A Week On The Wrist: The Tudor Black Bay GMT
A travel-ready take on the popular Black Bay diver makes for a compelling companion wherever you may roam.
Originally published by James Stacey on HODINKEE, August 1st, 2018
Sport watches come in many shapes and sizes. While I may love a good dive watch, or the old-school charm of a racing chronograph, for me, nothing matches the appeal of a solid GMT. A good example is built like a dive watch and wouldn’t look out of place anywhere in the world. I think there is something special about GMTs, about their ethos, their simple but powerful functionality, and their ability to ground you in your roots while adapting to wherever it is you want to go in life.
This past March at Baselworld, Tudor announced the Black Bay GMT, a handsome stainless steel travel watch based on the format established by their Black Bay dive watches, while offering true GMT functionality too. Following the Pepsi-colored bezel established by Tudor’s sibling brand Rolex, the Black Bay GMT is a rather new path for Tudor, but one that is recognizable both for its general Black Bay roots and for its aesthetic and functional similarities to one of the all-time great travel watches, the Rolex GMT-Master II.
With a strong value proposition backed by excellent design and a new movement offering true GMT functionality, the Black Bay GMT has the makings of a quintessential sport watch for the avid traveler.
A Little History
Looking at Tudor’s past, the brand has never really produced anything that could be considered a true precursor to the Black Bay GMT. Sure, they’ve produced some GMT watches in their history, and even fitted the Heritage Chronograph with a smart 12-hour bezel, but the Black Bay GMT is distinct within their product legacy and does not refer back to any specific Tudor reference or model.
If we zoom out just a little, we find Tudor’s older brother, Rolex, who do producea very similar watch in the GMT-Master II. Originally launched in 1983 as the reference 16760, the GMT-Master II built upon the travel-ready appeal of the original GMT-Master that Rolex developed for Pan Am pilots in the mid 1950s. For the GMT-Master II, Rolex created the model around a new movement that offered local jumping hours. So when you landed in a new time zone, you could change the local time in either direction by jump-setting the hour hand via the crown. This functionality also included the ability to progress or retract the date (should you fly through midnight), and the whole process could be done without stopping the watch or even disrupting the position of the other hands. If you fly a lot, this functionality is next level.
Since its inception as reference 6542, the GMT-Master has offered a 24-hour bezel in a split blue/red color scheme that enthusiasts call a “Pepsi” bezel. Other colors have been offered, including red/black which is called a “Coke” bezel. The split colors help to delineate day/night in the second time zone, and the color scheme has become a one of the most noteworthy visual design cues of the GMT-Master and GMT-Master II. While there was a brief pause while Rolex developed the ability to produce a red/blue Cerachrom bezel (their application of a ceramic bezel insert), the Pepsi look returned to the line up at Baselworld 2014 with the white gold reference 116719.
Earlier this year, while entirely sharing the stage with the not-dissimilar Black Bay GMT, Rolex released a steel version of the Pepsi GMT-Master II in the reference 126710BLRO. With that blue/red bezel on a full steel case and jubilee bracelet, Rolex established the new steel Pepsi that had been missing from the market since the brand discontinued the previous generation 16710 around 2007.
While I know it’s strange to highlight the history of one watch to contextualize another, the decision to design the Black Bay GMT with not only the same functionality (which is awesome) but also a direct aesthetic nod to the GMT-Master series from Rolex is extremely noteworthy. Within both the context of the history of Tudor’s relationship with Rolex (at a product level) and the more recent development of their distinctly non-Rolex Black Bay line, the Black Bay GMT is a watch that I believe few, if anyone, expected. Furthermore, I believe it’s existence is nothing short of a clear vote of confidence from Rolex that there is an undeniable play that exists downmarket from the Submariner and, more crucially, the GMT-Master II.
As much as the aesthetics are a focusing point for the discussion surrounding this watch (and we’ll get there), I believe that the functionality is also a huge aspect to consider, not only in terms of the Black Bay GMT’s proximity to a GMT-Master II but also in its relationship to the current GMT watch market more generally.
Speaking rather broadly, modern GMT watches are generally divided into two categories: Independent 24 Hour and Local Jumping Hour. The division speaks to the underlying realities of movement production, as the Independent 24 Hour GMT market is almost entirely owned by ETA and their ubiquitous 2893-2 movement (there are also derivations of Sellita movements, but the end realities are the same), which uses an independently set 24-hour hand which tracks a timezone of your choosing via a 24 hour scale or bezel. I call these “Caller GMTs” as they are great for tracking other time zones from home, but as all of the hands function together when changing the main time display, this layout is not all that adept at quickly changing to a new time zone when actively traveling.
The other option, Local Jumping Hour, is more complicated but offers more flexibility for actual travel. Along with a 24-hour hand, watches that offer a Local Jumping Hour GMT functionality have the ability to jump the main (local) hour hand in one-hour increments in either direction to update to a new time zone. If the ebb or flow of zones passes midnight, then the date updates as well. This methodology allows you to preserve both the general timekeeping (the movement does not stop when jumping the hour hand), and whatever time zone was being managed by the 24-hour hand. For this reason, I call this methodology a “Flyer GMT.” If you’re changing time zones, it’s practical and easy. And, once you get a handle on the 24-hour bezel offered by watches like the Black Bay GMT, you’ve hit that next level.
This style of GMT display has lasted the test of time and offers enough flexibility to suit a wide range of uses, especially when traveling.
The issue here is that ETA, or any other third party movement manufacturer (to my knowledge), does not make a Local Jumping Hour movement. So if you want to make a watch like the Black Bay GMT, you have to either extensively modify an existing caliber (like Omega did with the wonderful, but long since discontinued, caliber 1128 that was seen in some great past-gen Seamasters like the 2234.50 and the mega cool 2538.20 “Great White”), or just make it yourself. Tudor opted for the latter with their new MT5652 in-house movement and made the Black Bay GMT a legit travel watch with functionality identical to that of the GMT-Master II. Are we all doing the same math here?
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of testing a great deal of GMT watches, let me explain the functionality as it’s actually used. With the crown unscrewed, you can isolate the local time display with the first position. Jumping in one-hour increments to update to the local time and bring the date with you, if required. To actually set the Black Bay GMT, pull the crown to the second position and you can update all of the hands at once. Using the bezel to set the GMT hand to your desired reference time zone, then set the minutes and click back to position one (on the crown) to correct for the local time.
Now, to show a second time zone, rotate the bezel to reflect the offset of your local time vs. the 24-hour hand, in this case, if I want to see the time in NYC it would be -4 hours, or eight clicks clockwise, placing “20” at the top position of 12 o’clock. You can now quickly read the time in New York off of the bezel (see the included video for a complete demonstration). Additionally, with some simple math, you get a third time zone by converting the GMT hand to its 24 display against the main hour markers on the dial. This style of GMT display has lasted the test of time and offers enough flexibility to suit a wide range of uses, especially when traveling.
The Black Bay GMT
Thankfully, aside from the GMT functionality, the Black Bay GMT is just another Tudor Black Bay. The case is made of stainless steel with mixed brushed and polished finishing and measures some 41mm wide, about 15mm thick, and some 50mm lug to lug. The sizing manages to thread the needle between big and small, with a generally well-loved case width but a bit more thickness than would be preferable. In fairness, the 15mm thickness is to the top of the exposed sapphire crystal, and the case/bezel edge is a bit thinner. On my wrist I noticed the tall case edge, but not the full thickness to the top of the crystal, essentially splitting the difference in the metal.
The case shape has that chunky quality to it but makes use of polished flanks and a polished lug facet to keep things from feeling too visually heavy. The combination of a large screw down crown and a wide-set bezel edge makes for excellent control over the two main touch points. Indeed, with the big crown, I could actually update the local time display without taking the Black Bay GMT off my wrist.
The case is nicely finished but retains a certain toolish charm that preserves the go-anywhere-do-anything intent of a good GMT. Furthermore, the Black Bay GMT retains the 200M water resistance of its dive watch siblings, so whether its a dip in a hotel pool or a quick dive during a long layover, the Black Bay GMT can stay on wrist without a second thought. Having dived with both a Black Bay (an earlier ETA model) and the brand’s more specific dive watch, the Pelagos, I can say that few watches feel more at home in the water than Tudor divers.
The bi-directional 24-hour bezel may be spiritually similar to the GMT-Master, but in details it is quite different. Its aluminum bezel lacks the brightness of color seen in the 16710 and is entirely different from the heavily saturated colors of Rolex’s current red/blue Cerachrom bezel. Instead, the Black Bay GMT opts for a subtle combo of a desaturated deep navy blue and a sort of reddish-burgundy, both colors that are known quantities within the Black Bay spectrum. Matte in finish, I think the choice to go with an aluminum insert (vs ceramic) is nothing short of excellent. Not only does it make for a much less shiny watch, it also better matches the toolish vibe of the overall package and will undoubtedly age with more character than anything made of ceramic (I love a scratched-up bezel). You are of course welcome to disagree, but I really appreciate the subtlety of the color choice, the matte appearance, and the ability to add my own patina over the course of my travels.
In usual Black Bay fashion, the GMT’s dial is a matte black, with large applied markers, a legible and Snowflake-heavy handset (including that long red GMT hand), and a balanced use of text. There is a nicely implemented and simple date window at three which uses black text on a white background for maximum legibility. A GMT watch needs a date display, and I think three o’clock is a nicely balanced choice and I’m glad that Tudor opted to skip the cyclops. With ample lume and strong general legibility, the Black Bay GMT dial is handsome, well balanced, and nicely detailed with white metal surrounds for the hands and markers.
While I figure this is relatively clear in the above text, I really like the look of the Black Bay GMT. I like that it’s less shiny than a modern GMT-Master II, and I like that it preserves much of the appeal of the original Black Bay design language.
The MT5652 is part of Tudor’s family of full-size movements and the GMT functionality is integrated rather than modular, making it possible for the Black Bay GMT to be as thick as a standard Black Bay diver. COSC certified and offering a power reserve of 70 hours, the MT5652 ticks at 4Hz and offers a silicon balance spring along with bi-directional winding. With 27 jewels and a width of 31.8mm, the MT5652 offers a huge value to the market at this price point. Not only are the options are rare at this price point for a legit in-house movement, but Tudor is offering the Black Bay GMT with a qualified but seldom replicated GMT functionality.
So, like other Black Bays, the GMT is offered on three available mounts, the solid steel rivet bracelet seen here, a “Terra Di Siena” brown leather strap, or one of Tudor’s excellent fabric straps in black with a red stripe. While my focus is on the bracelet as that is what I had for review, the watch comes with your choice of one of the three at the time of purchase. I tried the leather at Baselworld, and it’s soft and comfy but the deployant-style buckle adds some bulk and is not a great fit for my boney wrist. In contrast, I have worn a standard Black Bay extensively on the fabric and it’s an excellent choice. If you want to save a few bucks (or don’t see yourself ever wearing the bracelet), the fabric would be a solid option.
The bracelet is very nicely made, with solid end links, no wiggle, and a tiny edge detail on each link, which many may find love or hate. I am not really a fan of bracelets in general, especially on sport watches that err on the heavier side. That said, the Black Bay bracelet is very nicely made, has a solid and simple clasp with three micro adjust points, and while I found it heavy to wear for a week, consider my bias towards putting NATOs or leather on all of my watches. Where I think Tudor could really crush everyone else in the game is by fitting their steel bracelets with the trick auto-expanding clasp found on the titanium Pelagos bracelet (or a version therein). It’s as good a clasp as I’ve ever experienced and I’d love to see it ported to more watches. If you’re just trying to pick between the three then I think the move, if available at your AD, would be to get it on the bracelet and then just put the Black Bay GMT on all sorts of straps – don’t forget that a little grey NATO never hurts.
On The Wrist
The Black Bay GMT wears almost like any other Black Bay. It’s slightly chunky (in a good way), with tall polished flanks and a squarish profile that wears really well. When I say slightly, I’m eluding to one small change to the case shape that Tudor appears to have debuted with the Black Bay GMT. The change is that of a bevel on the underside of the case that removes the hard edge where the case meets your wrist (see below).
I’ve looked at both ETA and the later MT-based examples of the Black Bay, and the GMT is the only model I’ve found with this ergonomic update. I specifically recall the case edge being fairly sharp on the ETA Black Bay I reviewed several years ago, so I think this is an excellent tweak to the case shape and it undoubtedly makes the Black Bay GMT easier to wear. As a side note, the new Black Bay Fifty-Eight does not have this bevel either, so it really does seem to be a GMT exclusive (for now).
Case edges aside, as I’ve mentioned, I found the Black Bay GMT on its bracelet to be a bit heavy, but I definitely attribute that to my general attitude towards bracelets. If you like a sport watch on a bracelet, the Black Bay GMT won’t feel especially heavy on your wrist. Comfort is good and with a few micro positions in the clasp, it was no issue to get a proper fit.
Wrist presence is very similar to any other Black Bay, with lots of legibility, good lume, and a bezel you just want to play with. I really liked the Black Bay GMT on wrist and given that the Black Bay diver is an entirely known quantity at this point, many of you will already have a feel for how it wears.
While most of the included images are from a trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles (in which I didn’t change timezones from my home in Vancouver), I was able to use the Black Bay GMT’s time zone jumping functionality on a previous trip. If, like me, you travel a lot, the functionality is so handy you get kinda spoiled by it. My day-to-day travel watch is a Rolex Explorer II (16570) and the Black Bay GMT offers the same base functionality but takes it a step further with the 24-hour bezel. When the plane lands, you just unscrew the crown, jump back or forwards to match the new zone, and join the herd in getting off the plane.
As much as I like the philosophy of a travel watch like the Black Bay GMT, I might like the general casual-but-flexible style of the watch even more. Not unlike the GMT-Master II, there is a certain laissez-faire attitude to the Black Bay GMT. While definitely not dressy, if you’re hopping over to London for a meeting and then on to Geneva that evening, the Black Bay GMT won’t be out of place or seem inappropriate on your wrist. With its nicely muted colors, boyish go-anywhere charm, and the ability to suit a wide range of straps, the Black Bay GMT is more sport coat than tailored suit, and that fits me just fine.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve likely been doing some of the mental math of a watch nerd along the way, and yes, the Black Bay GMT offers a remarkable value for a mechanical watch with its functionality, even disregarding its other qualities. Direct competition is almost entirely non-existent. In an attempt to elaborate, there are two major considerations here: feature set and price. For feature set, we’ve established a GMT function with jumping local hour and coordinated date along with a 24-hour rotating bezel. For price, this watch sits at $3,900 as you see it here. Honestly, good luck competing with that.
Let’s start with watches that offer the same feature set at a loosely similar price point.
The Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 126710 BLRO
While the discontinued (and appreciating) reference 16710 is likely a stronger comparison, the new steel GMT-Master II that was announced at Baselworld this year is definitely a more functional comparison. The Rolex is so beautifully made, has a ceramic bezel, and says Rolex on the dial. While certainly (and deservedly) the iconic model in the GMT space, it’s also well over double the price and very hard to come by. That said, the Rolex offers identical functionality to that of the Tudor and the general conversation around the Black Bay GMT is one that offers the 126710 as comparison, which is noteworthy in and of itself.
Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M GMT
The Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600m GMT is an interesting watch that offers an appealing package for those who essentially want a larger overall size or dig the Omega diver aesthetic. 43.5mm wide and rather thick at ~17mm, the Planet Ocean GMT has the same core functionality (via a very advanced and tech-forward co-axial chronometer movement) and benefits from not looking at all like a GMT-Master. That being said, I figure it loses to the Black Bay GMT based on the delta in price (exactly 2x) and the much more accessible sizing of the Black Bay format.
Moving on, let’s consider a few options at a (loosely) similar price point and see what we get in terms of function.
Bremont MB-III GMT
Bremont makes several solid GMT watches, but as I implied much earlier in this review, none have local jumping because they use ETA 2893-2 movements. The purchasing decision comes down to whether or not you need/want the true GMT functionality. If you’re mostly interfacing with other time zones for conference calls or response expectations, an Independent 24 hour GMT might be the way to go. That said, the Bremont, while more complex in its case and bezel construction, is also 30% more money ($5,995) than the Black Bay GMT, and the Tudor is also a bit smaller (41mm vs 43mm), while offering an in-house movement with a longer power reserve.
TAG Heuer Aquaracer Calibre 7 GMT
Also using the same ETA 2893-2 functionality as the Bremont, this 43mm Tag Heuer Aquaracer offers a Pepsi-style bezel in red and blue and, at $2,700, it is a good bit less expensive than the Black Bay GMT. With a date at three, 300m water resistance, and a full steel bracelet, while it doesn’t match the same functionality for travel that is offered by the Tudor, this Aquaracer GMT is a good looking, if a bit large, option for an independent 24-hour GMT. While less expensive than the above Bremont above, this might be a “go big, or go home” play where you either get a true GMT with a jumping local hour hand or find a better overall value in the ETA-based game (where examples exist in the sub-$1,000 range).
If you’re in the market for this sort of GMT, just get in line for the forthcoming Halios Seaforth GMT, it’s cheaper than most, better looking, great on wrist, and it offers an identical functionality to the the Bremont and the TAG.
While I may have rambled a bit here, I figure by now you’re starting to see my point. GMTs come in a nearly endless array of sizes, prices, and layouts, but if you want what is arguably the most proven format (local jumping hour), there aren’t exactly a ton of options and Tudor has kinda dropped a bomb on anything under $7,000. Actually, you could argue that aside from the allure of a Rolex and the pedigree of the GMT-Master II, the Black Bay GMT (which has been dubbed the “Diet Pepsi”) is the more alluring package for a lot of people.
I picked this watch for a recent Editor Roundup of One Watch Options, and I stand by it. While I won’t deny that the ideal is something like a 16710 (I like the thinner and more elegant case shape), those GMT-Master IIs are both discontinued and quite expensive, costing literal multiples of the retail price of the Black Bay GMT. Is the Black Bay GMT perfect? No, but it is very close. I think it’s a touch too thick for my preference, but that took maybe a day for me to forget about. I didn’t get the chance to try it on a NATO, but given its similarity in size to a watch like the Seiko SKX007, I think it would be excellent. Also, while I am far from the first to suggest it (don’t get it twisted, I see you all on Instagram and in the comments), a Black Bay Fifty-Eight GMT would be BONKERS.
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”
– RALPH WALDO EMERSON
I love to travel and I have a job that affords me frequent trips to many far off places. I love the thoughtfulness of the packing, the planning, the details, and the ever evolving collection of items and behaviours that help to make the process less of a burden. I also love watches, so it’s of little surprise that over time I have attached myself to GMT watches as the ideal travel companion. I get so pumped when I see a beat-to-hell GMT on someone’s wrist in a lounge or as I walk down the tight confines to my seat in a plane. Watches like these don’t have to be babied, they’re along for the ride and each scar is a totem to a life spent expanding your perspective.
All said, the Black Bay GMT is a solid sport watch and an excellent travel watch. Within the greater context of its existence, I think it’s an interesting nod of approval from Rolex as they produced and launched a vastly similar watch in this year’s GMT-Master II. The scenario becomes all the more considerable if you factor for Tudor’s methodology over the past few years in producing two distinct lines of dive watches, the Black Bay and the Pelagos, both separate from the Submariner. With the Black Bay GMT, I feel like the lines are more blurred, that Tudor has accessed and implemented upon one of Rolex’s best overall formats. I think that the Black Bay GMT represents a considerable vote of confidence on the part of Rolex while also highlighting the watch industry’s need to offer qualified value at a more accessible price point.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not,” and while he was speaking of travel at large, I think the same can be applied to a good travel watch as we carry it with us. Your shoes, your luggage, your clothes, your phone, all those bits that you you take with you will eventually wear out. But a watch like the Tudor Black Bay GMT could easily keep pace with a lifetime of travel and wondrous adventure. Am I perhaps being a bit too romantic about a watch that can simply show other timezones? Yes, entirely. But within that admission, what a GMT simplifies is something that I find deeply rewarding, endlessly fun, and undeniably romantic. It’s travel, and from adventure, to misadventure, and the general calamity of exploring all that the world offers, a solid GMT is without question the tool for the job.