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Feature: Rolex Daytona vs Tudor Black Bay Chrono

The Rolex Daytona is that one watch you’re probably the most sick of hearing about, but even so, its popularity is not unjustified. It is the quintessential sports chronograph, rising from the ashes to become one of the most sought-after watches of all time. It seems nothing can take the fight to Rolex and the Daytona from Omega, Breitling or any other competitor—but what about a watch costing a third of the price from its own junior brand, Tudor?

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona 116500 LN

Well let’s get straight into it: the Rolex Daytona is the watch that invented the waiting list, backing queues around the block since the 2000s back when the RRP was a third what it is now. The reality of this watch is that it doesn’t do any one thing to an exceptional degree: it’s not the most beautiful, not the most historic, not the highest quality and not the most prestigious. So why is it so damn popular?

Historically speaking, its popularity is a pretty recent phenomenon. It was a gap-filler, a niche that Rolex and its whole watchmaker-to-the-professionals angle didn’t previously cover. Every other watch the company made through the sixties and onwards was defined by its ruggedly accurate Aegler movement, but not the Daytona. It made do with whatever worked at the time, the ubiquitous Valjoux 72. It was clear the Daytona was not a priority for the brand.

All that changed with the 16520, a watch once lambasted for its continued use of non-Rolex movements, now harder to get hold of than greased eel. There was something new about this watch that the old one did not have, something it has passed down to today’s 116500 LN. It’s easy to dismiss this sudden rise to fame as superficial, but this really is a case of the old adage, “there’s no smoke without fire.”

I’d like to, if I can, talk about the Aston Martin Vantage, the version from 2005. Now, here’s a car that, on paper, is terrible. Part Aston, part Volvo, underpowered, overweight, too expensive. It’s not fast, it’s not agile, it’s not athletic. It is, frankly, terrible. Add a human to the equation and all that changes. The shape is simple, but perfect. Not flashy, not fussy. It just makes your eyes feel good. And the engine may not take you anywhere quickly, but the sound no matter the speed … you see where I’m going with this. It’s more than the sum of its parts.

And the same is true of the Daytona. You can’t explain what makes those simple lines so satisfying, that dial so iconic. There’s something so fundamental about it that it’s akin to explaining why you like the colour red. I don’t know … I just do. There’s no denying that there’s a healthy dollop of brand association going on in there too, but even the most die-hard detractors have to admit that if this design had an Omega logo on it, it would be one of the best watches the brand had to offer. I think Zenith has proven that point already.

And not only does it tick a wealth of the feel-good factor boxes, it’s a solidly sensible choice as well. With its rugged build, 100m water-resistance, three-day power reserve and -2/+2 accuracy, it can be worn without fear of it letting you down. Okay, so someone might try to break your wrist off for it, but you can hardly blame the watch for that.

Tudor Black Bay Chrono M79360N-0002

Never mind beating the Daytona, even matching it is a feat in and of itself. Many have tried and many have failed, and yet here’s a suggestion that a watch listing at a third of the price might well have gone and done it.

Before we try and tange the intangible, lets compare these two the only way you really can with any degree of objectivity—on paper. The Tudor is an ant’s armpit wider at 41mm, but more noticeably an extra few millimetres in height—plus it has a domed sapphire crystal. Its calibre MT5813, shared with Breitling, is chronometer certified, which makes it a few seconds worse either way over the Rolex in accuracy. Power reserve is down two hours on the Rolex calibre 4130’s 72, whilst water-resistance is up by double to 200m.

You couldn’t get a piece of paper between them, you really couldn’t. The Rolex pips it, as you would expect, but the Tudor is even closer than that one guy at the pub who doesn’t understand personal space. What surgeons would call nip and tuck looks like hack and slash compared to these two.

So how about the subjective, the warm and gooey feeling that tells you all’s right with the world? Because, let’s face it, we engage with watches like this because we want to feel good, right? And one of these two is going to do it better than the other. The question is—which? For the most part, comparisons against the Daytona are clear cut, with few exceptions. But what about with the Tudor?

Okay, so I’m not so naive as to think that anyone in their right mind would turn down a Daytona when presented on level ground with a Black Bay Chrono—what I’m wondering is if the Black Bay Chrono can do enough that, with the colossal price difference also taken into account, it would be a wholly satisfying compromise with no regret.

And do you know what … I think it just might be. And I’m not just talking out of my downstairs mouth, because I have personal prior in this very scenario. I am currently the contented owner of a Black Bay 58 and have previously been the owner of a no-date Submariner. Would I swap the 58 for a Submariner? Obviously. Do I wish that being able to swap the 58 for a Submariner was an option? You know … no. I don’t. The gulf between the two just isn’t enough to warrant the effort in pining for something I can’t have. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true. Maybe. At least mostly. And mostly is enough.

I think the same could be true of the Black Bay Chrono—with a caveat. One of the main reasons I’m very happy with my 58 is because I have no interest in the modern Submariner. It’s too crisp, too shiny. The 58 reminds me of the previous generation Submariner I had, and the Black Bay Chrono—intentionally, of course—reminds me of the vintage Daytonas that came before the 16520. Which I like. A lot. I wouldn’t have one because they seem a bit delicate and I seem a bit too poor, but I like it.

So, it turns out I am in the category of people for whom the Black Bay Chrono is actually a nicer watch than the Rolex Daytona, albeit marginally. Do I wish it was a tiny bit smaller and thinner? Yes. Do I wish it didn’t have King Henry VIII’s surname on it? Obviously. Do I think if I owned it, I’d be kicking myself for not getting the Daytona instead? No. Definitely not. I’d need a lot more money to do that.

What we’re looking at here, essentially, are two timelines of the same watch. Call it a cop-out, but these two offer so much in the same vein that really the biggest deciding factor is going to be the person who wears it. It’s such a fine line between one and the other that it could all come down to a date window, a millimetre here and there, twin versus triplet sub-dials. I suggested at the outset the price difference could be the decider, but what I didn’t consider was that it works both ways. You might choose the Tudor because it’s cheaper, sure, but you might also avoid the Daytona because it’s so much more expensive. After all, there’s a certain smug satisfaction in knowing you got a bargain. And that just might be enough to tip you over the edge.

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