Tudor Pelagos Review
The Pelagos is Tudor's highest-end diver, featuring their greatest depth rating, top-notch materials, and in the new version we're looking at today, it also features Tudor's first in-house movement, the MT5612. Couple those with this stunning new matte blue look and you've got an intriguing model on your hands. Join me as I do a deep dive on Tudor's second generation Pelagos, its history and its new movement.
The Pelagos is the higher end of a two-part dive watch strategy from Tudor, alongside its sibling the Black Bay. It's tricky to sustain two separate, but similar, lines of divers at the same time, but Tudor walks this line deftly. The Black Bay is the more affordable of the two but it also has a distinctly vintage vibe that the Pelagos lacks, being far more contemporary. The Pelagos is also the more rugged, being slightly larger, utilizing more advanced materials (namely ceramic and titanium), and having a far larger depth rating, owing in part to its helium escape valve. Today, however, the difference is no longer described merely in terms of toughness and style, but in terms of movements as well. That's because the Pelagos is one of two new watches, alongside the North Flag, to debut Tudor's first in-house movement.
While the name Pelagos (meaning "sea" in Greek, apparently) is quite new, like the North Flag, its history actually stretches back quite far. Its story begins in 1954, with the Tudor Submariner. The fact that it shares a name with the legendary Rolex Submariner shouldn't surprise you, as Tudor is a part of Rolex, and indeed, the original Submariner, as well as many subsequent versions, was very similar to the Rolex Submariner. However, while the story may start with the 1954 model, the Pelagos really takes its inspiration from a later Tudor Submariner, namely the 7021 of the late '60s. This is the first Tudor Submariner to have a date, but it is perhaps more noteworthy as the first "Snowflake" (no, not that Snowflake), so named for its "snowflake" hands which feature lots of right angles, as well as the square hour markers. These remain on the Pelagos, both first and second generation, but only the hands have survived on the Black Bay.
As per what this new generation of Pelagos(es?) brings, it's both a little and a lot. Stylistically, the huge difference is the addition of a matte blue color, again owing to its historic counterpart, and what a blue it is. The hour marker adjacent to the date has been dropped and, most controversially, a great deal of text has been added to the dial. By far the biggest and most noteworthy change, however, is under the hood: the MT5612 movement. This new Tudor calibre features a whole host of high-end features and even some next generation ones too. In fact, I'd say it somewhat overshadows many Rolex movements. We will be closely analyzing it later in the review.
I suppose we should start with the obvious: it's blue. Really, really blue. That said, if you prefer the all-black looks of the original, you're in luck because that's still available as well. For my tastes, however, I'll be sticking with the blue.
The blue is a bit deceptive in appearance because it's a matte blue, which we're not that used to seeing. We're far more familiar with models like the brilliant, shiny surfaces of the Rolex Smurf, but this Pelagos, both dial and bezel, is perfectly non-reflective. It's not clear what, exactly, the dial is made from, as in appearance it is identical to the bezel, leading me to believe that it, like some Omegas for instance, also has a ceramic dial, but I cannot confirm this.
The blue Pelagos also has historic connotations, as the Snowflake that it is inspired by was also available in blue. In fact, these were apparently the models that were favored by the French Navy of the day.
Here are the hands that gave the original Snowflake its characteristic name. You've got to use a little imagination but I can see what inspired early Tudor adherents to dub the watch a Snowflake. The rather crystalline hour and seconds hands do somewhat have a resemblance to their namesake. More importantly, I think, all three hands have very different shapes, both with and without lume, making this watch very easy to read.
The date marks something of a departure from the first generation Pelagos. The original had a small, vestigial hour marker to the right of the date. The date has now moved over into its position. Stylistically this is fine, as it's a white date replacing a white marker, although there will inevitably be an absence of lume here. This is a rather Rolex-y approach, as many divers these days relocate the date between 4 and 5 which allows the maximum amount of lume on the dial. Personally, I don't mind either way, I'm just glad the date is still here. I am typically ambivalent to dates on divers, but with this superior instant date change mechanism (we'll get into it more in the movement section), it would have been a loss not to have it.
Given the context of its new movement, it's also interesting to discuss what the Pelagos doesn't have: a power reserve, unlike the other watch with this new movement, the North Flag. Power reserve complications, for reasons that are beyond my limited comprehension, are extremely divisive among watch collectors, and while I'm a fan of them personally, if there's any kind of watch where they are especially superfluous, it's on divers, where simplicity and legibility are at a premium.
Speaking of divisive, the most controversial new aspect of the Pelagos is the additional text here. I'll admit, I've never warmed up to Tudor's "rotor self-winding" text, and I don't fully appreciate the need to state both that the watch is a chronometer and that it's officially certified, as being a Swiss chronometer necessitates official certification. Still, I'm a huge Grand Seiko fan, so I'm in no position to complain about redundant text. It seems to be imitating the rather text-heavy Rolex Submariner dials here, and it doesn't appear to me that it's harmed the Submariner's popularity, so I suppose it'll do well here too.
While we're down here, let's take a look at these hour markers. These harken back to the original Snowflake, which was rather obsessed with right-angled accents, the exception being the isosceles triangle 12:00 marker.
The lume, as you'd anticipate, is excellent. The blue lume matches the rest of the watch quite well in the transition between light and dark. The application is very sharp and even, like the North Flag, although I would say it is (unsurprisingly) better here. But I really love the lumed bezel. I can't claim to understand the intricacies of what goes into a lumed bezel, which necessarily must offer more protection to the lume than what's secured under a crystal, but apparently the Superluminova is injected into the ceramic.
Ultimately the new Pelagos has an extremely attractive, yet functional, dial. I love the blue, myself, and it's the color I'd pick. More generally, I think it's the best looking diver Tudor makes.
The case of a diving watch is generally considered to be more important than that of other genres of watches, due to its functional importance. With that in mind, let's take a close look at the Pelagos.
The bezel is fantastic. It's primarily composed of titanium but it has a super tough ceramic insert. What I can't show you is how good it feels. It has super solid lockup and no play whatsoever. The amount of effort is just right as well. I'm not sure if this would be a pro or con for any given collector, but it's also one of the loudest bezels I've ever heard, but it's a very solid, industrial sort of sound that gives confidence in the mechanism.
The bezel pip is of an interesting design. The 12:00 dot in the center is luminous, as is tradition, but Tudor has split the difference and the surrounding triangle is also lumed.
The 42mm case is intriguing not merely because of the bezel, but also its composition. It is one of very few cases that quite seamlessly integrates three different materials. The bezel insert is ceramic, of course, but the substrate, as well as the middle case, is titanium. The back, however, is stainless steel.
This view allows us to see all three different materials, ceramic, titanium and steel, from top to bottom, at once.
I really like the finish on these signed crowns. They're ever so slightly rough and have just a bit of sparkle to them. It reminds me of a darker version of the Grey Side of the Moon's platinum dial.
The Pelagos is rated for an impressive 500 meters, a substantial 300 greater than the more affordable Black Bay. In order to make that possible, an automatic helium escape valve has been elegantly implemented at 9:00. In fact, the Pelagos is the first and only Tudor to receive a helium escape valve. I'm not a diver, nor do I imagine that if I were I would need the valve, but at least on paper I've always preferred the automatic approach to the manual. It's more convenient, sure, but I'm more concerned that a potential owner could, for lack of understanding, leave the valve open before encountering water. The Rolex approach, and therefore Tudor's, is simple and immune to human error.
The case back, quite interestingly, is steel, which completes a very pretty, but ultimately weird, approach to case materials. It's finished a little differently from the titanium, in addition to steel being intrinsically brighter, giving it a shinier, more polished appearance.
I know I'm in the minority here, but I lament the lack of a sapphire back option to show off the new in-house movement. I'm spoiled by the Planet Ocean's 8500, and while the MT5612 isn't as pretty as that movement, it's still something worth looking at. I won't hold my breath, however, as getting Rolex/Tudor to use a display back is roughly as difficult as detecting dark matter.
The 2nd generation Pelagos, as well as the North Flag, are the two watches chosen to debut Tudor's first and only in-house movement. The movement is essentially identical, the North Flag having the MT5621 and the Pelagos having the MT5612, part of Tudor's interesting decision to make movement names as confusing as possible. The only meaningful differences are that the North Flag has a power reserve complication and two more jewels (28 vs. 26). Of course, in only one of these watches can you actually see the movement, so for this section I'll be using photos from my North Flag review. In fact, because these movements are virtually identical, much of that section will be copied directly over here, with a few tweaks for the Pelagos, so if you've read my North Flag review and would like to skip this part, feel free to go straight to the bracelet section. If you're just joining us, or would like a refresher, read on as I go absurdly in-depth with Tudor's new movement.
Of course, many brands have in-house movements these days, but Tudor's is more interesting than almost all of them because not only does it have important implications for Tudor, but for their relationship to Rolex as well.
The MT5612, and the North Flag's new MT5621, are Tudor's first in-house movements ever. But this is more profound for Tudor than it is for most companies. As you probably already know, Tudor and Rolex are basically two sides of the same coin. Historically, Tudors didn't even receive a unique name on many models and directly used the Rolex name (like Submariner, for instance). The main difference between the brand has always been about the movements: Tudor used outsourced movements and Rolex used almost entirely in-house movements. In 2015, this distinction begins to evaporate.
Naturally, you'd expect Rolex to save all the best technology for itself and give Tudor something less impressive to help maintain its superior position. This is not, however, what occurred. The MT5612 is, in my opinion, more advanced than most, if not all, Rolex movements, with the possible exception of the new 3255.
Most of the magic is going on right here at the balance wheel. Its design strongly inspires comparisons to popular Rolex movements like the 3135. The most important thing to note is that it's free sprung, one of the hallmarks of a high-end Swiss movement. The free sprung design is widely adopted by brands like Patek Philippe, Jaeger LeCoultre, Rolex, Omega, F.P. Journe and Audemars Piguet, to name a few.
The basic difference between the free sprung design and the one used in the vast majority of watches is the lack of a regulator. The regulator changes the effective length of the hairspring in order to change the rate (gain/loss) of a watch. The advantage of this design is that it's extremely easy to work on, usually requiring the turn of a single screw. However, regulators have a couple of weaknesses. The first of these is that they tend to "de-regulate" over time as the watch gets bumped around, leading to greater deviations over the course of years. Additionally, free of the disruptive influence of the regulator, the hairspring is said to be able to "breathe" better, resulting in greater stability. Both designs have their adherents and you can find watches at very high prices and from respectable brands (Vacheron Constantin and Grand Seiko, for instance, are fans of the alternative, and other companies, like JLC, have no allegiance and make many of both) that use either design, although free sprung designs are closely associated with the Swiss high-end with literally no entry-level representation in the market. In fact, as far as I know, this is the most affordable free sprung movement in the world.
In order for free sprung designs to work they need some way of changing the rate of the movement. This is performed via a variable inertia balance. Most variable inertia balances are like this one, with tiny gold screws in the rim of the balance. By moving an opposing pair of screws closer to the balance, or further away, the rate can be advanced or slowed accordingly. Here we see that Tudor has deviated quite a bit from Rolex's design. Contemporary Rolex designs, as well as Omega, place the screws on the inside of the balance wheel. That's an unusual approach, but it makes a lot of sense, because it allows Rolex to increase the diameter of the balance wheel, contributing to stability. If the screws protrude from the outside of the balance wheel you'll need greater clearance in a given movement for the same given balance diameter, ultimately requiring a larger movement (or a smaller balance).
Tudor must have recognized this problem (no surprise since I have little doubt that Rolex designers are behind the MT5612) but have taken a different approach. I would say that this most resembles Breguet's design, hiding the screws within recessed portions of the balance, although a bit less boldly than Breguet in this regard. Regardless, the performance should be the same as Rolex's or Breguet's approach.
Stepping away from the balance for a moment (don't worry, we'll get back to it soon), one of the impressive features of the MT5612 is its 70 hour power reserve. This number represents a 75% increase over the industry standard of about 40 hours, which is the number that you'll find in virtually all movements in this price range (and much higher). 70 hours is not a surprising number for two reasons: it's the same used in the new Rolex 3255 and it's very similar to an emerging three day standard. For those of us who rotate watches frequently (almost certainly you if you've made it this far in the article) this can be a real time saver.
A word about the decoration, or lack thereof. Watch collectors are in hot pursuit of a fine distinction between finishing and decoration, which is perhaps not specious. Suffice it to say that while the finishing is anything but rough here, it's not exactly the prettiest movement in the business either. On one hand, this is very much aligned with the Rolex approach to movement design, which aside from noteworthy exceptions like the Cellini Prince, are best described as "functional." It's also consistent with the very pure tool watch design of the rest of the watch. For my tastes, however, I do like to see a well decorated movement, and while I understand that this isn't going to rival a Vacheron, some Geneva stripes could do wonders. This, however, is a matter of aesthetic taste, and this is a lot of movement for your money, so I can't complain very much. It is something of a moot point with the Pelagos at any rate, as it currently lacks a display back option and we are, in my estimation, very unlikely to see one any time soon.
The rotor and winding system is also next-gen Rolex design. The entire system has much more in common with the new, ultra high-end 3255 than the 3135. The rotor, for instance, shares a strong family resemblance to the 3255, but also note that it appears to be a monobloc design, as opposed to a rotor with a weight attached to it as you might find in the 3135. The resemblance is more than skin deep, however.
Here we can see something that Tudor has not, so far as I'm aware, disclosed. Rolex has been a serious adherent to sleeve bearing designs for their rotors, at least until the Daytona update and the new 3255. Like those next-gen movements, the MT5612 has dropped the ruby sleeve bearing in favor of, in my opinion anyway, superior ball bearings, not unlike you might find in Omega or JLC movements. Sleeve bearings have the advantage of being quieter than ball bearings, but despite my years with ball bearing automatic winding systems, I've never encountered bearing noise with a bidirectional mechanism like Rolex's, so I'm not sure if that's a real world concern. Ball bearings, not just in watch movements but in most industrial applications, are considered to offer superior longevity. The watch industry, recently including Rolex, is clearly moving in this direction, so it's nice to see here.
Tudor employs bidirectional winding which is not surprising since Rolex is a big fan of this approach. It is a bit interesting, however, as it somewhat bucks the industry's move towards unidirectional winders, like with Patek, GP, JLC, JR and various others. I don't think it makes a big difference either way, but I have a preference for bidirectional systems like this one. Bidirectional systems are somewhat more sophisticated in that they're much quieter and they almost never have "rotor wobble." In most bidirectional systems, including this one, you'll simply never know it's an automatic, whereas with a JLC 899, great movement though it is, you will feel it (and hear it) when you make sudden movements of the wrist.
In another nod to Rolex movement design, a balance bridge is employed over the far more conventional balance cock. The difference between this and the more common design is that the bridge attaches on both sides of the balance wheel as opposed to the balance cock's one-sided approach. Theoretically, this should make for a slightly more robust movement. The only cost with going with the bridge design is that it obscures more of the balance wheel, but I actually like how balance bridges look anyway, so this is actually more of a plus for my personal tastes.
Another major update is in the hairspring material. Like Omega and a small number of other companies, Tudor has chosen to go with silicon in its new movement. Silicon has several advantages over a metallic hairspring, including superior dimensional stability (i.e. it returns to its original shape easily), a smaller mass (contributing to stability when encountering external vibration or shock) and, perhaps most importantly, an immunity to magnetism. To be clear, this is not like Omega's Master Co-Axial, rated for extreme magnetic resistance, but it is the hairspring that is, by far, the most susceptible to magnetism, so in the real world this should do quite well against magnetic fields.
It's worth noting what the silicon hairspring means in context to the Rolex relationship. To date, no Rolex men's movement has a silicon hairspring, including their new 3255. For men's watches, they've stuck with their respected parachrom bleu metallic spring. That in and of itself is not unusual, as other great brands like Grand Seiko and JLC have stuck with metallic hairsprings as well. What's more interesting is that Rolex offers silicon hairsprings in their 2236 movements, aimed at the female collector but has, so far at least, not utilized its technology in any of its other movements. Suffice it to say, at least for men's watches, Tudor beats Rolex to the punch in hairspring technology.
We can now finally get to the complications. The existence of the power reserve in the North Flag is the only meaningful difference between this MT5612 and the North Flag's MT5621 (confused yet?). Both, however, have dates, and what a date mechanism it is. I don't have proof of this, but I think it's highly probable that the mechanism used here is the same as the one Rolex uses throughout their range. The date change is absolutely instantaneous.
Oh, and it's also a COSC certified chronometer, again like Rolex.
The Pelagos comes extremely well equipped in terms of straps and bracelets. The North Flag comes with the buyer's choice of a strap or, for a marginally increased price, a steel bracelet. The Pelagos, however, comes with this crazy sophisticated bracelet in addition to very nice matching straps (blue in this case) and even a strap extension.
Today we'll be looking exclusively at the bracelet because it's far more interesting (although I prefer how the Pelagos looks on the rubber strap). I could probably write an entire article on just this bracelet and its clasp. It's quite light weight, thanks to its overall titanium construction, but the clasp is apparently steel. That's probably for the best since clasps are one of the most abused parts of a watch and steel should be more scratch resistant than titanium.
Like most Tudor bracelets, a friction clasp is used, once again with two separate latches to open for added security. What makes it so interesting, however, is in how the clasp works. Basically, there are three adjustments built into the clasp and each can be easily accessed without needing any tools. On the final, or longest, setting, something quite unusual happens.
In that setting, springs inside the clasp now allow the bracelet to expand and contract with your wrist, making for a perfect fit. It feels quite robust and I'm not concerned about it breaking, although future owners should access these functions carefully to avoid scratching the sides of the sliding link inside. On the other hand, unless you're adjusting the clasp, you won't be able to see those scratches anyway, so it's less of a real world concern.
But it doesn't stop there. You can see a little "push" engraving on a link. Pushing on it will cause it to unfold into two lengths, adding yet more adaptability to the bracelet.
There's what it looks like fully unfurled. There is so much tool free adjustment available in this bracelet that you really will only need to adjust it once in your life.
Of course, the bracelet will probably need to be adjusted when you buy it, and that's where these great screw links come in. I'm a big fan of using screws over friction pins but with most watches they can still be more trouble than they need to be to work on. Grand Seiko, for instance, has a small screw on each side of each link with a pin inside, so you've got to remove two screws and then knock out or shake out the pin. With Rolex and Tudor, however, the pin is the screw. It's a simpler and, in my opinion, more effective design that gives up little, if any, security.
Check out our high definition video of the new Tudor Pelagos!
Whenever I look at the Pelagos or the North Flag, I feel like there's a little more going on than what is first apparent. I wanted to understand why these models were chosen to carry Tudor's first in-house movement, the component that would break down the fundamental difference between them and Rolex. I explained the significance of the North Flag in that review, so that leaves us with this Pelagos. Why was the Pelagos chosen?
I have two theories, perhaps not mutually exclusive, for the Pelagos. From a historical perspective, the original "Snowflake" Submariner was really the beginning of Tudor's differentiation from Rolex. Up until that point, the Tudor Sub and Rolex Sub were extremely similar. The Snowflake, which the Pelagos is clearly inspired by, marked a degree of independence in the brand. An in-house movement can do the same thing, so it's entirely plausible that the Pelagos was a good pick because it subtly represents the divergence of the two brands. Alternatively, or perhaps additionally, it could be merely smart marketing strategy. The Pelagos is a different watch than the Rolex Submariner today, and the North Flag is very different from the Explorer. Consequently, it's difficult for Pelagos sales to negatively impact Submariner sales. That's a good thing in either the case of the North Flag or the Pelagos as they have, in my opinion, the better movement than the Rolex equivalent.
The first idea is the more interesting of the two, but I think it's misguided to only evaluate the North Flag and Pelagos by looking to their historic predecessors. Both of these watches are not merely the interpretation of Tudor classics, but they are future classics themselves. In 40 years, Tudor will be coming out with new homages to these two.
Stepping away from horological philosophy for a moment, how does this specific watch do? Well, the new movement certainly lives up to the hype. It's not just another clone, this is a very unique, very high performance movement that can go head to head with Rolexes and Omegas that cost twice as much. I do wish I could see it in the Pelagos, however, and that it were more decorated. The latter concern is, of course, made moot by the first, and diver fans, particularly of the Rolex/Tudor variety, tend to prefer solid backs, so Tudor can hardly be criticized for these decisions.
As per the aesthetic aspects of the watch, I think it's largely a hit. I absolutely love the new blue option and it's definitely the one I'd pick. Luxury divers these days, like the Submariner or Grand Seiko SBGA029, are far too serious for my tastes, which is one reason I've always loved the more playful Planet Ocean. The Pelagos isn't quite as carefree as a PO, but it does manage to find a happy medium between these extremes. I also love the matte look which has the added benefit of separating it from alternatives like the Rolex 116619 (Smurf). I was at first not pleased with the deletion of the 3:00 marker, but the more I look at it and compare it to the original, the more it makes sense to me. I could go either way on that decision. The only stylistic step down, in my opinion, is the superfluous addition of text at the bottom. As I mentioned earlier, being a dedicated Grand Seiko fan, I have no business criticizing anyone for superfluous text, and this certainly wouldn't keep me away from the Pelagos, but I also have trouble understanding why so much text was added. Still, on the whole, I think this is more attractive than the first generation, primarily because of the blue option.
I'm fortunate in that I've been able to spend time with and review these two very important new Tudor watches. They are not merely the beginning of big things for Tudor, they are big things in and of themselves, and they definitely deserve the community's attention. The luxury diver segment is perhaps the single most competitive out there, but the Pelagos has already been a hit with its ETA movement, so now that it has a terrific in-house with only a marginal price increase it's hard for me to see this not completely blowing up. If you've found yourself lusting after a Planet Ocean or Submariner, for instance, you need to ignore (or enjoy) the substantially lower price point of the Tudor and consider the Pelagos as well because it really can compete in that arena. Yes, it's much more affordable but not as a result of cutting corners. I'm not saying that it's necessarily better than them but I am saying it has pretty much everything that fans of those watches are looking for: heritage, quality, a great movement, and a unique look.