Affordable Retro: Tissot Heritage Seastar PR 516 GL

PR516GLWith the holidays looming, the potential for Christmas bonuses or just the need to add another watch to the stable, one recent find fills a lot of checkboxes on the “What to Buy” list…the Tissot Seastar PR 516 GL. Let’s take a look at that list, in a nutshell. It’s made in Switzerland by none other than the Swatch Group. On the price scale, it falls into the “affordable” range for most watch lovers, well under $1000.00 USD. It offers a lot of value for the money too, both in the features that come standard on it and the quality of construction. It also has history, being a reissue of a model Tissot produced for a number of years. Finally, it has a retro-cool look that harkens back to one of the more interesting periods in our history. This review will cover each of these facets in more detail.

In the current watch stable of the monolithic Swatch Group, Tissot falls in at the top of their middle range according to the hierarchy listed in their annual report. Tissot does produce a few high end models, usually in limited editions to commemorate any number of special anniversaries in their history but overall, the majority of Tissot watches can be had in the $500.00 to $999.00 USD range. The PR 516 GL falls within this price range depending on where you find one and which model you select. When you can find a well-crafted, value-packed Swiss automatic wristwatch from a reputable brand in this price range, you’ve had a good day.

It’s important to keep in mind the name of this particular watch when looking because “PR516” can also denote other watches made by Tissot that look nothing like the one this article covers. The “GL” makes the difference in the name, and frankly, this watch has a lot of name in the game. The dial alone has six lines of text, including “Tissot” “Visodate” “Automatic” “Seastar” “PR516” and “GL”, yet it seems to work out well, even if it does give the watch a bit of an identity crisis. To help break this down into bite sized morsels, this basically means:

  • Tissot (Brand)
  • Visodate (Feature, i.e. the Day and Date windows)
  • Automatic (Movement type)
  • Seastar (Line)
  • PR 516 (Model)
  • GL (Submodel)

Fortunately, it lives up to all this dial hype and does so with style and capability. The original, introduced in the late 1960’s is a product of the design ethos of the time. Designers were pushing the boundaries a bit and leaving behind some of the plain, simple but elegant designs of the early 60’s in favor of watches that made more of a visual statement. The word “Cool” was entering the lexicon of daily language and could now be appropriately applied to many of the watch designs coming into the market. The Seastar PR516 GL could be counted among them. The reimagined modern version remains remarkably true to the original. It’s a bit larger, as befits the modern trend toward larger watches but not oversized by any measure. At 40mm wide, it manages to hit the “just right” spot with most watch wearers.

TissotBlackPR516The dial, in my case black and silver, closely mirrors the appearance of the original and is very 1960’s in appearance. It has a silver chapter ring with large, blocky indexes affixed which floats just above the black dial. This part has a faint sun ray pattern that can be seen in bright light, giving the dial more character. The effect is much more apparent in models with the silver or blue dial. The dial also features a vintage Tissot logo, a raised silver block with the letter “T” in the middle. This is a nice touch of class on the watch. The hands, which mirror the indexes in size and shape, are easy to align with the indexes when setting the watch. The hands of the watch contain luminous material that glows brightly after being exposed to light. The indexes also feature luminous material that appears in normal light to be a black line but which actually glows a pale green in the dark. The hands are significantly brighter in the dark than the indexes.

One of the features of this watch is a day and date display, located at the 3 position. These change simultaneously right at midnight with a noticeable click. With the day display, you can choose between a normal day abbreviation or one that has the number of the day of the week in red alongside the day (i.e. 1MON, 2Tue and so forth).

The case is made of 316L grade stainless steel, an industry standard for steel watches. It is polished on the sides and brushed on the top with a large crown that is easy to grasp, yet doesn’t protrude significantly from the case. Pulling the crown to the first position sets the day (counter-clockwise rotation) and the date (clockwise rotation). Pulling the crown to the second position stops the second-hand and allows for setting the time precisely.

Powering the watch is a basic ETA 2824 movement. Aside from the rotor, which carries a modest degree of finishing, the movement is unremarkable and unadorned. On the plus side, it is known for its robust character and dependability, performing its task with typical Swiss precision. It features 25 jewels and can be viewed through the transparent case back. One interesting characteristic is the representation of a steering wheel, which is placed over the movement and underneath the transparent case back, an homage to the racing spirit of the original model.

One of the welcome features on a watch of this price range is the slightly domed and beveled sapphire crystal. The dial is easily viewed through the crystal, which lacks any type of anti-reflective coating. The crystal rises about a millimeter above the case and has a beveled edge all the way around which actually seems to channel light onto the silver chapter ring, making it stand out nicely. I’m very pleased with the crystal, which as I said is a nice touch at this price point.

There are a variety of dials available with this particular model. The one I chose is a basic stainless steel model with a black dial and silver chapter ring. The watch also is available with a blue dial or a silver dial and also in a yellow gold PVD plated case with a white dial. The models with the white/silver dial have the effect of combining with the chapter ring to make the face look larger, although this is an illusion as they are all the same size. The models with the blue dial and silver dial come with an interesting retro bracelet in steel while the black dial model and the gold model have leather straps with deployant claps. Both the bracelets and the straps feature large holes in the racing strap style.

photo copy 16My experience wearing the watch with the leather strap included was very comfortable. The soft, supple leather strap feels good on the arm and does not add weight to the watch. It is easy to size by moving the deployant device. I have not tried on the one with the stainless bracelet but understand from others that, while fashionable, it is not as comfortable to wear as most bracelets. I outfitted mine with a mesh bracelet that is both very comfortable and which actually compliments the retro look and feel of the watch. It is exactly the kind of bracelet that works well on a watch of this period look.

Accuracy, while not in the chronometer range, is acceptable. The watch gains about 20 seconds a day on the arm but this is acceptable for a watch in this range. I generally just stop it now and then and wait for the seconds to catch up.

Overall, the Heritage PR516 GL is a great watch with a vintage look but without the drawbacks of  a vintage watch. The price point nets you a day and date display, a viewable automatic movement with hack feature, a deployant clasp strap and a sapphire crystal, all for about $600.00 depending on where you find them. Multiple sales outlets carry these on the internet and the likelihood of fakes are low in this price range. One should always be cautioned to purchase from a reliable seller.

Tissot has a solid reputation for quality, reliability, style and affordability. These combined traits make for a nice watch that you will be proud to own.

Timeless Designs: The Hamilton Ventura

Ventura1957The year 1957 wasn’t an especially significant one in the decade of the 1950’s but like most all years, it had its claims to fame. In the month of January alone, two events in particular are noteworthy: the inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower to his second term of office as President of the United States and the introduction of the world’s first commercially available wristwatch powered by a battery. The Hamilton Electric was born and no other wristwatch in the new Electric line summed up the “Fabulous Fifties” like the Ventura.

Consider the time in which it was born. The 1950’s saw an entire new wave of design come into maturity that mirrored the optimism of the times. Everything, from appliances to furniture, accessories and even homes, reflected the future modern touches of the designers of the time.

Tail fins soared on automobiles, the rocket era was in full swing and with the introduction of the Electric line of wristwatches, Hamilton wanted something that beat with the times. They turned to industrial designer Richard Arbib and from his pen a number of striking designs found themselves rendered into precious metals. The Ventura was the first such design and it has been the most enduring.

The original Ventura, referenced in sales literature of the time as the Ventura I, was introduced on January 4, 1957, along with a more traditional design model, the Van Horn (a safe-bet watch, just in case the new design didn’t go over well with the public) and from the moment it hit the stores, it was a runaway success, despite its somewhat lofty price of $200.00 Crafted entirely of 14k gold (US market versions), the Ventura featured a case design unlike any others of the time with a bold, triangular shape and lugs reminiscent of automotive fins.

Originally fitted with the somewhat troublesome Hamilton 500 electromechanical movement, the Ventura, when properly maintained and cared for, was accurate and never needed winding, although battery replacements were fairly regular, usually about once a year. Within a short time, the more refined and improved Hamilton 505 movement found its way into the Electric of watches.

The first Ventura wristwatches were made available in a yellow gold case with either a black or a silver dial that featured the hours denoted by golden dots with tracer lines that radiated inward. A jagged electric line transected the center of the dial, connecting the 3 and 9 together, the total effect of which suggested electricity with a hint of the atom. A unique two-tone leather strap in black and gold came with the first Venturas but was quickly phased out due to manufacturing costs and a tendency to not hold up well.

The following year, a white gold version was introduced, although it never sold in numbers like the yellow gold versions and consequently is a rarer find today. Additionally, an 18k rose gold version was produced at some point for export only, making it probably the rarest of all Hamilton Ventura watches.


Rod Serling with his yellow gold, silver dial Hamilton Ventura

In a sea of ubiquitous wristwatches, the Ventura and most of its electric brethren stood out and this uniqueness soon found its way onto the wrists of some notable television and movie personalities. While this was unintentional at the time, product placement was something that Hamilton would take advantage of in future decades.

Rod Serling, the producer of “The Twilight Zone” wore a gold Ventura with a silver dial in his opening and closing monologues on many episodes of the show.

The futuristic, space-age design of the Hamilton Ventura was a perfect fit for both Serling and his hit TV series and he wore the watch for many years after its small screen debut but it was undoubtedly the big screen debut of the Ventura that immortalized the watch in the minds of many fans, linking it forever with the biggest name in the music industry, Elvis Presley.


Elvis Presley on the set of Blue Hawaii, wearing a yellow gold, black dial Ventura

Presley wore a yellow gold Ventura in the movie “Blue Hawaii” and the watch was highly visible in many scenes, including one brief closeup. It is unknown if the watch was a studio supplied watch or not but apparently Presley liked the Ventura because he added a white gold version with a dealer-installed expansion bracelet to his personal collection. The Ventura later became known as the “Elvis Watch” because of the association with Presley.

The Ventura was produced for six years and was sold by Hamilton jewelers until all the supply was used up. Eventually Hamilton discontinued the Electric line after significant inroads had been made by Bulova’s humming Accutron, as well as the advent of the Quartz controlled wristwatch but the Ventura story was far from over.

Fast forward a quarter of a century to 1988. Hamilton, which had been purchased by the forerunners of today’s Swatch Group in Switzerland was looking to get their name back in the minds of watch buyers. In a market flooded by mostly inexpensive quartz watches of boring design and questionable pedigree, Hamilton had to find a way to both penetrate the existing market and to do something that would stand out from the crowd.

Instead of looking at the existing trends, they decided to look inward at their own history and from their archives, they drew inspiration that started a new trend. Pulling designs that had proven popular in the past, they came out with a new line of old watches, authentic reproductions of timeless classics, reissued to resonate with a modern world.

VenturaAdFrom the 20’s came the Piping Rock and from the 30’s, the Boulton, Ardmore and Wilshire were reborn, among others. Topping the range of models, Hamilton reintroduced the Ventura to a new generation of watch fans who had never seen it before and were immediately taken with the design. The vintage watch trend was born and has continued more or less unabated to this day.

Hamilton made four versions of the “new” Ventura available for purchase by mail order in magazines and later, in retail stores: yellow gold-plated with silver or black dial, white gold-plated with black dial and rose gold-plated with black dial. These new versions of the Ventura were authentically detailed based on the original designs and a very close approximation of the original Ventura. Each came with a color coordinated Teju lizard skin strap, depending on the dial color.

Powered by a modern Swiss quartz movement, the new Ventura was the perfect blend of modern, reliable timekeeping technology encased in a proven, classic vintage design. The wearer of a Ventura was virtually guaranteed that his watch would draw attention when worn and over the next nine years, the new Ventura became a staple in the growing portfolio of the Hamilton Watch Company, now a part of the Swatch Group. Although the appearance changed little, the yellow and rose gold-plated models were eventually phased out as the white gold-plated version with black dial became the standard-bearer.

In 1997, the release of the feature film “Men in Black” reintroduced the Hamilton Ventura to the movie going public as part of Hamilton’s campaign to get their watches on the big screen. The movie became a big hit and the Ventura became a bigger star as the watch of choice worn by Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, the stars of the movie.

A chronograph version of the Ventura was released for the sequel, as well as new versions of the classic model, now in stainless steel with dial choices in black, silver and salmon color. While constructed of better grade materials, the post-MIB Ventura models differed from the original Electric models in details as well as movements. Dials were now flat instead of gently domed and the word “Electric” had never appeared on a modern Ventura. The back of the watch was thoroughly modern in design and the tang buckle was replaced by a modern deployant buckle.

In 2007, Hamilton celebrated a milestone with the 50th birthday of the Ventura and released two special editions of the watch. The 50th Anniversary Ventura came in two versions: a larger sized version with an automatic movement and a skeletonized dial for viewing the movement and a traditional version with a quartz movement.

Ventura50The quartz movement version drew the most attention, featuring a case that much more closely approximated that of the original 1957 Ventura, both front and back. Stamped from new dies, this 50th anniversary edition included a sapphire crystal and a domed dial with a unique pattern not seen on a Ventura before. While still evocative of the times in which the Ventura was born, the new dial was different and for the first time in fifty years, the word “Electric” reappeared on the dial. This version is the only quartz powered Ventura to ever feature that word on the dial. A slightly wider 18mm crocodile strap with a vintage tang buckle rounded out the package, as well a commemorative box.

Only 1,957 examples of the 50th Anniversary Hamilton Ventura were crafted for the US market, making this version of the watch one of the rarest of the Ventura line. The automatic also came in a strictly limited and numbered run of 1,957 examples.

Two other versions of the 50th Anniversary Ventura also were produced by Hamilton but these were made for the Asian market and were never sold in the United States. Two runs of 1,957 watches were crafted, one in yellow gold PVD plate and the other in rose gold PVD plate, both featuring dark bronze dials with the original atomic dial indexes of the Ventura I. These were the first new Hamilton Ventura watches in several years to feature a gold tone case and some of these found their way to the US via online retailers like Ebay. Both are considered to be very rare in the western hemisphere.


2010 Stainless Steel Elvis Presley Ventura

Not one to let a good thing end, Hamilton decided in 2010 to issue two new special editions of the Ventura to commemorate the 75th birthday of Elvis Presley and these are considered by many to be the most authentic reproduction of the original Ventura to date.

The first one was crafted in stainless steel with a steel expansion bracelet similar to the style of bracelet Elvis wore on his personal white gold Ventura purchased in the 1960’s. The black dial retained the signature jagged line across the center and the atomic themed dial of the original Ventura.


2010 Gold PVD Elvis Presley Ventura

A yellow gold PVD plated version, also with an expansion bracelet in gold, was available, it too with a black dial and a unique red second-hand similar to the ones found on the rare 18k gold models of the past. Even more unique, both watches could be had with a two-tone leather strap in either black and silver or black and gold, depending on the case material. This was the first time Hamilton had offered such a strap since the original 1957 model debuted. The strap, many collectors believe, show the watch in the true way that its designer, Richard Arbib, intended for the Ventura to look….cool, futuristic, striking and unique and on that front, Arbib and Hamilton succeeded.

Ventura21Today, the Hamilton Ventura is considered to be a truly iconic watch of American design and enduring style. It is available in a variety of versions, sizes and features, from the original design reproductions to the automatic, the chronograph and, since 2010, a modern 21st century reinterpretation that redefines the Ventura in a modern world. No other American watch design is as well known or as long lived as the Ventura and its popularity doesn’t seem to be slowing at all.

If you want to own a watch that is both reasonably priced, iconic in design and steeped in history, look no further than the Hamilton Ventura.

Tudor Heritage Chronograph Blue at Baselworld 2013

tudorheritageblueTudor Watch Company, the slightly more outgoing younger sibling of Rolex, has released a new version of its popular Heritage Chronograph, this time with an emphasis on blue. The new “Blue” is a modern reinterpretation of the famous Tudor “Monaco” style chronograph watch introduced in 1973. Available for a limited number of years, the original model has become a collector’s item among knowledgeable Tudor collectors.

The new model features a stainless steel bracelet as well as a handmade cloth strap in corresponding colors to the dial’s own blue, orange and gray color palette. The movement is an ETA 2892, modified by Rolex and with an additional chronograph module made by Tudor. The new Tudor Heritage Chronograph Blue is currently being shown at Baselworld 2013, the International Watch and Jewelry show held annually in Basel, Switzerland. It should be a tremendous hit in the United States when Tudor arrives here later this year.



Rolex GMT Master II at Baselworld 2013

Rolex GMT-Master II 40 mm in 904L steel with a 24-hour rotatable blue and black ceramic Cerachrom bezel insert, black dial and Oyster bracelet.

Rolex GMT-Master II 40 mm in 904L steel with a 24-hour rotatable blue and black ceramic Cerachrom bezel insert, black dial and Oyster bracelet. Reference 116719BLNR

Rolex has unveiled a new version of its popular aviator’s watch, the GMT Master II and the breakthrough this year is the return of the bicolor bezel.

The bicolor bezel, missing on the GMT Master II since the introduction of the Cerachrom bezel several years ago, was a favorite and distinct characteristic of this model in its previous form, usually appearing in either black and red or the more popular red and blue “Pepsi” bezel.

For Baselworld 2013, Rolex has apparently solved the problem of how to craft a ceramic bezel in one piece out of two distinct colors. This newest version of the GMT Master II, Reference 116710BLNR, features the bezel in black and blue, to denote the differences in day and night and features a blue GMT hand which is more distinctive against the black dial than the green hand which has been a feature of GMT’s the past few years. With the return of the bicolor bezel, the GMT Master II once again becomes a watch that, while sharing many of the attributes of the highly popular Submariner, is distinctly different at the same time.

From Rolex’s own website, the following information about the bezel was unveiled for Baselworld 2013:


A technological and aesthetic feat, the new CERACHROM bezel insert is obtained by a unique process developed and patented by Rolex which allows this ceramic component with two distinct colours to be produced as a single piece. It echoes the traditional two-colour bezel of the original GMT-MASTER and GMT-MASTER II models. The CERACHROM insert, introduced in 2005, has the advantage of being virtually scratchproof, highly corrosion resistant, and its colour is unaffected by ultraviolet rays. Its diamond-polished surface presents an exceptional lustre. The engraved 24-hour graduations are coated with a thin layer of platinum via a PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition) process.

Rolex GMT-Master II 40 mm in 904L steel with a 24-hour rotatable blue and black ceramic Cerachrom bezel insert, black dial and Oyster bracelet in brush and polished combination finish.



Tudor Watch Returns to USA

Rolex has confirmed that it will be launching its sister brand, Tudor, in the United States in the late summer. It has set up a new company, Tudor Watch USA LLC, in New York City.

The company has tapped Russell Kelly, most recently a sales executive at Vacheron Constantin, as brand manager for Tudor in the United States. An executive at Rolex USA said the stores that will carry Tudor have been chosen but declined to say how many there will be or to give any other details about the introduction.

There will be a major national and regional advertising campaign, the executive said. The company will officially announce the Tudor launch at a press conference at the Baselworld fair in April.

The Tudor brand has not been available in this country for nearly a decade: Rolex stopped selling it here in 2004.

Rolex Explorer 39mm: Boldly Going Where Few Have Gone

ExplorerIn the stable of iconic wristwatches, Rolex has certainly earned its place at the table, especially with models such as the Submariner, which is just about as iconic as a wristwatch can get. Equally iconic to those who know wristwatches, especially those that bear the Rolex coronet, is the Rolex Explorer, which like the Submariner was introduced to the public in 1953.

In that year, Sir Edmund Hillary had made headlines around the world when he became the first man to scale Mount Everest, arriving at the summit on May 29th. He and members of his team wore Rolex wristwatches and these watches were made all the more famous by their ability to withstand the rugged terrain and conditions that could be found in the Himalayas.

Rolex decided to capitalize on this newfound fame by offering a watch that paid tribute to Hillary and to those who chose to explore the world in all its most extreme environments and remote locations and thus, the Rolex Explorer was born. More Rolex Explorer watches have probably been deeper in the earth and higher on the land than any other watch made.

Much of the engineering work that went into the creation of the original Rolex Explorer benefited from technical knowledge gained during the Himalayan expeditions over the decades, all of which conspired to make it the most rugged of all oyster perpetual models. It is for this reason that the Explorer, as well as watches in the Submariner line, are designated by Rolex as part of their “Professional” line of wristwatches, serious tools for those that explore deep in the ocean and earth or high in the mountainous altitudes. Constantly put to the test, these watches kept accurate time, maintained their water resistance, were unharmed by extreme temperature changes, snow, ice or dust in short, they passed pretty much every test that could be thrown at them in realistic environments.

Since being introduced in 1953, the Rolex Explorer has been updated regularly, taking advantage of technical innovation from Rolex while maintaining its original look and form as closely as possible. This includes a stainless steel oyster case and bracelet, a black dial with luminescent indexes and easy-to-read Arabic numerals, a flat, smooth bezel and curving, tapered lugs. There really isn’t much else that is needed on this particular watch and its minimalistic design and pure function is very appealing to many of the people who choose to wear one.

I myself was not in the market for an Explorer. I had seen them many times but had passed them by in favor of other Rolex branded wristwatches such as the Submariner. They were always just a bit too small for my taste and so were never really on my radar. Recently, however, I was in the market for a DateJust and while looking at a variety of those models, I noticed the new Explorer sitting in the jewelers case and on a whim I asked to look at it.

He handed me the watch and the first thing I noticed about it was that it was larger and also that it had a very substantial feel to it. The enlarged case, now at 39 mm, placed it squarely between the classic DateJust and the Submariner in size. Adding to the heft of the watch was a much-improved oyster bracelet that included a complete redesign of the old Rolex clasp, long considered to be a design element whose quality was not in keeping with or on par with the watches that they graced.

The redesign of the Rolex Explorer actually took place in 2010. The most noticeable change that people will see is the enlarged case which grows from 36 mm to 39 mm, giving it a more substantial profile and increased visibility. It retains a screwed down case back and twinlock crown, guaranteeing water resistance to a depth of 100 m or 330 feet, although it is likely that this watch can withstand greater pressure than what is indicated on the dial.

Speaking of the dial, it too is larger and is rendered in a matte black finish that helps to increase visibility. This is made all the more important because the scratch proof sapphire crystal does not have any type of antireflective coating, either on the inside or on the surface. It is surrounded by a smooth flat bezel that is retained from Rolex Explorers if the past-simple, elegant and clean. The rehaut or inner band of steel that surrounds the dial is engraved with Rolex continuously circling the dial and the serial number of the watch at the 6 position.

The dial states “Rolex” beneath the coronet on the top side of the dial with the words “Oyster Perpetual” beneath it. The font appears to be somewhat larger and more visible than in the past. On the lower side of the dial, the word “Explorer” is moved from above to here and underneath it, the well-known statement “Superlative Chronometer” and “Officially Certified”.

Rhodium plated white gold Arabic numerals are featured at the three, six, and nine positions with rectangular markers, also rendered in rhodium plated white gold at the other positions. The ubiquitous triangular marker pointing down towards the coronet is featured solely at the 12 o’clock position. All non-numerical markers on the dial are filled with Rolex’s proprietary Chromalight luminous material, which emits a strong blue luminescence after being exposed to light. In my experience with this watch, the new luminous material glows very brightly upon being exposed to light and then dims down somewhat retaining its glow for the remainder of the night.

The hands of the watch are part of what identifies the Rolex Explorer as part of the professional series of watches offered by Rolex. The hour hand features the same Mercedes style hand that can be found on the Rolex Submariner and the minute and second-hand are also from the same line. To an experienced eye, the hands of this watch will prevent anyone from confusing it with a basic Oyster Perpetual line model. These too are filled with Chromalight material to provide excellent readability in dark conditions.

I personally find the combination of the matte finished dial, bold markers, and professional series hands to be a very pleasing combination that expresses simplicity and function over form. The new Explorer does an excellent job at doing its job-it provides you the time without any embellishment or flourish that would detract from its purpose.

Beating inside the new Rolex Explorer is a new movement, the caliber 3132 and it is invested with all the latest technology that Rolex has to offer. This includes the reliable new blue Parachrom hairspring, which remains unaffected by magnetic fields and temperature variations, as well as adding 10 times the shock resistance of an ordinary hairspring. In addition to the hairspring, this particular caliber is equipped with Paraflex shock absorbers which further increase the Explorer’s reliability in rough conditions by increasing shock resistance by up to 50%. These two features alone give the Rolex Explorer the ability to stand up to the most extreme conditions, at least those that a human being can stand up to and probably a lot more. Of course, the Rolex oyster perpetual self-winding system is a part of the movement, capturing human motion and converting that motion into energy which is stored in the mainspring, providing power to the movement.

Rounding out the Rolex explorer is a new oyster bracelet. This new bracelet has much of the same appearance and function as the oyster bracelet found on the Rolex Submariner but without a diving extension. It instead relies on another Rolex innovation, the EasyLink extension, which allows the wearer to easily adjust the size of the bracelet by as much as 5 mm in either direction. This helps to keep the watch comfortable on the wrist despite occasional swelling or contracting of the wrist due to temperature changes. It also includes a fliplock to make sure that the bracelet remains securely on the wrist of the wearer. The construction of the entire bracelet, clasp and fliplock is light-years ahead of the one that it replaced.

The new bracelet, as well as the entire case of the new Rolex Explorer, is crafted from solid 904L grade stainless steel. 904L stainless steel is known for its exceptional anti-corrosive properties and Rolex is probably the only watch company that uses this high-grade of stainless steel in the construction of its watches. It is much harder and more difficult to work with than conventional stainless steel and when polished gives the watch a beautiful luster that separates it from ordinary steel watches.

In my wearing experience, the new Rolex Explorer is as accurate as it’s chronometer rating would indicate. It has not deviated more than a gain of two seconds per day, remarkable for an automatic wristwatch. It is very comfortable on the arm and has enough weight so that you feel it’s substance without feeling like you are wearing a block of heavy metal. Unlike some of the more recently redesigned watches in the Rolex portfolio, the designers have done an excellent job of improving the Explorer in every measurable sense without detracting in any way from its mission or its design DNA.

Although this watch is certainly not an inexpensive purchase, it is not as pricey as the other watches in the Rolex professional series. Anyone looking for a pure-design, mission-oriented and straightforward wristwatch from Rolex will be very pleased with the new 39 mm Rolex Explorer. Although the watch does not have a date indicator on the dial, this is something that I can live without. I do believe that such an aperture would detract from the simplicity of the dial and the perfect balance it achieves. Given the quality of the construction that has gone into this watch, as well as the technical innovations that it now possesses, I feel that on the Rolex price scale, the watch is an excellent buy.

I hope that this review will be helpful to the reader and provide you with some insight into this truly purposeful timepiece. If you have been like me and have overlooked this watch on previous occasions, I strongly believe that it merits a second look. I don’t think you will be disappointed with what you find.


Tudor Heritage Black Bay Submariner: History on the Wrist

BlackBayWhen the Tudor watch brand was pulled from distribution in the United States nearly 17 years ago, few people seemed to mourn its passing. Having endeavored to live in the considerable shadow of its parent company’s star brand and to make its way mainly with hand-me-down syles and secondhand technology, Tudor didn’t have a lot going for it in the years the brand sold here. Many dealers were actually glad to see it go so they could focus on the favorite child. Fast forward to 2012 and all that has changed.

Tudor, the younger and less glamorous sibling of watch world giant Rolex has given birth to the new Tudor Heritage Black Bay Submariner, first shown at Baselworld in early 2012. From the moment of its lanch, it has caused a great deal of buzz in the circles of watch lovers and merits its own time in the spotlight. Those in the know are familiar with the history of the Tudor brand and they also know that it is a secondary brand of powerhouse watch manufacturer Rolex and from its conception, was designed to be a watch that could boast many of the attributes of Rolex without carrying the heavy price tag of one.

Rolex has a considerable R & D department that has broken new ground in developing and evolving the watches within its line and Tudor has often been the direct beneficiary of many Rolex advances, albeit usually a step or two removed from the most cutting edge advances of the parent brand. For many years, some of the Tudor models shared nearly identical design attributes with a number of the more famous models in the Rolex catalog; the famous Submariner diving watch is a prime example of such sharing and the Tudor version even carried that venerated name on its dial for most of its run.

The Tudor Submariner had more than just the name in its DNA though. The case back, noticeably blank on a Rolex Submariner, proudly proclaimed its roots as an “Original Oyster Case by Rolex Geneva” and the famous Rolex coronet graced the screw down crown as well. While Rolex Submariners, equipped with an in-house movement, gained advances such as sapphire crystals and higher water resistancy, the Tudor Submariners soldiered on with acrylic crystals, 200 meter water resistancy and a movement made by ETA of Switzerland, albeit decorated and improved upon by Rolex. The Rolex Oyster bracelets were of a bit higher quality (though still sub par in many people’s opinion) than those found on the Tudor Sub while the Tudor Submariners were allowed to take more liberty with the design than their Rolex counterparts were, including the inclusion of blue dials and bezels, snowflake hands and even a mini Sub in a size more suitable to ladies. An assortment of Tudor Date and Date-Day models also mirrored the DateJust and the Day-Date models found upstairs in the Rolex department during this period.

In the 1990’s, Tudor design began to deviate from that of Rolex, eventually abandoning the parent designs and following their own path. Subsequently, Rolex stopped selling Tudor in the US, although the company has continued to enjoy success in nearly every other market. In recent years, a succession of new Tudor watches has drawn attention from the world back to Tudor and none more than that of the Heritage line of Tudor watches, of which the Black Bay “Submariner” is proud member. Drawing inspiration from their past designs, the new Heritage Tudors have found not only a new following of people proud to own a watch that has Rolex’s fingerprints all over it but they also have drawn attention from longtime fans who continue to care for and baby their vintage and near-vintage Tudor Submariners. These watches have led to an outcry from both new and old Tudor fans for Rolex to bring their younger and slightly more rebellious sibling back to US points of sale once again. Like most younger siblings, they sometimes have to find themselves and determine their own path and as Tudor has matured, that independence has asserted itself.

The new Tudor Heritage Black Bay both is and is not a Submariner. You won’t find that name anywhere on the dial or any other part of the watch; in fact, you won’t find the name Rolex inscribed anywhere on the outside of the case or on the bracelet. In reality, it doesn’t need the model designation of Submariner nor does it require the Rolex name to give it credibility. The watch, like other Tudors released in recent years, stands on its own merit. It is enough for most people to know that it is a product of Rolex and that Tudor is a strong name in its own right with or without a birth certificate of origin.

TudorBlackDuoFrom this point, I will refer to the watch as the Black Bay and when I speak of the Submariner, I will be referring to the modern Rolex of that model in comparison unless otherwise noted. The Black Bay draws its design inspiration not so much from the Submariners of today as it does those of the past, both Rolex and Tudor. It exudes a certain vintage appeal that is somewhat lacking in today’s resized, ceramic-bezeled Subs of the Rolex name and that appeal is what seems to be drawing admirers to it and creating very happy customers from those that own one. The case is just a bit larger than the standard sized Submariner, measuring at 41mm rather than 40 but it keeps the narrower, tapering lugs of the past and elongates them a bit more. Noticeably absent are the crown guards, which didn’t appear on the Submariner until later on its evolution. The purest expression of a Rolex or Tudor Submariner is the original with its simple case, tapering lugs and lack of crown guards.

Speaking of the crown, the one on the Black Bay is pretty large, even in comparsion to the Subs of today. It stands alone, unguarded and oversized, lacking the widely spaced serations of a typical Submariner crown and favoring more of a coin-edged grip. It is easy to grasp, unscrew and set the watch due to the size of the crown and the lack of guards to interfere with the operation. It rests atop a flange that is visible even when screwed completely down and the flange is the same deep burgudy red color as that of the aluminum bezel. The crown is flat on the end and features another nod at vintage Tudor watches, bearing an engraved Tudor Rose. The engraving seems to be filled with black enamel or paint that makes it stand out more prominently. It easily unscrews and like so many other hidden Rolex attributes, has a superior quality feel when unscrewing it or winding the watch with it.

blackbay2Moving on to the dial, it is arguably the most vintage aspect of this watch, displaying in a matte black that appears in some light to be a very dark chocolate-brown. Whether your eye finds it to be black or dark brown, it will no doubt find the dial to be appealing and possessing a unique character that most other watches lack. The Black Bay is not available with a date, which might trouble some people who depend on having one but since the original Submariner watches lacked a date as well, this omission is in keeping with the vintage look of the watch. It also means the dial has complete symmetry all the way around. The hour markers for 3, 6 and 9 are rectangles, 12 is an inverted triangle and the rest are marked with large round markers, all in keeping with original Submariner design.

Where it deviates from the vintage design is that all markers have metal borders surrounding the luminous material like modern Submariners all have but in this case, the metal is rose gold rather than white gold as would typically be found in a stainless steel model. A vintage Tudor Rose emblem makes a reappearance on the dial, replacing the more modern Tudor shield design that has been in use for several decades now. Beneath the rose emblem, the word “Tudor” appears in all capital letters, with the word “Geneve” underneath it in smaller letters. The lower portion of the dial adds the words “200m/660ft” with “Rotor” spelled out beneath it. Just below that, “Self-Winding” appears in an arc that mirrors the lower curve of the dial. This is in keeping with Tudors of the past but omits the word “Submariner” altogether.  A minute track surrounds the other edge of the dial and each minute hash mark is connected by an outer circle, also a nod to the Submariners of the past. All wording, the minute track and the hands are rendered in rose gold as well, the effect of which suggests the old Submariners that featured gilded hands and markers even on stainless watches.

Lets talk about the hands just a moment. All Rolex Submariners that I have ever seen and many of the Tudor Submariners as well have what is known as a Mercedes hour hand and a long sword shaped minute hand, along with a second-hand that featured a round counterpoint and a round luminous marker near the tip of the hand. Some Tudor Submariners differed from this design, going with what is known as “snowflake” hands to watch collectors. The Black Bay brings back the snowflake hour hand and also echos that design on the second-hand as well, helping to solidify that the watch is indeed of the House of Tudor. It is my understanding that future Tudor diving watches will all carry this style of hand and this has already been seen on the Tudor Pelagos watch as well.

The luminous material found in the hour markers, on the hands and at the 12 position on the bezel is not the Rolex Chromalight that was developed for use in recent Rolex watches but rather it is SuperLuminova, another example of Rolex maintaining its distance as the leader in technologies over Tudor but one should not be dismayed at this. The SuperLuminova on the Black Bay glows brightly and strongly at first exposure and makes reading the dial very easy in the dark; after some time, it tones down to a nice soft glow that last for hours. I can easily see mine in the dark when I first wake up. The lume is tinted to appear cream-colored rather than white, which, when combined with the rose gold markers and hands, gives the watch some of the appeal that old Submariners have when their hands and lume have developed a patina over many years. All in all, the dial, hands, lettering and lume combine to form one very striking package and since this is what people see the most, it is a very welcome look.

The bezel of the Black Bay is what clearly communicates that this is a diving watch, not just in looks but in substance. The bezel does not follow the Submariner’s 360 degrees of carved-in notches but instead relies on the same coin-edge found on the crown and this is the right look for this watch. The bezel ring, broken down into 1-minute increments the first quarter of the dial and 5 minute increments the rest of the way around, is rendered in a deep burgundy red identical to the flange on the crown. No pictures I have seen can quite display the exact color of burgundy one sees in person but let me just say, it is a not flashy or bright and I would use the words subdued and deep to describe the color. It works beautifully with the dial and gives the watch much of the appeal that differentiates it from Submariners. The bezel mechanism is different as well, clicking 60 times as opposed to 120, and features a unique attribute I’ve not seen before. It is a bit harder to turn than a Submariner and when aligned in the normal position (arrow at the 12 position), it seems to lock into place, requiring more force to move it one click than the other 59 clicks. This should prevent inadvertant moving of the bezel.

The crystal is saphire, curved and raised, much like vintage Submariners with acrylic crystals but not raised as high, nor as vulnerable. It has just enough height above the bezel to stand out and give it the appearance of the old acrylic crystals without the drawbacks of actually having one. The dial, which I mentioned was matte finished, is easy to read through this crystal, despite the lack of any antireflective coatings. The case back is probably the part of the watch most like a Rolex Submariner, screwing into the case and featuring a finely serated edge that requires a special tool to open. It is engraved with only three words: Tudor, Suisse and Geneve, plus the modern Tudor shield logo between each of the three words. The case back is completely brushed, as are the tops of the lugs. The sides of the case are polished and a chamfered edge separates the top of the lugs from the side of the case. This little touch of quality really speaks to the manufacturing excellence that has gone into this watch.

Beating inside the case, completely hidden from view, is an ETA 2824-2 “top” grade automatic movement rather than a Rolex in-house movement. The 2824-2 comes in four variations from ETA, with the “top” grade being the highest non-chronometer grade of this variant. It is in the movement where much of the price difference between a Rolex and a Tudor comes from, while the rest comes from certain Rolex innovations that are not present on Tudor models (plus a bit of name prestige and advertising budget probably falls into the Rolex price as well). Nevertheless, the movement is established, well-known and robust and has a reputation in its own right for quality. Rolex improves upon this by adding a fine degree of finishing to the movement not usually seen on a 2824 and going an extra step to regulate and refine it. The Incabloc shock system is replaced by Tudor and they remove the Etachron regulating system and replace it with one of their own choosing. The result is a watch which, during my ownership of it, has not gained more than 5 seconds per day, which is well within chronometer standards. These results are from about 16 hours a day on the wrist and 8 hours on the nightstand. That is excellent as far as I’m concerned.

All in all, the Tudor Heritage Black Bay is a substantial, superbly crafted wristwatch that recalls Submariners of both Rolex and Tudor branding from the 1950’s when they first made their debut but which has enough design differences to stand distinctly apart from those. The standards of quality employed in its manufacturing actually exceed those of the Submariners made in the past up until probably the last decade and probably matched those until the new ceramic Submariners in steel appeared a couple of years ago. If you take away the in-house movement, the ceramic bezel and the 904L grade of steel used in a modern Submariner, you would be hard pressed to find the Black Bay lacking in anything worthy of Rolex other than name recognition. To some, this was never a problem as some people who could easily afford a Rolex Submariner chose a Tudor Submariner instead just because of that recognition. Tudor flew under the radar, allowing the wearer to own something conceived and executed by Rolex but without the burden of the Rolex name and having to explain to the uninitiated why they would spend so much money on a watch.

TudorFlipProbably the largest leap in quality found on a Tudor today and especially on the subject of this article, is the quality that goes into the bracelets now. The Black Bay still has an Oyster style bracelet but it is wider than a Submariner bracelet at 22 mm, tapering to 20 mm at the clasp. The links and end pieces are milled of solid steel and the removable links are screwed links, just like a Submariner has, requiring a tiny flathead screwdriver to perform  the removal of links. The clasp, always a weak point in Submariners, especially those carrying the Tudor logo, is probably 80% as substantial now as a current Submariner clasp. It has a fliplock function and both the inner and outer clasp clamps together and stays closed by means of ceramic ball bearings as opposed to springbars. This attribute is something new that Tudor is actually pioneering instead of Rolex, which may indicate a reversal in trends. Perhaps Tudors will be the proving grounds for certain new technologies in watch manufacturing to ensure the design is viable before passing it on to the higher brand that must not suffer a design flaw. Only time will tell.

If metal is not your thing, the watch is offered for sale with a high quality distressed leather strap, complete with deployant clasp and either version comes with a nylon strap should you choose to wear it with such. The watch comes packaged in a beautiful, ebony black wooden box that reminds me of the finish on a fine grand piano. The extra strap is sealed in a plastic bag and mine will likely remain sealed. Warranty books and included materials are comparable to Rolex materials.

Obtaining one in the US is a bit more complicated than just going down the road to your neighborhood Rolex dealer but not impossible. Mine was secured from a certified Tudor dealer outside of the US. It was bought for me and brought back. Those who live near Canada have the option to travel there and obtain one and occasionally, they show up on Ebay and other sources. My advice would be to make absolutely sure of your source. Word has it that in the near future, Rolex will bring Tudor back to the US. Again, only time will tell as Rolex never talks about its future plans until it is ready to. Ever. I do hope this rumor is right though as I see myself becoming a serious Tudor fan in the future. Pricewise, they tend to run about $3000.00, sometimes more or less and well under half the cost of a new Submariner, depending on where your source is.

Thanks for reading and I hope this will help some of you who are thinking about taking the plunge to dive right in and get yours.

Note: Since this article was published, Rolex has since brought the Tudor brand back to the United States. Check their website at to find an authorized dealer.