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08/31/2022
 7 minutes

The Rolex Explorer II Versus the Tudor Black Bay Pro

By Jorg Weppelink
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One of this year’s biggest releases is without a doubt the Tudor Black Bay Pro. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the watch and its special story. We decided to take a closer look at the Tudor Black Bay Pro and compare it with the current Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570. We wouldn’t be doing the Black Bay Pro any justice if we only compared it with the current version of the Explorer II. After all, the new Tudor tells a much bigger story. Let’s find out what makes both of these watches unique, and which one is the right choice for you.  

The History of the Rolex Explorer II  

To start this story off correctly, we have to go back to the introduction of the first Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655. This watch represented an evolution of the Explorer line in 1971, and was aimed at speleologists. These cave explorers could benefit from a watch with a large orange GMT hand indicating the time on a fixed 24-hour bezel. The reason this was a handy tool for speleologists was because they spent most of their time in caves without knowing whether it was day or night. The big luminous orange GMT hand would in these cases serve as an AM/PM indicator. Interestingly, the Explorer II ref. 1655 was not exactly a success upon its introduction in 1971. People thought it was too loud with its orange accents, and that the dial that was a bit hard to read with its different scales. Commercially, this first Explorer II was never a big success.  

The Rolex Explorer II, aka the “Freccione”  

Over time, however, the Rolex Explorer II did in fact gain the respect of watch enthusiasts. The 39-mm steel watch stood out with its steel fixed 24-hour bezel, unique black dial with two scales, and large luminous orange 24-hour hand. It became a fan favorite, earning the watch the nicknames “Freccione” (Italian for “big arrow”) and “Steve McQueen,” although the actor was known to wear a Rolex Submariner ref. 5512, not the Explorer II. The Explorer II ref. 1655 stayed in production until 1984. Some were sold as late as 1985 when Rolex presented a completely revamped Explorer II with the ref. 16550. Over time, the “Freccione” became a sought-after vintage model among collectors, so much so that it has become one of the most beloved vintage Rolex models out there that changes owners for prices between $20,000 and $50,000. 

The original: the Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655 "Freccione"
The original: the Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655 “Freccione”

A Completely New Rolex Explorer II 

In 1985, Rolex presented a new version of the Explorer II with the reference 16550. This new Explorer came with a new 40-mm stainless steel case and updated dial design, which was now a lot simpler with its dot-shaped hour markers and a regular 60-minute scale. The big orange 24-hour hand was replaced by a slim red GMT hand to indicate the time on the fixed stainless steel bezel that also featured a new design. Rolex offered the new watch with either a black or white dial. One very nice detail is how many of the white dial versions changed to a cream color over time. As you might have guessed, these go for a premium, as most anomalies in the Rolex universe do. The Explorer II ref. 16550 was the blueprint of the Explorer II we still know today. 

The Rolex Explorer II ref. 16550
The Rolex Explorer II ref. 16550

The Evolution of the Rolex Explorer II 

Following the ref. 16550, Rolex introduced an updated version ref. 16570. Along with a new movement and better lume material, the watch is the same size and looks very much like its predecessor. This model stayed in production until 2011 when Rolex introduced the new Explorer II ref. 216570 with a bigger 42-mm size and a return to the orange GMT hand. With its new movement, this was essentially the start of the modern Explorer II. This reference stayed in production until 2021 when Rolex presented the updated version ref. 226570.  

The Current Rolex Explorer II Ref. 226570 

The current Explorer II comes with an updated case design that is still 42 mm. It is powered by the caliber 3285 with its increased 70-hour power reserve. This newest Explorer II is a great modern-day tool watch that was developed with the same basic idea in mind as the first Explorer II ref. 1655. The current version is a modern and technically far superior watch compared to the first model from 1971. Although the current list price is $9,000, expect to pay between roughly $12,000 and $15,000 on the Chrono24 marketplace if you want one. The Explorer II is one of those popular Rolex sports watches that people have come to love. For now, however, let’s go back to the first design from 1971. 

The Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570
The Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570

Enter the Tudor Black Bay Pro 

That first design became part of Rolex history. Collectors that have an Explorer II ref. 1655 cherish their watch. And why not? It has after all become one of the most iconic vintage Rolex watches, with huge appeal for the fans of vintage Rolexes. But for people that don’t have $20,000 to $50,000 to spend on a watch – and most of us don’t – it will probably remain one of those unobtainable classics. That is, until Tudor introduced their Black Bay Pro at Watches & Wonders earlier this year. It was a gutsy move from Tudor that gained them both plenty of praise and criticism. 

The Successful Tudor Strategy 

Tudor’s strategy ever since the introduction of the Black Bay series in 2012 has been to take the Tudor and Rolex legacies and use them as inspiration for their Black Bay line. Combined with modern-day movements and production standards, it has created a stunning line of watches that have grown to become massively popular. These watches offer the chance to get a taste of the vintage Rolex and Tudor magic without breaking the bank. But something Tudor never did in the past was copy a specific model from the Rolex catalog. It was always inspired by the Rolex Submariner or the Rolex GMT-Master, albeit never just one reference. With the Black Bay Pro, however, Tudor explored new territory in using the design of the Explorer II ref. 1655 to create a Tudor version of that design.  

The Tudor Black Bay Pro: Inspired by One Specific Rolex Reference 

This copying is the reason many watch enthusiasts criticize the Black Bay Pro. Others have praised Tudor for bringing back this much-loved design that gives people the chance to buy a watch with the same charm as the original ref. 1655 for a fraction of the price. The Tudor Black Bay Pro features a 39-mm stainless steel case with a fixed 24-hour bezel designed just like the one used for the Explorer II ref. 1655. The watch also features the characteristic big yellow 24-hour GMT hand, although executed in typical Tudor “snowflake” fashion. When it comes to the dial, Tudor made the clever choice to follow the modern Rolex Explorer II design with dotted hour markers and a regular minute track. It makes sure the dial is easy to read, something that was a lot harder with the ref. 1655.  

A Chunky but Very Wearable Watch 

Inside the case that is water-resistant to 200 meters (20 bar, 656 feet), Tudor equips the Black Bay Pro with its chronometer-certified MT5652 caliber. This modern movement provides 70 hours of power reserve and has proven its reliability after some initial issues when the Tudor Black Bay GMT was introduced in 2018. The only downside of the movement is that it makes the overall watch fairly thick at 14.6 mm. With a 39-mm diameter, the watch becomes a fairly chunky timepiece that is not really the best choice for people with smaller wrists, even though the people with big enough wrists that have worn it will tell you that it is a very comfortable watch. Compared to the 12.5 mm of the current Explorer II that is also slightly larger, it nevertheless comes across as bulky. At $4,000 however, the Tudor is considerably more affordable than the Rolex.   

Which is the watch for you? 

When comparing these two watches, there are some fundamental differences you will have to consider. Rolex is a brand that never looks back, and is all about its steady progress in delivering constantly updated and improved versions of their iconic timepieces. Tudor is a brand that is based almost entirely on looking back and being inspired by classic Rolex and Tudor designs. These are principal differences that define both brands. Additionally, the Rolex name has a price tag to match its history and reputation. Although Tudor has been making a great name for itself by creating fantastic watches at a much friendlier price, it will always be Rolex’s little sister. And there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, Tudor gives a lot of watch enthusiasts, especially the younger generation that is not automatically enamored by the Rolex icons from the past, a chance to wear and enjoy the Rolex and Tudor legacy in a modern and affordable way. So is there really a right or wrong here? Of course not. As always, buying and wearing watches is a very personal thing. Enjoy it the way you want to, not how others would want you to. The question of whether you want a Rolex Explorer II or a Tudor Black Bay Pro is one only you can answer. 

The Tudor Black Bay Pro
The Tudor Black Bay Pro

About the Author

Jorg Weppelink

Hi, I'm Jorg, and I've been writing articles for Chrono24 since 2016. However, my relationship with Chrono24 goes back a bit longer, as my love for watches began …

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