The Tudor Black Bay is an unusual watch within the Rolex family. Yes, it is not a Rolex, but the influence is clear throughout and there is no doubt that the standards are very high when you inspect the finishing, the feel and the general sense that this is something special.
This watch is technically the follow up to the Oyster Prince Submariner ref. 7924 which was released in 1958, hence the name of this watch, and it has been cut down to 39mm to more closely match the 37mm diameter of the original.
Where it becomes unusual is in the fact that it has also been slimmed down to 11.9mm from 14.75mm (the current Black Bay thickness). This follows the thickening of the Black Bay from 12.8mm when Tudor previously used an ETA movement. Some people prefer the ETA movement purely because the Black Bay was slimmer at that point, but others will prefer to have a Tudor movement inside and cope with the extra depth. This is not the Rolex way which above all else is one of keeping the watches almost identical year after year with changes inside the watch to justify a new reference model number.
The Black Bay Fifty-Eight is the culmination of the confusion above and for many the smaller form factor finally gives them the Black Bay they want. I am one of these people, or at least I thought I was, because the Black Bey Heritage is a bit of a beast on the wrist. It all comes down to the sides of the watch which are almost vertical and which can tend to make it feel like a square slab when worn. Look at the Heritage from above and it’s lovely. Look at it from the side and it seems like a completely different watch. This does not happen with the Fifty-Eight.
The form feels consistent at every angle and especially so when on the wrist. The vertical harshness of the sides is gone and the way it sits on the wrist makes it feel like an extension of the arm rather than a tall slab of metal that takes up too much space.
It is also very hard to get hold of at this time with many dealers offering the watch with a 9-12 month lead time. At £2,340 this is not a cheap watch, but many many people are clamouring to get hold of the Fifty-Eight purely because of what it is. It often happens in the watch world that people (mainly men) have a gene that means when something is hard to get they want it even more, but this is not the whole story with the Fifty-Eight. From the moment it was announced the watch world went crazy for it and for good reasons. The watch world went crazy purely because of what it is and not what it represents which is unusual.
When I first tried it on I must admit to being slightly underwhelmed. I am not a small guy, but my wrists are not large yet the Fifty-Eight didn’t quite suit me. It felt just a touch too small when look at from above, but there was still something there that was special. Moving up to a watch like this from the likes of Seiko, Oris and Longines highlights that there is indeed a gap and that it is not all a myth. Sure, a lot of the price is usually the badge, but that does not seem to be the case here.
A Rolex Submariner is twice the price, if you can find one, and in many respects it does not feel twice as good. If you look at it through a magnifier you may see differences, but we don’t have magnifying eyes and so the Tudor looks very special to human eyes. It looks special because of the materials, the minimal use of stark colours and the fact that it is obviously a Black Bay. If you know what a Black Bay is, you will automatically know that this is a quality timepiece which kind of fools the brain before you even start.
The use of gold markings on the bezel has not been welcomed by some who see it is leaning too far to homaging a vintage look and rather false. I disagree because to me it perfectly matches the hands and dial markers to the point that the consistency is only broken by the glorious red pip surround at midnight.
Of course it is the snowflake hands that make this look like a Black Bay above all else and to me this is just about the perfect watch in terms of the colours and the form, but there is a problem that is specific to me.
The Black Bay Fifty-Eight is simply too small for my wrist which is a surprise because I don’t have large wrists (7.25”), but maybe they are a little flatter and wider than many other people which means the Fifty-Eight does not reach either side. It looks strange to me which is a shame because the slimmer depth and everything else excites me in the way only a watch that feels right should.
My problem is that the Heritage Black Bay is very thick and the sides of the watch are too angular and stark, in my view, to offer any meaningful elegance. This puts me in a position where the Black Bay as a design feels close to perfect, but the form factors on offer are either too big or too small. There is of course the older model with the ETA movement which is form-wise perfect for me, but I am not spending +£2,000 on an ETA powered watch.
The Fifty-Eight was, in my mind, my modern grail watch, but it turned out to not be right for me. It is a fabulous watch, it really is, and those who see are almost always impressed which my 18 year old son proved in an instant. He is now walking around with the watch on his wrist having paid for it with cash and through the sell of his Oris Artelier. My 18 year old son is wearing my grail watch and I am kind of jealous.
Categories: Watch reviews