Tudor has expanded its popular Black Bay Fifty-Eight series of dive watches. The latest addition is a blue version with a manufacture caliber and a moderately sized 39-mm case that won the “Challenge” watch award at the 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). How does Tudor’s award-winner fare in our test?
The Tudor label has been trendy in recent years and can look back on a steadily growing fan base. Rolex’s second brand was stagnant for many years, but since 2009, Tudor has begun accelerating again. Tudor’s history, which is rich in characteristic design, is being emphasized in the brand’s newly launched retro models. The Heritage Black Bay, which looks back to Tudor’s early dive watches, was released in 2012. Its debut was followed by the premiere of the smaller Black Bay Fifty-Eight in 2018. The blue version, which we are testing here, was unveiled in 2020.
The name “Fifty-Eight” refers to 1958, the year in which Tudor introduced its first divers’ watch, Reference 7924, known as the “Big Crown.” The new watch’s diameter of 39 mm corresponds to the dimensions of the case of the historical model. In other respects, too, this new version, at first glance, actually looks like a vintage watch, an antique model. It even looks somewhat delicate, thanks to the rotating bezel and the smaller dial.
The vintage impression is further underscored by the domed scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, which is highly curved along its rim like the acrylic crystals of models from previous decades. The dial, too, is slightly convex like the faces of classic antique watches. The narrow strap lugs and the typography on the rotatable bezel also allude to Tudor’s history. The designers even opted to omit a date display, thus completing the historical impression.
Old Tudor dive watches with so-called “snowflake” hands have become famous and are eagerly sought after at auctions. The nickname derives from the squares at the tips of the hour hand and seconds hand: each is rotated 45 degrees and somewhat resembles a stylized snowflake. This detail first appeared on the tips of the hands toward the end of the 1960s and was retained thereafter.
In 1956, French naval divers turned to Tudor to find the ideal divers’ watch for their purposes. Tudor subsequently became the official supplier to French military frogmen. The combat divers opted for blue rather than black dials in the mid-1970s. Our test watch with blue dial and blue aluminum dive-time scale recalls these timepieces. The aluminum scale is not as scratch-resistant as its ceramic counterparts, but its matte surface goes better with this model’s vintage styling.
All in all, Tudor has succeeded in creating a very handsome and harmonious retro watch that looks even more timeless thanks to its blue color and the fact that it forgoes the golden hands and hour indexes that are usually installed on the dials of other Fifty-Eight models. Fortunately, functionality was not allowed to fall by the wayside: large luminous indexes and plenty of luminous material on the hands guarantee outstanding legibility by day and by night. The easily grasped crown decouples from the winding mechanism when screwed shut, thus protecting the latter. The time is easy to set thanks to the stop-seconds function and the absence of a date display, which accordingly eliminates the crown’s first extracted position.
The unidirectional rotatable bezel clicks into place in single-minute increments. It, too, is easy to grasp and to turn thanks to its finely serrated rim. The bezels of early models had some play and sounded tinny when they clicked into place, but Tudor has made significant improvements: this watch’s bezel clicks almost as authoritatively into place as do its counterparts on watches made by Tudor’s big sister, Rolex. A luminous triangular index enables the wearer to read the dive time even in dark conditions or murky water. This Black Bay is also fully suitable for diving thanks to its case, which is water resistant to 200 meters, and its water-resistant textile strap.
The watch’s blue fabric strap is lightweight and durable and has a gray stripe along its midline. It is sewn using a traditional method that relies on historical machines. The handsome pin buckle is styled to resemble the shield shape of Tudor’s coat-of-arms logo. Like the case, the clasp juxtaposes polished and satin-finished surfaces.
The textile strap is permeable to air, which contributes to its comfort on the wrist. Flat textile straps often look out of place on watches with tall cases, but that is not an issue here: the strap suits the Black Bay well and enhances its overall vintage appearance.
The strap runs across the back of the case and therefore largely covers it, but that’s not a problem here because, unfortunately, this Tudor watch doesn’t have a glass back, so manufacture Caliber MT5402 won’t be seen by the buyer and can only be admired by the watchmaker who unscrews the fully threaded steel back and opens the case for maintenance or repairs. The movement is particularly impressive because it upholds Tudor’s traditional virtues of precision and robustness. The brand fulfills the former claim by having each movement tested by the official Swiss chronometer-testing authority, COSC. This exam certifies, among other criteria, that the average daily rate deviation remains in a narrow range between –4 and +6 seconds.
Our electronic timing machine confirmed this accuracy. Deviations in the various positions remained in a tight cluster. The average deviation was a minor loss of –1.3 seconds per day. The watch kept nearly perfect time on the wrist, where we measured a minimal gain of just +0.5 seconds per day.
Caliber MT5402 (the MT stands for “Mouvement Tudor”) relies on various technical features to fulfill the second part of the brand’s philosophy: robustness. First, the movement is quite tall (4.99 mm), so any small tolerance fluctuations in the production process will be unlikely to result in malfunctions. Second, the balance is not held on only one side by a cock but is installed in a stable and completely horizontal position under a bridge. And third, the hairspring is made of silicon, thus minimizing the likelihood of rate deviations caused by decentering or deformation of this tiny spring after the movement has suffered an impact.
Further high-quality features of the manufacture movement are its long power reserve of 70 hours and its freely oscillating balance with four regulating screws. These screws mean that the rate is not finely adjusted by changing the active length of the hairspring, as is the case with ETA calibers.
The fact that Tudor does not invest much effort or expense in finely decorating the movement fits with the brand’s philosophy of offering reliable watchmaking technology at an affordable price. Nonetheless, the rotor is attractively openworked and adorned with both a sunburst pattern and the engraved brand name.
The Black Bay inspires with its design in much the same way as did Tudor’s historical dive watches. And like its ancestors, functionality is given equal priority. Apart from the missing date display and the scratch-sensitive aluminum bezel, you don’t have to make any compromises here. This newcomer has a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, plenty of luminous material, high water resistance, good wearing comfort and easy operation. The price is right, too. So Tudor has done everything right. But this success is also shown by the long waiting lists for this model. In this way, too, Tudor is following in the footsteps of its big sister, Rolex.
Manufacturer: Tudor, Rue François Dussaud 3–5, 1211 Geneva 26, Switzerland
Reference number: M79030B-0003
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds
Movement: Manufacture Caliber MT5402, automatic, COSC certified, 28,800 vph, 27 jewels, stop-seconds function, silicon hairspring, fine adjustment via four regulating screws on the rim of the freely oscillating balance, Incabloc shock absorption, 70-hour power reserve, diameter = 26 mm, height = 4.99 mm
Case: Stainless-steel case with curved sapphire crystal that has been anti-reflectively treated on both sides, screwed-down crown, fully threaded screw-in back made of stainless steel, water resistant to 200 meters
Strap and clasp: Textile strap with stainless-steel pin buckle
Rate results (deviation in seconds per 24 hours):
Dial up -2
Dial down +1
Crown up -1
Crown down -3
Crown left -1
Crown right -2
Greatest deviation 4
Average deviation -1.3
Flat positions 291°
Hanging positions 260°
Dimensions: Diameter = 39 mm, height = 12 mm, weight = 77 grams
Variations: With blue “soft touch” strap (Ref. M79030B-0002; $3,375); with steel bracelet (Ref. M79030B-0001, $3,700)
Strap and clasp (max. 10 points): The textile strap is robust and
permeable by air. The pin buckle is practical. 8
Operation (5): The screw-down crown is simple to operate and a stop-seconds function facilitates to-the-second time setting. The easily grasped bezel is easy to rotate. 5
Case (10): The well-crafted case has good water resistance. Also good: the crown disconnects from the winding mechanism when the former is screwed shut. 8
Design (15): The very successful retro design has characteristic Tudor elements from several decades. 14
Legibility (5): Ample luminous material on the hands and indexes, combined with high contrast between the hands and the dial, make this watch easy to read by day and by night. 5
Wearing comfort (10): The watch is comfortable on the wrist and not top-heavy. 9
Movement (20): The manufacture caliber is engineered for robustness and
offers a long power reserve. The decorations are subtle. 15
Rate results (10): The greatest rate deviation among the several positions is low. The average rate deviation is moderate, but strays into the minus column. 8
Overall value (15): The price is appropriate. Demand exceeds supply, which leads to good value retention. 12
Total: 84 POINTS
This article originally appeared in the January-February 2021 issue of WatchTime.