When someone with only an elementary knowledge of horology goes out to purchase a new watch — possibly to commemorate a special occasion or celebrate a milestone — we often get asked which watch we would purchase if it were our own money. Most of the time, it isn’t necessity that drives the purchasing decision, as we can quickly glance at our phones, which are always close at hand. Most people expect some kind of textbook answer, given that it should be reasonably priced, durable, good looking, with a dash of prestige thrown in for good measure. As most of our readers may already know, the perfect watch is an elusive concept that can be difficult to pinpoint, as the occasion and specific needs of each person dictate the watch that they need; not to mention personal style and taste.
Having said all that, the answer that I find myself frequently dishing out is the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight. It is a handsome diver’s watch with utilitarian good looks and very little fault at a desirable price point. It comes in a variety of finishes and straps, assuring that the Black Bay Fifty-Eight can find a home on pretty much anyone’s wrist. It’s not as expensive as a Rolex Submariner, and there’s also the quiet appeal that it’s not a Submariner. While a stellar watch in every regard, the Rolex has become a bit too ubiquitous, and men without the slightest hint of what makes the Submariner special seem to be drawn to it purely for the name. The Fifty-Eight strikes a nice balance of style and substance, without the pretension, which makes it even more attractive.
However, unlike the Fifty-Eight that has near universal appeal, Tudor’s Black Bay Chrono has struggled to find its audience for some time, with a design that felt fussy and unresolved. It’s not quite sure of what it wants to be, yet it had enough references to its more popular and unobtainable cousin — that I’ll try to refrain from mentioning too often in this article — that made it feel more like a knockoff than a watch that can hold its own ground. It leaned on being more of an homage without actually being one, which by modern day watch standards is the most egregious crime of all — lacking identity. Tudor’s effort was a strange misstep in a lot of ways; it had a good product in its hand, in a highly desirable chronograph format. It was just having a hard time making it feel desirable.
Refreshed for 2021, Tudor has given this watch a new breath of life with some notable updates and a fresh face to stand out from the crowd.
Refreshed for 2021, Tudor has given this watch a new breath of life with some notable updates and a fresh face to stand out from the crowd. The new Black Bay Chrono’s most notable change is the introduction of the panda and reverse panda dials, which is a must for legibility on a chronograph. It’s an apt case of form following function, where the contrasting subdials not only improve legibility, but also add much needed character to a watch that felt tired and bland. Yes, the Black Bay Chrono’s cousin had already gone through this phase, but like a younger cousin who wants to mimic its older and much cooler cousin, this watch pulls it off with enough character to make it its own. Plus, the sub-dial being completely one color creates a bolder look that the Black Bay Chrono can own up to. A splash of red at the tip of the chronograph second hand as well as the red script is a nice touch as well. The much needed and very welcomed date window at the 6 o’clock position one ups its cousin with a dose of utility.
The 41mm steel case nicely encases the handsome and straightforward dial, with a black anodised aluminium bezel that perfectly complements the case. It’s a subtle thing, but the proportion of the bezel is one of the most important design aspects of any chronograph, and the Black Bay Chrono perfectly hits the mark. What is a bit strange is the empty space between the bezel and the dial, which is there to assure that the crystal doesn’t distort whatever information may be there. For some reason in this application, the vacant space is more noticeable than other watches. It’s not a major detail that will keep watch lovers away from this watch, but for a group of people that agonizes over every minute detail, this may be something that quite a few people may notice and find perplexing.
What is most interesting may be the watch’s movement. It uses a MT5813 movement, “borrowed” from an unlikely source. Instead of using a Rolex movement, which it could source pretty easily, or a pure in-house movement, the movement used in the Black Bay Chrono is a collaboration between Breitling and Tudor. This relationship may seem a bit arbitrary and out of the blue for those familiar with Tudor’s history, but to better develop their own in-house movements Tudor is strategically collaborating with an unlikely partner. Based on Breitling’s B01 architecture, this movement is a highly sophisticated chronograph movement for the price, with a column wheel for the start-stop switch and a vertical clutch. In our book, this may be the best chronograph movement available on the market today for this price point, and we have high hopes for what Tudor will do to update their in-house movements in the future.
In our book, this may be the best chronograph movement available on the market today for this price point, and we have high hopes for what Tudor will do to update their in-house movements in the future.
On the wrist, the Tudor Black Bay Chrono sits with presence without feeling cumbersome or awkward. The sleek design does a nice job at making its 41mm size look and feel manageable for smaller wrists while feeling substantial enough for those that have larger wrists. It felt balanced on the wrist as well, as the metal strap keeps the weight well distributed. During my time with the watch, it never felt distracting, which can’t be said for certain Italian watches favored by some Hollywood action stars. However, when it comes to the actual height of the watch itself, which comes in at 14.4 mm, it is very noticeable on the wrist. The funny thing is that the case has been shrunk down to this thickness from its previous iteration. Even compared to other watches that are similar in thickness, or even thicker, the Black Bay Chrono just looks thicker, thanks to its unornamented side. In contrast, a similarly sized Omega Speedmaster hides its thickness well with a nice step case design that diverts the attention away from its thickness.
Design wise, the Black Bay Chrono is a versatile watch that feels at home in most styles except for overly formal occasions. With the summer months quickly bringing the heat, I felt comfortable wearing the watch with a t-shirt and shorts, but also with some slacks in a business-casual environment. The Black Bay Chrono is truly handsome, and the watch garnered quite a few compliments, from both watch aficionados and those who were less initiated to the world of horology. Most were complimentary of its simple, uncluttered design, while the legibility of the panda dial seemed to please universally. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until my conversation with a friend who has a unique taste in watches did Tudor’s big brother come up — and he was more complimentary of the Tudor.
The Black Bay Chrono is truly handsome, and the watch garnered quite a few compliments, from both watch aficionados and those who were less initiated to the world of horology.
The watch is available in panda, reverse panda, and also with splashes of yellow gold for those who are into that sort of thing. Strap options are plentiful as well, but for most watch collectors they would be more than happy to have a rotation of different straps to match the mood and occasion. My experience with the watch was only with the steel bracelet, so I cannot comment on what it would feel like with other straps, but the steel bracelet did feel nicely balanced and was a good all-rounder for me. One thing that did bother me was the rivets on the bracelet, which is more of an aesthetic decision on Tudor’s part these days than a functional one. I understand that it has become a defining characteristic of Tudor’s steel bracelets, but it definitely detracts from the clean and uncluttered design of the watch itself. Plus, it’s one more thing to worry about cleaning after it’s been worn for some time. However, this all boils down to personal preference, and I’m clearly nitpicking at this point.
And that’s the thing about this watch — it has very few faults, and most of the negative comments only arise when it’s being compared to other, more familiar offerings. This is a double-edged sword for Tudor as it is testament to the fact that it can meet the standards of heavy hitters that may not necessarily be within its league, but it’s also a burden that the watch — and to some extent the brand itself — must carry as it tries to prove itself. If judged in a vacuum it can not only hold its own but is a stellar watch that is technologically advanced, stylish, and desirable. The shadow cast by its more established cousin is what may unfairly make this watch feel like a lesser offering to those who are not in the know. However, with this new iteration and the stunning panda dials, the Tudor Black Bay Chrono is now closer than ever to carving out its own identity and fanbase.