When I saw Tudor’s new releases at Watches & Wonders earlier this year, one in particular stuck out to me. No, not the headlining tool watches like the Black Bay Pro or updated GMTs and chronographs. Instead, it was the simple, time-only Tudor Black Bay S&G line. Tudor overhauled the collection this year, most notably by adding its in-house calibers to the S&G. It turns what was once an afterthought in Tudor’s catalog into a shining two-tone star.
Let’s back up for a second. Tudor is perhaps the only modern brand I really relate to. I’ve owned three different Black Bay 58 variations (nowadays, the 925 Silver is a near daily for me), and I’ve also owned a couple other models from the Black Bay line.
Modern Tudor does this amazing trick of making you feel like you’re still buying a tool watch, even if its modern watches are full-on luxury products. I know people get bothered by things like fake rivets, but those have never bugged me.
The Tudor Black Bay 36 (and 31, 39, 41) has always felt like something of an unsung hero in Tudor’s lineup. Even with the introduction of the new 39mm Tudor Ranger, to me the Black Bay 36 is the best alternative to the Rolex Explorer — especially for vintage enthusiasts.1
Tudor offers the Black Bay 31/36/39/41 S&G in a total of 33 variations, from simple and sport-like to diamond-set bezels and dials. It’s trying to be a lot of things to a lot of people, but it does them all well.
For me, the S&G line is a perfect example of Tudor doing what it does best: making you feel like you’re buying a tool watch, when in reality you’ve got yourself a real luxury watch.
Recently, I got hands-on with the new Black Bay S&G 31 (black dial) and S&G 36 (silver dial).
The updated Tudor Black Bay S&G line swapped out ETA calibers for Tudor’s family of in-house calibers from Kenissi, ranging from the MT52 (in the 31mm model) to the MT54 (36mm) and the MT56 (39mm and 41mm). These manufacture calibers are automatic, COSC-certified movements, with the larger versions featuring 70 hours of power reserve (the smaller MT5201 has 50 hours). Tudor launched the Kenissi manufacturer in 2010, presenting its first caliber in 2015; now, it supplies movements to Tudor, as well as Chanel (which owns a partial stake in the company), Norqain, Breitling, and others.2 While the new movement might be the headline, it wasn’t the only update Tudor made to the S&G line. The new manufacture caliber means the case has also been slimmed down; the case profile also feels more curved and svelte. The result is a watch that wears — and looks — better on wrist. A favorite detail of mine on the modern Black Bay cases is the beveled lugs, a call back to Tudor’s vintage tool watches. The S&G keeps this detail, maintaining a sporty vibe for what otherwise is a dressy proposition. The watch comes on a five-link bracelet — don’t call it a “Jubilee”, we save such esteemed titles for Rolex — fitted with Tudor’s great new T-Fit clasp, which allows for on-the-go, tool-free micro-adjustments. It’s one of the best features Tudor has introduced in the last few years, and it’s exciting to see them continue to roll it out across the Tudor catalog.
The obvious comparison to draw with any Tudor release is to its Rolex counterpart, and the Black Bay S&G is no different. The S&G 36 is the “affordable alternative” to the newish two-tone Rolex Explorer, which will set you back $11,150. The equivalent Tudor S&G is about $5,000, a worthy “value proposition.”
As I mentioned when that steel-and-gold Explorer came out, Rolex has a history of making two-tone sports watches (hell, the Deep Sea Special was steel and gold), so I don’t mind the two-tone-in-a-sports-watch vibe, even if it seems to be mostly associated with greed-is-good, Wall Street excess nowadays. In a Tudor, two-tone feels more subdued. It’s less look at me than with other watches.
Still, I prefer the Tudor Black Bay S&G at a smaller size. I handled the 31mm (black dial in this article) and 36mm (silver dial), and was struck by how much I enjoyed wearing the 31mm version. I won’t go so far as to say I preferred it over the S&G 36, but the competition between the two was closer than I would’ve guessed prior to trying them on. The silver dial has a familiar sunburst effect, while the black dial is glossy, with gold accents and marker surrounds that make it feel almost gilt. It’s a warm, vintage feel for a classically-styled watch. The bracelet is downright luxurious, especially at this price point. Wearing around the quick-adjust T-Fit clasp on a hot summer day is a dream, and there are few feelings better than a tight jubilee bracelet molding around your wrist for the first time.
Of course, part of the appeal of the updated S&G is what it might mean for the rest of the Black Bay lineup. I hope that the updated movement is rolled out in the steel 31/36/39/41 in the next couple of years, and everything indicates that it will. Most new Tudor releases seem to feature COSC-certified in-house movements.
To be clear, it’s not the in-house manufacturing itself that makes these calibers better, but the specs: Longer power reserves, silicon balance springs, and that COSC certification.