Hands On: Tudor Black Bay GMT “Opaline”

"Pan Am" livery for Tudor's travel staple.

Released in March at Watches & Wonders, the Black Bay GMT “Opaline” is perhaps the most notable travel watch in Tudor’s line up thanks to a silvery-white dial that may or may not have been inspired by the Rolex GMT-Master “Pan Am”.

A variant of the original model in black, the Black Bay GMT with a white dial is typical Tudor – namely excellent quality and outstanding value – but it might be a subtle reference to the mythical, and sometimes controversial, GMT-Master “Pan Am”. Though there’s no official reference to the potential historical inspiration, the GMT “Opaline” is an in-joke that a historically-minded enthusiast will appreciate.

Initial thoughts

To the casual observer, the Black Bay GMT “Opaline” might seem like yet another iteration of Tudor’s bestselling dive watch. In fact, the GMT might seem less appealing when set against the equally recent Black Bay 54 with its properly-vintage proportions.

But the GMT “Opaline” deserves a second look. The softly-grained dial with its “polar” palette is clear, clean, and well-executed, and most importantly possesses a different feel compared to the black dial of the original version, especially since black is the de facto dial colour for sports watches and very, very common. Being a dual time zone and silvery-white, the GMT “Opaline” is different despite its traditional design.

That said, the GMT “Opaline” is otherwise entirely the same as the model introduced in 2018, which means the same case and bracelet. As a result, the case still feels rather large and tall, particularly for a vintage-inspired design. Its size is most apparent when set against the Black Bay 54 that is just 37 mm. Given the case-size trend in Tudor’s catalogue, while there isn’t a smaller version of the GMT available yet, it is inevitable that there will be, though not perhaps soon.

Beyond the watch itself, the possible historical reference is intriguing. Like last year’s Tudor Black Bay Pro that instantly evokes the Rolex Explorer ref. 1655, the GMT “Opaline” brings to mind the Rolex GMT-Master ref. 6542 with a silver-white dial, a model that is  known but uniformly contentious due to its obscure and perhaps made-up origins. Moreover, it is notable that Rolex itself made reference to the GMT-Master “Pan Am” with the GMT-Master II meteorite. The meaning behind this historical reference is unknown but something for the aficionado to ponder.

At US$3,975 on a fabric strap and slightly more at US$4,300 on a bracelet, the new Black Bay GMT is priced the same as its predecessor. Like it predecessor, it is arguably the best value in the GMT sports watch space – but this version is all the more interesting for the backstory.

A historical first

Tudor expanded its defining line of dive watches in 2018 with the Black Bay GMT with the iconic “Pepsi” bezel – the first time ever the brand had a GMT watch in its collection. Up till that point, Tudor’s historically-inspired models were all based on vintage originals.

As expected, Tudor’s first GMT sat at an accessible price point, but more crucially contained the MT5652, an in-house movement developed from the ground up with a second time zone function, giving it true GMT functionality with an independently-adjustable hour hand.

The Black Bay GMT

Following its initial release, the Black Bay GMT gained an even more prominent place in the brand’s repertoire thanks to the one-of-a-kind version made for Only Watch 2021 that sold for CHF650,000 at the charity auction. The unique rendition had a gun-metal coating on the case and bracelet that was artificially aged to give it a faux vintage finish.

The Black Bay GMT One for Only Watch

The latest Black Bay GMT has a distinctive character despite being identical to its predecessor in most tangible respects. The only difference – and all the difference – is the silver-white dial, officially “opaline silver”. Tudor has kept mum behind this design, but when I quizzed a brand executive about the similarity  to the GMT-Master “Pan Am”, he gave a knowing smile. 

The GMT-Master ref. 6542 with a white dial gets its “Pan Am” nickname from the story, perhaps apocryphal, that Rolex made a small run of GMT-Masters with a white dial for the executives of Pan American World Airways. The brand has made it official that Pan Am played a key role in the development of the GMT-Master, stating in its launch material for the latest GMT-Master II, “[the watch] even became the official watch of Pan American World Airways… In 1959, a major event marked the partnership: the first non-stop Pan Am Jet Clipper flight from New York to Moscow. The captain was wearing a GMT-Master, which was used as a navigation aid during the flight.”

But Rolex has never commented on the white-dial models, and more tellingly, the GMT-Master “Pan Am” is perhaps the most famous Rolex model never to have been sold by an established auction house. I am sceptical of the origin tales of the various examples of the GMT-Master “Pan Am” that have been proffered for sale, but am thoroughly amused that Tudor has created a watch that brings it to mind. I appreciate the sense of humour exhibited by this product.

The familiar “snowflake” hands remain

At the same time, the dial looks good. The opaline silver is more vibrant in the metal than in photos, primarily due to the galvanic finish that imparts a soft, metallic sheen on the finely grained surface. The result is a pleasing hue that is neither a stark white nor a faux-vintage off-white.

The colour is enhanced by the hour indices and hands that contain white Super-Luminova, which gives the dial a fresh look. Although the design is clearly vintage inspired, there are no hints of its being a remake. 

Apart from the dial colour, the rest of the watch remains unchanged. The case has the same dimensions of 41 mm in diameter and 14.6 mm high. It’s a sizeable watch and feels the part, especially with the bracelet, which is quite a lot of metal. 

Like all Black Bay models, the watch is offered on either a rivet-style bracelet or a jacquard fabric strap. The bracelet is well constructed, though the simulated rivets feel a bit affected, especially since this doesn’t feel like a vintage watch like the compact Black Bay 54 does for instance. A streamlined bracelet would work better with this watch.

It’s also worth pointing out an omission: the bracelet does not have the proprietary “T-Fit” extension found in several newer Black Bay models. The T-Fit is a nifty mechanism that allows for micro-adjustment on the fly, resulting in a better fit. This feature would have added significant utility since changing climate and pressure during travel usually results in changing wrist circumference, making a quick-adjustment mechanise extra useful.

A real GMT

And of course, the GMT “Opaline” is a GMT watch from its foundations up. The second time zone mechanism is integrated into the base plate instead of being a separate module.

It has a bidirectional rotating bezel with an anodised aluminium insert in “Pepsi” colours of blue and red, along with a second hour hand. As a true GMT watch, the independently-adjustable hand is the local hour hand, since the home time hand should remain unchanged during travel. The local hour hand can be independently adjusted in one-hour steps via the crown, alongside the date. Because both the date and hour hand move in sync, both can be set forwards and backwards.

The only downside of such a setup is the need to cycle through 24 hours with the hour hand in order to advance the date. But that is only a task when setting the watch from scratch; changing time zones during a trip means just a few turns of the crown.

Inside is the same MT5652 utilised in the original model. Belonging to the MT56XX family of larger sized movements, the MT5652 is a COSC-certified chronometer calibre that is manufactured at Tudor’s new factory in Le Locle

Like all Tudor in-house calibres, it has a substantial 70-hour power reserve and incorporates features like a non-magnetic silicon hairspring and a free-sprung, variable inertia balance wheel. Geared towards more stable timekeeping, such enhancements are commonly found in high-quality movements but uncommon at Tudor’s price segment, making the movement unusually high-spec for the price.

Concluding thoughts

The Black Bay GMT “Opaline” is compelling thanks to its distinctive aesthetic, intriguing backstory, and solid functionality. Granted, it is still a bit chunky and the bracelet could do with a T-Fit clasp, but as it is, the GMT “Opaline” is outstanding value. It is likely the best value in travel watches below US$5,000. 

Key facts and price

Tudor Black Bay GMT “Opaline”
Ref. M79830RB-0010

Diameter: 41 mm
Height: 14.6 mm
Material: Steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 200 mm

Movement: Cal. MT5652
Features: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, and second time zone
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 70 hours

Strap: Steel bracelet or fabric strap

Limited edition: Regular production
Availability: Now at Tudor boutiques and retailers
Price: Steel and fabric strap – US$3,975; Steel and bracelet – US$4,300

For more information, visit Tudorwatch.com.


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