Owner’s Review: The Tudor Black Bay Pro

Mainstream watch brands tend not to stray from the beaten path. They find something that works and slowly evolve from there. Tudor is of course no exception to this, having leaned into watches that work, namely the Black Bay collection, rather heavily since launching the line back in 2012. However, the manner in which they’ve gone about evolving that collection, particularly over the past year, has been, let’s say less than predictable. The Black Bay Pro is a watch many of us had been asking for in some fashion or another, but its release still managed to surprise due to how Tudor decided to execute the watch. See our initial reaction video here

The first Black Bay watches were celebrated for their old-school design language that brought the brand’s considerable heritage back to the forefront. In a way, they helped kick off the trend of ‘vintage inspired’ designs that swept the industry, and whose reverberations are still very much being felt to this day. It was a momentous watch release for many reasons, and Tudor was quick to capitalize on its popularity, releasing a variety of colorways, moving to their in-house (in-group?) Kenissi caliber, and even adding complications along the way. While the watch was undoubtedly popular, it consistently levied the same criticism: its dimensions. 

The original Black Bay 41
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Its 41mm case was often called slab sided, and as watch enthusiasts grew more sensitive to ergonomics, and more accustomed to the dimensions of older watches, which were also rising in popularity, these were numbers that began to feel less and less palatable. In response, Tudor released the Black Bay 58 in 2018, and was immediately lauded for finally capturing the vintage feel on-wrist as well as it did visually. The 58 featured a 39mm case that was under 12mm thick, and it was everything we had been asking for. From that point on we’ve been anxiously awaiting Tudor to flesh out this excellent base with additional models and perhaps even complications. 

The Black Bay 58

The Black Bay 58 didn’t exactly take the trajectory we were expecting, and that’s not a bad thing at all – they’ve taken the watch in some interesting and creative directions, but to date there have only been two 58 references in steel: the original black and gilt released in 2018, and a blue dial and bezel variant released a year later. Since its inception, we, along with most of you, I imagine, have wondered what a Black Bay 58 outfitted with a GMT complication might look like. While we still don’t have an answer to that question, Tudor’s 2022 release of the Black Bay Pro is the closest we’re likely to get anytime soon.

$4000

Owner’s Review: The Tudor Black Bay Pro

Case
Stainless Steel
Movement
Manufacture Caliber MT5652
Dial
Matte Black
Lume
Ceramic Lume
Lens
Domed Sapphire
Strap
Stainless Steel
Water Resistance
200M
Dimensions
39×47.2mm
Thickness
14.6mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
Screw Down
Warranty
5 Yr
Price
$4000

The Black Bay Pro represents the first branch of a new collection within the Black Bay family, and while I have a horrible track record of predicting what Tudor will do next, I imagine the “Pro” moniker will see additional watches at some point down the line. Will there be a Ranger Pro or a Pelagos Pro? Or will it simply live within the Black Bay range and house ‘specialized’ executions of otherwise familiar complications? On that note, what makes a watch “Pro” in the first place? 

Whatever the case may end up being, the Black Bay Pro is indeed a welcome addition to the pantheon of Black Bay references (which now includes 114 variations, by my count, across all collections), and is best taken on its own accord, outside of the broader context and baggage of the Black Bay family. It’s different, in some ways unique (not P01 different and unique, mind you), while at the same time being familiar and comfortable. It’s not without fault, and there are some quirks that won’t be for everyone, but this is, for all intents and purposes, one of the most compelling and daily wearable Black Bays yet. I said what I said. 

The Black Bay Pro, like the Black Bay 58, gets a 39mm steel case that’s a touch over 47mm from lug tip to lug time. Unlike the 58, this watch measures a hair under 15mm thick. That last number has been the subject of much criticism around this watch since release, and it’s something we’ll tackle a bit later here. This watch houses the Kenissi built and COSC certified ​​caliber MT5652, the very same used by the Black Bay GMT released 2018. It is a manufacture movement, as specified by Tudor, who founded Kenissi in 2016, and has partnered with the likes of Breitling and Chanel (who now own a 20% stake in the manufacture).

The Black Bay GMT

Whether you want to label it in-house, in-group, manufacture, or anything else feels besides the point. This is a movement with a track record at this point, and while it certainly had some kinks to work out in the initial offering within the Black Bay GMT, it seems to have worked through a brief teething period that included an errant date wheel, which eventually caused a delay in deliveries of the watch to allow for the issue to be fixed. And fixed it seems to be, as I’ve not seen any murmurs of similar issues affecting the Black Bay Pro, let alone experienced any of my own. 

Okay, enough with the stuff you already know. Just what is the Black Bay Pro like in day to day life? In short, pretty excellent. Some watches are better than others when it comes to throwing it on and going about your day, watches that get out of the way when not in use or needed, watches that are simple and practical without being uninteresting. The Black Bay Pro is all of those things. It’s an exceptionally easy watch to wear day in and day out, despite its shortcomings – in fact I’d go so far as to say I wish it had a few more oddities or quirks to enjoy and bring attention to itself more often. There’s nothing remarkable about its looks or its complications, or its build material, but it’s a watch that manages to get under your skin in other ways. 

Just how it manages this is another story. The Black Bay Pro achieves a balance across all areas that make any single shortcoming feel a bit trivial, and yes that includes the thickness. The Pro has an excellent footprint, sitting in a sweet spot on my wrist that keeps it out of the way during regular activity, and distributes the heft neatly as it nestles into just the right area. This is obviously dependent on the wrist, but on my 7.25’ wrist, it feels tailor made. I have another watch with a very similar feel in my watchbox, and that is the IWC 3706, which Zach Kazan reviewed right here.

The IWC 3706

The 3706 and Black Bay Pro share nearly the exact same dimensions in terms of diameter, lug to lug, and thickness. Heck even the viewing area of the dial is the same diameter. The head of the Pro weighs 86 grams to the IWC’s 81 grams, which accounts for a just noticeable difference on the wrist.  The 3706 is also criticized for its thickness, though it houses an automatic chronograph movement, opposed to the GMT function of the Pro, but the two watches wear remarkably similar, which is to say, they overcome one less than flattering measurement with a small footprint and case that manages it well. I’d say the IWC manages it even better than the Tudor as the profile tucks a bit more of the thickness into a belly that tucks under the case wall. 

It’s my feeling that Tudor could escape much of the criticism it faces over the thickness of the Pro (if they wanted to) by simply managing the case profile a bit more delicately. The Black Bay Pro, much like the Black Bay 41, shows nearly its entire thickness in a vertical case wall. It stands tall as a result and the thickness is noticeable at a glance. Had they kept the case wall the same height as the Black Bay 58, but added a deeper screw in the caseback to hold the additional thickness of the movement, the thickness measurement would be far less of an issue for many potential buyers. 

That said, this isn’t a watch worth stressing over the thickness measurement. It’s not a formal watch, and it wears perfectly well, which is really the most important part. Would I be singing its praises were it 12mm thick? Yes, undoubtedly, and I will say it would probably be that much more comfortable. However, you won’t hear me complaining about the thickness just the way it is because it doesn’t interfere with a great on-wrist experience. It is what it is, and it’s not a deal breaker for me. If this is the sole reason you’re on the fence about this watch, I’d encourage you to find a way to try it on before you write this one off altogether.

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The more obvious point of comparison to be made when it comes to the Black Bay Pro is of course the Rolex Explorer II. This is a watch that shares the same fixed steel bezel with 24 hour marking for a 24 hour hand. Upon release social media was quick to make the comparison to the vaunted reference 1655, Rolex’s first Explorer II introduced in 1971. That watch had a rather unusual dial design and a distinctive orange arrow shaped 24 hour hand that earned it the nickname ‘freccione’ (the Italian word for arrow). While it shares the obvious similarity of a fixed steel with vertical bars dividing the 24 hour segments, they are quite different once you look further. We got our hands on a reference 1655 Explorer II courtesy of our friends at Bob’s Watches to make an IRL comparison. 

I’ll grant that the bezel of the Pro feels clearly inspired by the 1655, the rest of the watch feels a bit closer to more modern, 5 and 6 digit references of the Explorer II, if anything. The 12 o’clock marker is a large triangle, but the circular hour markers and snowflake hands, along with the absence of things like crown guards and a cyclops, make the Pro every bit the Tudor that it is. The 24 hour hand isn’t quite orange, and it isn’t quite yellow, but it’s surely somewhere in between. The color of the hands and the hour markers, paired with the matte black dial, have a somewhat muted or desaturated feel that bring an aesthetic quality that’s terribly difficult to nail down in words, or even images for that matter. It feels worn and even a bit warm, but it’s not an ‘aged’ look. It walks a fine line here and I think it pays off. 

I truly love the dial design of the 1655, and that’s exactly the kind of oddball quality I’d love to see Tudor embrace in their own way with watches like this. In contrast, the Pro features dial components that are getting a bit long in the tooth when looking at the past decade of Black Bay watches. They still work, and there’s nothing off-putting about them, but the shape of the hands and markers have seen plenty of milage at this point, and since Tudor is creating a new family (maybe) with this watch and the “Pro” moniker, I’d suggest it’s ripe territory to try some new things in the that department.

Whenever this topic comes up, something resembling the following statement inevitably follows, “4 and 5 digit references wear so much better than modern references.” This is undoubtedly true, but there’s something missing in that blanket statement. In handling the 1655, and indeed many other vintage sport watches, you’ll notice the great proportions of the case and admire the aging a bit, but when strapped on the wrist, they often miss an intangible solid feel of a well built modern watch, such as the Black Bay Pro. 

This point was starkly clear in handling the 1655 and the Black Bay Pro side by side. While I’d happily wear the old Rolex lounging about or sat on my couch at home, when it came time to do literally any kind of activity, it’s the Pro that I’d be reaching for 10 times out of 10. I’ve had the Pro on my wrist while swimming in the Atlantic as well as riding a bike through the streets of New York, and at last check it’s still keeping time at +/- 0 seconds a day (for real, this thing is scary accurate). I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable in the 1655 for such activities, though I know many owners do still wear and enjoy their vintage watches. You can see more of my thoughts on this subject in this article comparing generations of the Rolex GMT.

The 1655 is among my all-time favorite Rolex references, and it’s a design that holds up well to this day. Many of the actual watches, and their bracelets, are another story however, and depending on your lifestyle, it’s something you should take into consideration before going the vintage route. The 16570 is another favorite, and that might be a happy medium in terms of old-school wear and modern fit and finish. The Pro, despite the throwback chamfered lug and no crown guard case, feels modern through and through both in the hand and on wrist.

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I can’t help but make the comparison to old and new cars, which feels especially apt here. Take for instance the E39 M5, when placed next to a modern F90 M5, the older car feels downright small, and indeed its wheelbase is well smaller than that of even a modern 3-Series. This is thanks to decades of safety regulations and luxurious refinements to minimize NVH, but it feels like a slightly similar comparison between the 1655 and Black Bay Pro. And as longingly as I look at the E39 M5 (which has aged beautifully), I hate to admit that I’d likely hop into the F90 variant were I about to embark on a cross-country road trip.

Getting back to the Black Bay Pro, this dial is worth another look. There are a few details I’ve come to appreciate about this dial that didn’t immediately jump out at me. One is the shape of the 24 hour hand, which begins as wide as the minute hand, and tapers to a point just beyond the chapter ring, as it’s used in conjunction with the exterior bezel. The square, or diamond, or snowflake shape is placed at a point that doesn’t interfere with the hour markers (unlike the Black Bay GMT), and the same shape on the passing seconds hand nests neatly against its top, for but a moment, as it passes. That seconds hand has a counterweight that’s been coated the same matte black as the dial, and creates a perfectly unambiguous spotting of the hands and their positions. Perhaps these are the kinds of details that earn it the ‘Pro’ designation? The Pelagos FXD is the only other watch in my vicinity that features a similar detail, and it too, was made for what I’d call a professional environment. 

I’ve referenced the circular hour plots a few times now, and while they are the same design we’ve seen in other Black Bay watches, they differ in their application and construction. They do not have white gold surrounds, but they do have structure to them, standing tall like applied pieces. They are, in fact, ceramic discs that are made with lume in the mixture, so the entirety of the structure glows when charged in the dark. They appear egg-shell, off-white-ish which, to my eye, is the kind of look I enjoy on vintage watches that aren’t too far gone. Being ceramic, these will, presumably, not age in time, and in this case, I think that’s just fine.

Tudor is using their manufacturer caliber MT5652 automatic movement in the Black Bay Pro, which has been COSC certified to run within +6/-4 second per day of accuracy. In my experience it’s been well inside of that, lasting for days on end at perfect +/-0 seconds adrift. This movement is produced by Tudor owned Kenissi, and has a few years under its belt at this point, in which time its worked out a few kinks, namely the date wheel changing at incorrect times. The movement is a “true” GMT, meaning the local hour hand can be set independent of the GMT hand, making for quick and easy adjustments during travel. This can be set both forward and backwards, which is helpful as the jumping hour hand is also how you set the date. 

The movement offers 70 hours of power reserve, and one of my favorite little details of the FXD appears here as well in the form of the tactile winding system. There’s a light bump when winding that feels engineered into the keyless works, and as someone who takes the time to lubricate tactile switches (62g Zeal) for my keyboard to get that feeling just right, the similar feel in winding this watch is absolutely on point. 

Another element of this watch that feels on point is the bracelet, which houses Tudor’s new(ish) T-Fit clasp and quick adjustment mechanism. I first experienced this system in the Black Bay 58 Bronze, though I don’t recall it being as smooth in that application as it is here in the Pro. The last link is connected to a portion within the clasp via spring, so it only needs to be lifted to allow the slide to take effect. This is different from Rolex’s Glidelock system, which needs to be unseated before sliding to adjust. It might be more secure (?) but it’s not as refined as what Tudor has developed here.

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The rest of the bracelet is perfectly fine and exactly on par with what you’d expect from Tudor, which is to say it punches above its weight in this price range. There’s a ceramic bearing that secures the lock in place, which feels great, but opening the clasp requires the wearer to get a nail under the pointy bit of the decorative shield. This is a bit unwieldy at times, and if you’re not careful, can be downright painful if it gets too far under your nail. It’s a nice bracelet, to be sure, but I can’t help but wonder what a new Ranger style bracelet would look like here, fully brushed, sans rivets, just nice and clean. 

The Tudor Black Bay Pro, equipped with a steel bracelet, is priced at $4,000. That feels about right on for what you’re getting here, but of course, I’m biased. Of the other watches out there using this movement, the Black Bay Pro feels the most special, and by no small margin. Whether you call the movement in-house, in-group, or manufacture, it’s come a long way since introduction and within a 39mm case, feels right at home. 

The Longines Zulu Time

Some other great watches in this price range include the Longines Zulu Time, which also houses what you’d call an in-group movement, however, on-wrist that watch tells a very different story. It’s about a full mm thinner, but stretches to 42mm in diameter, leading to a much less wearable footprint compared to the Tudor (for my wrist, anyway). The Longines is priced right around $3,000, and while it might not feel on par with the Tudor’s overall fit and finish, it’s not that far off. Plus, you’ve got more colorful options, opposed to the single execution of the Pro. 

Grand Seiko SBGM references

On the other end, you’ve got great options a bit north of the $4,000 Pro’s price tag, from the mighty 16570, to Grand Seiko’s excellent new Evolution 9 Spring Drive GMTs, which also have fixed steel bezels. But the best option might just be the Grand Seiko SBGM245 and 247, which are automatic GMTs (9S66) with, you guessed it, fixed steel bezels. These watches run around $5,000 and will feature Grand Seiko’s typically exceptional finishing. And if you don’t mind quartz (why would you?), the SBGN003 and 005 are great options around $3,000.

All this to say nothing of the myriad options from independent brands, suffice to say we’re certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to great GMT watches in this price range, the Black Bay Pro among them. 

After months of time with the Black Bay Pro, I still can’t confidently say what elevates this specific reference to “Pro” status over other Black Bays, but I can say that it is, by any name, a spectacular daily companion. Sure, it could be a few grams lighter, or a smidge thinner, but in total this is a remarkably easy watch to get along with. There’s an aesthetic subtly to the Pro that creeps up on you in the best of ways, and Tudor’s grounded approach to the GMT by way of some classic design cues in the family back catalog make the watch feel like a familiar, well worn pair of jeans that work in all the right ways. 

It’s clear that Tudor practiced restraint with this watch, and took a route that elevates the watch beyond a mere ‘throwback’, instead wielding modern techniques and materials in unexpected ways that betray a maturity not seen in the Black Bay of old, for better or worse. In this case, I land on the former. 

Tudor

Thank you to Bob’s Watches for allowing us time with the Rolex Explorer II reference 1655 seen in this article. 

Images from this post:
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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent the past decade covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seikos to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for classic cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.
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