The Beckertime Comparison Series: The Rolex GMT-Master II Vs. The Tudor Heritage Black Bay GMT
Pitting the Rolex GMT-Master II against the Tudor Heritage Black Bay GMT is a bit like the current Rolex model going into battle with itself 60-years ago.
While the GMT-Master series as an entity can trace its origins back to the middle of the 20th century, the contemporary version is as cutting-edge as it is possible to be in the world of mechanical timepieces.
The components and their materials are absolute state-of-the-art, with nickel-phosphorous this and niobium-zirconium that, and a handful of platinum dust to top it all off. The modern-day range is softened and genteel, with every element beautifully finessed and elegantly finished—the epitome of the luxury traveler’s watch.
The Tudor is the GMT-Master as it used to be. It is the sort of robust tool watch parent company, Rolex just doesn’t seem to make anymore, leaving the door open for their ancillary brand to indulge us with all that nostalgic goodness.
There’s metal in the bezel and rivets in the bracelet, there’s an oversize crown and brushed surfaces all around.
However, there are also a host of similarities between the two. Both do the same job in the same way, and do it with homegrown movements. What’s more, each one is available in a color scheme that ranks among the most recognizable in horological history.
Below, we take a look at the pair in competition.
A Little Backstory
The Rolex GMT-Master II
How the first of the GMT-Master range, the ref. 6542, came into being is a well-known story.
A collaboration between Rolex and airline Pan Am in 1954, the watch was conceived as a way to help pilots and crew stave off jetlag, a newly experienced problem caused by the introduction of international long-haul flights, crossing several time zones.
Research had shown that having a way to keep track of the hour at home and the eventual destination simultaneously went some way in offsetting the worst of the psychological effects of the condition.
Rolex’s solution was simple; borrow the rotatable bezel concept they had brought out on the recently launched Turn-O-Graph, engrave it with a 24-hour scale and fit the watch with an additional hour hand, geared to run at half the speed of the main hand.
Now all the wearer had to do was turn the bezel until the desired numeral lined up with this second, or GMT, hand and it could be read at a glance, without the need to do any quick arithmetic. To make it even easier, the ref. 6542’s surround was painted two different colors—the top half, between 18.00 and 06.00 came in blue, and the bottom, 06.00 to 18.00 was red, to represent night and day.
The GMT-Master was an immediate success, like just about everything else Rolex did in the 50s. However there were still improvements to be made, but it would take until 1983 before the most significant one emerged.
That was the year of the first of the GMT-Master II models, the ref. 16760. Visually almost identical to the previous generations save for a thicker case, its biggest plus was on the inside. The new Cal. 3085 was fitted in to decouple the 12 and 24-hour hands, allowing them to be set independently of each other and giving the ability to track three time zones at once.
While the original series carried on for a while, the sequel range started to phase it out and it was gone by the end of the 1990s.
The GMT-Master II today is stronger than ever and ranks as possibly the most sought-after sports watch in Rolex’s entire lineup, with each new version (or even just new bracelet), causing pandemonium among fans the world over.
It is now, as it has been for more than six decades, the dual time zone watch against which all others are measured.
The Tudor Heritage Black Bay GMT
Despite its measured retro looks, Tudor’s Black Bay GMT didn’t arrive until 2018, riding the trend for vintage-inspired watches that started in the early 2010s. It stands as only the second dual time watch the brand has ever made, after 2007’s Aeronaut 20200.
It actually made its debut at the same time (and in the same place and category) as one of the most hotly anticipated new releases of the last decade, Rolex’s own GMT-Master II, back in steel with a Pepsi bezel for the first time in years.
That Tudor’s creation managed to steal away at least some of the headlines from that showstopper at Baselworld is proof of just how far they have emerged from the shadows of their illustrious controlling corporation.
Tudor has existed since 1926, the company set up by Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf for the express purpose of offering watches at a lower price than the full-blooded brand. Yet, materials and build quality have remained more or less on a par with each other for the majority of their respective runs, with the main difference between the two being Tudor’s reliance on third party calibers where Rolex have, for the most part, built their own movements in-house.
But now even that is changing. Tudor have recently begun to introduce their own manufacture calibers, as well as joining forces with other big names in the industry to share mechanisms between them, notably Breitling.
It has certainly closed the gap between the two—where Tudor has long had the undeserved reputation of the ‘poor-man’s Rolex’ they are now, slowly and surely, being seen as a true alternative, and one offering superb value for money.
Key to much of it has been the success of their Heritage Black Bay Collection, a celebration of some of the marque’s best archive pieces, which feature just enough period detail without going overboard as happens with some brands. You won’t find any fake patina, of fauxtina, on the dials, for instance, but plenty of other elements which could have been lifted straight from the 1950s originators.
The Black Bay GMT slots perfectly into the range, and has become a highly coveted watch in its own right.
But how does it measure up to its big brother?
This might be a strange question, but are you familiar with the Jaguar E-Type? The finest sports car Britain ever produced, and quite possibly one of the greatest of all time, it was in production for nearly 15-years, from 1961 to 1975.
But the first of the breed looked very different to the one from the 70s.
That original was a stripped down, lightweight creature, built for nothing but speed and aesthetically perfect from every angle. It was described as ‘the most beautiful car in the world’ by none other than Enzo Ferrari.
By 1975, it had a different role. No longer something for the racetrack, it was now a GT car, made for long distance touring and arriving in style. As a result, it had been made larger, more comfortable and been given an engine which purred rather than bellowed.
Bear with me here, but I can’t help comparing the E-Type to our two GMT watches.
Tudor’s is the 60’s racer, all sweeping lines and naked but for the essentials. There’s no crown guards on the 41mm steel case and the crown itself is a full 8mm, reminiscent of the Big Crown Tudor Submariners first seen in 1958. The Snowflake hands, the railway-style chapter ring, the matte black dial, the muted colors in the two-tone, coin-edged bezel—it all adds up to the perfect throwback, to a time when everything was just…cooler.
The GMT-Master II is the luxury tourer. It’s the one which has seasoned into a respectable, opulent middle age—comfortable in its role and still the best of its type.
Its Supercase is more muscular and imposing than the Tudor’s, even though it gives up a millimeter and measures the time-honored 40mm. The bezel is high-tech Cerachrom, the surface finished with a coating of platinum dust to guarantee it will stay looking brand new for decades, without any risk of fading or scratching. The hands and indexes on the glossy Maxi dial are ringed in white gold to prevent tarnishing, and everything, from the graceful shaping of the crown guards to the exquisite serrations on the surround point to a watch that has matured effortlessly and has nothing left to prove.
The Tudor is the rough and ready bruiser, the Rolex is the gentleman.
Among the most obvious differences between the two models lies in their respective range of options.
The GMT-Master II range consists of six watches; two in steel, two in white gold, one in solid 18k Everose and the last in Everose Rolesor.
Of the collection, it is the pair of steel examples which are far and away the most sought after, and ‘technically’ the cheapest. Both made from Rolex’s own Oystersteel, part of the 904L family, they differ only in the colors on the bezel. You can choose between the blue and black ref. 126710BLNR (commonly referred to as the Batman, or Batgirl now it’s been fitted to a Jubilee bracelet), and the red and blue ref. 126710BLRO, otherwise and forever known, as it has been since the debut reference in 1954, as the Pepsi.
The two in white gold are also Pepsi’s, but have been given distinctive dials to let admirers know they are looking at something at least four times the price of the steel pieces, even though the metals are difficult to tell apart visually.
The ref. 126719BLRO has a blue dial, in a shade similar to the one used around the bezel’s top half. The other, with the same reference number, wears a dial crafted from an actual meteorite. Rolex has been using thin slivers of meteor, generally made up of iron and nickel, for years in their watches, but usually on Datejust and Day-Date models. This is the first time the GMT-Master has been granted one, and it makes every specimen unique, something prized above almost everything else by horology fans.
The Everose and Everose Rolesor pieces (ref. 126715CHNR and ref. 126711CHNR respectively) both revert to black dials, but their bezels are a much welcomed hark back to an earlier age. The first black and brown color scheme came out in the 60s, and was garnered with the nickname the Root Beer, among others. (The Tiger Eye, the Clint Eastwood, the Dirty Harry, etc.).
The brand has reintroduced the look here and have, frankly, nailed it. The Rolesor watch especially is a beautiful creation, managing to bring a beloved vintage favorite into the modern age and somehow make it even better.
As for the Black Bay GMT, the options list here is easier to wrap your head around, because there isn’t one.
There is only a steel model, in the industry-standard 316L, topped with a Pepsi bezel.
The bracelets are the only area where you can make a change. There’s the option of a black NATO-style band with a red stripe, or a Terra di Siena brown leather strap. Best of all though is the steel bracelet, with a polished and satin finish and, proving once and for all this is a GMT that hasn’t forgotten its roots, rivets.
The bracelets on the Rolexes depend on the watch itself. Both steel references have steel Jubilees, while the other four are all on Oysters, each in the same metal as the cases.
Although Tudor has made great strides in building movements of their own, and can presumably call on much of the expertise of their parent company across the road in Geneva, it is Rolex’s GMT caliber which is the more impressive out of the two—and by some way.
The Cal. 3285 is from their very latest generation of mechanisms, sporting their proprietary Parachrom Bleu hairspring and, more importantly, the Chronergy escapement. This anti-magnetic, nickel-phosphorous, skeletonized reworking of the traditional Swiss lever system is next level stuff, reportedly 15% more efficient than previous examples.
The caliber, of course, passes Rolex’s own standards for precision, the Superlative Chronometer certificate, ensuring timekeeping accuracy to within -2/+2 seconds a day, and has a 70-hour reserve.
The Black Bay is powered by the manufacture Cal. MT5652 which, although a big, robust engine, it would be doing it a disservice to describe it simply as a workhorse.
It incorporates a full balance bridge and free-sprung balance wheel, along with Rolex’s Microstella regulating system. It has a Quickset and a hacking function, bi-directional winding and, like the Cal. 3285, gives a 70-hour power reserve.
However, instead of a Parachrom Bleu it actually uses a silicon hairspring and enthusiasts can argue all day over which is better. In the end, it all adds up to a highly impressive chronometer-rated movement, particularly at the price.
Speaking of which…
Even with their homegrown caliber, Tudor still manages to pull off their usual trick of being cheaper—a lot cheaper—than Rolex.
The Black Bay GMT comes in at a little under $4,000.
The prices range on the Rolex from about $9,700 (ha!) for the steel models, up to around $39,900 for the white gold with meteorite dial.
Will you be buying any of the GMT-Master II series for that? No, no you will not.
Rolex has been limiting the supply of the majority of their most desirable watches for years now to drive up demand, and the Batman and steel Pepsi rank at just about the top of that long list. As a result, it is incredibly difficult to get one from an authorized dealer, leaving most to hunt around on the preowned market, with the resultant premiums being added onto the cost. Just a quick look now, and the cheapest Batman I can find from this year is about $16,000. If you want a 2020 Pepsi, they start at $18,000.
So it is a massive increase, but of course, that’s not the end of the story.
If you are interested in future investment potential, which would be perfectly understandable if you were spending $18,000 on a watch, then the Rolex will outperform the Tudor by huge amounts.
Modern Rolex steel sports watches hold their value better than just about any other luxury product. You could buy one of this year’s GMT-Master IIs today on the preowned market, wear it for 10-years and sell it on for around what you paid for it. If, by some happy chance, you were able to buy one at retail, you could make a handsome profit.
The Tudor cannot make the same claim. In fact, nothing short of a Patek Philippe can. And it means, all of a sudden, the Rolex isn’t expensive in real terms.
All that being said, we would never advise buying any watch purely in the hopes of it becoming an appreciating asset.
They should be bought for the enjoyment of the thing, and between the GMT-Master II and the Black Bay GMT, there is a lot to enjoy.
Both are beautifully built and highly capable. One has a very long history, the other looks like it does. And each is likely to get admiring glances from enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike.
In the end, you should buy the one which appeals the most, safe in the knowledge you can’t really make a bad decision.
— Featured Photo Credits: BeckerTime’s Archive.