If you were judging on looks alone, you would be forgiven for thinking the Tudor Black Bay collection hails from the 1950s golden age of horology.
In reality however, while their styling might be influenced by classic timepieces from the brand’s own archives, the range has only been in existence for a decade. In that time though, they have become perhaps the most successful examples of vintage-inspired reissues amongst a sea of nostalgic throwbacks from nearly every watchmaker in the industry.
From humble beginnings, the Tudor Black Bay series has blossomed to now include everything from simple three-hand divers to chronographs to dress pieces and a GMT. On top of that, Tudor has introduced some cutting-edge materials into their construction, and virtually every model is now powered by one of the marque’s own in-house movements.
A stunning success story for a firm which is at last fully emerged from the formidable shadows of its parent company, Rolex, the Black Bay has lifted Tudor into the higher echelons.
Below, we trace the collection’s history.
History of the Tudor Black Bay
The story starts in 2012. That was the year the Black Bay line debuted at Baselworld, continuing Tudor’s reintroduction as a brand back into the American market after an absence of several years.
The Heritage Black Bay arrived as a 41mm, studiedly retro tool watch that, with its unguarded ‘big’ crown, Snowflake handset, chapter ring, gilt markers, and domed dial and crystal, had clearly taken some of Tudor’s own Submariner references from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s as its blueprint. Added to that was the rotating diving bezel, in an unusual but definitely welcome burgundy color, plus a 200m water resistance rating, and this new, competitively priced all-day wear quickly became the star of the show.
The only ‘downside’ as far as the purists were concerned was the movement. Tudor as a company was set up explicitly as the lower cost alternative to a full-blooded Rolex, with by far the biggest difference between the two marques for the majority of their respective histories being Tudor’s reliance on third party calibers. This new Black Bay model continued that tradition, being powered by the rock-solid workhorse ETA 2824, arguably the most widely used mechanism in the industry, ever.
So while the watch itself was an undoubted winner, that outsourced engine was the one area which still bothered the hairsplitters.
Regardless, the Heritage Black Bay started flying off the shelves, and Tudor followed it up with versions featuring first a blue bezel in 2014 and then, finally, a black bezel model the following year, all with black dials.
The Black Bay Evolves
2015 was a big year for Tudor. For a start, they brought out the North Flag, the brand’s take on the luxury sports watch, complete with Nautilus-esque integrated bracelet. In addition to that, they also introduced the second generation of their Pelagos model; another dive watch, but one as grounded in modernity as the Black Bay was in nostalgia. But the most notable characteristic of both these new models was the inclusion of Tudor’s first ever homegrown movements, the caliber MT5621 for the North Flag and the MT5612 for the Pelagos.
The building of in-house mechanisms is a massive step for any watchmaker, elevating them from mere manufacturer to bona fide manufacture. In Tudor’s case, producing their own calibers saw them close the gap still further on their illustrious parent company and shut down pretty much the last objection from their naysayers.
In 2016 they unveiled another movement, the MT5602, to power the next iteration of the Black Bay models, taking them from ref. 79220 to ref. 79230. The time-only mechanism displayed hours, minutes and seconds and, in keeping with all of Tudor’s calibers, beat at 28,800vph and had a 70-hour reserve.
The Black Bay Goes Racing
In 2016, Tudor unwrapped the Caliber MT5601, an almost identical engine to the MT5602 but slightly larger to fit inside the latest model to bear the Black Bay title, the Black Bay Bronze. At 43mm it was the biggest example in the collection so far, forged from a bronze-aluminum alloy which picked up its own patina over time, eventually making each one unique to its owner. The first references came with a brown tropical dial and bezel for the true vintage vibe. Later on, that switched up to a slate grey dial, both with Explorer-style 3/6/9 indexes.
By now, the series was becoming something of a phenomenon, so Tudor’s next issue took many by surprise. The smooth-bezel Black Bay 36 ref. M79550 series offered a more refined take on the name. Offered first as a 36mm (with 32mm and 41mm options added later) it was a less toolish, more formal dress watch. Handsome and versatile, the only thing the watches lacked—and still do—was an in-house movement.
By the time 2017 rolled around, Tudor was ready to introduce their first Black Bay with a complication. The Heritage Black Bay Chrono, like its stable mates, had a definite vintage aesthetic and was built around the same framework as the other models in the range. Both the 41mm case and tachymeter bezel were steel, the dial held twin totalizers (running seconds and 45-minute counters) and the screw down crown and pushers left it water resistant to 200m. But again, it was what was on the inside which generated the headlines. Rather than another ETA or Valjoux-derived movement, as the brand was fitting to the chronographs in their other collections, like the Black Shield or Fast Rider lines, the MT5813 was a reworked B01 from fellow Swiss luminaries, Breitling. It was given over as part of a reciprocal deal, with Tudor’s own MT5612 going the other way to sit inside Breitling’s Superocean Heritage models. It meant that, in just two short years, Tudor had gone from never making a caliber before, to making them so well they were able to offer them to other companies.
The Black Bay—2018 and Beyond
Rather than slowing down and enjoying their considerable success with the Black Bay series, Tudor continued to innovate and release ever more popular watches.
2018 was another banner year. The brand rocked up to Baselworld armed with not one but two absolute showstoppers, and even managed to steal some of the spotlight away from their controlling company, who arrived with pretty big news themselves.
The first new entrant saw the debut of the Black Bay Fifty-Eight range. Here, Tudor took their already retro Heritage series as a starting point and dialed up the period-correct detailing even more by reducing the size to just 39mm. It retained the big crown, matte dial, gilt markers, and no guards the brand had lifted straight from one of their earliest Subs, the ref. 7924 from 1958 (hence the name) and fitted the signature Snowflake hands introduced originally in the 1960s. In addition, the aluminum bezel got its red triangle at the 12 o’clock, complete with lume pip, and the steel bracelet was finished off with pure 1950’s exposed rivets.
However, arguably the most excitement came in the shape of the Black Bay GMT. At first glance, this could well have been an original Rolex GMT-Master ref. 6542, such was its resemblance to that landmark piece. It followed the same pattern which had made the rest of Tudor’s collection so sought after, coming in at 41mm, stripping away anything superfluous and preserving all the best historical features. But its beautifully muted blue and red bezel immediately gained it legions of admirers, even though it was announced at the same event Rolex themselves used to unveil their long-awaited Pepsi bezel GMT in steel after a prolonged layoff.
That both the Black Bay GMT and Fifty-Eight were driven by in-house movements saw their stock rise even higher amongst the more hardcore aficionados and saw the last of the ‘poor man’s Rolex’ tag which has followed Tudor since its inception get erased. Here, instead, the more apt phrase seemed to be ‘a Rolex watch for non-Rolex money’.
The Tudor Black Bay Range Now
Tudor currently have more than a dozen separate collections, but there is no doubt that the Black Bay range is their most popular, and by some way.
The Fifty-Eight series contains 10 different models, with a host of different color options. The classic black is a timeless addition, but the introduction of a blue variant in 2020 was a massively welcome one. In 2021, the brand supplemented the series still further by bringing out pieces with silver dial and bezel, a handsome all bronze example with graduated brown 3/6/9 dial and the first ever yellow gold model with green dial and surround.
That bronze Fifty-Eight watch is not to be confused with the actual Black Bay Bronze, which exists as its own entity, in 43mm.
Elsewhere, the original 41mm Heritage range is still going strong, although it is called just the Black Bay now. The newest piece in that collection is the ref. M79210CNU, a stealthy black model and the first issued in all ceramic.
The Black Bay Date is an offshoot of that but with, you guessed it, the convenience of a date function thrown in. This is also where you will find some of the rare pieces crafted in something other than steel. The two-tone Black Bay Date S&G watches are made in a combination of steel and yellow gold, much like Rolex’s Rolesor.
The Black Bay 32/36/41 continue to be the ideal everyman purchase, a highly adaptable timepiece series which also contains a handful of S&G editions.
The Black Bay GMT is as admired as ever, with its unapologetic mid 20th century vibe, and the Black Bay Chrono, updated for 2021, has been fitted with a black aluminum bezel insert and is now a true Daytona alternative.
The last member of the family is the oddball. The Black Bay P01 is based on a 1967 prototype which never saw the light of day, a 42mm military-looking watch with a unique bezel locking mechanism and its winding crown sitting at the 4 o’clock.
The Black Bay collection is the perfect series to celebrate the illustrious history of one of watchmaking’s most important brands.
By taking the strongest features of their earliest work and merging them with the latest technologies, Tudor has created the best of both worlds.
Their robust engineering means they can be worn everyday, while their aesthetic refinement leaves them as the ideal complement to any outfit.
But best of all, as it has always been with Tudor, is their value for money. You will search for a long time before you find any other manufacture offering so much watch for so little, employing only the finest materials and powered, for the most part, by domestic movements.
A series which goes from strength to strength, we can’t wait for what Tudor comes up with next.