Exclusive: Tudor Expert Ross Povey Breaks Down The Polarizing Black Bay P01
Ross Povey (aka @tudorcollector) helps explain how we went from Project "Commando" to the new Black Bay P01.
Tudor watches and the military go hand in hand, or rather watch on wrist. Since the late 1950s, Tudor has supplied some of the biggest Navies and military forces in the world. In line with founder Hans Wilsdorf’s promise of producing watches that had all the reliability and quality of sister company Rolex, but at a more accessible price point, Tudor was the perfect option for defense departments opting for field watches for their forces. The French National Navy and the Marine Nationale (MN), was one of the first navies to work with Tudor and was actually a research partner for field-testing and development of the brand’s dive watches.
The Tudor Submariner was launched in 1954 with reference 7922. The Marine Nationale first issued these watches to their divers in 1956 and so began a long term relationship that ultimately led to the development of one of the most iconic aspects of Tudor watches – the snowflake hands. These unique shaped hands were a direct response to the French divers’ request for hands that were more legible when underwater.
In 1958, Tudor unveiled their second generation Submariner the reference 7924, known as the Big Crown due to its oversize 8mm winding crown. It was depth rated to 200 meters and was more robust than the earlier 7922, which had a much smaller crown and a depth rating of only 100 meters. It wasn’t just the French Navy who used this watch though…
The United States Navy issued a batch of Tudor ref. 7924s to their divers in 1958. The US Navy (USN) continued to issue watches well into the 1980s, making them partners across four decades. Collectors have spent considerable time over the years collating databases of known examples to enable watches to be confirmed as issued, based on their serial numbers and provenance. Unlike the French-issued watches, the USN pieces weren’t uniformly engraved on the case back and so identifying them is less easy. The watches were often engraved on the case backs, but it was done uniquely at each Naval base by the Stores Masters.
The most commonly seen USN Tudors are reference 7928. The 7928 was produced for approximately ten years and underwent subtle changes over the period, the most obvious being the shape of the crown guards, which were first introduced with the 7928. We have seen a range of different types of engraving on 7928 watches that can include short-form versions of the base to which they were issued, the year of issue and quite often the initials ‘USN’. Interestingly, there is the Holy Grail for military Tudor collectors, a very rare and important US Navy issued Tudor 7928 that had a so-called moisture disc applied to the bottom half of the dial.
These small circular moisture indicators changed color if they came into contact with any moisture, which was key in alerting the wearer or Stores Master to the fact that the watch was leaking; a dangerous thing to happen to a key piece of safety equipment. I have only ever seen one or two of these pieces over the years and I would dearly love to find one for myself eventually!
Towards the end of the 1960s, the US Military updated its official specification for their dive watches and in response, Tudor undertook a piece of work entitled Project Commando. This new era dive watch needed a better protected winding crown and a way to lock the bezel more securely whilst allowing easy operation. Tudor produced some prototypes (see photo) of a watch that had a patented way to both securely lock the bezel and also allow it to be completely removed for cleaning.
The US Navy decided that it wasn’t a watch that they would be ordering and so the prototypes were locked away in the vault in Geneva. Due to the patenting of the new system, however, the records were public and so there has been speculation for many years about whether or not this mythical Tudor Sub ever truly existed or whether in fact, it was actually a Rolex prototype for the US Navy. This year at Basel, Tudor unveiled the Black Bay P01, which finally tells the story of the watch and the confirmation that it was in fact a Tudor proposition.
The Black Bay P01
One of the aspects of Tudor approach that watch collectors love so deeply is the brand’s celebration of the past and commitment to faithfully reprising key, iconic elements of watches from its back catalog. This has also been reinforced through the Born To Dare campaign, which is perfectly suited to celebrate the brand’s past association with the military. This year’s Black Bay P01 doesn’t simply hint at the brand’s relationship with the US Navy, it finally confirms it unequivocally.
The watch is as eye-catching as it is innovative. It’s new patented bezel locking system is like no other on the market and could quite easily be operated wearing either gloves of a diver or pilot – the 12-hour bezel was included to make the watch as useful to pilots as it is to divers. As you would expect, the watch has been built to the highest spec and features the brand’s trademark snowflake hands. There is no doubt in my mind that this watch is one of the most interesting in the brand’s illustrious story and full credit to Tudor for daring to add it to the Black Bay line.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)