Modern Tudor

The Pelagos: Tudor’s True Tool

The Pelagos is, in many collectors’ view, the true heir to those ultra cool and highly collectible Snowflake Subs of the 1970s.

When it comes to professional dive watches, there can be little argument that Tudor sits in the upper echelons of the issued dive watch and watches used for professional applications. The brand’s vintage watches have been used since the end of the 1950s by navies around the world to issue to its combat divers. Tudor Submariners were a smart choice for defence departments, especially those with limited budgets. The Tudors, in line with founder Hans Wilsdorf’s vision for the brand, had all the quality and reliability of Rolex but at a more affordable price point. With the significantly high loss rate of military watches, it made sense to go with Tudor instead of its virtually identical yet more expensive cousin Rolex.

The Black Bay is one of the biggest lines in modern sports watches and has catapulted Tudor back into the consciousness of watch fans across the globe. With the Black Bay, the brand has created an amalgam of its past dial and hand configurations; namely the snowflake hands with the round hour markers seen on the Submariners from the 1950s and 60s. The Pelagos, however,  whilst sharing the snowflake hands of the Black Bay, now a bone fide brand hallmark, has retained the square hour markers that were part and parcel of the original snowflake Submariners.

The Pelagos LHD, the left-handed version of the watch with individual caseback number, 'aged' patina and the red line of text on the dial

Before we talk about the titanium titan that is the Pelagos, let’s quickly remind ourselves about the origins of the snowflake hands. One of the most important relationships for Tudor was, and now is again (more on that later), with the French national navy. It was this relationship that eventually led to the development of the snowflake hands. The Marine Nationale began issuing Tudors to its divers in 1956. The watches were in-field tested by the military divers and the feedback was useful for Tudor in research and development. One divers’ request improved legibility of the hands in dark conditions – especially underwater. Mercedes-pattern hands did have luminous in-fill, but this wasn’t always enough. We saw a similar request with the British MOD-spec Rolex Military Submariner, which had to have the mercedes-pattern hands replaced with the so-called sword hands in line with the MOD specification for divers’ watches. The Tudor snowflake hands served a similar purpose to the sword hands, but interestingly Tudor opted to also use them in civilian watches.

The original snowflake hands and square hour markers

The Mk1 Pelagos

2012 was an important year for the relaunched and revitalized Tudor. Following almost a decade since it had been withdrawn from the British and American markets, in 2010 the brand rose from the ashes with the Heritage Chronograph, a 21st century reimagining of the brand’s seminal Homeplate chronograph from 1970. Two short ears later Tudor unveiled the Black Bay and the Pelagos at Baselworld that year, the original Black Bay being a modern Big Crown that collectors could both afford and buy, if you could find one (Tudor still wasn’t available in the UK or US markets in 2012). Arguably drowned out by the Black Bay’s arrival, the Pelagos was a no nonsense tool watch with a proper tool watch pedigree.


The original Mk1 Pelagos from 2012

Long out of its elder brother’s shadow, the Pelagos was all Tudor with black dial, black ceramic bezel insert and titanium case. Apart from a recent alleged prototype Yachtmaster, Rolex has never flirted with Titanium for its watch cases, leaving the path clear for Tudor to make it the home of choice for the Pelagos. As had been the case since its inception in the 1920s, the Pelagos relied on a modified third party movement, in this case ETA. The square hour marker, snowflake hand watch did borrow one nifty trick from its big brother, namely a Helium Escape Valve. Called the Gas Escape Valve by Rolex and fitted to its Seadweller line, the invention is a key ingredient on a saturation diver’s watch. Divers operating a serious depth for prolonged periods breath a helium and oxygen mix called Heliox. Helium particles are tiny and not even the water seals on a dive watch can prevent the helium entering the case when a diver is in saturation. During the diver’s decompression, the issue is that the helium is in a big hurry to leave the case and so often the crystal will pop off the watch. The helium valve allows the gas to escape via a one-way system and is, therefore, a vital component of a saturation diver’s watch.

The Helium Escape Valve

The In-House Pelagos

Following the introduction of the in-house calibres, in 2015 Tudor’s 500 meter rated watch had a minor face lift and a major movement update with the in-house Calibre MT5612. The case remained the same, with its brushed 42mm titanium dimension, with shield-embossed crown and the helium valve on the left, but this time the colourway was extended to include a striking blue version. The dial also had some tweaks with the removal of the applied hour marker next to the date at three o’clock and a new text layout on the dial to announce the COSC rated movement; the Mk1’s two lines became a five-line dial on the Mk2. The blue snowflake was back!

No strangers to the element of surprise launches, outside of the usual launch season of the then-Baselworld programme, Tudor began the tradition of mid-year releases. In fact, the fall launches have become the platform from which the last three Pelagos releases have taken place. In November 2016, the Pelagos LHD was unveiled. A ‘destro’ watch in the truest sense, the Left Hand Drive (LHD) had a number of collector-focused twists. The most obvious was the fact that each watch was uniquely numbered. Not a limited edition in any way, it was still a cool twist and a first for the House of Wilsdorf to individually number each piece, effectively rendering them pieces unique. Other treats were the red text PELAGOS line, a nod to other dives watches from the family’s past with such a touch and also the use of aged lume.

The Pelagos FXD Marine Nationale

Pelagos with FiXeD Bars

Pelagos FXD is not simply a PR or marketing project, to sell a military style watch. This is an actual, out-in-the-field watch that is being used professionally by finest marine commandos in the French navy. Not only that, but they designed the watch with Tudor to their very specific needs for combat swimming. The 42mm brushed titanium case has fixed strap bars cut from a solid block to ensure that there is little to no chance of the watch being lost whilst on a mission. The case is slimmer than the Pelagos, due to the lack of gas escape valve, and the watch is waterproof to 200m, not 500m like the regular Pelagos and LHD. The blue dial and hands are fully legible thanks to the Super Luminova filled snowflake hands and the signature square hour markers.

The bezel is something new for Pelagos. It is deliberately wider than the case to allow for easier operation by the commandos. It is also bi-directional which means that the watch doesn’t meet the criteria for the ISO 6425:2018 standard for dive watches, but then it isn’t meant to. It has been devised to be used by Commando Hubert divers for underwater navigation. For this purpose, the bezel has a retrograde reading on it, as it is a countdown bezel, not for measuring elapsed time. The underwater navigation takes place at a shallow depth (hence the 200m waterproofness of the FXD) with divers working in pairs, connected by a ‘lifeline’. One diver sets the course on a compass and the other diver times the swim exactly using his watch. The course is predetermined before the mission with a set number of swims in precise directions. The Important part is timing each leg of journey, which is why the bi-directional countdown is key to the watch’s function for this application.


A 'Two Line' FXD MN21 delivered to Commando Hubert

Photo Monaco Legend Group

The MN-delivered case back engraving

In fact, the watches available globally through Tudor retailers was a little different to the watches delivered to the MN. The dial and case backs are different and the watches even have a different reference number.


The civilian FXD MN case back from the 2021 models

Collectors were particularly taken by the fact that each year the watches will have case backs engraved with the year of manufacture in the same format as when the snowflake watches were issued to Marine Nationale divers in the 1970s. Watches from the initial 2021 batch were engraved “MN21” in a similar way to watches issued to diver in 1976 were engraved “MN76” and watches sold this year, 2022, will be engraved “MN23” and so on. The watch was released in November 2021 and so there will, logically, only have been a small number of MN21 watches manufactured, making it the one to have to collectors.

Then in 2023 a new FXD was unveiled in black. As a celebration of the US Navy’s extensive use of Tudor dive watches over the years, the familiar new pelagos form was delivered in black and this time a regular uni-directional black bezel. As early as the mid ‘50s, TUDOR diving watches were being tested and evaluated by a number of outfits inside the US Navy, and by 1958 they were officially adopted by the Navy and purchased for the purpose of issuing them to divers operating in various units. The watches were used by SEAL teams from 1962 all the way the late ‘80s. Tudor watches were also used by other units including UDTs, Seabees and Navy dive school instructors.

Throughout the decades, TUDOR has supported the US Navy as a supplier of issued watches. In the 1965 “First Edition” of the Underwater Demolition Team Handbook, a TUDOR Oyster Prince Submariner ref. 7928 is pictured next to the “Diving Watch” paragraph. The handbook was an essential piece of literature for new operators as they studied UDT operational procedures. Later, in 1973, the US Navy Diving manual lists the TUDOR Oyster Prince Submariner references 7016 and 7021 as “Navy-approved” diving watches. In 1974, the National Stock Number system was introduced to track the supply system of the US Department of Defense. From 1978, under code 6645-01-068-1088, a supply officer could purchase and issue a TUDOR Oyster Prince Submariner reference 9411, or later 76100, to an approved sailor or operator in need of a reliable Navy-approved dive watch. This specific supply catalog entry was only retired in 2004.


The US Navy Inspired Black FXD

39 – From Beach to Bar

The Pelagos 39 is a watch with many of the family traits, but is very much a new proposition in its own right. The Pelagos 39 does what it says on the tin. In line with the hugely popular and wearable Black Bay Fifty-Eight and Black Bay Pro, Tudor has reduced the size from 42mm to 39. A small but significant tweak of the formula. Pitched as a bridge between city and sea, the watch is as at home at the hotel bar as it is on the wrist exploring the sub-aquatic sand bar. Eagle eyes will note the lack of helium escape valve that was a key feature of the Pelagos and Pelagos LHD. Much like the FXD, the Pelagos 39 is for shallower diving and general water use and not for saturation diving for which the escape valve is a necessity. The watch is, however, in full brushed titanium and comes with both the titanium bracelet and a rubber strap like the other watches in the family.



The Pelagos 39

The 39 has had the most drastic makeovers in terms of the watches styling and aesthetics which both extends the versatility of the new watch and will bring a crossover of new fans who may not have been tempted in the past by the Pelagos’s brutalist aesthetic.  Tudor have opted for a sunray finish dial and ceramic bezel insert which contrast nicely with the matte finish of the case. The monobloc luminous ceramic hour markers that we first saw on the Black Bay Pro earlier this year are present on the dial and are in the latest Grade X1 Super-LumiNova with blue emission. Also present on the dial, and a nice nod for the vintage lovers that we first saw on the Pelagos LHD, is the red PELAGOS line on the dial. To answer the prayers of Tudor fans the titanium bracelet is equipped with the ever-popular T-Fit clasp that offers instant fine adjustments, which is particularly useful when swimming or on holiday when your wrist size can perpetually fluctuate.


Alinghi Red Bull FXDs

To celebrate its partnership with Alinghi Red Bull Racing, TUDOR unveiled two brand new Pelagos FXD models: a chronograph and a time-only watch inspired by yacht racing. With cases made from carbon composite, titanium, and stainless steel and fitted with Manufacture Calibres, these watches took the established FXD recipe in a new and exciting direction/


Twelve years later and what a decade it has been for the Pelagos. Including both colour ways of the original model, the family now boasts numerous members that really cater to all tastes and requirements; from saturation divers to leisure swimmers, via military-spec watches and a professional yachting chronograph.

There really is a Pelagos for everyone!


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