The Rolex Submariner vs the Tudor Pelagos, which is the better dive watch pound for pound? An enthusiast’s perspectiveBruce Duguay
Editor’s note: While our daily work at Time+Tide revolves around new models, this is not – in the main – how most of you experience watches. Which is why, from time to time, we publish stories, reviews, reflections and comparisons based purely on the wearer’s perspective. The buyer’s perspective. The enthusiast’s perspective. That’s how we connected with Bruce Duguay. He wrote a review of the Rolex GMT-Master II BLNR that also happens to be one of our most read stories of all time. Here, Bruce compares two watches he rates and appreciates, the Tudor Pelagos and the Rolex Submariner.
This month, I had the good fortune to simultaneously have in my possession a Rolex Submariner and a Tudor Pelagos. Of course, a head-to-head comparison was inevitable, but not for all of the obvious reasons. Yes, these are two black dial dive watches and they come from the same parent company, but what I really wanted to explore is the criteria I feel makes the Tudor Pelagos so compelling from both the on-the-wrist and consumer viewpoints. This might be a bold statement, but in early 2020, and in my opinion, the Tudor Pelagos is a better dive watch than the Rolex Submariner. Hear me out.
Starting with the (relatively) new kid on the block, the Tudor Pelagos makes a strong statement at first glance. This particular model is completely monochrome. There are no flourishes to distract from its clear mission of being a highly legible dive watch.
Unlike the other underwater Tudor, the Black Bay, there also seemed no need to build in nods to retro heritage, so designers focused on making the technology of the watch apparent and pleasing to the eye. It is this technology that really upsets the Rolex applecart, starting with construction of the case and bracelet entirely from titanium.
At 42mm, the Pelagos should potentially wear a bit bulky (like the same-size Omega Seamaster 300M Diver), but it absolutely does not. The case profile is quite thick as well but the comparable lightness of the titanium helps the size of the Pelagos shrink around your wrist. The surprise for me was that this titanium Tudor still felt substantial to the touch due to its build quality and solid construction, courtesy of Rolex.
Another impressive surprise was discovering that the tech goodness continues with a matte finish bezel on the Pelagos that is both ceramic and luminous. Rotating the unidirectional bezel is a joy with precise minute-by-minute clicks and the perfect combination of resistance and grip while turning.
I remember the Black Bay bezel being not nearly this friendly, and the Submariner bezel offers only more luxurious damping by comparison. The matte finishes on the bezel and dial combine with the slightly dark tinted titanium finish of the case and bracelet to emphasise the bank vault tool watch image of the Pelagos.
After a few days with the Pelagos, I came to the decision that this was one of the most legible sports watches I had ever worn, thanks in large part to the dial layout. The bright white hour markers are chunky white squares and rectangles devoid of any faux ageing or decorative surrounds. The hands themselves are also bright and bold, with the hour hand using the distinctive Tudor snowflake motif to the most functional visual advantage. At a quick glance, the date window blends in at three o’clock with the other hour markers as it uses the same shape and bright whiteness for its background. This should even get the Pelagos a favourable nod from no-date purists. There is a lot of text on this dial, mostly skewed toward the bottom, announcing all of the Tudor’s credentials.
These credentials are where most Rolex challengers start to betray why their price is significantly lower … except the Tudor engineers can smirk in this rare instance of exactly the opposite occurring. As of 2015, the Pelagos boasts an entirely in-house movement with 70 hours of power reserve and COSC certification. This engine is contained within the titanium case assembly that is rated for water resistance to a healthy 500 metres. This is more than almost anyone on earth needs but more importantly exceeds the specifications of both the venerable Submariner and Seamaster Diver by a healthy 200 metres.
Last but not least in the Tudor tech parade is the clasp on the bracelet that goes the diving distance and then some. Not only does the Pelagos give you three dive extension settings but it also incorporates a fourth variable range that is elastic to subtle changes in wrist size whether while diving or just going outside on a hot day. I had the bracelet sized so that the clasp regularly resided in this variable setting. It flexed with my wrist movements throughout the day resulting in an extremely comfortable experience enhanced by the lightness of the titanium.
Rather than simply stating the retail price, I feel the more important picture often overlooked in reviews is the overall acquisition experience of a particular watch. A couple of days before I wrote this article, I stopped by my local Tudor boutique and they had all three current Pelagos variations available to try on and purchase. When you consider all the tech and design achievements of the Pelagos, the price plus value plus ease of acquisition equation is highly compelling.
The no-date Submariner is a hard watch to review much in the same vein as it is difficult to objectively critique similar widely accepted institutions like the Porsche 911 or Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses. It is the “one-watch” for countless fans and stands on its own through decades of history. I myself am a big fan and former owner so here are the top points from my perspective.
The proportions are spot on. Even this contemporary model with the chunkier case and lugs conforms to any wrist any time with minimal hassle. The ceramic bezel gleams without being shouty and is just the right width. The classic but always contemporary oyster bracelet gracefully tapers down to one of the finest operating clasps the watch world has ever seen. I like that there is a high polish to the sides of the case and bracelet that combine with the bezel to give the watch that Rolex pop and recognisability. It feels supple, comfortable and familiar with the credibility of a product you never have to fully explain to others as they simply get it or they don’t.
In researching this article, I found that the swings the Pelagos takes at its establishment brother cannot be ignored. That the Submariner still employs a movement first introduced during the last days of the 1980s can only be seen as either charming or anachronistic but definitely not cutting edge. Add to the Submariner’s deficiency list lower water resistance, power reserve, and less functional dive clasp and the Tudor sprints to the forefront on its technical merit badges. I quickly developed an acute appreciation and respect for the Pelagos as a fantastic dive and tool watch and therein lies the biggest separator of these two pieces. The Tudor is an actual tool watch and, at as low as a third of the price of the Submariner, can be easily used as one. The Pelagos scores points for functional allure and, ironically, authenticity.
Finally, we come back to acquisition experience. The Rolex Submariner as configured for this article retails for just under $10,000 and, for all intents and purposes, is worth that price of admission. What makes it a harder pill to swallow is that most consumers simply will not be able to find a straight path to achieving a retail transaction with the Submariner. While I was able to borrow this nicely worn-in example for evaluation purposes from a close friend, at the retail level there are lists and the (perhaps exaggerated) shortage of inventory to deal with. Anyone familiar with the world of watches would feel almost sheepish asking a Rolex boutique to see or buy a steel Submariner. The Submariner is a hard watch to shop for and purchase right now which, for me, takes some tangible joy away from this beautiful product.
For now, I’m thrilled to own and wear the Pelagos. The value is clear, the watch is brilliant, and I purchased it with no obstacles whatsoever. I still love the institution and history that comes along with the Rolex Submariner, but until my dealer calls and “offers” me the chance to purchase one at retail, I’m a happy camper with the technically proficient Tudor.