Tudor, a Rolex for people who can’t afford a Rolex? That’s how the brand was born, and that’s how it remains. Only Tudor no longer advertises its association with Rolex. Or is that the other way ’round? Anyway, today’s “cut price” Tudor brand has to stand on its own. Does it? Is the Tudor Black Bay 41 a budget Rolex or its own thing? Let’s start by getting this out of the way . . .
The Tudor Black Bay 41 isn’t a Rolex.
For one thing, Rolex’s cases are made from 904L corrosion-resistant stainless steel (also used by Ball watches). Tudor’s cases are made from 316L steel (also used by everyone and their mother). Rolex run on in-house movements. Although Tudor’s launched its own modified Breitling power plant, the BB’s hands are still motivated by ye olde ETA calibre 2824.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that (save bragging rights).
The 2824’s compact dimensions gave Tudor license to flatten the Black Bay 41’s case to a relatively svelte 11mm. The Swiss caliber’s accuracy remains world class. There are plenty of 2824 parts available and service techs who know how to replace them. Most importantly, the 2824 is an incredibly robust and reliable movement. As you’d hope, given Tudor’s “Born to Dare” tagline.
The Tudor Black Bay 41 looks like it could spend 30 hours strapped to a pneumatic drill and keep on tickin’. The stripped down riff on Tudor’s Black Bay dive watch projects the kind of single-minded solidity you can only get from a watch with zero complications, zero numbers on the dial and a case that’s the horological equivalent of a brick shit house.
Which is not to say the BB41 is without its charms, especially when liberated from its Rolexian bracelet. Where the bracelet-born Black Bay 41 invites comparisons to its famous stablemate, the calfskin-clad BB41 proclaims the timepiece’s aesthetic independence. Specifically, it focuses the eye on the watch’s unique yet historically evocative dial.
Tudor’s snowflake-tipped second hand sweeps over a dark blue dial with a compass-like quality. The face places rectangular index markers at East, South and West, and a triangle at North. The steel circumnavigating the markers glints in direct light (where the dial looks black) and disappears in shadier environs (where the blue pops).
Taken as a whole, the Black Bay 41 is one of the best time-at-a-glance designs money can buy: an oxymoronic masterpiece of understated legibility. Props to its designers’ restraint.
There’s no date window to interfere with the BB41’s temporal mission. The Tudor shield, Tudor name and GENEVE at the top of the dial draw attention the central index, rather than themselves. Tudor sized and arranged the words “ROTOR” and “SELF-WINDING” at the bottom of the dial with tasteful discretion, the latter artfully curved evoking Billy Preston’s hit Will It Go Round in Circles.
Taken as whole, Black Bay 41’s lume AF dial brings to mind a Surefire flashlight: a perfectly practical device that you appreciate for what it does as much as what it is. And how it feels.
OMG the Tudor Black Bay 41 feels good to adjust. With a rubber gasket jacketing the Tudor rose-branded winder, the hands glide over the face, like a curler’s stone sliding on fresh ice. That’s quality, mate.
Same for the BB 41’s butterfly clasp, engraved with the Tudor name and STEEL INOX XR — just in case you wanted to know the short form of inoxidable (rustproof).
As delivered, the clasp was stiffer than Peter North; the dealer’s horologer had to re-lube it (the watch). The brown calfskin strap wasn’t much better. Initially, the leather strap felt brittle. The strap’s sizing holes are spaced too far apart; the fit was either too tight or too loose for my 7″ wrist (I wish I’d never used that analogy).
TBF, the Black Bay 41’s clasp’s double-safe securing system offers welcome reassurance and the leather strap is softening. Slowly. The lack of immediate comfort is a major ding in an otherwise unassailable $2,625 timepiece.
The Black Bay 41’s price brings to the fore the essential question about the Tudor brand’s positioning vis a vis Rolex. The cheapest Rolex, the Oyster Date, costs $6150. That’s more than twice as much as the Black Bay 41 tested here. The Oyster’s got Rolex parts and the Rolex name. The Black Bay 41 doesn’t.
As the French would say, ca fait rien. It means nothing. The Tudor is, now, its own man, especially with in-house movements spreading across the line.
The 2824-equipped Black Bay 41 isn’t a watch for brand snobs, but there’s nothing cheap about it. The Tudor stakes an entirely credible claim on the pricing space that Rolex used to occupy, with no apologies needed. Not from Tudor or its savvy buyers.
MODEL: Tudor Black Bay 41
Case: 41 mm steel case with polished and satin finish
Case circumference: 16cm
Lug spacing: 22mm
Crystal: Sapphire crystal
Movement: self-winding mechanical, ETA Caliber 2824
Power reserve: Approximately 38 hours
Winding: Steel screw-down winding crown, with the TUDOR rose in relief, black anodized aluminum winding crown tube
Bezel: 316L steel bezel with polished finish
Clasp: Brown leather strap with folding “butterfly” clasp and safety catch
Water resistance: 150m
RATINGS: (out of five stars)
Design * * * * *
Minimalism for the win.
Legibility * * * * *
Tactility * * * * *
Not as hefty as big brother Rolex, but substantial enough for government work. Setting the time is a sensual delight.
Clasp/Strap * *
Well-built and secure, but stiff to start. The strap’s made of high-quality calf, but the sizing holes are too far apart to find an ideal fit.
Overall * * * *
Excellent design, rock solid construction, bullet-proof caliber and priced in Rolex’s old entry-level sweet spot. Fifth star withheld for an uncomfortable leather strap that needs more breaking-in than a brand new baseball glove.
[Wondering if you should save up for a Rolex? Read Tudor or Rolex? A Buyer’s Guide]