A few weeks ago, we introduced a selection of pre-owned watches in the HODINKEE Shop. One that caught my eye was a first-gen, complete-set Tudor Black Bay Red “Smiley” in excellent condition. I work on the Shop team, so I see pretty much everything that comes in – and I wanted this one bad. I wrote it up for the Shop Journal. I bit my knuckle and tried to justify copping it for myself. But I already own a Black Bay Fifty-Eight, and I’m not in the position to buy another on a whim. (Someone else snapped it up anyway.)
So it was serendipitous, then, that I saw a similar piece come into the HODINKEE Shop at around the same time: An aesthetically comparable and more affordable option from Timex.
Here, our second-ever Steal Vs. Splurge column details my personal experience cross-shopping these two dive-style watches from Tudor and Timex.
(Don’t miss out on Cara’s inaugural article here!)
The Watch: Timex Navi XL Automatic Ref. TW2U09900ZV ($ 259)
Why It’s Cool: The Naxi XL Automatic series is a hidden gem. It holds a place in Timex’s catalog of new-look mechanical watches, which have proliferated the past few years. The Marlin and M79 have captured most of the attention on social media, but the Navi XL houses a number of sweet little watches in their own right, all paying tribute to military watches Timex produced in the previous century. (Side note – Timex has an incredibly underrated military history. I visited an auction house a few years ago that specializes in American pocket watches and timing devices, and I was amazed to discover the sheer amount of fuse timers labeled with U.S. Time Corp, one of Timex’s previous names.)
The Timex Navi XL is in no way an homage, a copy, a rip-off, or any sort of facsimile for the Black Bay. All it shares is a unidirectional bezel in red, a black dial, and a case measuring approximately 41mm × 13mm (and, well, the “T” that starts off both company’s names). Where the Black Bay offers clean and compelling vintage looks with a slight grain to the dial finish, no date display, and a matte aluminum bezel, the Navi XL is all about delivering extra information with confidence. An inner 24-hour scale (for military time) is located on the dial, as is a date aperture at three o’clock that is further highlighted by a magnifying lens on the outside of the crystal. A light-catching polished red bezel insert completes the look.
Design is where the Navi XL Automatic excels. Where the Black Bay is a blue-blood in terms of traditional dive-watch aesthetics, Timex brings some atypical elements that help it stand on its own. Chief among these is the design of the hour hand, which features an open circle near its tip that allows you to read the inner 24-hour scale without disturbance. This choice highlights the fusion of both dive-watch aesthetics (through the unidirectional 60-minute bezel) and those typically associated with mid-century field watches. The Navi XL brings you aspects of both archetypal designs, executed in a single approachable manner that feels neither cramped nor complicated. It also includes a number of other nicely executed details (I’m a sucker for squared-off crown guards) that you might not expect at its price.
Why It’s Affordable: Timex is truly a global organization, and its watches are manufactured at various facilities around the world; this one happens to be built in China. Inside is an automatic, non-hacking movement from the Miyota division of Japan’s Citizen Group. It’s also not a “true” dive watch despite what its unidirectional elapsed timekeeping bezel might want to tell you; the Navi XL is only tested to 100 meters of water resistance, and the crown opens and closes with a pull and a push rather than screwing down for security. Timex also utilizes a mineral crystal instead of scratch-resistant sapphire and features an exhibition caseback that some might deem unnecessary for the undecorated caliber inside.
The Watch: Tudor Black Bay Ref. M79230R-0011 ($ 3,475)
Why It’s Cool: Tudor’s modern dive watch is simply a classic. I’ve tried on the OG Black Bay ETA series, and the subsequent models powered by in-house COSC-certified movements, dozens of times. But something about the pre-owned example we recently stocked reminded me of just how charming these first-gen models are, with their curved text and the old-school Tudor Rose logo on the dial.
If you opt for a Black Bay, you’re obviously getting a high-quality Swiss-made dive watch, tested to 200 meters and featuring a tried-and-tested automatic movement, either in-house (if you’re buying new) or ETA (if you go for an original example through the secondary market), under the hood. You’ll also get to see for yourself what all the hype surrounding one of the most successful introductions of the past decade is about. And it goes without saying, but you’ll be the owner of a top-notch timepiece that will no-doubt serve you well in the years to come. (There’s a reason Tudor owners tend to keep their watches close.)
Why It’s Expensive: The heart wants what the heart wants. The Black Bay is, without question, a more premium watch than the Navi XL (as well as any other current production Timex). And that does translate to a different experience when wearing, holding, or – it’s true – even just thinking about the watch.
Where one full rotation of the Black Bay’s bezel counts 60 purposeful clicks, the Navi XL is double that and is noticeably stiffer just out of the box. The action of engaging with the Tudor’s screw-down crown is also a distinct pleasure (as Jack memorably detailed during his A Week On The Wrist), while the Timex’s crown is really nothing to write home about.
This is a site dedicated to watches, so I’d be lying to you if I said those details didn’t matter. Of course they do. They’re what make the Black Bay a luxury piece and the Timex something else entirely.
How to Decide
The watch world, in its vastness, has plenty of room for multiple red-bezel, black-dial watches. But the fun of collecting is in the choosing. And the choice is always personal. For me, it came down to a simple decision: Should I pay a significant sum of money for a second Black Bay that I want but don’t need? Or does the Timex alternative give me a comparable enough thrill?
Reader, if you’ve gotten this far without guessing where this is headed, I’ll answer for you now: I bought the Timex Navi XL Automatic to satisfy my desire for the Black Bay Red. And yes, I bought it from the HODINKEE Shop with my own money (where I subsequently paired it with our Dark Stained Brown Leather Single-Piece Watch Strap – *chef’s kiss*). And no, I did not plan to write this story before I purchased the watch. But I’ve truly enjoyed my time with the Timex so far. It’s helped me cement my appreciation for an aesthetic I’ve admired for years but never quite pulled the trigger on.
And what is watch collecting all about if you can’t enjoy all sorts of different watches, regardless of price point or prestige?
Where to Buy Them
The Timex Navi XL Automatic, as seen here, is priced at $ 259. It’s available to purchase in the HODINKEE Shop. The current Tudor Black Bay ref. M79230R-0011 is priced at $ 3,475 on an aged brown leather strap; learn more at Tudor. The first-gen Tudor Black Bay ref. 79220R is available on the secondary market; shop pre-owned here.