When it comes to these friendly debates, I seem to find myself squared off against Jack Forster more often than not. Before I get into the crux of my argument (or even tell you what it is), I’ll say this: Just because I had a guest appearance on Hey HODINKEE – the only guest appearance to-date, I might add – doesn’t mean I’ll be pulling any punches in deference to that show’s host. When I argue, I argue. It goes against my nature to do anything else.
It seems that today’s topic centers around the hottest new release from Tudor – the Black Bay Pro. TL;DR: It’s a 39mm Black Bay with GMT functionality, a fixed steel 24-hour bezel, and an overall aesthetic reminiscent of a certain Rolex model from the 1970s. There it is, that’s the debate. Mr. Forster is going to wax all there is to wax on about how this new model is actually more different from the now iconic Rolex Explorer II Ref. 1655, aka the “Freccione,” aka the “Steve McQueen” (despite there being zero photographic evidence to support his ever having worn one) than it appears at first glance. He may even argue that if anyone deserves to offer up a watch as close (or not-so-close) in design as this one, it’s Tudor.
Here’s the thing, Rolex and Tudor are two brands under one larger horological organization – constructed and curated by the founder himself, Hans Wilsdorf. To put it in cinematic parlance, there’s a shared universe between the two outfits: The Wilsdorf-verse. Inside it, there’s a certain symbiosis that flows between the two. It’s sort of like an echo, one reacting to the other.
Almost exclusively, the first move is made by Rolex and Tudor follows suit with watches of a similar design in a more affordable package. In the old days, this would manifest itself in watches like the Tudor Prince (the affordable Rolex Oyster Perpetual) or the Tudor Submariner (I’ll let you figure that one out on your own). These watches would use Rolex cases, bracelets, and crowns. Really, the only distinguishing difference was the logo on the dial and the movement inside.
Fast forward a few decades, and Tudor all but disappeared from the American market – that is until 2012, when the Black Bay was created. This was an ETA-powered, vintage-inspired dive watch imbued with the spirit of the Tudor Submariners of old but presenting a distinct aesthetic via a chunky case, guard-less crown, and somewhat modern dial layout by way of applied numerals. The point is, these were not carbon copies of those Tudor subs, but the lineage was clear.
Then came the Tudor Black Bay GMT in 2018 with its red and blue bezel, snowflake hands, and snowflake GMT hand. This is where things err closer to the topic at hand today. There was never a GMT watch in the history of Tudor manufacturing. The watch was clearly, and quite purposefully, an homage to the aluminum bezel Rolex GMT Masters which have since been replaced by Cerachrom variations. Put simply, the BBGMT doesn’t look exactly like its Rolex counterpart, but by golly, it’s close enough.
Now we reach 2022, specifically Watches & Wonders ’22 in Geneva, Switzerland. That’s when Forster and I first laid eyes on the Black Bay Pro. The first thing I noticed was the depth rating text on the dial and the combination of a steel bezel and a faded “is it orange or is it yellow?” color motif on the GMT hand. This was a combo familiar to me, because it’s the one that existed in the very first Explorer II.
I find it deeply difficult to wrap my head around any argument that claims this watch doesn’t look like a 1655 Explorer. Sure, I can concede a few points like the dial differences. The OG Explorer II presented about as unique a dial design as you’re likely to find on any Rolex watch outside of a Paul Newman Daytona. Almost none of the classic Rolex hallmarks are evident on that watch outside of the brand name and logo.
But the same could be said about the dial differences between any Black Bay and the watches they so very clearly pay homage to. Old Tudor Subs featured painted markers, while BB’s are applied. Those watches had crown guards, and every BB is guard-less. Vintage Tudor’s were relatively thin – and these new models are thicc boys of the highest order. None of that affects whether or not they look like the vintage models, and I’m not out here saying they’re carbon copies.
The Black Bay Pro does what every Black Bay does: It takes a bit of the old and a bit of the new. The color palette (even if it’s more of a faded orangey-yellow), matte dial texture, and bezel layout is – without question – in full 1655 territory. The dial markers lean more into modern Explorer II territory – though I actually prefer the ceramic markers of the BB Pro to the modern Rolex (that’s a non-sequitur).
Sure, this watch is thick – aggressively so – but the little nods like the domed sapphire crystal and slightly patinated markers speak to an intention to harken back to the Rolex model Mr. Forster believes looks nothing like this watch. Tudor has a really good thing going with the Black Bay line of watches. I happen to think that they present more value than their crown-wearing older sibling. My saying that the BBPro looks like a vintage Explorer II is no knock – have you seen the prices of those watches? I just want to call a spade a spade.
At the end of the day, these things are subjective, and I can handle it if the greater HODINKEE readership thinks I’m off my rocker. Please feel free to let me know in the comments. But the truth is, I’m right.
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