In the face of the relatively ‘conservative’ panorama that reigned over Baselworld 2019, journalists and aficionados eagerly awaited for the embargo to be lifted on the heavyweight contenders of the fair – Rolex and Tudor. Although Tudor was confident that the star of the show would be its commercial (and polarising) rendition of a historic prototype, the Black Bay P01, the reality was that most eyes were drawn to the Black Bay Bronze model. Consolidating three ongoing trends in watchmaking – the mood for retro, bronze cases and gradient dials – Tudor hits another home run with its 2019 Black Bay Bronze 79250BA, dressed in Grey.
Now in its third bronze dive suit, the 43mm Black Bay Bronze features a slate-grey gradient dial and is fitted with manufacture calibre MT560, complete with COSC chronometry certification. Having spent some hands-on time with the latest incarnation of the Black Bay, we are convinced that this is the best iteration of the BBB to date. Rugged and retro, but handsome enough to surface on land, meet the new Black Bay Bronze Ref. 79250BA.
1950s Submariner Origins
There was a time, not so long ago, when Tudor decided to step out from underneath the shadow of its big brother, Rolex. Tired of being known as the ‘poor man’s Rolex’, Tudor wanted to be taken seriously in its own right. In 2012, Tudor got its mojo back with the release of the 41mm vintage-inspired Heritage Black Bay model. Inspired by the rugged Tudor Submariners of the 1950s, the vintage tool looks combined with a reliable ETA 2824, 200m water-resistance, and a competitive price converted the first 2012 Heritage Tudor Black Bay into one of the brand’s best-selling models.
Tudor’s first diver, the Oyster Prince Submariner reference 7922 of 1954, was the primary muse behind the Black Bay. The domed crystal, the domed dial, the large unprotected winding crown, and the angular ‘snowflake’ hands were all, at one time, features of Tudor’s dive watches between the mid-1950s and early 1980s. Revisited in 2014 with a blue bezel, and in 2015 with a black bezel and red triangle, these two Heritage Black Bay follow-ups all ran with the same 41mm case and technical specs as the original 2012 model.
Tudor’s Bronze Age
Tudor’s Bronze Age began in 2016 with the release of the Heritage Black Bay Bronze housed in a larger 43mm bronze case and – the news many BB aficionados were awaiting – the incorporation of Tudor’s manufacture MT5601 movement. First presented in a brown version and followed by a limited edition version for jeweller and watch retailer Bucherer in blue, as well as a unique piece in khaki-green for Only Watch, the Black Bay gets its third (commercial) bronze case in 2019.
A material from the annals of watchmaking and naval history, bronze has resurfaced as a fashionable case material. The appeal of bronze is the unique patina it develops over time giving it a weathered and worn look that consolidates the vintage vibe of the watch perfectly. The metal used for this model is a high-performance aluminium-copper alloy normally employed in naval engineering for parts that need to resist saltwater corrosion.
As we were told by the people at Tudor during Baselworld 2019, this particular alloy means that the case won’t turn green like copper-based alloys, but instead, it will patinate a warm brownish-golden colour over time. To ensure that the bronze patinates homogeneously, the case is entirely satin brushed although the caseback, for hypoallergenic reasons, is steel with a bronze-coloured PVD treatment. The large screw-down crown is a throwback to Tudor’s ‘Big Crown’ model (ref. 7924 of 1958 with its 8mm crown) and is engraved with Tudor’s insignia rose. As you would expect from a bronze 200m water-resistant dive watch, it is heavy and has a commanding presence.
Two-tone watches were all the rage this year at Baselworld 2019, with the Rolex Sea-Dweller Rolesor and Tudor’s Black Bay Chrono Steel and Gold occupying pole positions. Although the Black Bay Bronze model we are covering today is not a classic two-tone combination of steel and gold, it does play the two-tone game with the contrasting dull gold colour of the bronze case and the sleek slate-grey colour of the dial, bezel and strap.
A winning colour scheme
I have to admit that the combination of the matte bronze with the sophisticated grey dial and bezel is hard to beat and could be one of the best combinations I have seen in years. Plus, we all know about the slimming effects of dark colours, which help attenuate its 43mm diameter. The bronze unidirectional rotating bezel has a matte grey anodised aluminium insert with a 60-minute diving scale picked out in gilt numerals and markings. And the bezel also has a notched profile, which leads me to the only complaint I have about the watch; the edges of the bezel are like tiny serrated teeth and quite sharp to the touch.
Protected by a domed sapphire crystal, the dial also captures the trend for gradient/degradé/fumé/shaded/graduated (take your pick) dials that have invaded the watch scene of late. The centre of the dial is a lighter shade of grey that transitions to almost black on the minute scale, another factor that slims down the watch and gives it a more subtle, wearable presence.
The choice of grey instead of black for the dial might not seem like a very big deal but the effect is dramatically different. Less technical than black but equally legible, the soft grey tone and gilt markings matched with the muted brushed bronze give the watch a warmer, more attractive personality. Naturally, the ‘snowflake’ hour and seconds hands, a tribute to the Oyster Prince Submariner ref. 7016 of 1969, are present along with applied Arabic numerals at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock and the classic dot hour markers and triangular marking at 12 o’clock- all treated with luminescent material.
First introduced on board the North Flag and Pelagos models in 2015, Tudor’s family of manufacture movements (MT for Manufacture Tudor) was adopted for the Heritage Black Bay models a year later, minus the power reserve indicator of the North Flag and the date function on the Pelagos. The latest Black Bay Bronze model is equipped with calibre MT5601 displaying the hours, minutes and seconds. The Tudor calibre offers various upgrades over the previous ETA movement with an increased power reserve of 70 hours, an anti-magnetic silicon balance spring and official COSC chronometer certification. Although you can’t see the movement, it displays an industrial finish.
Tudor was well ahead of the current mania for interchangeable straps in and in 2009 decided to supply an additional fabric strap on all its watches in the Heritage line. They might have looked like traditional (inexpensive) NATO nylon straps but all Tudor’s fabric straps are hand-woven in France by a traditional passementerie company – one of the few in the country still practising “jacquard” weaving (made on a loom). The result, as many of you know first-hand, is an extraordinary supple yet resilient strap.
The Black Bay Bronze comes with two straps: an aged black nubuck leather strap or a grey fabric strap with a golden line in its centre. Archives held by the brand reveal that at one point in its history Tudor supplied watches to the French Navy without straps. The marines fitted the watches with their own straps, often improvised, including one archive model fitted with an elastic strap made from remnants of a French rescue parachute. Reinterpreted in a slate-grey woven strap with a gold accent, the strap matches the colour scheme and mood of the watch perfectly.
Although the watch gets a little lost on David Beckham’s heavily tattooed wrist, I can assure you that it looked very good indeed on Brice’s wrist. It has definitely got the much sought-after ‘cool vintage vibe’ going on but, in spite of its large dimensions, looks more handsome and a touch more refined – if you can say that about a dive watch – than its brothers. I know it is a sports watch, but with its subtle muted colour scheme and matching fabric strap, this watch is going to sit comfortably in just about any environment, bar a few extremely formal occasions.
Price and availability
Both models of the new Black Bay Bronze Ref. 79250BA will retail for CHF 3,850 or EUR 3,800 and will be available in April 2019. For more details, please consult www.tudorwatch.com.