Tudor’s Black Bay watch has been at the heart of the brand’s renaissance over the past decade, reports Chris Hall.

For the past decade Tudor has been moving into an extremely enviable position. In the main, its offerings sit at the very narrow centre of the Venn diagram where good looks, value for money and Swiss pedigree intersect, and it has established itself as not only a powerful rival to the likes of Tag Heuer but as the darling of a new collector scene.

Tudor as a brand has been around since 1946, created by Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf, who had registered the name 20 years earlier and saw it as a more affordable alternative to his all-conquering sports watches. The reason it bears this evocative name is twofold: Wilsdorf was a complete Anglophile – Rolex, after all, was founded in the UK – and was obsessed with the symmetry and marketing power of five-letter names. (It’s fair to say that, prescient as he was, he had not foreseen a time when it would have to compete in search engine rankings with Henry VII and his descendants.)

Like most watch brands, it enjoyed a heyday in the 1960s and ’70s but, to cut the story extremely short, by the 2000s Tudor was in the doldrums; its watches unremarkable and uncompetitive. A complete overhaul was initiated, and it burst back into life in 2010.

At the heart of this revival is a watch that has come to represent Tudor’s renewed fortunes – the Black Bay (first released in 2012). Inspired by the dive watches of the sixties and seventies, it is an amalgam of vintage flavours rather than a recreation of one watch, and despite its blocky outline and 200-metre water resistance, underwater performance is secondary to its appealing looks, a point emphasised by its focus on colourful bezels and rich, gilt-edged details. Priced between £1,890 and £5,240, to date there have been 20 variations, spanning various sizes and materials and incorporating chronograph and GMT functions, and it is no understatement to say that, in a way, the Black Bay is the brand, and vice-versa.


Last year, Tudor did something unusual: it released a Black Bay that quite a lot of people didn’t like, or at least didn’t understand, and that, moreover, unlike every other Black Bay, was not destined to become a bestseller. Called the P01 (£2,990), it is a curious thing, characterised by the huge volume of its case, specifically the two plates at the top and bottom of the dial that lap over the rotating bezel. The top one hides a hinged mechanism that lets it lift up, releasing the bezel to rotate freely; press it back in place and it clamps down, locking the bezel in position.

It hails from a prototype that Tudor produced for the US Navy in the mid-1960s; back then, a dive watch was an essential tool, and the rotating bezels were necessary for divers to track how long they had been submerged. Knocking the bezel out of place could mean a fatal overestimate of remaining oxygen reserves, so a watch that could mitigate against this risk was the goal.

Ultimately, the US opted for a more traditional design, but the prototypes and sketches would remain in Tudor’s archive until the brand’s lead designer, Ander Ugarte, unearthed them a few years ago. Released at the Baselworld trade show in March 2019, it confused and intrigued in equal measure, the oversized lugs and case making it challenging for the smaller-wristed and the overall aesthetic departing from the conventionally proportioned Black Bay. The Spanish-born Ugarte, who I recently met at Tudor’s HQ in Geneva, revealed that the watch wasn’t an instant hit when he presented it to the company either, but, describing it as a watch that you have to “discover”, he persuaded them that with eight years of successful Black Bays under its belt, Tudor could afford to do something a bit more experimental.

The P01 is a faithful recreation of the original prototype and while not a limited edition, is likely never to exist in vast quantities (Tudor makes every watch according to retailer demand). In declaring the model its most important watch of 2019, Tudor sent a strong signal that, while it may be the brand of David Beckham and Lady Gaga, it also wants to be the brand of watch geeks for whom a connection to rare military prototypes that never even got made is everything one needs in a watch.

Managing this duality will be crucial as the brand continues to evolve, and, even though I am much fonder of my own Black Bay than its oddball cousin, I’m glad both are given the chance to exist.