Second Opinions: The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight Is Not A Submariner Alternative
It’s its own thing, and that’s totally okay.
We’re living in a time where watch enthusiasm appears to be as mainstream as it’s ever been. But I fear something dangerous is afoot. In the small club we’ve built for ourselves, the one where we talk about watches all day and all night, we’ve begun to develop something of a hive mind.
It’s part of the reason why Rolex steel sport watches have become relatively unattainable, and why pricing on the secondary market is so bullish. The demand is there, and the demand isn’t for one watch in particular, but rather a string of watches, all in the same case material, that offer similar sportiness, on bracelets from a brand whose logo resembles a king’s hat (some might say a crown, even).
Forgetting the Daytona for a moment, public enemy number one has long been the Rolex Submariner. It’s inarguably one of the most popular watches on the planet … if not the most. It’s the watch many aspire to own, the watch they save for, the watch they wish they could walk into a boutique and buy – maybe even with a nice discount. But they can’t, or at least they have to wait years before they can (still no discount, though).
So what does one do when the thing they covet most is presently unavailable? They seek out an alternative – something to scratch that itch, something so similar they may even forget about wanting the original thing in the first place. Since the hive mind has driven Submariners out of display cases everywhere, what’s a Sub lover to do? More often than not, they’re turning to Rolex’s younger sibling, Tudor, setting their sights on a certain Black Bay, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight. This is the Rolex Submariner alternative – at least for these prospective buyers. But I am here to tell you that it’s no alternative to a Sub. It’s no alternative, period. The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight is a watch that deserves to be aspirational in its own right.
What’s the point of writing this piece? Well, partly, it’s to save all of your butts from almost $4,000 worth of regret. Because the truth is, there’s no such thing as a watch alternative. The heart wants what the heart wants, and if you deviate from your prime directive – in this case, a Submariner – no watch will fill that crown-shaped hole. You’re just going to wind up disappointed. It might take days, months, or even a year – but you’ll get there.
The point here isn’t to diminish the Black Bay Fifty-Eight in any way, but rather to put it in its proper context. It’s as much a luxury sport watch as any of its Rolex relatives, just cheaper by more than 50 percent. But let’s really examine why it shouldn’t be A) in the Submariner’s shadow, and B) treated as a consolation prize for those either unable to pick up a Submariner at retail or afford one (vintage or new) on the secondary market. For visual purposes, I’ll be using my own black-and-gilt Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight and vintage Rolex Submariner 5513 to help illustrate my points. The fact that I have and wear both furthers the idea that they each are a distinctive watch and should be treated as such.
Off the bat, the Tudor does something Rolex never would, and you can hold me to this: It has purposeful vintage styling. Who wants the modern sheen of ceramic on a bezel when you can have the utilitarian, matte finish of aluminum – a material that’s not only easy to scratch but known to fade over time. In the case of the black dial variant, all of the text, from the bezel to the dial is done in gilt, meaning warm gold tones – just like the Tudors of old. In fact, this version is based on a specific reference, the big crown 7924. Even the newer and bluer BB58 takes its design cues from an older reference and functions as something of an homage to the classic vintage Tudor Snowflake.
Speaking of big crowns, this watch has quite a large one. And as if the differences from the Submariner didn’t end there, the crown sits unprotected, its fortress vulnerable – with nothing to guard it.
The Submariner, on the other hand, has featured crown guards since 1959. And do you know why? Because they protect the crown. If you were actually to put a Sub through its paces, diving, adventuring, what have you, it’s possible to damage the crown if you aren’t careful. Guarding it on both sides is a way to keep such damage from occurring. The same goes for the ceramic bezel which, unlike Tudor’s cool and vintage aluminum, is effectively scratch-resistant and will never, ever fade.
And then there’s the size. If you’re looking for a vintage Submariner, or even a recently discontinued modern model, then it’s 40mm that you’re after. The 39mm size of the Tudor is basically the same, though the case shape makes it wear similar to more vintage Subs – but not the same. There is a noticeable difference in the wearing experience between a Sub and a BB58, and much of that has to do with the crown. On a Sub, the case, as a whole, takes on a much more pronounced squared-off shape, where the BB58 is far more round – with the larger crown much more visible. The crown guards on the Sub work to make the crown blend into the case.
The Submariner also wears as a much more aggressive timepiece because the bezel is sharper, and toothier, whereas the BB’s is coin-edged and much smoother. While both have steel bracelets, the construction of the Black Bay bracelet is clearly in furtherance of the vintage-inspired ideal, down to the faux rivets which serve no utility other than to remind you of an older watch you certainly cannot afford today.
Sure, the blue Black Bay Fifty-Eight brings a more modern look to the “all vintage everything” (down to almost creamy lume plots) of the black variant, but it still shares everything else from the bezel design to the rivets to the crown.
This comparison is not meant to pit one watch against another, but rather to highlight that there are very real differences between these divers, differences that render them entirely individual pieces not be substituted for one another. In fact, with Rolex upsizing the Submariner to 41mm in 2020, that watch has more in common with the original Black Bay 41 than the Fifty-Eight, but I don’t want to open that can of worms because there are even more differences to be distinguished there (case thickness, anyone?).
In many ways, Tudor is now what Rolex once was. It’s an accessible and available manufacturer of high-quality timepieces. I mean, both watches contain manufacture movements that offer 70 hours of power reserve and antimagnetic balance springs. So why isn’t the Black Bay Fifty-Eight a Submariner alternative? Well, aside from my diatribe about disappointment, it’s because the two watches operate in different universes now. Rolex makes luxury timepieces based on tool watches of yore, while Tudor makes modern versions of those tool watches that are as close to the original as possible without sacrificing quality. Is there room in a collection for both? From experience, I say absolutely.
All photos, Kasia Milton