Within the ever-growing and successful Black Bay range by Tudor, we’ve now seen watches covering most of the needs for professional, vintage-inspired sports models. From the classic 41mm diver’s watch to the cool and compact Fifty-Eight models, and then all kinds of materials and colours – including the desirable 925 Silver/Taupe model – it’s an almost endless story. Even when it comes to GMT watches, you’ll have the choice between the classic Pepsi 41mm with rotating bezel, or the brand new GMT Pro with adventure/explorer look. And there’s more this year, with yet another watch that is reminiscent of the Crown’s greatest hits… And we’ll see how the Tudor Black Bay GMT S&G is actually the best “root beer” watch now available – and by that, we really mean the one you’ll be able to get, in many ways.
What’s a “root beer” after all?
Rolex being Rolex, the names of the watches have never been extremely sexy. And since reference numbers are even colder, the collecting community has long created nicknames for pretty much everything the crown has ever manufactured. Among these, there’s a watch type that has been defined by collectors as the “root beer” – for our European and Asian readership who might not be familiar with this, it refers to “a sweet North American soft drink traditionally made using the root bark of the sassafras tree (…) or the vine” (definition from Wikipedia), known for its dark brown colour and, like beer, its thick foamy head.
Rolex launched its first watch with an additional time zone on the dial and with a rotating bezel with a 24h scale in 1954 under the reference 6542. Back then, this GMT-Master was made in stainless steel and featured a two-tone blue and red bezel that gave the watch its “Pepsi” moniker – and it’s a style that is still used by Rolex and Tudor in their current collections. This was a reference to the colours of the Pan Am airline, since PanAm specifically requested a watch that could display two time zones simultaneously for its pilots. Over the years, the GMT-Master will be made in various materials and with different bezel colours – such as the Coke (red and black).
The idea of the “root beer” watch could be seen in two different generations. First, we could (but it’s debatable) consider the first generation GMT-Master 6542 in solid gold as the inaugural attempt at a root beer model, since it featured a combination of gold case/bracelet with a unicolour brown bezel and matching dial with gold hands and applied markers. Then again, it might not be the most consensual way to look at things.
For many, however, the concept of the root beer watch implies a two-tone steel-and-gold case, with a bicolour bezel. In this instance, the concept of the GMT-Master Root Beer would first appear on the reference 1675/3. This second-generation model (but not yet a GMT-Master II), had a case in steel, a bezel and crown in 18k yellow gold, a two-tone bracelet, a dark brown dial with applied markers (the so-called nipple dials) and a two-tone 24h scale in aluminium with brown and gold tones. A watch that couldn’t be more 1970s…
With the evolution of Rolex’s GMT watch becoming the GMT-Master II in the mid-1980s, the crown relaunched (in the very late 1980s) the concept of the GMT Root Beer under the reference 16713. Apart from mechanical evolutions, the concept was still basically the same; a two-tone, steel and yellow gold watch with a brown dial and a brown and gold-coloured aluminium bezel’s insert. The reference 16713 will be discontinued in 2005/2006 when Rolex released its new generation of GMT-Master II with ceramic bezel. But the Root Beer would have to wait some years before its comeback.
It’s only in 2018 that the GMT Root Beer will be back in the collection. Based on the modern version of the GMT-Master II, with its Cerachrom bezel and calibre 3285, it will bring back some of the defining elements of the past models, but also some new features and colours. For instance, if the case is still combining steel and gold, it now relies on Everose gold contrasting parts, and not yellow gold anymore. Also, the bezel still has a brown section, but this time combined with another section that is in black, and not gold-coloured anymore – most probably the result of both a design choice, but also production constraints linked to two-tone ceramic. Finally, the dial is here black, and the whole watch feels far more subtle than the flashy (but cool) models of the past.
The “Root Beer” concept finds its way into the Tudor Black Bay GMT collection
There is no hiding the fact that, since the first Black Bay GMT in steel with its Pepsi blue/red bezel, parts of the current Tudor collection feel more and more inspired by the crown’s greatest hits from the past. It was clearly visible since the very beginning of the Black Bay, and even though the brand often insisted on the connection with past Tudor Submariner models, these vintage watches were simply more accessible versions of Rolex watches anyway… But with the Pepsi GMT or the recent Black Bay GMT Pro (clearly inspired by the first generation Explorer II), it is more and more obvious that Tudor takes inspiration from what the Crown has done in the past.
With the new Tudor Black Bay GMT S&G (for steel-and-gold), there’s once again no denying the connection with the mother company, whether from the current collection or past models. Based on the specifications of the Black Bay GMT Pepsi, Tudor here delivers a two-tone watch with a highly pronounced vintage flair and colours that are clearly inspired by past Root Beer watches, even though less polarizing and not entirely faithful to a 1675 or a 16713. In this vein, the Black Bay GMT S&G is more of a mix of elements between the flamboyance and warmth of a vintage Rolex GMT-Master two-tone, and the more discreet attire of a modern 126711CHNR. And the result is rather appealing, at least if two-tone is your thing.
The basics, first. As for the architecture, size and specifications of this new Black Bay GMT S&G, nothing has changed compared to the inaugural blue-red version. The positive aspects are kept, the few things that could have annoyed some with steel model too… As such, we’re in front of a relatively sizeable watch, with a 41mm diameter – itself, not the most pronounced of measurements. As with many of the Black Bay models, it’s more on the topics of thickness and lug-to-lug that the Black Bay GMT created discussions. With 50mm in lenght, the case might appear bulky, on paper. Don’t get me wrong, it is a hefty watch, but the way it is shaped makes it acceptable on my 16.5cm wrist, and greatly proportioned on Robin’s 19cm wrist (who’s modelling on most of the wristshots).
As for the thickness of the case, we have about 15mm. Surely, not a thin watch. Surely, some can do better than that. But some also do far worse. After all, the BB GMT is a watch with an automatic movement, a dual-time function and diving capacities. So 15mm is high, but not overly high either. The watch felts acceptable on my wrist and is relatively well balanced. It won’t fit under a cuff, but we’re talking about a sports watch after all. Finally, the way Tudor shapes the casebands doesn’t help either in the visual height of the case. The latter are covering almost entirely the thickness, and the caseback isn’t domed to visually reduce the height of the case.
The finishing of the case also retains all attributes of the Pepsi GMT model. On this GMT S&G, we have a central case in steel, with brushed surfaces and polished bevels on the sides of the lugs. The 200m water-resistance is guaranteed by a screw-down crown and screwed caseback. The watch is topped with a retro-styled sapphire crystal. Finally, the caseback is solid steel and the movement is hidden.
What’s new then? First, gold elements can be found in traditional places, meaning on the crown and the bezel. Here, Tudor made the choice for 18k yellow gold, with more warmth and also a certain appeal when this metal is brushed. Also new is the bezel’s insert, which in this case is the main element reminiscent of Root Beer watches. The Black Bay GMT S&G relies, however, on a darker colour combination, with an anodized aluminium insert that is black and brown (no more brown and gold), with a gilt 24h scale. But since the insert is matte and not glossy as that of the Rolex 126711CHNR Root Beer, the look is highly different and more retro… In fact, this Tudor feels far more like a Root Beer to me than the Rolex GMT-Master II CHNR, with a toned-down look and modern materials.
The dial is sort of a no-surprise element. A classic of the Black Bay collection, with a domed matte black base, gilt tracks and inscriptions, gold-coloured applied markers and the emblematic Snowflake handset, which is also gold-coloured – even the GMT hand is gold-coloured. It might not be the best in terms of contrast and legibility, at least in order to quickly pick up the different time zones, but visually it is coherent and appealing. In addition, the dial and its elements are all perfectly blending with the two-tone habillage of this GMT Steel-and-Gold Root Beer. Of course, as you’d expect from a GMT watch, there’s a date window. and all hands/markers are covered in beige SLN.
As with most of the watches in the collection, Tudor leaves you the choice of the bracelet/strap. You’ll have the ability to pick up a brown leather strap or a black fabric strap with a beige band. These two are giving a lighter look to the watch, but also make it substantially more accessible. But of course, it’s on the two-tone bracelet that the Root Beer look becomes the most obvious. Made mostly of steel, with its profile inspired by folding riveted bracelets of the past with stepped construction, it here features central links that are capped with an 18k yellow gold element (which is also participating in the lower price). The entire surface is brushed, resulting in a more restrained look. The bracelet is here closed by a simple folding clasp with safety catch, but no micro-adjustment like the BB GMT Pro.
Inside the case is the manufacture Calibre MT5652, made by Kenissi. This automatic movement is chronometer-certified by COSC and features a bi-directional rotor. It is regulated to between -2 and +4 seconds per day, thus exceeding the COSC standards. It is equipped with a variable inertia balance, a non-magnetic silicon hairspring and a transversal balance bridge. It’s also weekend-proof, with a 70h power reserve. Finally, it’s a proper traveller’s GMT watch, as it’s the local time hour hand that can be adjusted by one-hour increments. Yet, it’s a thick movement (7.52mm), which is the main reason behind the thickness of the overall case.
If you ask me, I think this Tudor Black Bay GMT S&G, specifically when worn on its metallic bracelet, is the best modern interpretation of a Root Beer watch you can get now. While the Rolex GMT-Master II 126711CHNR certainly is superior on many objective levels (quality of the materials, overall execution, precision of the movement), the look is not per se that of a Root Beer in my books. It lacks warmth and flamboyance, that cool 1980s extravaganza that I somehow find back with the Tudor. In addition, the BB is a watch that always had an undeniable retro charm, making this version, with its specific combination of colours (yellow gold and not rose gold, matte gold and brown accents) even more appealing and a worthy successor to the great Root Beer models of the past.
That being said, the Tudor Black Bay isn’t a poor’s man choice either. The built quality is, undeniably, impressive considering the price range. It is a fully equipped watch, with everything you’d expect and more. It’s not because Tudor is about 2 to 3 times less expensive than Rolex that the brand is cutting corners either. Which makes the Black Bay GMT S&G even more attractively priced. When a Rolex 126711CHNR requires (on paper) a solid 14,000 euros, the BB on bracelet will cost you 5,230 euros (and 1.2k less with one of the straps). Finally, the Tudor isn’t only financially more accessible, it’s also much more accessible… in stores. And this combination of price and higher availability makes it a solid option for someone looking for a two-tone GMT watch. And if you ask me, the best choice for someone who loves the overall concept of a Root Beer watch! I would even say that I visually prefer it to the CHNR. But that’s my personal take.
The Tudor Black Bay GMT S&G (reference M79833MN) is now available from retailers. It is priced at EUR 5,230 or CHF 5,300 on a metallic bracelet and EUR 4,040 or CHF 4,100 on one of the straps. For more details, please visit www.tudorwatch.com.