Watches

How Tudor Supplied Diver’s Watches to the French and U.S. Navies

The watch brand dressed the wrists of French Navy divers for half a century.  
IMAGE Tudor
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Bet you didn’t know this: Tudor, the younger, more democratic brother of Rolex, has supplied diver’s watches to some of the largest navies in the world for decades.

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In 1954, the Swiss company released its first diver’s watch, reference 7922. As one of the first professional watches for divers—and also one that was priced affordably!—it was the perfect instrument for, say, an organization like the French Navy, which, at the time, needed tickers for “large-scale underwater activities.” Two years later, in 1956, the French Navy’s Groupement d’Étude et de Recherche Sous-marine or Underwater Study and Research Group reached out to Tudor to explore the possibilities and so began a beautiful partnership.

 

For more than half a century, Tudor dressed the wrists of the sea explorers or “combat swimmers” of the French Navy. It was a unique heritage that led to a series of triumphant Black Bay models. These recall the very diver’s watches worn by navy men or point to the source of all things, the sea. 

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If you’re looking for a diver’s watch, one that has been vetted by the toughest seamen, here are four Tudor Black Bay timepieces to consider:

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Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight ‘Navy Blue’

Photo by Tudor.

The Fifty-Eight Navy Blue takes inspiration from the blue Tudor diver’s watches that the French Navy ordered in the ’70s. Aside from the color, the contemporary model carries the smaller proportions of the original, making it ideal for those who like the look and feel of vintage watches. Its blue fabric strap, woven using traditional French techniques, points to another nugget in Tudor history: of how it delivered the watches without straps and so the French Navy fitted them with woven fabric straps. 

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Tudor Black Bay P01

Photo by Tudor.

Here’s another fun fact: Tudor also worked with the U.S. Navy. The Black Bay P01 is the realization of a prototype from the pair’s partnership (its name means “Prototype 1). The story: In 1967, the U.S. Navy wanted a new model to replace the Oyster Prince Submariner 7928 it was using and so Tudor went to work on the Commando Project. Guess what? The Americans turned down the project’s prototype. Those scrapped plans were thankfully saved in Tudor’s archive, leading to today’s P01, a watch that highlights functionality over looks. See the winding crown at 4 o'clock and the prominent lug covers.

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Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight

Photo by Tudor.

Now, if you want something that looks like the first diver’s watches of Tudor and the first models worn by the French and Americans, the Fifty-Eight is the choice. While not exactly the same, this one shares details with diver’s watches of the ’50s, in particular the “proportions, overall shape, gold accents on the dial, and red triangle on the rotating bezel.” You know what they say: The original won’t let you down.

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Tudor Black Bay Bronze

Photo by Tudor.

The Bronze is interesting in that it traces its inspiration to specific materials used in the navy. That yellow stripe on the band? It comes from the strap that the French Navy crafted from rescue parachutes (for its diver-paratroopers—one was said to have dangled on the door of a plane by his watch strap). And the bronze used in the case? It mimics the effect of spending a lot of time in the water. As years go by, the bronze will develop a rich patina, which not only lends the watch a cooler look, but also makes you appear to be a master of the ocean (even if you’re not).  

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Clifford Olanday
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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