Today, we’ll take a look at a Baselworld 2018 release, the Tudor Black Bay 36 in blue. In fact, we’ll show some pictures of the 41mm version in blue and black, as it’s tough to spot the difference in photos unless they’re next to each other. We’ve not given the “bezel-less” Black Bays a ton of coverage, but I am here to change that as this was and is a sleeper type of release. But first…let’s go back in time.
Back in the 1980’s and 90’s I can recall walking into Mayor’s Jewelers that were often found in many of South Florida’s shopping malls. It was usually my Dad and I visiting the shop while my Mother and sister were off browsing elsewhere. We’d take a look at all the different marques and it became pretty clear which brands were the favorites: Rolex, Omega, Patek and JLC. I recall some real beauties at prices that were then eye watering. As a teenager, it was all pretty daunting, but I knew I wanted to own several of these things at some point. Oddly, I do specifically recall the Tudor case and I even remember that it was at the front of the store (not near Rolex) and near the more attainable premium watches. At that time, Tudor was still making what appeared to be carbon copies of Submariners, but with ETA movements. This all sticks out in my mind, and I’ve mentioned this before, because I asked my Dad about these watches and he was honestly pretty ambivalent about them. He felt that if one were going for the look of a Rolex, one should buy a Rolex. Sound snooty?
If my Dad sounded dismissive, and I can assure you he’s not, he wasn’t alone. You see, back in the 80’s and 90’s, there were so many Rolex Submariner (and other models) lookalikes that I completely get his point. TAG Heuer went through a period of making Sub copies, Seiko made plenty of similar pieces, loads of other brands copied Rolex and then you had big cities like New York filled with corner hucksters asking “wanna buy a watch?”. So, the fact that Tudor made a watch that was essentially akin to being a supercar without the supercar engine made little difference to him and, clearly, to many others as the brand left the USA in 1996(!!) and made its return in 2013. I actually believe that the “low brow” copycat view on many of Tudor’s watches is what originally killed them off or, perhaps, Rolex felt the market was large enough and wealthy enough to warrant and desire only one brand. Whatever it is, during the renaissance of Tudor over the past 6-7 years, the brand has largely stayed away from offering copycats (although most of us watch dorks would probably love an ETA-powered Submariner). With the Tudor Black Bay 36, though, things become a little greyer.
First introduced at Baselworld 2017, the Tudor Black Bay 36 was offered up in black. Alongside it came a 41mm version. Essentially, these pieces looked like no-date Black Bays – complete with Snowflake hands – without turning bezels. Or, one could say that they looked an awful lot like Rolex Explorers such as the 90’s 14270 in 36mm or the current 39mm 214270. As a part of the Black Bay line, they don’t contain quite the level of water resistance found on the divers, but they’re still good for 150M deep. Inside, the stalwart ETA 2824 motors away and that makes it one of the last remaining time-only sports Tudors without an in-house movement.
This year, the Tudor Black Bay 36 was released in the lovely hue of navy blue that echoes those famous 70’s and 80’s Tudor Subs. The brand also added 32mm versions in both blue and black. It was this blue, and perhaps the fact that I didn’t attend last year’s Tudor press release, that led me to spending some time with the 36mm version during the hands-on period. The result? When taken at face value, I loved it.
While I didn’t place the Tudor Black Bay 36 into my Top 5 Basel picks, it was definitely number 6 (no lie!). When looking at and handling the 36, I stepped back in time to those days of yore when Tudor made watches very similar to Rolex because this watch truly feels a lot like an Explorer. I didn’t engage with versions on leather or nylon, but instead went straight to the examples with Oyster bracelets and flip lock clasps. The weight and the finishing of the entire package really was similar to one of my favorite watches of all time and on the wrist, it’s perfect – just like any 36mm Rolex for that matter.
Of course, there are some differences. As mentioned, the Tudor Black Bay 36 uses the ETA 2824 in lieu of an in-house movement. Naturally that helps keeps costs down, but it’s a well-known movement that’s easy to service and has a long record of reliability. Then there’s the crown. Tudor keeps a screw-down unit on this model despite its lower water resistance and also continues its use of a colored anodized aluminum stem. This detail has become a trademark of sorts for the Black Bay series and, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never loved it. To me, the crowns always look unscrewed and the use of color even makes it appear like a warning – as if the safety is off on a firearm. It’s not a deal breaker, but it comes off as unresolved to me. Regarding the bracelet, I really can’t complain at all about the finishing or the clasp. What I suppose I can say about the clasp specifically is that it’s not as heavy duty as what one would find on a modern Rolex, but it’s also not as light and airy as an older model (I prefer rattle traps, but offering a stamped old-style clasp would be seen as sacrilege today I am sure).
Finally, it’s important to bring up price because this is where we run into somewhat of a conundrum. At 2650 Euros on bracelet for the Tudor Black Bay 36 (the 32mm is 2550 Euros and the 41 is 2740 Euros) in Germany, the watch is on the affordable side when considering the brand and, as always, its affiliation with Rolex. Also, with the quality of the finishing, this watch definitely punches above its weight class. But, and for me this is a bit of a big “but”, the elephant in the room is in the form of the brand’s old stateside nemesis and that means Rolex. A cursory glance on Chrono24 for Explorer 14270’s and the later upgraded 114270’s showed models for roughly 700-1000 Euros more in the range of 3500 Euros. By the way, if one considers the 41mm model, the gap widens and the value proposition of the Tudor grows significantly.
Now, I understand that there are many who are concerned about buying a used watch and that may even count for double when considering a Rolex, but there’s little to be worried about when considering a late 90’s to mid 2000’s Rolex as they’re still relatively new and many can be had with documents. With the Rolex, you’re getting a watch with an in-house chronometer rated movement and one that is likely at the nadir of its secondary market value. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want a Rolex instead of a Tudor if truly given the choice of one watch? It’s a bit of a stumbling block in my opinion for the Tudor Black Bay 36.
All that being said, I enjoyed the hell out of the Tudor Black Bay 36 in person and this may sound silly, but I am glad Tudor is making it because it’s a real enthusiast’s watch. It’s hard to imagine the 36 becoming a big-time seller and I’d even guess that more sales would flow towards ladies than men. The way watch nerds are talking, this might become the next cult classic. What it does tell me, for good or for bad, is that no matter how much Tudor tries to distance itself from Rolex, the reminder will always be there and sometimes too significant to ignore.
For more information and local pricing, head to the official Tudor website.