Tudor watches didn’t merely make a modern-day comeback, it did so in record time. It managed to, very swiftly, capture the affection of the tastemakers, watch journalists, collectors and retailers. So good has been the value-for-money that the company has been offering that it’s since grabbed a massive chunk of the lucrative $2000-$5000 sector. Tudor has become THE go-to sport watch. And, thanks to deft employment of its admirable history, an unexpected by-product has been the exponential increase in the value of vintage pieces.
All of this has happened since the reinvigoration began in 2007. The Heritage Chronograph appeared in 2010, and others trickled out, including the Glamour and Grantour. Then the sporty Pelagos and Fastrider Black Shield tested the waters, so to speak. 2012, however, will be remembered as the year Tudor conclusively flexed its muscles, declaring its intent with a model that embodies all of the brand’s virtues.
That was the year when they officially re-launched the Black Bay, inspired by a diving model of the 1950s, the Burgundy being the first to bear the name. While the modern Black Bay has been refined and enlarged to suit the modern wearer, its design cues’ origins are unmistakable, including a contemporary take on the riveted bracelets of 60 years ago, and the use of the distinctive “big crown” as found on the ref. 7924 of 1958.
From the outset, the new Black Bay did everything so competently and so authoritatively that criticism was negligible. The design team understood what the 21st century watch connoisseur wanted in a watch inspired by vintage models, and it couldn’t be merely a slavish reproduction. Indicative of this is the sheer quality of the new bracelet: Ask collectors about the longevity and survival rates of the original riveted designs, and they will shake their heads in dismay. The new bracelet? Rock-solid, cleverly adjustable, yet as handsome and redolent of the 1950s as a mono LP.
Tudor was not about to squander the goodwill that greeted the Black Bay. The company has shown remarkable restraint while building up the catalogue to include the North Flag, a selection of dress watches and other models that prevent any concerns about being a one-trick pony. As for the Black Bay, it has become the “event” model of the family, its myriad fans ever anticipating something irresistibly desirable. And here’s how Tudor has ensured that Black Bay devotees enjoy annual unveilings that result in waiting lists.
Back in 2012, when the Black Bay Burgundy, arrived, it was powered by an ETA movement. It was the “rabatteur” for the Tudor, finding out who would embrace it. It was an instant smash hit. With admirable patience, Tudor waited until 2014 to issue it as the Black Bay Blue. Then, with one of the most surprising events in recent watch history, the company’s accomplishments were celebrated with a unique piece that coincided with the launch of the Black Bay Black in 2015.
At that year’s Only Watch Auction held for charity in Monaco, the one-off Black Bay One commanded a bid of CHF375,000 – or 100 times that of the retail price of a normal Black Bay Black. Tudor hadn’t simply arrived: it conquered. And its ubiquity couldn’t harm it: The Black Bay was now available in three colors, with bracelet or strap, and could be seen on the wrists of more journalists than any other model this writer can recall.
How to follow that monumental auction result? 2016 was the year that Tudor’s in-house manufacture movement was launched. The MT5602’s arrival also saw the historical rose logo on the dial replaced with the familiar shield. And, as collectors are nothing if not predictable, a cult developed around the earlier, ETA-equipped models.
That year also saw the arrival of the Black Bay 36 to suit smaller wrists, with a blue dial offered this year. For lovers of a stealthier look, the Black Bay Dark was produced to deal with demand for all-black cases, while the Black Bay Bronze employed that widely-appreciated and admired metal, loved for the way it acquires an individual patina.
In 2017, Tudor released the sublime Black Bay Chrono, adding chronograph functions to the family, and it oozed “tool watch” gravitas. What caught everyone unawares, though, leading to an immediate depletion of stocks and a waiting list, was the Black Bay Steel-and Gold (or S&G). Admired for its touch of dressiness, this model was joined by a version with a champagne-colored dial at Baselworld 2018. Also launched last year was the Black Bay 41, with a blue dial added this year, and the devastatingly handsome Black Bay Steel, with steel bezel.
Three more Black Bay variants arrived at the 2018 Baselworld event, including – most notably – the Black Bay GMT. This is the first GMT for Tudor, with its two-tone bezel created by merging the colors of the Black Bay Blue and Black Bay Burgundy. The GMT employs a 41mm case housing the MT5652 COSC-certified manufacture movement, with 70-hour power reserve. And it will fly out of the stores.
For lovers of historical pieces, the new Black Bay Fifty-Eight pays homage to the brand’s diving watches from the 1950s, marking 60 years since the launch of the first Tudor model waterproof to 200m. Timed perfectly to address the recent backlash against comically-oversized watches, its smaller case size of 39mm, containing a new mid-size manufacture MT5402 movement, will enjoy even broader appeal than its larger siblings.
As will one of the biggest (or should that be smallest?) surprises of 2018: The Black Bay 32. This is the first ladies’ watch in the Black Bay range, if one is allowed to identify them as such, augmenting the Black Bay 36 and 41; the model numbers convey the diameters of each watch in the trio, all fitted with smooth, non-rotating bezels. The Black Bay 32 is also available with a blue dial.
This smallest of Black Bays could prove to be a sleeper, as well as something of a reminder of things past: there was a time when 32mm was the norm for men’s watches. Whatever one’s take on current gender conflict, this could be the first true “unisex” Black Bay. But only for those who remember when small was beautiful.
What’s left for the Black Bay? More colors? Other functions? Whatever Tudor has up its sleeve for 2019 and beyond, there’s every reason to believe that there won’t be any duds.