How the Black Bay lives on through its most popular diver’s watch
If he were alive today, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf would be tremendously proud to see the legacy of his life’s work in the 21st century. Temporarily removing Rolex from the picture, he would have been equally proud to discover how its sister brand, TUDOR, has established itself as its own entity. Notably, ever since the first TUDOR Submariner was introduced in 1954, the range of models has been one of the most sought-after diver’s watches on the market.
Of course, far-sighted businessman Wilsdorf did not only provide the young brand with its own, individual destiny, but also used the popularity and expertise of its older sibling Rolex to establish TUDOR, as well as create an appetite for its watches among a wider audience. Rolex initially supplied many components to the TUDOR Submariner models – for a long time, they even carried Rolex’s name, whether on the strap, case or crown. As TUDOR grew in age, its independence grew with it – and it was thus able to slowly but surely cut the cord from Rolex. Over the years, the TUDOR Submariner developed more and more individual features, eventually becoming an assertive and autonomous collection.
The question remains: how exactly did it undergo this transformation and what traces and elements of the Submariner, which was discontinued in 1999, still remain today in the form of the Black Bay? To find out, it’s worth taking a look back into the past.
1954 TUDOR’s first diver’s watch
A mere year after Rolex launched the first Submariner model, TUDOR introduced its own diver’s watch: The Oyster Prince Submariner Reference 7922. Even when the Submariner was still an all-round novelty, Rolex was nevertheless already enjoying a reputation for its robust, reliable and water-resistant watches. Meanwhile, TUDOR watches came onto the scene with the aim of producing a watch that would carry the same characteristics, but at a more affordable price.
This was of course difficult to implement without making some compromises. The TUDOR Submariner models, for example, did not have Rolex movements, but were rather equipped with third party movements. Although these movements were still amongst the best in the industry, they were not chronometer certified. For consumers who didn’t consider the movement to be a deciding factor in their purchase, they could still enjoy a good quality watch at an attractive price, and even a bit of Rolex. For example, TUDOR’s Ref. 7922 used the Rolex’s three-part Oyster case with a screw-in caseback and crown, making it an impressive piece that was also water-resistant to 100 m.
To elaborate, comparing TUDOR and Rolex’s respective Submariner models is a little like comparing the Porsche 718 Cayman with the iconic 911 Carrera. Both have the same roots. Both are excellent sports cars. Aesthetically, they look like siblings. The big brother 911, however, costs about 50,000 euros more. This is largely because the six-cylinder 385 PS engine offers more power than the 300 PS four-cylinder engine in the Cayman. Even though the configuration of the cars is very similar, certain details ultimately make the models different. Nevertheless, the Cayman can undoubtedly hold a candle to the 911 and has a clear price advantage. Finally, the 911 is not only made for the more affluent but also for more mature clientele, and the same comparison can be applied by holding up the TUDOR Submariner against the Rolex Submariner.
The characteristics of the first TUDOR Submariners included large luminescent indices and hands, ensuring high legibility even in deep waters. Notably, the indices were round, and the bezel was bi-directional with five-minute graduations. The inscriptions on the black lacquered dial were coloured golden-yellow. The dials were domed, an aspect that should later have disappeared – but, as we will learn, made a return many years later.
To create a watch that could withstand the pressure of being 100 m underwater was a major challenge at the time. Thus, TUDOR decided to adopt three particular features from Rolex. Firstly, a screwed down Oyster caseback to protect the water from entering from the back. Secondly, a ‘Tropic’ domed plexiglass crystal to limit water damage from the front. Finally, a screw-in crown prevented water from entering and damaging the movement.
Powering the 7922 model was the automatic calibre 390, based on Fleurier’s high-quality base calibre. While the dial displayed the name TUDOR, the riveted Oyster bracelet bore Rolex’s logo.
1955 to 1964
A year after its launch, the still-young TUDOR Submariner took its first steps in moving away from its initial design, switching from an automatic to a manual winding movement. The Oyster Prince Submariner Reference 7923 housed the ETA calibre 1182, allowing the case to be flatter. Furthermore, instead of the Rolex-typical hands (which was also known as Mercedes hands), it now used rod-shaped (baton) hands. However, the watch was still too new to stray too far from the norm.
Therefore, it remained as it was – becoming the only watch to use a manual-winding movement and feature baton hands. It was only at the 2015 Only Watch auction that an additional such watch was created as the Heritage Black Bay One, and was accordingly auctioned off for charity.
Three years after the 7922 – so in 1958 – TUDOR surprised fans by introducing the ‘Big Crown’ Reference 7924. The new model was no longer water-resistant to 100 m but 200 m, and featured an imposing 8 mm winding crown. Today, it is a highly coveted model amongst collectors, and its features have been transferred into the modern Submariner (Black Bay). In order to withstand greater pressure, the crystal consisted of a stronger Plexiglass than before. Additionally, Mercedes hour markers were used, bringing back a key element of the TUDOR Submariner’s custom design.
In 1959, TUDOR introduced the Oyster Prince Submariner Ref. 7928 with a protected crown for the first time – and because of the square shape around it, they were quickly dubbed ‘Square Crown Guards’ by collectors. Additionally, the new 6mm crown was made somewhat slimmer. Meanwhile, the words ‘Original Oyster Case by Rolex Geneva’ was written upon the case, making it clear that TUDOR’s older brother continued to hold its sibling’s hand.
A new variation of the Oyster Prince Submariner Ref. 7928 appeared in 1960, and it replaced the angular edges of the crown guard with pointed ones. Thus, the new variation received the predictable nickname ‘Pointed Crown Guards’.
The crown protector’s design was altered once again in 1964, becoming rounded for the first time with the Oyster Prince Submariner ‘Tropical’ Ref. 7928. This shape was to characterize all future models.
The name of the ‘Tropical’ collection alluded to the colours that featured on the bezel and dial, which were achieved through prolonged exposure to UV radiation. The inscriptions on the dial, meanwhile, were now coloured silver for the first time. Today, the Black Bay models do not even feature a crown protector – but there’s no knowing what the future may hold.
1967 The ultimate TUDOR Submariner
In 1967, the features of the newly launched 7928 Submariner model series laid down the foundation for the line’s direction for the next 30 years. The minute graduation, previously only resting on a ring, was now extended to the case.
Furthermore, the inscriptions now shifted from gold and silver to white. Meanwhile, other features of the watch remained unchanged, such as a rounded crown protector with the Rolex logo, a domed crystal made from Plexiglass, 200 m water-resistance, the Rolex Oyster bracelet, and the automatic calibre 390.
1969 A new era for the TUDOR Submariner
Due to a number of special new features, 1969 was a deciding year for the development of the TUDOR Submariner. It marked the birth of Snowflake hands, as the quadradic form was to be dubbed by fans, and replaced the typical Rolex Mercedes hands. Furthermore, the hour indices changed from being round to square-shaped.
Reference 7016 and 7021 heralded the start of the line’s turning point. Both models were now no longer powered by the Fleurier calibre 360, but rather with the ETA movement 2483 or ETA calibre 2484, as the Ref. 7021 had an additional calendar function. Striking new features included a two-coloured date window at 3 o’clock, changing from red to black depending on the numbers. Furthermore, the TUDOR rose no longer featured on the dial, which had been inspired by the historic English royal family. Rather, the dial now displayed a coat of arms, representing resilience and reliability.
In 1976, the Reference 7016 was replaced by the 9401/0. It was powered by a new, more powerful calibre, the ETA 2776, equipped with a new locking function for the seconds hand – as it continued to run while being set, the watch’s time could be set more accurately.
TUDOR offered four variations with differing dials and bezels in blue or black, Snowflake or Submariner hands, and square or round indices. The blue version was even ordered for the French navy directly from the TUDOR catalogue – and rather than requesting a specially made version, the model requested was identical to the commercial model.
1989 TUDOR makes great strides on its own
From 1989 onwards, the classic TUDOR Submariner without a date window disappeared once and for all, as it was replaced with the Prince Oysterdate Submariner 79090. Likewise, the Snowflake hands became a thing of the past, as Mercedes hands returned once more. The indices at 6,9, and 12 o’clock were no longer rectangular, but rather triangular. At long last, the professional metal Oyster bracelet bore the TUDOR logo for the first time.
In 1995, the TUDOR Prince Date Submariner 79190 marked the last Submariner model that the brand would ever make. Influenced by constant transformations, this model once again had some special features. For starters, it marked the first time that a sapphire crystal was used. The indices on the blue or black dial were now bordered. Also for the first time, the fluted bezel became unidirectional as opposed to bidirectional, preventing the remaining diving time from being inadvertently adjusted.
2012 Black Bay and the incarnation of the Submariner
It was in the year 2012 that the TUDOR Submariner was reborn in the form of the Black Bay. According to the brand, the name Black Bay stems from “a fictitious hidden cove, which holds secrets can only be discovered over time, step by step”. It was a modern interpretation of the first diver’s watch from 1954 which, just like then, has been reinterpreted again and again over the past eight years. In other words, the Black Bay can arguably be seen as a conglomerate of the most important design codes from the TUDOR Submariner’s 45 years of history.
The Black Bay revived not only the domed glass but also the domed dial, which was particularly used in the first few Submariner models. The distinctive winding crown harked back to the ‘Big Crown’, which had been introduced in 1958 in the Reference 7924. Another special feature that Black Bay models have had ever since 2012 are the typical TUDOR Snowflake hands, which were featured from 1969 onwards. Likewise, all models featured the round, bordered indices that actually first appeared on the final Submariner model, back in 1995.
The typical crown flank protection has not continued in the modern version of TUDOR’s diving watch, at least not yet. Also, the Black Bay has generally adapted to the societal changes and needs of the last 20 years. This means that there are now Black Bay models that are more suitable for everyday use. Historically speaking, they are of course linked to their heritage, but their use is no longer limited to diving. There are watches from the Black Bay 32, 36, 41 (S&G) model lines that are without rotating bezels, and are somewhat more classic in their integration into transforming into an everyday timepiece. With a water-resistance of 150 metres, they can nevertheless be seen as hardy, water-resistant watches.
Models such as the Black Bay Chronos (Dark, S&G) and the GMT have transformed the Submariner into universal, everyday tool watches with a respect for the past and an eye towards the future.
The phase of discovery and development that followed both the Submariner and Black Bay allowed TUDOR to further establish itself as a self-confident, individual watchmaker. Today, TUDOR cases and bracelets are produced by external suppliers and long-established partners, rather than by Rolex. The crown now bears the TUDOR rose, a nod to the brand’s past and its old logo. There are also several ateliers where components are produced by hand to micro-perfection. Each product’s quality is meticulously controlled, and all watches undergo stringent tests before being put out onto the market.
2016 The Black Bay gets its own movement
TUDOR’s most monumental transformation and ultimate departure from Rolex took place in 2016. The production of ETA models came to an end, as from this moment on, all diving watches of the Black Bay series became equipped with an in-house calibre. This marked the first time that TUDOR had obtained COSC certification for its famous line of diving watches. The Black Bay Bronze and the Black Bay Dark (PVD-coating) were the first watches to be powered by the manufacture’s MT5601 calibre. Since then, the Black Bay has even been equipped with a number of other in-house calibres: MT5612, MT5602, MT5813, MT5652 und MT5402.
Not only does TUDOR now manufacture its own movements, but even renowned brands such as Breitling have taken its own calibre (MT5612) from TUDOR, which Breitling then runs as the B20. In return, Breitling supplies its B01 manufacture movement to TUDOR, which runs in a modified form as the calibre MT5813 in the Black Bay Chrono, first presented in 2017. What’s more, TUDOR’s newly founded sovereignty is also reflected in the fact that it exclusively uses its own winding rotor (with a silicon hairspring) in the modified Breitling movement.
When the first advertisements for the Black Bay were circulating, one feature immediately stood out from other diving models. It was the textile strap, which, at that time, was hardly given a look-in when creating the majority of luxury Swiss watches. Only collectors of sports watches enjoyed experimenting with their vintage models by replacing leather or steel with textile straps. TUDOR was ahead of its time and designed its own strap, made in a traditional weaving mill. Julien Faure, a fabric manufacturer outside Lyon, would weave the yarn using the traditional jacquard technique. While steel was originally mainly used for the Submariner cases and bracelets, today, leather is used in addition to textile straps.
In 2016, the Black Bay Bronze with the Reference 79250BM entered the market for the first time. At Baselworld 2018, the brand revealed the Black Bay Fifty-Eight (Ref. M79030N-0001), which mirrored the reference 7924 (Big Crown) from 1958 with a water resistance up to 200 meters.
At Baselworld 2019, the brand revealed their second bronze model (Ref. M79250BA). On the occasion of the Rugby World Cup last year, and in recognition of TUDOR’s partnership with New Zealand’s national team the All Blacks, the Black Bay Chrono Dark (Ref. 79360DK) with a black PVD-coated stainless-steel case and bracelet was launched.
Quality at an attractive price
The line’s entry-level model, the Black Bay 32 (Ref. M79580-0003) starts at 2,640 euros, while the Black Bay 41 (Ref. M79230R-0011) with an in-house calibre is priced at 3,230 euros. Meanwhile, the Black Bay Bronze (Ref. M79250BA-0001) costs 3,870 euros, while the stainless-steel Black Bay Chrono (Ref. M79350-0004) costs 4,840 euros. Finally, the bi-colour Black Bay Chrono S&G (Ref. M79363N-0001) takes the crown as the line’s most expensive model, priced at 6,510 euros.
One model that sticks out in the collection is the Black Bay P01 (Ref. M70150-0001). It is based on a prototype that was conceived in the 1960s for the US army. Notable, atypical features include a crown situated at 4 o’clock, as well as large lugs and a strap made from both leather and rubber. As is the case with the brand’s Pelagos diving watch, it is powered by the COSC-certified, in-house calibre MT5612.
The most popular modern diving watches from TUDOR are the Black Bay Fifty-Eight models (Ref. M79030N-0001), powered by the in-house calibre MT5402, and costing 3,140 upwards. The GMT models with the in-house calibre MT5652 and a ‘Bordeaux’ or blue bezel are also notably popular and are available from 3,480 euros.
Just now, TUDOR for the first time launched their Black Bay Fifty-Eight with a navy-blue dial and navy-blue bezel (Ref. 79030B) that caused a lot of attention – all in Rolex manner. The new model is quite exciting as the typical “TUDOR Blue” is fairly popular amongst collectors. In 1969, TUDOR for the first time launched a diving watch with blue dial and bezel.
During his lifetime, Hans Wilsdorf’s vision was purely to create a sophisticated alternative to his Rolex watches that he could offer to a wider audience. Over 60 years later, his vision has not only become a reality, but also has created an indispensable brand within the world of Swiss watches.
After many years of collectors and fans competing for TUDOR’s vintage Submariner models from the 20th century, the popular diver’s watch has truly come back to life in the form of the Black Bay. The faint traces of TUDOR’s Submariner watches mean there are endless delights to be discovered through the Black Bay line – because discovering the secrets of the past takes passion, commitment, and, of course, time.