You wouldn’t think that the average British watch buyer, or indeed serious horolophile, would pay much attention to the work of Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Metrology (or Metas). That’s unless you’re excited by, for example, regulatory compliance around the weighing of pre-packaged foods, or the impact of air buoyancy on what constitutes a kilogram. The job of Metas, you see, is to officially oversee the science and business of measuring things. And, as it happens, one of the things it’s raised the bar on is the measurement of how well watches work.
That’s why there’s now a dedicated Metas laboratory inside the watchmaking workshops of Tudor, the sister brand of Rolex. In it, a new generation of Tudor watches is exhaustively tested to meet exacting standards on factors such as accuracy, durability, water resistance and anti-magnetism. Having passed, they’re granted the certification of ‘Master Chronometer’. In other words, they’re like other Tudor watches – just better.
Tudor’s first Master Chronometer watch is a new, dark-hued version of the all-conquering Black Bay 41. It’s cased in stealthy, scratch-proof black ceramic and called, simply, the Black Bay Ceramic, which little attests to the fact that it’s the most highly engineered bit of watchmaking the brand has yet produced. The in-house movement features upgrades (Tudor’s keeping schtum on exactly what) that mean it meets the Master Chronometer standards of 0/+5 seconds a day accuracy, and magnetic resistance of 15,000 gauss – the kind of thing you’d find in an MRI scanner. And while this is the first example out of the block, it’s reasonable to assume that in coming years other Tudor watches will be elevated to what amounts to watchmaking’s top-flight elite.
You wouldn’t notice it, but watchmaking has been on a steady upward curve over the past few years. Leading brands have been competing to harness new technologies enabling them to offer better accuracy, longer power reserves, elevated anti-magnetism and – perhaps, most importantly – increased warranties. Notably, Tudor’s warranty (for all its watches) went up to five years at the start of 2020, matching that of its senior sibling, as well as Omega. Given servicing of mechanical watches can cost several hundred pounds, these are serious gains for the consumer.
The Master Chronometer tests were devised by Metas in partnership with Omega back in 2015, far outstripping the requirements of another, um, action-packed institution, the long-standing Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC). For generations, the COSC has stood sentinel over what appeared to be the only chronometric test that counted, bestowing official ‘Chronometer’ status on multitudes of watches.
With the COSC, movements are sent off for testing, before being returned and assembled into a watch. By comparison, for a Master Chronometer, the entire cased-up watch is tested, which is why it’s done inside the manufacture, under Metas’ supervision. And whereas COSC demands no more than a 10-second variance of -4/+6 seconds a day, this halves with Master Chronometer.
Omega has been gradually turning its entire collection into Master Chronometers since 2015, but the test was always designed to be thrown open to all-comers. For a long time it seemed it would have Master Chronometer all to itself. No longer – the fact that it’s taken until now for another brand to step up simply reflects just how demanding the Metas requirements are.
‘The choice to go for the Master Chronometer certification demonstrates Tudor’s mastery of one of the highest standards in the watch industry in terms of chronometry and resistance to magnetic fields,’ says a Tudor spokesman. ‘For Tudor to pursue this certification is a way to showcase our cutting-edge know-how and to materialise through an independent institution the high level of quality our watches offer.’
Black Bay 41 Master Chronometer £3,550; tudorwatch.com