Sunday Morning Showdown: Tudor Pelagos Vs. Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 16600
Last week, we took a small break from our recent dive trip for the Sunday Morning Showdown series. Instead, Ben and Jorg lined up two luxury stainless steel sports watches with integrated bracelets. But after that little switch-up, we are back in the water. We decided it was time to put together a showdown between the Rolex Sea-Dweller and the Tudor Pelagos. Both represent the brands’ respective professional divers. The Sea-Dweller builds on the aesthetic of the Submariner, while the Pelagos is generally considered the true modern Tudor. So make sure you read through until the end and cast your ballot for the watch that you think should emerge victorious.
It was only three weeks ago that Robert-Jan and Daan battled it out over the Submariner and the Black Bay. In today’s battle, we decided to get a bit more specific in the ongoing battle of The Crown and The Shield. In today’s showdown, Robert-Jan is bringing his Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 16600. It’s a watch that he owned, sold, and bought again in 2021. And it’s a watch that Jorg also loves, but he decided to bring the Tudor Pelagos to this battle. These two divers share their professional specifications but, at the same time, differ in a lot of ways. The appearance, the materials, and the prices all differ significantly. This is more than enough reason to find out which of these two you would actually buy.
Previously, on Sunday Morning Showdown…
But before we hand it over to Robert-Jan and Jorg, we have some unfinished business from last week’s battle. In last week’s matchup, we saw Jorg and the Girard-Perregaux Laureato take the win quite comfortably with 65% of the votes. Ben and the Chopard Alpine Eagle ended up taking 35% of the votes. But it was interesting to read in the comments how the opinions differed. And it was maybe even more interesting to read how some people who own an Alpine Eagle are impressed by it and, in some cases, prefer it over the Laureato. It’s something not a lot of us would have expected. But your votes left no doubt that the Laureato is the better out of the two. In all honesty, it is probably the best of the Genta-inspired modern sports watches with an integrated bracelet for a “reasonable” price. And it has a story to match.
Speaking of stories, today’s matchup is another good one. It is a tale of the master versus the apprentice. Or, in the Rolex and Tudor universe, The Crown versus The Shield that protects it. But we have seen a shift over the last few years regarding the perception of the two brands. Many watch fans have lost their love for Rolex with its steady unavailability and crazy gray-market/pre-owned prices. On the other hand, Tudor has made major steps in winning over a lot of watch fans with clever additions to its lineup for reasonable prices. Could it be that most people have a greater affection for the Pelagos than the illustrious Sea-Dweller?
Jorg: Tudor Pelagos
You know I love the Sea-Dweller ref. 16600, Robert-Jan. It’s the one watch that made me say, “I might be done if I ever buy this.” And I meant it back then. Wearing the Sea-Dweller was such an impressive experience that it never lost its impact. But over time, I wondered if I had romanticized the impact of the watch and the experience of wearing it. After all, that was two decades ago. And in those two decades, we both have seen a lot of changes in the world of watches. While I have not fallen out of love with the Sea-Dweller ref. 16600, its context changed.
Essentially, I have been able to check out so many incredibly impressive new watches that my frame of reference shifted. On top of that, many different timepieces have made a lasting impression based on materials, build quality, and overall presence. And the Pelagos is one of those pieces. It marked a change in the way that I saw the Tudor brand. Back in the early 2000s, when I first wore the Sea-Dweller, Tudor was an irrelevant brand. As most of you know, Tudor used to use Rolex cases and bracelets along with off-the-shelf ETA movements. Because of this, I wasn’t particularly interested.
A history that I denied for too long
The brand’s history and its great timepieces from the past were also not something that I dove into. In hindsight, I get it. I’m still not a fan of Tudor chronographs with Valjoux dial layouts, especially when they mimic the Daytona that does have my preferred dial layout. But when it comes to the Submariner, I regret not giving Tudor more attention and reading about its dive-watch history. In particular, the design history is massively interesting and where the uniqueness of Tudor lies. By now, we all know of Tudor’s connection with the Marine Nationale. That relationship has led to the designs that have grown into a unique and instantly recognizable style that I love.
The typical Tudor dial design with its oversized square and rectangular markers combined with the snowflake hands makes for one of the most compelling looks in the watch industry. I wasn’t necessarily a fan at first sight. But when you read the stories of how it came to be, it’s easy to recognize how Tudor solved a functional problem with an effective and great design. That’s when I realized that there is so much more to Tudor than its reputation as an affordable Rolex copycat.
The Pelagos does not need a story; it tells its own
And while Tudor did a brilliant thing with the launch and expansion of the Black Bay collection in terms of brand building and marketing, the Pelagos doesn’t need marketing. The Pelagos holds the true heart of Tudor, and therefore, it doesn’t need much storytelling. The Pelagos is the natural progression of the Tudor brand. It is a modern-day diver with that recognizable character of the dial and hands and a contemporary execution. It is the type of evolution that we often praise Rolex for. And that puts the Pelagos in a completely different light than the Tudor’s Black Bay line.
The 42mm titanium diver was first introduced in 2012 and was powered by an ETA movement. Then, in 2015, Tudor released the second iteration of the Pelagos in black and blue with the Tudor caliber MT5612. This saw Tudor bring a modern “in-house” movement with a 70-hour power reserve to the Pelagos. That is the model that we know today, and eight years on, it still looks as fresh and crisp as it did in 2015.
The specs of the Tudor Pelagos, just as a reminder
It starts with the 42mm titanium case, which is chunky at 14.3mm thick. While that is quite substantial and too thick for some, with a 500m water resistance rating and a helium escape valve on the left side of the case, the thickness serves a purpose. On top of that, the Pelagos doesn’t necessarily wear like a chunky watch for me. First off, the brushed Grade 2 titanium case makes it light and easy to wear. And the combination of the size and the materials perfectly balances the watch on the wrist. If there is one thing about the stainless steel Sea-Dweller, it’s that it likes to move on the wrist due to its 40 × 15mm case. With the Pelagos, I don’t have that problem.
That is also thanks to the sturdy brushed titanium bracelet with its brilliant spring-loaded Tudor bracelet-extension system. This is yet another element that shows Tudor was here to create a modern diver and nothing else. The clasp was developed to be fixed in three different settings. Additionally, there is a self-regulating position for diving. When on a diver’s wrist, as the wetsuit compresses with depth, the spring-loaded system automatically tightens the bracelet. Talk about true diving functionality!
While we’re on the subject, the Achilles heel of the Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 is the flimsy clasp. While I love some rattling sounds from a vintage Rolex bracelet, the Sea-Dweller 16660 is just a bit too modern for that. On top of that, the modern titanium bracelet of the Tudor is also a step forward in time compared to the Sea-Dweller’s bracelet with its hollow center links.
A romantic idea versus modern-day reality
I’ve been rambling on for way too long, Robert-Jan; my sincere apologies. But writing about the Sea-Dweller and the Pelagos has been a cathartic experience. I stand by my statement that I still love the Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 very much. It would still be my number-one pick from The Crown. But the Pelagos is simply a different watch that fits different modern-day needs. And at this point, that feels like the right fit, just like the Tudor brand is a better fit for me than Rolex. The latter has lost much of my sympathy, whereas the former has gained it in bucket loads. It makes the overall sense of urgency to buy a Rolex much weaker than my desire to buy a Tudor. That is why I would pick the €4,900 Pelagos over the more expensive Sea-Dweller ref. 16600.
RJ: The Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600
In the past, I wrote that modern Tudor reminds me of the five-digit Rolex watches of the 1990s. The price point of modern Tudor watches is definitely a reminder of those five-digit Rolex models since both the Submariner and Sea-Dweller retailed for under €4,000 until the mid-2000s. However, it’s not only the price but also the quality of today’s Tudor that is somewhat similar to Rolex watches back in those days.
You want to be a part of the Rolex story
But that’s not the entire story of course. There’s more to it than just a price tag or just comparable specifications. You buy into a story, into a brand’s heritage, and I strongly believe that the story of Rolex is unparalleled. Even though a modern Rolex watch is usually hard to get or has a retail price far higher than it was 15–20 years ago, Rolex remains a highly desirable brand.
It’s the demand that has changed
The Rolex story goes all the way back to 1905, and ever since, the brand has been at the forefront of horological innovations, industrialization of watchmaking, and simply delivering the highest quality possible for a mass-produced watch. Even in the early 2000s, when I bought my first Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600, the assumed production number of Rolex was 1,000,000 watches per year. What has changed since then is the demand for them. We can all blame social media, rap tracks, or just ourselves for that, but there is also a valid reason that these watches are in high demand: Rolex makes incredibly good watches. Period.
It’s not about specifications
Now, Jorg can try to go all specification-ninja on me with the Tudor Pelagos, but that clasp with 952 springs inside looks like something that will fail sooner or later, and the 42 × 14.3mm case is kinda chunky, despite the use of titanium. I am not saying the Tudor Pelagos is a bad watch; on the contrary. Nevertheless, there is a reason why it is more affordable than a Rolex. Tudor needs to cut some corners here and there.
There wasn’t a Sea-Dweller for a while
When the Tudor Pelagos came out in 2012, I vividly remember that I thought it was a great alternative to the then-discontinued Rolex Sea-Dweller. Remember that between 2009 and 2014, there was no Sea-Dweller in the collection, so Tudor cleverly jumped into that gap. And that’s not a bad thing. We see Tudor doing the same today with the Black Bay Pro and Black Bay GMT S&G “Root Beer.” The brand is filling a void, which is completely fine. It gives those who love the original Explorer II 1655 or GMT-Master “Root Beer” an opportunity to own something similar without breaking the bank (as much).
The Tudor Pelagos, however, is a little bit different because it feels more like a modern interpretation of the Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600. And that’s a cool thing on the one hand, but when it comes to watches, I like to keep mine as original as possible. The Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600 has been discontinued for a good 13 years now, but it’s still a little undervalued compared to some of the other Rolex sports models. I don’t like spending over retail on a new watch, but when a watch is simply not in the catalog anymore, I have fewer issues with that.
The aesthetics of the Sea-Dweller 16600 are amazing
Last but not least, as the owner of a 16600 since 2002 (with an interruption of a few years), I can say the Sea-Dweller wears amazingly well. I also know the Tudor Pelagos quite well as I’ve tried it numerous times, but I’m always afraid that it will end up in that famous box of watches I never wear. Furthermore, it’s just a clunky thing. And keep in mind that the Sea-Dweller 16600 was considered a clunky watch at the time, but it feels kind of compact in today’s world at 40mm. The aesthetics of the Sea-Dweller are amazing too. It has that typical Oyster case and bracelet as well as a raised sapphire crystal (it’s thick!), a date feature without the Cyclops, and a wonderful Rolex caliber 3135 inside. Also, it’s made of 904L steel, which I prefer over titanium.
I love the finishing on the Rolex Oyster case a lot. It has many brushed surfaces but also some polishing on the bevels and case profile to bring the watch alive. The Tudor Pelagos, on the other hand, lacks a bit of luster. If were to consider a Tudor Pelagos, it would be the LHD anyway because I believe it has a bit more originality to it. But even with that, I’d be afraid it would end up in that famous box.
You know what you’d choose, Jorg
If I put Jorg on the spot, truly on the spot, with €10K in his left hand for a Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600 and €5K in his right hand for the Tudor Pelagos, I am 100% sure he’d pick the Rolex. In a heartbeat. Again, it doesn’t make the Tudor a bad watch, and perhaps some of the ingredients of the Pelagos outshine the neo-vintage 16600, but it’s not only about that… A Rolex watch with a five-digit reference number is simply hard to beat by any standard.
Now it’s time for you to weigh in on this issue. Vote down below, and let us know your reasons in the comments!