Tudor has worked considerably hard to create an identity of its own in recent years, with popular collections in its catalogue including the Heritage, Pelagos and Tudor Royal. Having burst back onto the US market over ten years ago, Tudor is a brand heralded for its expert dive watches and tool watches that borrow many methods, watchmaking processes and materials from its higher-priced sibling, Rolex.
The Black Bay watch collection has a history-steeped heritage – its range comprising the likes of the Black Bay Bronze, Black Bay P01, Black Bay GMT, Black Bay Chrono and, finally, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight, which we’ll be covering here in this article. The Fifty-Eight is a prime example of how to do a neo-vintage watch the correct way. The number referenced in its name harks back to the year 1958 when Tudor’s first dive watch was released. Soon after, the revered “Big Crown” Ref. 7924 launched with an 8mm crown guard. More recently, Tudor has focussed its efforts on its Black Bay series. To get a clear insight into the key features of the Fifty-Eight sub-series from this line, it is first necessary to take a look at the evolution of the Black Bay collection as a whole.
The history of the Black Bay
The Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner ref: 7922 marked the beginnings of the brand’s delve into the dive watch world. Closely modelled on the Rolex Submariner, it was clear from the beginning that the two watches were linked. Both went without the addition of the date window or crown guards but did share the same bezel. After this, the release of the Big Crown 7924 watch underscored Tudor’s ambition to become a successful and leading dive watch manufacturer, equipping models from the 7900 series with 50’s still gilt domed dials.
Fast forward to the year 2012, and Tudor had released its first Black Bay watch. Although its dial was almost identical to the brand’s 1958 model, it featured a distinct crown that was noticeably large like those from the 1950s and 60s. The hands on the dial, however, were a clear nod to the style seen in 1970s military watches, yet Tudor’s chosen material selection remained resolutely modern. The Tudor Black Bay watch fused the old with the new.
The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight watch
The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight watch was destined to be an instant success. It combined a sense of nostalgia with retro aesthetics, sizing and style all rolled into one. Watch enthusiasts with a desire for the much higher priced Rolex Submariner fell in love with the Fifty-Eight watch. Classed as the dive watch legend, its moderate size and attractive dive tool aesthetic were matched with the mechanical integrity of an in-house made movement. High-end finishes of course created that luxury presence on the wrist but at a more accessible price point compared to the iconic Submariner.
It was 2018 when Tudor announced the release of its Fifty-Eight watch from the Black Bay collection. It is common knowledge that the Black Bay was designed on the original concept of the brand’s much earlier Oyster Prince Submariner ref. 7924, which spans all the way back to 1958, and so the Fifty-Eight followed in these footsteps. Extending on these dive tool credentials, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight continued in the success of its predecessors, but this time, the brand has listened to the needs of its audience. Many had expressed that the first Black Bay watch was too large in size (41mm), thus the release of the first Heritage Black Bay Fifty-Eight in 2018 came in a more compact 39mm diameter. Its thickness had also been whittled down from a hefty 15mm to a more manageable 12mm depth.
These new dimensions were indeed more in line with the tastes of vintage dive watch fanatics. Those who had not yet been able to enjoy the Black Bay on their slender wrist were now able to do so. The Black Bay Fifty-Eight watch collection makes good use out of its Calibre MT5402, which, unlike previous ETA calibres used before by Tudor, offers an impressive 70-hour power reserve. This means you could remove the Black Bay Fifty-Eight watch from the wrist, enjoy a weekend with another Tudor favourite and come back to the watch on Monday morning to find it has kept precise track of the time. The increase in price reflecting the use of an in-house movement has been both welcomed and justified by devoted fans of the brand. Computer-aided design and CNC machining take much of the manual work out of the development of an in-house mechanical movement today, but that is not to say that the process is cheap or easy.
Tudor’s choice to equip the Fifty-Eight series on a mix of metal bracelets, textile straps or leather bands enable the wearer to enjoy the one in a slightly different light depending on their needs and requirements. First and foremost, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight watch looks like a Submariner. The original Tudor 1958 watch was inspired by Rolex’s first dive watch, so its design purpose makes perfect sense. Tudor is simply tapping into a precise audience here. Not merely those who collect and own Rolex Submariner watches, but those who have always dreamt of owning one.
The dial and case of the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
The dial of a Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight watch boasts extensive use of gold-coloured indices and markings that adds to the overall charm and vintage feel of the model. The collection is home to designs that mirror the look and feel of the Tudor Sub but with smaller case dimensions. The Tudor 58, along with its predecessor, both forwent the use of any crown guard. Instead, the surface of the crown is engraved with the Tudor logo. Capturing the vintage aura of dive watches from a bygone era, the models do, however, feature thicker case sides that lend to a bolder and more prominent look. These types of bevelled edges were used on the brand’s Submariner models and its GMT watches too.
The bezel of the Tudor Fifty-Eight is easy to grip and features a clear 60-minute dive scale on an aluminium surface. Equipped with 200-meter water resistance, the cases from the collection are forged from stainless steel, yellow gold or bronze. Since the first 39mm model, the collection has expanded to accommodate dials in colours of black, blue, green, grey and brown. The bronze iteration comes fitted with an all-bronze bracelet and an indulgent chocolate brown-coloured dial. The yellow gold case option is endowed with a striking green dial and a grey alligator leather strap. The steel versions are offered in grey, blue and black, with grey versions available on a matching grey leather or textile strap. The blue and black versions are each offered on the choice of a textile, leather or bracelet option. All versions come with a coloured bezel that coordinates with its respective dial colour. Each unidirectional rotating bezel can be aligned with the dial’s central minute hands to effortlessly keep track of elapsed time underwater. Its clever design will only rotate in the counter-clockwise direction to avoid any risk of it accidentally extending dive time whilst the wearer is underwater. Protecting each dial from dust, denting, scratching, moisture, heat and light damage is a strong anti-glare sapphire crystal glass lens.
The Black Bay Fifty-Eight movement
The Calibre MT5402 that powers the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight line features a bidirectional rotor system and provides basic hours, minutes and seconds with an integrated stop seconds function. The mainspring barrel provides ample storage of energy for its useful 70-hour power reserve. There is no need to reset and rewind the watch throughout this duration, the barrel is conveniently “weekend-proof”. Helping to convey its old-school five watch feel, the dial (and therefore movement) of the Fifty-Eight series have no date window. A non-magnetic silicon hairspring and a free-sprung adjustable mass balance wheel enable the movement to perform at a rate of 28,800 vibrations per hour. Finally, an openwork tungsten monobloc rotor is satin-brushed. The movement boasts sand-blasted details as well as laser decorations and polished surfaces applied to elements like the bridges and mainplate.
The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight watch will always be known as an old-school version of its larger sibling. Adequate for underwater exploration and imbued with all the distinct characteristics that define the Black Bay watch, the models from this sub-series demonstrate a return to the much-loved retro appeal of the downsized dive watches from the 1950s and 60s. Standing alone as a self-confident innovator of said dive watch style, Tudor watches from the dive watch category continue to be loved and respected by those with a preference for affordable Swiss luxury.