The Black Bay’s Golden Glow
2016 was a brilliant year for Tudor: we were given the classic ‘Ovettone’ sized Black Bay 36, the PVD coated Black Bay Dark and the subject of this review – the Black Bay Bronze.
The Biggest Brother is Bronze. The Tudor Black Bay has been one of the most successful releases in recent years, not just in terms of Tudor’s output but in general watch terms. There is a trend amongst a lot of brands to release ‘heritage’ versions of pieces from their archives. Tudor were one of the first to do this with the launch of the Heritage Chrono in 2010, which drew heavily on the first series of Tudor chronographs from 1970. Where Tudor seem to get it so right is that the Heritage line isn’t simply a carbon copy reissue of vintage pieces, but a reimagination of the original that combines stylistic elements from each of the model’s development line.
The Black Bay is one of the most individual looking dive watches, with its iconic snowflake hands, domed crystal and sleek case with ‘Big Crown’ winder.
The Black Bay Bronze retains all these features but housed in a new bronze alloy case. Against the backdrop of a trend toward smaller watches, it was maybe surprising that their Bronze is such a large size at a 43mm case (although Tudor have also gone with the smaller watch in the Black Bay 36). Having worn the watch though I can say that the size works brilliantly!
The dial is one of the first noticeably distinguishing features of the Bronze, with what collectors refer to as a 3-6-9 numeral layout. The 3-6-9 dial was first seen on Rolex Submariners in the 1950s on the ‘Big Crown’ watches that were the biggest influence on the DNA of the Black Bay line. The dial is finished in a warm chocolate brown, which is complemented by the brown bezel insert. This brown colour is important for vintage collectors who covet vintage pieces that are sun kissed and have turned a golden brown colour that is known as ‘tropical’. The vintage Tudor Submariners reference 7928 from the 1960s are particularly prone to turn tropical, which I am sure was an influence in the decision to choose this colour for the Bronze’s dial and bezel.
The Bronze (and in fact all the Black Bays from now on) features the Tudor ‘Shield’ emblem on the dial, which is indicative of the Black Bays now being run by the in-house calibre. My favourite vintage Tudor Subs feature the shield logo and in my mind the aesthetic of the snowflake hands against the shield is preferable over the outgoing ‘Rose’ logo. It’s a small point, but then isn’t this hobby all about the small details?
And so onto the Bronze case, the first time a Tudor sports watch has been manufactured out of anything other than steel (excepting some two-tone chronos and Subs in the 1990s and the ceramic Black Shield). Bronze is a problematic material, in many ways, to manufacture a watch out of as it is almost ‘alive’ and rapidly changes in appearance. This rapid oxidization develops unpredictable colour changes; which if left unchecked would ultimately develop into a green rust-like appearance. Tudor spent three years developing an alloy that would allow the bronze to patinate to a certain point and then stabilise; a change that will be occur at different rates depending on its owners lifestyle and the various environments that the watch is exposed to.
When it comes to research and development Tudor works with a very Rolex approach and so the amount of work that went into developing the alloy was significant, as they simulated different aging scenarios. Nothing is left to chance and that is what the consumer buys into – an unrelenting attention to detail.
The use of bronze in this watch was inspired by the extensive use of bronze in naval equipment. Bronze is a very robust metal that will stand the test of time, even when spending prolonged periods submerged in salt water. Tudor Submariners were issued by military forces, especially navies, around the world and so the brand has a special link with naval life, making the Black Bay Bronze a celebration of this key aspect of their heritage. Indeed, the Black Bay takes many of its design cues from Submariners that were developed in conjunction with the French National Navy (the Marine Nationale [MN]). The oversize winding crown came from the earliest issued ‘Big Crown’ dive watches and the snowflake hands were developed at the request of French Navy divers who needed hands that were more legible in dark diving conditions.
One aspect of Tudor Heritage watches that has proven to be one the most popular is the fabric strap that accompanies all the watches, whether the buyer opts for leather strap or steel bracelet. In the Bronze’s case, the watch is only available on a vintage-style leather strap, but true to form it is also supplied with a jacquard weave fabric strap, which is based on the improvised straps made by military personnel in the field out of green and yellow rescue parachute webbing straps. Tudor have an example of such a strap on a blue MN77 Submariner in their museum.
In conclusion, it has to be said that this is a watch that is steeped in a rich heritage of military timepieces with attention to detail that has become de-facto in all of the watches that Tudor releases. Alongside the Black Bay Dark, the Bronze sits in a line up of dive watches that cater to a wide cross section of watch enthusiasts – there really is a Black Bay for everybody!
What I have found interesting about the Bronze is how many ‘hard core’ collectors of vintage Rolex and Panerai (who’s history is steeped in Rolex collaborations) have bought one for their personal collections as well as buyers of new watches; this shows the growing love for these watches that I am sure Tudor will continue to develop… long live the Black Bay!