Tudor Shows Its Real Face Again With The Black Bay Pro — Is It A “Poor Man’s Rolex” Explorer II 1655?
Do you think Tudor is cool? Well, personally I’m starting to doubt it. Tudor wanted to make me believe it’s a cool brand, and for quite some time, it succeeded. But now, with the introduction of the Black Bay Pro, it feels that Tudor finally shows its real face once more. The new GMT watch, which looks so very much like the coveted Rolex Explorer II 1655 “Freccione”, marks a return to Tudor’s old self. Whereas a Black Bay Fifty-Eight in navy blue, for example, gives you the feeling you’re looking at an original design, the Black Bay Pro represents a different reality. Yes, though your watch might look like a Rolex, it is, in fact, a Tudor — a more affordable version. Is Tudor again offering a sort of “poor man’s Rolex”, exactly as Hans Wilsdorf intended? Has the old order been restored? Is everything back to normal again?
This year, Tudor celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Black Bay. When Tudor introduced the Heritage Black Bay ref. 79220R — the “R” is for Rouge — it marked the start of a remarkable rise in popularity of the brand. Tudor became cool and desirable thanks to the hypnotizing vintage vibe surrounding the numerous Black Bay watches that came out after that quirky burgundy one. That must have been quite the experience for the people working at Tudor. “Cool” was not a word often heard to describe Tudor watches. And the overwhelming positivity with which the watched were written about must have been a thrilling, even shocking first-time experience.
Tudor shows its real face again
But Tudor being cool was never Hans Wilsdorf’s intention. Back in the days when Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf set up the Tudor brand, cool was merely a meteorological situation, not a qualification of stuff or people. Wilsdorf had been pondering the idea of creating a watch at a more modest price point than his Rolex creations. They’d be more affordable watches that would appeal to a larger audience, but they’d be just as reliable and dependable as Rolex watches.
… a symbol of royalty, but not as regal as the crown on a king’s head.
For Tudor, it all started in February 1926 when the trademark “The Tudor” was registered in Geneva for Hans Wilsdorf by the widow of watchmaker Philippe Hüther. Ten years later, Wilsdorf had the name fully transferred to himself, and Tudor got its rose-and-shield logo. Just like the Rolex coronet, it was a symbol of royalty, but not as regal as the crown on a king’s head. And in 1946, Montres Tudor S.A. was born. Early advertising for Tudor watches shows both the rose-and-shield logo and the rose-only logo that took its place shortly thereafter.
Playing second fiddle
It wasn’t just the price that made a Tudor watch attractive. It was also the fact that a watch with the rose or shield logo on the dial came with Rolex backing. That meant warranties and servicing were handled by the Rolex company. Yes, they were two brands, but with one mother company. The symbiosis between “The Crown” and “The Shield” was always apparent. Let me present a tangible example of that. Have a look at the Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner 7924. It’s a watch built on Rolex technology. There’s a Rolex Oyster case, a Rolex logo on the crown, and the clasp also carries the Rolex signature. The Tudor is basically a real Sub minus the movement and the dial, and that explains the lower “neo-Sub” price. A Rolex is a violin made by Antonio Stradivari, and a Tudor is made by an apprentice in the same workshop that’s approved by the maestro.
Derivatives and mix-ups
From 2010 on — with the launch of the Heritage Chrono and the Heritage Advisor that came soon after — the Tudor brand slowly moved out of the shadow of Rolex. And when the Heritage Black Bay debuted at Baselworld 2012, Tudor basked in full sunlight. Pretty soon, it became clear that creating Rolex lookalikes was not Tudor’s strategy anymore.
The colors and materials may be different, but it is, in essence, a Rolex extract.
Tudor took a different route and gave us bronze, titanium, and even silver watches. Watches with designs that were derivatives and mix-ups of vintage Tudor models. But no matter how cool the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 is, deep down, to me it’s a watch based on a watch that was based on another watch — a Rolex watch. The colors and materials may be different, but it is, in essence, distilled down from an original Rolex design extract.
The Black Bay Pro changes everything
But the extract sure has an intoxicating effect. The Black Bay collection has single-handedly made Tudor cool. Why? Because Rolex sports watches have more or less become unobtainable? Is it the Black Bay’s stunning good looks or its great value for money? Or is it a bit of everything? That’s what I thought and felt before I saw the new Black Bay Pro during Watches And Wonders 2022. But that new 39mm GMT watch was a real buzz killer to me (though not all of our team agreed). And this buzz killer of a watch puts the make-believe world Tudor so carefully built for us in danger. I should have seen that four years ago when Tudor released the Baselworld 2018 shocker that was the blue-and-red Black Bay GMT. But because it was quite big and didn’t make it to the market immediately due to problems with the movement, it didn’t have the immediate effect the new Black Bay Pro has.
Is the poor man’s Rolex back?
The new Black Bay Pro — is it nothing other than a poor man’s Rolex Explorer II 1655 “Freccione”? I found it disappointing that Tudor didn’t look in its own back catalog to come up with the smaller GMT watch a lot of people were demanding — I kind of predicted a Black Bay Fifty-Eight GMT, but I got more than I bargained for. No, Tudor did what it did when it became a watch brand. It took a popular Rolex model and made an affordable version of it. Yes, the Explorer II 1655 is no longer in production. It’s now a respected legend, and thus, Tudor’s modus operandi has changed a bit. In essence, however, Tudor is back to its old tricks.
Need more proof to back up my theory? Please, have a “root beer”
Tudor showed its face from the past when it presented the Black Bay Pro. Don’t tell me that the colors used in the Pro and the “Freccione” are different. At a glance, the watches are more or less identical. Just like a vintage Prince Submariner and Submariner and so many other models once were. And if you think my argument that Tudor is back to its old self is flawed because I only use the Black Bay Pro as an example, please have a look at the new Black Bay GMT S&G. Now tell me the one thing that pops into your mind. I will call you a liar if it was anything other than the Rolex “Root Beer”.
… in the end, even a brand can only be what it really is.
But I’m fully okay with that. I actually don’t mind it. Now that Tudor has taken down its mask, does that mean it’s uncool once again? I’ve made up my mind, but now it’s your turn, as well as that of our editors who think the BB Pro is a cool watch (I’m looking at you, Nacho). Tudor tried so hard to keep up appearances. But in the end, even a brand can only be what it really is. And in the case of Tudor, to me, it is simply the shield that protects the crown, an affordable option for the masses. It plays that part so very effectively and successfully, but it won’t earn it the title “King of Cool”. That one is taken, and shielded also by long waiting lists and unavailability.
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