphasised, from a quality standpoint, a Rolex. Rolex is a brand that has been in the business of building practical, reliable and useful watches for decades, and the ingredients that go into making one have been honed to the nth degree.
It is something that one can really only understand when you have owned one, when it seamlessly and frictionlessly does its job, day in and day out, without complaint, without drama or fuss. I have felt that feeling with the Rolex watches that I own, and now with this Tudor, I can feel the same thing.
I know when I might want a watch when I start looking trying to find out the price. That’s when the acquisition phase begins, and it can be quite a dangerous thing. Not many watches that I see make it to this point, and the fact that the Black Bay Chronograph did was indeed a big surprise to me.
When I ask myself if I can live with this watch, I have a straightforward answer – I already have and it was good.