A Moment in Time: Tudor Black Bay Black Ref. 79220N
Disclaimer: From July to August 2015, I worked at Sidney Thomas Jewelers. This is not a paid promotion.
The Tudor Black Bay shouldn't work. It's an amalgamation of different historical references that are decades apart, it's an ETA movement yet it is the most popular Tudor today.
Looking back at the initial reaction to the release of the Tudor Black Bay in 2012, it is shocking to see how small a splash it first made. Hodinkee even called in a "mishmash of a few different references and dial configurations". There was certainly buzz about it but it was the Tudor Ranger that drew everyone's attention. The Ranger first drew my attention to the brand as well, a stylish modern interpretation of the the Explorer/Ranger of years past, albeit with an option for a disgusting camo strap. The Black Bay was just another dive watch to me. Then over the coming weeks and months the Black Bay, like an runaway horological locomotive, began to pick up steam. Soon it was the Tudor to have, historical design anachronisms be damned. It won the Revival award at the 2013 Grand Prix d'Horologerie de Geneve and then in 2015, in the middle of a dreary October, Tudor dropped a bombshell on the hibernating watch world; the Black Bay Black.
It might seem odd to release a watch in the tail end of the year instead of waiting a few months for Baselworld but Tudor knew exactly what they were doing with the perfectly timed Pre-Christmas release. The Black Bay had remained their most popular watch after having received a small facelift the year before and this new black was going to be what all those watch fans wanted underneath their Christmas tree.
Apart from the color, the Black Bay Black is identical to the blue and burgundy watches that released three years before and the new paint job made it the closest to a true heritage Submariner release that we're ever likely to see. It seems odd saying that as whilst to a layman the watch looks like it's been picked off a 1954 catalog, those in the know, this is really a Tudor Submariner Greatest Hits compilation with each detail picked to illicit the perfect response from watch fans.
The nondescript shield that is Tudor's current logo was wisely replaced with a period correct 1950's rose that has a surprising amount of detail. Even up close you can see how distinct each petal is from it's neighbor. The dial and bezel are nearly identical to the first ever Tudor Submariner Ref. 7922 from 1954. The dial is one of the Black Bay's greatest strengths; The same gilt script with the curved "self winding" is in the same place as it was sixty years ago with the gilt the exact same color as well. The bezel is slightly different as now there is a coin engraving on the bezel edge and, like all modern divers, this bezel is unidirectional. The black color allowed Tudor to place a detail on their watch that Rolex and Tudor fans have been wanting on their Subs for an age, the red triangle. A simple and almost inconsequential detail that just so happens to bring the whole design together.
Whilst it is visually delightful I found the shallow bezel hard to grip and turn with ease, finding myself reaching much lower down than I would have thought. Compared to the larger, deeper bezel of a Planet Ocean or a Rolex Submariner, it's not as convenient or as pleasurable and this is where perhaps the sub $4000 price range in the Tudor is felt the most. A non-ceramic bezel does keep the cost down but just a millimeter deeper and it would have been perfect. To a desk diver like me it's not a huge issue but to someone looking to go diving, I can imagine it being more of a concern.
The biggest design anachronism is the hands. The hands of the Tudor Submariner have evolved quite a lot since it's inception. Originally fitted with Rolex mercedes hands in the original release, these changed to pencil hands in the rarest of Tudor Subs, the Ref. 7923, which is the only manually wound dive watch that the brand ever made. The Ref. 7928 saw a change back to Mercedes but it is the relationship between Tudor and the French Navy that would see the evolution of something completely different, the snowflake. The Ref. 7016 was released in 1968 as a progression of the 7928 which was far more tooled towards practicality with large crown guards and a bigger bevelled edge bezel for easy gripping. The circular hour markers were replaced with squares and rectangles including a diamond pip on the second hand.
The French Navy requested Tudor make a variation for the hands that would be more visible whilst diving so a unique angular hour hand was designed. This was dubbed the snowflake by collectors and would be as iconic to late sixties/early seventies Tudor dive watches. It is this angular stump that is used on the Black Bay as well as the Pelagos which also has the square hour markers as well. The use of the snowflake on the Black Bay distinguishes it from being another Rolex Submariner clone yet the clash between the snowflake and the more traditional design of the dial and hour markers is noticeable. Personally I would have prefered pencil hands but these are not as eye catching as the snowflake, nor do they provide as legible a display at a glance.
The hour markers are all applied and when viewed from an angle their height can really be seen. I've said before that I don't like the printed subdials on the Tudor Heritage Chronos which leave the dial lacking, but these hour markers are great. The metal surround is slightly enough that it doesn't engulf them and the gold coloring matches nicely with the gilt text. The dial itself sits very low in the case which gives the watch a great amount of depth. Rated at 200m (666ft), the Tudor Black Bay is perfect for a casual swim in the pool or splash in the sea and was never really designed to be a dedicated diver, unlike the bigger, badder titanium Pelagos.
The bracelet and 41mm case are all made from 314L stainless steel and there is nice alternative polishing techniques used with satin finishing on the lug tops to polish on the case side. To me the obvious choice is the Oyster-like bracelet with the stock nylon and pre-distressed strap just not doing anything for me. I've heard that removing the bracelet to put an aftermarket strap on can be a pain but I can't attest to that. At 41mm it's slightly larger than the 37mm and 39mm of the original references but to me 41mm is a perfect size for a daily dive watch wear.
The movement inside is the Caliber 2824, an ETA movement modified by Tudor. This is where the Black Bay gets most of it's criticism as some wonder why they should be paying $3000 and up for "just an ETA movement". There are four quality grades that ETA offer for the 2824 each adjusted to different positions with different tolerances : Standard, Elaborated, Top and Chronometer. Tudor have used the Top Graded 2824 which was adjusted to five positions, tested with an average of +4/-4 seconds per day with a maximum daily variation of +/- 10 seconds a day.
There is a lot of ETA snobbery online which I feel is mostly unjustified. The average consumer isn't going to know or care about how made the movement inside their watch, just that it tells time well. The aficionados who are complaining about the 2824 seem to forget that Tudor has been using an ETA movement since 1968 and that the Tudor Calibre 390 that was in the first Submariner was not in-house either, it was a Fleurier 350. Admittedly the 350 was made to Rolex specs and then further customized by Rolex but how is that any different from Tudor modifying the 2824?
I will agree that the use of the ETA is dull. It's not a bad movement but it's not exciting. It's a well worked reliable carthouse that is being compared to a prize stud, two different beasts bred for two different environments. Will Tudor put the MT5612 inside the Black Bay at some point? It's possible but using that in-house movement will increase the price on their most reliable seller, potentially blocking purchase. This is the same reason Omega hasn't put a full Co-Axial Calibre or Master Co-Axial into their Seamaster 300 as it would price it out of that lucrative "entry level" price point.
The Tudor Black Bay Black Ref. 79220N is a great watch. It has the best of both vintage and modern without compromise. The 41mm case is a great size and felt comfortable whilst I wore it. It's a watch that appeals to newcomers and old hands alike. Throw in the fact that it will look great on almost any strap you throw at it, then it's truly a winner.