Vintage diving watches present an interesting and frustrating dilemma to collectors. On the one hand, these pieces are functioning relics from a time when watches were instruments first, arm candy second, for underwater explorers at the dawn of the age of SCUBA. Odds are, if you can find a dive watch from the 1950s or ‘60s, it was first bought by someone who intended to use it for the purpose it was built, and they often come with telltale scars from adventures unknown. These watches beg to be worn. An old dive watch tugs seaward like a sailor on shore leave for too long. But can they be trusted to stay dry with their dried-out seals and plastic crystals? For most, it’s not worth the risk, especially with prized ones from the top brands, and thus these old soldiers are land bound.
At the other end of the spectrum, modern watches are better suited for wet work but often lack the authenticity of their historical forebears, often too pretty and expensive to even wash the dishes in. The Tudor Heritage Black Bay splits the difference. Since 2012, the Black Bay has captured the imagination of dive-watch lovers, who are smitten with its vintage cues and modern capabilities. First came the red-bezel version, with its gold-tinged dial and burgundy accents; then the starker blue version, which kept the vintage vibe but went with a more utilitarian aesthetic. But the latest version, the so-called Black Bay “Black,” is the closest you can get to a vintage dive watch you can actually take diving.
This new version of the Black Bay draws its inspiration most closely from the 1954 reference 7923 Submariner, Tudor’s very first dive watch and the only one to have had a hand-wound movement. Find one of those and you’ll pay dearly for it, unless it’s been in the bottom of your badass grandfather’s sock drawer for 60 years. And there’s no way you’d take it diving — or even for a walk in the rain. The Black Bay “Black” is also inspired by the Black Bay One, a one-off piece Tudor built for the Only Watch charity auction in November. That watch follows the ref 7923 closely, right down to the red text on the dial and the stick hands, which were only seen on the earliest Submariners. The One will undoubtedly sell for as much as its rare vintage forebear, leaving fans wishing for something similar but more accessible.
The Black Bay “Black” is of course, a modern watch, with a full 200m of water resistance you can trust and an automatic movement that means the crown can stay safely screwed in, as long as you wear it enough to tension the mainspring. The historical cues are in the gold-accented dial, which hark back to the “gilt” dials of the 1950s original, the oversized crown and the red triangle on the bezel, which was found on vintage Tudor and Rolex Submariners. Though the case is now 41mm, its thin lugs and classic silhouette give it a distinctly vintage look on the wrist, especially when fitted to the nylon one-piece strap. Pair with a set of Voit fins, an orange rubber wetsuit and twin-hose aqualung, and you’re ready to reenact the underwater fight scene from Thunderball.
The existing two versions of the Tudor Heritage Black Bay have already given dive watch lovers enough of a buying dilemma. With the new Black version, it only adds to the conundrum. All three have their merits, but they all share one thing: the ability to go deep.