Bronze cases have become one of those niche but quietly growing trends in the watch world, especially in the sporty arena of divers’ watches. The material is, of course, eminently suitable for timepieces that are engineered to spend much of their life submerged underwater; bronze alloys historically have been used in shipbuilding and the manufacture of diving equipment and thus have proven their maritime mettle.
Outside of its seafaring history, though, bronze has another appeal to the watch aficionado community, many of whose members are constantly on the lookout for a timepiece that stands out as uniquely their own. This metal’s ability to develop a distinctive, aged-vintage-look patina over the course of its wearing life gives each bronze-cased watch a unique relationship to its owner. All metals age, of course, but bronze — like the proprietary aluminum-bronze alloy used in the case of the Tudor Black Bay that I review here — is essentially made to change color. A week or so with the watch didn’t exactly give me the chance to impart much patina on it, but I eagerly accepted the chance spend some time with it nonetheless.
Design elements of the Tudor Black Bay Bronze hearken back to models from the 1950s through the 1970s.
The immediate appeal of the Tudor Black Bay Bronze — as with pretty much all Black Bays, and most other popular models in the modern Tudor collection — is its ability to so deftly straddle the line between retro and contemporary. The case dimensions — a relatively large 43 mm in diameter, a few millimeters larger than predecessor models in steel — place it firmly in the 21st century, while the use of brown shades on both the dial and the rotating divers’ bezel adds to its modern aesthetic, speaking to today’s bolder and less conservative color schemes across the board in the watch industry.
But then there are the watch’s more prominent aesthetic elements, all of which hearken back to Tudor watch models from the 1950s through the 1970s, back when this increasingly individualistic brand was regarded chiefly as Rolex’s more affordable baby brother — most prominently the Tudor Submariner, Ref. 7922, launched in 1954, Tudor’s first dedicated divers’ watch; the Ref. 7924 model, nicknamed “Big Crown,” from 1958; and the Tudor dive watches sold from 1969 to the early 1980s. These elements include the “snowflake” hour and minute hands, the domed crystal over the dial, and the chamfered lugs with drilled holes.
The dial and bezel are two notably different shades of brown. The dial — punctuated by big dot hour indices, an inverted triangle at 12 o’clock, and applied Arabic numerals at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock (this is the first Black Bay to incorporate Arabic numerals in its dial design) — calls to mind a bar of bittersweet chocolate, while the bezel, with its bronze-colored diving scale numerals and indices, is more of a dark caramel color. The subtle contrast, in my opinion, works quite well, and resonates nicely with the color of the brushed case and distressed leather strap.
Both Tudor logos are present on this watch: the modern “shield” emblem appears on the dial below the 12 o’clock mark, while the historical “rose” makes its presence felt as an engraving on the grooved, easy-to-grip winding crown, which locks in this watch’s water-resistance of 200 meters when firmly screwed down. The bezel makes a pleasant, understated ratcheting sound as it rotates.
The caseback is made of steel with bronze-colored PVD coating for more comfort on the wrist.
That strap, of course, is perhaps the most obviously and intentionally retro of the whole ensemble — thick, rustic, brown leather with light stitching and a soft underside that feels comfy on the wrist. The neat, square holes perfectly fit the tongue of the buckle, also made of bronze, which has a brushed finish and a Tudor engraving. Admittedly the thick, stitched-leather look is more suited to a vintage pilot watch than a vintage diver, but the style is a personal preference of mine; and in any case, the watch is also available with a NATO-style canvas strap — a tribute to a famous makeshift strap cobbled together from a rescue parachute during Tudor’s heyday as provider of watches for the French Navy — for those seeking more vintage authenticity.
The solid caseback is actually not made of bronze, but of steel with a bronze-colored PVD coating, for the most utilitarian of reasons: bronze is not as comfortable on bare skin as is steel. The only aesthetic consequence here is that the caseback will retain some semblance of its “new” golden look and not develop a patina over time, as will the rest of the case; even after my brief period with the watch, the color contrast was stark.
The automatic movement is made at Tudor’s own watchmaking facility in Bienne, Switzerland.
Behind the caseback is the movement, Caliber MT5601, a variation on the brand’s first-ever in-house caliber, introduced just last year in the Tudor North Flag watch. The new movement, developed specifically to equip this model, is slightly larger in diameter than its predecessor, Caliber MT5621 (“MT” for “Manufacture Tudor”), has a frequency of 28,800 vph, and carries a 70-hour power reserve. It is regulated by a variable inertia oscillator with a silicon balance spring held in place by a traversing bridge. It features automatic winding via a bidirectional rotor and boasts a COSC chronometer certification. For those holdouts who still insist on seeing Tudor as an extension of its parent, Rolex, it is worth noting that this caliber is not a Rolex hand-me-down (nor a refurbished ETA, as were some of the movements in earlier Black Bay models) but a product of at Tudor’s own watchmaking facility in the Swiss town of Bienne. Of course, like probably many others, I’d love to be able to view this movement through a clear caseback, though I’m sure adding one would adversely affect both the watch’s water-resistance and its price point — not to mention that vintage-look authenticity that seems to be one of its most persuasive selling points.
Priced at a very reasonable $3,975*, the Tudor Black Bay Bronze offers a dual benefit — instant vintage-watch cred among your fellow horophiles, while also marking you as someone who knows value for money when he sees it. In fact, with each built-to-age case developing a patina all its own, you could make a convincing argument that a Tudor Black Bay Bronze is one of the most affordable “unique pieces” out there.
The article was originally published in 2016.
* Prices are subject to change.