Tudor Black Bay Chrono Review
Posted: Sat May 05, 2018 12:33 am
The Black Bay Chrono is likely one of the most controversial and oft-discussed Tudors in the modern history of the brand. Anything from the hands, the bezel and even the movement have been the subject of many pages of forum debate, which makes it an excellent topic for a review. It's a very complex watch, both from a design and horological perspective, but also from a larger industry perspective.
We'll start where we always do, with the dial. The Black Bay Chrono seems to be derived, aesthetically, from the Black Bay Steel, which luckily enough for me, is my favorite Black Bay. This resemblance isn't merely due to the steel bezel, but to the presence of a date complication and of red writing for the depth indication. However, due to the busier chronograph dial, the markers are considerably smaller on the Chrono.
That's not all that's smaller. While the design of the hour and minute hands hasn't changed, they appear to me to be appreciably narrower so as to not occlude your view of the subdials. The chronograph seconds hand, conversely, is entirely different from the Black Bay's central seconds, as one might expect since it serves a different function.
One of the major concerns people had of the Black Bay Chrono was that the large snowflake hour hand would cover up too much of the subdial, so I thought I'd illuminate a potential worst-case scenario with the hour hand right in the middle of the chronograph subdial. It does cover up a significant portion of the subdial, but not so much that it becomes unreadable, and, at any rate, not appreciably more than many other similar watches. For instance, the Planet Ocean chronograph has thick and large hands. It's simply a delicate balancing act between providing tool-watch legibility via oversized luminous hands and covering up other functionality.
The subdials are, for lack of a better word, utilitarian. They continue the simple and functional matte black of the rest of the dial, although they are slightly recessed into the dial.
Dates are relatively rare in the Black Bay collection, much less dates at 6:00, but moving it from 3:00 was necessary to make room for the subdial. I actually think it looks pretty good here, although I'm not exactly sure why it needed a date to begin with. That said, the date complication is extremely well executed. The date changes over instantly, and at least in my particular example (perhaps I'm just lucky), it did so within a minute of midnight.
As with the Black Bay Steel, it has a simple red line and, for whatever reason, that really brings the whole dial together. I love it. However, the Tudor/Rolex fascination with having a redundant extra line is still present, in this case with the "OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED" writing. It doesn't bother me on aggressively styled watches like this one, where excessive writing is the norm, but I wouldn't mind if it weren't here nonetheless.
Tudor's lume is, as usual, excellent, although I suspect there must be some small cost to reducing the size of the hands and markers for this version. Nonetheless, so long as you weren't hoping to use the chronograph at night, it remains quite legible.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Black Bay Chrono is its bezel. When the Black Bay came out, it was clear to everyone that this was going to be a vintage-inspired diver collection, but as they introduced the simpler 32/36/41 models, which lacked the rotating bezels that are closely associated with dive watches, we got our first clue that Tudor had bigger plans for the collection. Now, for the first time, the Black Bay takes a page out of the Speedmaster's playbook and uses a tachymeter.
In the Speedmaster, however, it made sense because, before it was the moonwatch, it was a racing watch. Here, it’s not clear why a watch that is clearly designed for aquatic use (screw down pushers and all) has this instead of a rotating bezel, or perhaps just a clean bezel like the 32/36/41. I'd like to see Tudor come out with a more dedicated diving version with a Black Bay Steel-esque rotating bezel, but for this one, it'll just come down to a matter of aesthetic preference.
Pleasingly, the "box crystal" remains. Although this contributes to measured thickness, making even instrumented data slightly misleading since it neither affects how the watch wears or its visually perceived thickness, it's entirely worth it for the vintage charm it brings.
Bezel preferences aside, Tudor wisely opted to stick with the 41mm size for the chronograph. Due to the inherently cluttered nature of the chronograph dial, it would certainly be understandable for it to grow to 43 or even 44mm. That would put it in line with many other contemporary watches. Tudor, however, went with the far more versatile 41mm size.
The watch winds quite smoothly, with a high frequency whir, not too unlike what you'd find in a spring drive. The signed crown is standard for a Black Bay, but the pushers are not. Indeed, they aren't typical for watches in general. For one thing, they're quite large, but for another, they screw down.
Here's one of the pushers unscrewed. The pusher feel on the chronograph is also quite unique. It has a very positive two-stage feel to it, like all good chronographs, but the actuation force is unusually high to get it going, a remnant of its B01 heritage.
Oddly enough, a date and a complex chronograph have not contributed to thickness. The Black Bay Chrono remains at 14.8mm by my measurements, the same as the plain' ol in-house 3 hander. These days, 14.8mm is not bad at all for a chronograph, although, of course, I'd prefer thinner were it available. It seems that Tudor accomplished this feat, in part, by moving the dial closer to the crystal, making space for the movement. You can only tell by holding the wa tches side by side, however.
When Tudor last introduced a movement, it was with their first display case back, a highly divisive decision. Tudor traditionalists will be pleased to know that the first ever MT5813 is still obscured by steel. But we'll not let a little thing like reality get in our way. Through the magic of Photoshop, here is (very roughly) what a display back would look like on the Black Bay Chrono. I know, I know, it's not to scale, relax, it's just an illustration.
The basis for the new MT5813 is the Breitling Cal. B01, a very sophisticated column wheel/vertical clutch column wheel movement. Love or hate Breitling, the B01 has put up some excellent results since it came out. It was clearly designed from the get go to be an advanced, high-performance chronograph, and it is just that. However, the movement you're going to get in the Black Bay Chrono is not the B01 but the MT5813. It might be fair to call the 5813 heavily modified, but this is to a much greater degree than something like the Tudor 2824. Basically, all of the crucial timekeeping components have been replaced with parts that are probably identical to the MT5612's. To oversimplify, it's fair to say that the timekeeping components are Tudor and everything else, especially the chronograph, is Breitling.
Specifically, the regulator/smooth balance/metallic hairspring combo has been replaced with a free sprung balance and silicon hairspring, both of which are associated with higher-end watchmaking. In theory, this should offer more stable performance than the B01 source material. Given that the B01 was already a chronometer and, according to WatchTime, an excellent performer, this should give us a very accurate watch.
One very un-Tudor/Rolex feature that remains is the balance cock, as opposed to the balance bridge you'll find in something like the MT5621. The same impressive 70 hour power reserve as other in-house Tudors remains, although this is unchanged from the B01. At any rate, pun intended, it remains a chronometer as you'd expect from a movement with a combined Tudor/Breitling pedigree.
That brings us directly to a hotly debated question about the MT5813: is it an in-house movement or not? Here we have a definitive answer: it isn't. It's a heavily modified B01, as there is more Breitling than Tudor here. But should that matter? It's a unique movement that'll have superb timekeeping capabilities to match its sophisticated chronograph. If you're wearing a Black Bay Chrono, you have a legitimately high-performance movement, and I think that, more than some vague amount of prestige from "in-houseness," is the relevant charm. Essentially, if you're choosing movements based on features and performance, you can tick every box other than exquisite finishing and decoration, as those remain more functional than aesthetic.
At $4,725 on strap ($5,050 on bracelet), it's an excellent value. The closest competitor is arguably the Omega Planet Ocean Chronograph, which, on strap, is $8,100, more than 50% over the Black Bay Chrono. Like most new Tudors, it delivers on every level, relying not only on its design or heritage, but also on its quality and movement. It's a great watch, but down the road I'd like to see versions made with a rotating bezel, which would better suit the overall style of the watch. For the moment, however, it's a great addition for fans of the Black Bay and is yet more evidence that the Black Bay has almost become its own brand now, complete with vintage, modern, GMT, bronze and chronograph versions entirely distinct to its collection. It'll be very interesting to see if, and how, Tudor adapts this movement to the Pelagos or perhaps to a North Flag.
Make sure to come out to our amazing Tudor event May 17th! We'll be in the Renaissance Hotel in Legacy West from 6 to 9 PM. This is easily going to be one of our biggest events of the year and we'll be bringing rare historic models from Tudor's own collection! On top of that, we'll be joined by Russel Kelly, the Tudor USA brand manager, and Maxim Lamarre, Tudor sales manager! This is also your chance to see the hit Baselworld 2018 collection in person, so make sure to mark this on your calendar.