Ask any Submariner collector what their favourite vintage model is, and many of them will tell you it’s the ‘Big Crown’. Whether a Rolex 6538 or Tudor 7924, the so-called ‘Big Crown’ (BC) watches are a grail watch to many a diving watch enthusiast.
In 2012 Tudor unveiled the Heritage Black Bay at Baselworld
Like the Heritage Chronograph launch in 2010, it quickly became the most talked about release of the year and again caught the attention of vintage watch collectors, who often pay little attention to the new models launched at Baselworld each year.
The first version of the Tudor BC Submariner was the reference 7922, which was released in 1954. One of the issues with this watch was the large size crown getting knocked during combat situations and so the watch was quickly phased out and replaced with a Submariner featuring crown guards, the reference 7928. It is the aesthetic of the large size (8mm) crown that is now so appealing to collectors. Additionally, the fact that it was produced for such a short time makes it highly sought after and good examples are few and far between.
The Heritage Black Bay uses the reference number 79220 which is in itself a statement of how proud Tudor are of its archive (the vintage Big Crown being reference 7922). The watch drew from some of the classic traits seen on Submariners in Tudor’s rich history. The bevels on the lugs and absence of crown guards echoed the case profile of the 1950s Submariners, the domed sapphire crystal reminiscent of the classic ‘plexi’ glasses from vintage Oysters and the black dial with gilt printing all came together to deliver a true celebration of the golden era of Submariners. But far from being a simple carbon copy, Tudor wanted the watch to morph other classic Submariner details from the past. And so the snowflake hands were used; another iconic symbol of Tudor’s diving heritage.
About the original Black Bay
The original Black Bay employed a burgundy/brown coloured bezel insert. The colour gave the watch a richness, that set the dial off in a way that gave an overall impression of the watch being ‘tropical’ - a term used by collectors when a watch dial and insert take on a patina that can range from a tobacco hue to caramel colour. When this process occurs, it can make a vintage watch exceptionally beautiful and desirable. There is a vintage prototype Submariner, residing in the Geneva archive, that has a red dial and bezel that is very similar to the Black Bay. Whilst this hidden gem of a watch never actually made it to production, its fiery spirit lives on in the Black Bay.
The question has often been raised about why Tudor chose to create a mix of the more traditional round hour markers with the snowflake hands. The snowflake hands were a development that was a result of collaborative work with the Marine Nationale. The combat divers found the mercedes hands often difficult to see in underwater conditions and asked for a more legible hand set. The result was the now iconic Snowflake hands that are one of the most identifiable hand style of any diving watch. In fact, there were some watches that were delivered in the same hand/dial configuration as the Black Bay. These watches were a small batch of black reference 94010 non-date Submariners that were delivered to the Canadian Navy. For a while these watches were only a theory shared by a few collectors, but in 2014 a Canadian Navy Stores Manager discovered a box of old submariners that had been issued to military divers over the years. In that box were some watches in this configuration.
Exclusive preview dinner
In 2014 Tudor launched a second Black Bay in their Heritage line, the 79220B - the Black Bay Blue. I was fortunate enough to be invited to an exclusive preview dinner, in Basel, where this watch was launched. Significant pieces from the Tudor Museum were also showcased as part of this event. One such watch was an original blue Submariner reference 7016 with snowflake hands that was issued to the Marine Nationale in 1977. These MilSubs feature the initials MN and the year of issue (in this case 77) on the caseback and are now some of the most collectible watches in the world. Additionally, the watch was sourced from its original owner (a Navy diver) on the original strap that was used during active service; a green parachute strap that was converted to make a NATO-esque strap.
This watch was the inspiration for the Black Bay Blue and its utilitarian look had an impact on the second Black Bay. In place of the warm gilt lettering and gilt coloured hour marker surrounds and hands is white gold and silver lettering on the dial. These subtle changes had a big impact on the overall aesthetic of the watch and give the piece a true tool watch look.
The blue non-date snowflake watch is now iconic, whether military or civilian in its origin, and has become as sort after as its cousin the Rolex Submariner reference 5513. Launched in 1969, the first Tudor Submariner snowflake watches were reference 7016 in Black. These have been produced until 1974. For Tudor MN collectors, the black MN74 is the ultimate piece to have (as are the ultra rare South African MilSubs from the same serial range as the MN74s). There was a problem, however, with the dial paint and it was susceptible to damp and developed a ‘dial rot’. To remedy this Tudor introduced a blue dial and (and matching bezel) that was more suited to the rigours of military life. These dials first appeared in the mid 1970s in MN75 and MN76 watches and continued throughout the run of these issued pieces up until 1982.