Feature: Rolex GMT-Master II vs Tudor Black Bay GMT
It’s about time we got these two side-by-side, and now that time is here. The crux of this debate is simply going to revolve around the following: this GMT-Master II costs £6,800, the Tudor £2,790. The Rolex is almost two-and-a-half times the price. But it’s also the older sibling, the original, without which Tudor wouldn’t exist at all. So, the question is simply this: if you can afford either, which one should you pick?
Rolex isn’t exactly the oldest watch manufacturer, approaching a very traditional and not very accommodating market extremely late to the game, using every trick in the book to build up a reputation for, first, accuracy, second, reliability and third, status.
The first was achieved by being the only watchmaker to enter a wristwatch into accuracy trials, the second by getting other more experienced companies to build its watches, and the third by throwing anything and everything at the wall and seeing what stuck.
Believe or not, it worked. Rolex watches became renowned for accuracy, proved their reliability, and became associated with professions at the forefront of industry—in the case of the GMT-Master, aviation. It worked as an idea because it was simple, obvious business that just wasn’t being addressed by older watchmakers relying too heavily on tradition.
And how about this for another simple business idea: take your already successful watches, put cheaper movements in them, re-brand them and sell them for a bit less. Rolex pulled that trick off just a few decades after its own inception, creating Tudor, and it worked pretty well, too. After all, both brands are still here, commanding a rather weighty slice of the market.
But, like then, Tudor is still the lesser of the two brands, a fact obviously reflected in the price difference. Ten years ago, Tudor’s under-the-radar appeal would have justified a stronger desire for the five-pointed crown, but with a huge upswing in interest in Tudor since the introduction of the Heritage collection, the lines aren’t quite so clear.
Okay, so right off the bat it’s worth mentioning that the Rolex is obviously the better made watch. You’re paying for the brand, of course, but there’s no way the Tudor was going to peg it on build and still manage to be so much cheaper.
It’s a fact that manifests itself in the details, most obviously in things like the Rolex’s platinum-dusted ceramic bezel, its gloss black dial with white gold hands and markers, and its beautifully engineered clasp; less obviously so in the fine scalloping of the bezel edge, the shaping of the crown and the precision of the brushed finish.
On paper, the Rolex’s calibre 3285, new for this generation, seems on a level with the Tudor’s MT5652, also new. Both are in-house, with 70 hours of power reserve and sporting variable inertia balance wheels, but the Rolex is more advanced with its skeletonised, anti-magnetic nickel-phosphorus escapement and niobium-zirconium alloy balance spring, as well as its—and you’ll have to take my word on this—superior finishing. It wasn’t really going to be any other way.
The realisation this provokes sounds rather obvious out loud, but these two watches aren’t actually competitors. The Tudor, really, is a challenger to the old GMT-Master II from ten, twenty years ago, the one with the anodised aluminium bezel, simpler movement, and lower price tag. The Tudor is, and the missing crown guards and riveted bracelet only go to confirm this, a throwback watch. Don’t like how polished the Rolex is? You get the Tudor. Hated the lack of finesse of the previous generation? Get the Rolex.
Don’t forget that Rolex has always been a master of business, always been able to give the market just what it needed. Sure, there have been some misses and some really slow burners, but the Tudor Black Bay GMT is a sure-fire hit. Rolex has pivoted its sibling to not only provide a cheaper alternative to its flagship watches, but also to offer a taste of watchmaking as it used to be.
Rolex only ever created Tudor as a way to tap a market that it didn’t already have a hold of, and that’s no different today, with one exception: you bought a Tudor before because you couldn’t afford the Rolex, but now—now you just might buy the Tudor because you don’t want the Rolex.
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