Navy by Name – Navy by Nature
The Tudor Black Bay 58 Navy Blue is the newest generation in a lineage of important military-issued dive watches. Let's dig a little deeper...
Stacks of style - three generations...
The Tudor Black Bay 58 was arguably the biggest hit from Tudor since they launched the Heritage line back in 2010. The 2018 BB58 was a riff on the original Tudor Big Crown Submariner from 1958, hence the ’58’ in its name. For Tudor Collectors, the Daddy of the Submariners is the 7924 Big Crown. With its 39mm steel no-crown-guard case, domed plexi glass and oversized 8mm winding crown, the 7924 is a hugely desirable watch in today’s vintage market. And not just in the realm of Tudor collecting; the Tudor Big Crown can hold its own at any party and perfect examples now sell easily into six-figure sums that were once the preserve only of its coroneted cousin, Rolex. As with most elements of sports watches designed by the House of Wilsdorf, the watch was built for a purpose and was rigorously field-tested by the French National Navy, the Marine Nationale (MN).
The Tudor Submariner reference 7924 MN-issued
Small to Big Crowns
The French Navy ordered a batch of Tudor Submariners in 1956. The watches were reference 7922 and were the first toe-dip in the dive watch world for Tudor. Slim cases and a small 6mm winding crown gave these watches a sporty look and pedigree ensured by the watches depth-rating of 100m. This was easily deep enough for divers in the 1950s and so the watches were worn by the MN divers. This was the beginning of a collaborative relationship between Tudor and the Marine Nationale, with the latter offering valuable insights into the watches’ abilities in the field. The feedback was that the navy wanted a watch that was a little more robust and the divers requested a winding crown that was more easily used. The result of this request was the reference 7924, which had the larger winding crown and a more heavy-duty case that was pressure tested to 200m. In 1958 a batch of these watches was delivered to the French Navy and the watches went into professional use.
It wasn’t, however, just the French Navy that issued the Tudor 7924 to its troops. The United States Navy and the Argentinian Navy also issued the Tudor Big Crown. These were super-tough durable watches that could withstand the rigors of military service, but at a price point that was affordable for the defense budgets of these navies. Not all countries had the same budget as the UK MOD, who opted to issue Rolex Submariners to its divers.
The original Tudor Black Bay 58 with an MN-issued 7924
Black Bay 58 Lands
The Black Bay 58 really is a faithful reinterpretation of the 7924. Retaining the dial configuration of the 7924, but merging it with the post-1969 snowflake hands, this has become the defining ‘look’ of the Black Bay. It’s important to remember though that this layout was used decades ago by Tudor in its Hybrid Submariners reference 9401. Tudor Collector was the first to share the original advertisement for this watch last year. I’ve written a number of pieces of the last couple of years on the BB58 and so won’t repeat myself again now, but the new kid on the block is the bridge between the 7924 and the 7016/9401…
An official Tudor advert showing the Hybrid Submariner.
Bridging the gap - the BB58 Navy Blue and a Military 9401
L to R the saga unfolds - 7924, 9401 and BB58 Navy Blue
Further into the 1960s, following the Marine Nationale’s use of the Tudor 7928, the feedback from divers was that they wanted hands that were a little more legible, especially in darker diving conditions. Tudor’s response was the snowflake hands, which they began offering on both military and cilivian watches in 1969 on the reference 7016 Submariner (as well as the Submariner Date reference 7021). The Submariner was also given a face lift and was offered in blue. The blue snowflake watches are most well known of the MN-issued watches and were issued through the second half of the 1970s into the 1980s.
The snowflake watches were issued to a range of navies around the world including the US Navy, South African, Italian, Argentinian, Jamaican Defence Force and Canadian forces. One of my favourite looks ever is a blue snowflake on a grey nato-style strap and this is a classic way in which the military divers wore the watches. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is simply cost – when budgets are tight, the cost of a steel bracelet is significant when ordering multiples. The second is a security factor. The steel bracelets, as good as they were, had a number of ‘fail points’. Each link, the clasp, the endlinks all could break and send the watch to a deep, watery grave. The nylon strap meant that even if a spring bar broke or popped off, there was still another to hold your watch securely in place.
A South African Navy issued blue 9401 on grey nato strap
The lines of the 7924...
Echoed in the BB58...
Not Just A Pretty Face
This is a cool watch, of that there can be no doubt. Rarely have I ever seen such a unanimously positive response to a watch. And this piece is so much more than just a makeover and a new colour way. The navy blue speaks about the military and navy provenance and heritage of Tudor watches that such an important part of this watch’s family tree. The combination of no-crown-guard case and the snowflake hands are the essence of the BB58’s forefathers and the mix is a well-balanced fusion of the lineage. Even the fabric strap is a nod to the military heritage of the watch and is my personal favourite look for the watch. There is also a flannel strap with deployment and a steel rivet link bracelet. In summary, this is a navy watch with a true navy pedigree – what more could a Tudor Collector ask for?