In 2022, the watchmaking hype machine shows no sign of slowing down, with many of the big releases over the last few years being quickly taken into the hearts and minds of watch collectors as modern classics and cult references soon after they’re released.
And despite the crazed fervour around pieces like Patek Philippe’s Tiffany blue Nautilus Ref. 5711 (the first of which sold for $6,503,000 at auction) it’s not only at the very top end of the affordability scale that headline releases get people talking, as brands like Seiko and Tissot have found both commercial and critical success with affordable hype watches like the 1965 Diver’s Reinterpretation and the PRX Powermatic 80 loved by watch fans for their ingenuity and collectability.
Since its exemplary relaunch and rebranding in 2005 (and with a little help from a certain David Beckham) Tudor is a watchmaker that’s made an enormous success of sitting somewhere in the middle – steadily building collections of watches with proprietary movements – like the Black Bay series – that are roundly considered to be among the best-value watches on the market. These benefit from much of sister brand Rolex’s superlative supply chain but with much wider availability – in the form of widely available core models in amongst a few, like the Black Bay Chrono and Black Bay Pro, whose limited releases mean connecting with an authorised dealer rather than buying off the shelf – and play into the hands of what the watchmaking public wants, without drifting into pure fan service.
The Pelagos is the Black Bay 58's stoic older brother; a titanium-clad, hard-as-nails diver to be strapped around a wetsuit
Its most recent launch underlines that fact. While the Black Bay 58 series of divers – applicable tool watches for professionals, but marketed as casual wearers, with case sizes around 39mm – has been the backbone of the brand’s success in the last decade, the Pelagos model was always the stoic older brother; a titanium-clad, hard-as-nails diver suited to being strapped around a wetsuit to plumb the depths.
That resulted in the Pelagos being a lesser spotted watch out in the wild, and therefore one that required a bit of cultural capital on the part of the wearer – never a proper hype watch, but one that might elicit a nod of approval from a watch nerd as a more educated choice. It was, though, a big watch – and along with its no-nonsense, toolish looks, the 42mm case size made it a beauty on a large wrist, but a possible no-go for smaller wearers. Until this year.
The Tudor Pelagos 39
As mentioned before, one thing Tudor has been very, very good at is creating demand and then, very succinctly, filling it. And that’s where the Pelagos 39 comes in. Aside from last year's Pelagos FXD, it represents the first new addition to the collection since launch. OK, it’s probably not rocket science for Tudor to contemplate that a) the Pelagos is a very popular and highly thought-of watch, b) the Black Bay 58 series has been a huge hit owing to an endlessly wearable and versatile 39mm case, and c) – well, you know where I’m going with this.
But it’s the success of the aforementioned model and series that has created that demand, and that along with the timing and execution of the Pelagos 39 is a masterstroke, even if it’s an obvious one. On the face of it, it’s not hugely different from the original, 42mm Pelagos: like the Black Bay collection, it’s powered by the excellent Manufacture Calibre MT5400 movement; it’s COSC-certified for professional divers; its case is made of the same beautiful, rugged titanium. But there are subtle additions, like the incorporation of sunray satin finishes on its bezel and dial, alongside the biggest one: the removal of a date window to make it a time-only proposition.
It’s rare to celebrate the removal of a complication on a new watch, and there are those who might bristle at north of £3,000 for a Tudor that’s time-only, but personally I think it’s an improvement, bringing with it increased legibility, and more broadly making the 39mm Pelagos even more no-nonsense. It’s got two functions – to tell the time, and to time dives (or anything else under an hour) via the unidirectional dive bezel – and it delivers on both. The case size and a reduced water resistance of 200m from the 42mm's 500m puts it slightly more into desk-diver territory, but not at the expense of a look and feel that continues to be a hit with those in the know.