Once upon a time, you would only own a diving watch if you were actually in the habit of going diving. These functional tool watches were designed to traverse the deep seas and included key features that aided in one’s enjoyment of this activity — quick dry straps, legible and often oversized numerals and a thick crown you could easily grip underwater. Over the years, haute horlogerie has become somewhat mainstream as tool watches have been adopted into everyday wardrobes and lifestyles. Indeed, many diving watches are acquired these days expressly for their aesthetics and may never see the depths of the sea at all.
There are a number of candidates in one’s search of the ultimate diving watch, a buyer’s final decision purely based on choice and personal chemistry — at times, some watches simply work better with different people. Jaeger-LeCoultre may be known for its Reverso, but its diving watches have adopted a unique sense of the brand’s ethos. If it is its history and pedigree that interest you, Ulysse Nardin has been famous for its marine chronometers and seafaring instruments since it was founded 173 years ago. Meanwhile, Officine Panerai has been the official supplier of diving watches to the Royal Italian Navy.
Tudor’s history with divers is a little more recent, but no less compelling. Founded in 1926, the brand was Rolex founder Hans Wildorf’s idea — he wanted to create a line of watches that would sell at a more modest price than Rolex but also subscribe to the same high standards of quality and craftsmanship. Tudor represented the values of accessible luxury before the phrase was actually coined: functionality, reliability and quality but at more affordable price points. In its initial years, the brand focused on fortifying its identity, unveiling models that were not tool watches nor timepieces with any particular vocation.
It was in 1954 when Tudor launched its version of the Rolex Submariner, and things changed forever. Waterproof up to 100m, the 7922 is Tudor’s firstborn in a long line of divers — affordable, robust, reliable and precise, it is representative of the brand’s philosophy of a tool watch. The seven decades following the introduction of the 7922 have witnessed a constant improvement of the Tudor divers’ watch, gaining wide acclaim from professionals in the field, including some of the largest navies in the world, in the process. Launched in 2012, the Black Bay collection is the modern incarnation of Tudor’s iconic Submariner design, which has since grown to include more than a dozen variations, ranging from time-only versions to those with high-performance chronographs.
This year, a major release from Tudor is the Black Bay Fifty-Eight “Navy Blue”. It gets its name from its colour and the year 1958, when the brand’s first diver’s watch waterproof to 200m (660ft) — reference 7924 or “Big Crown” — was presented. Among other aesthetic nods to this historic watch, the new model offers a 39mm case in keeping with the characteristic proportions of the 1950s. Ideal for slim wrists, people who like more compact watches and vintage enthusiasts, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight “Navy Blue” also continues the maison’s tradition of blue sports watches.
As is the case with all watches, even the most beautifully taken photographs cannot do justice to the actual timepiece when it sits in the palm of your hand. The Black Bay Fifty-Eight “Navy Blue” is equipped with the brand’s hallmark fabric strap, and when fastened, sits on my wrist with a comfortable weight that soon enough, becomes imperceptible. We had this decidedly handsome watch over a weekend, which allowed a rare opportunity to put the manufacture Calibre MT5402 to the test. In charge of driving the hours, minutes and seconds functions, this calibre’s power reserve sits at 70 hours, which enables you to wear it from Friday to Sunday without having to wind or reset it even once. On our short weekend getaway, it was quite relaxing not having to worry about winding my watch — even if I spent a lot of time admiring it.
In actually being able to get a diving watch from a luxury maison into the water, there were certain elements that I was eager to test out. First, the Super-LumiNova coat on the numerals and the snowflake hands, which first appeared in 1969 on watches intended for military use. The broader hour hand and larger luminous weight on the seconds hand was designed for better legibility underwater, and I daresay this holds to be correct. On holiday, time does take on an admittedly different meaning, but I was still glad to track it so easily when submerged in seawater.
Tudor’s straps for its diving watches are unique for its lineage — woven in France on 19th century jacquard looms by the Julien Faure company in the Saint-Étienne region, its manufacturing quality and comfort on the wrist are said to be exemplary. It certainly did feel very good on the wrist, was sturdy enough to support the weight of the case and was completely dry within an hour of exiting the water. I would have liked it to dry a little faster, which I imagine would be the case in dryer climes than ours.
Despite its reduced diameter — the average watch sizes today hover well above 39mm — the Black Bay Fifty-Eight “Navy Blue” is definitely suited to slightly meatier wrists than mine, even if you add additional holes to the fabric strap. It swung around my very slender wrists a little more than was strictly comfortable, although I grew to like the watch so much that I was willing to overlook this for the few days I’d had it. On a broader wrist, the fit is exquisite.
I don’t dive frequently enough to need this particular tool watch for what it does, but the aesthetics of the Black Bay Fifty-Eight “Navy Blue” is a great fit to my daily lifestyle. I loved its deep blue shade — blue is very much the new black in terms of style — while its minimalist approach to sportiness sits in my sweet spot. It easily matched my workwear ensemble and although my schedule didn’t include any time in a boardroom, I can’t imagine the watch not fitting right in.
Priced at RM12,940, this is a purchase I would not mind making as it is great value for a watch of this build quality, and even features a manufacture movement. Additionally, should the need to give up my watch ever arise, pieces in the Black Bay collection tend to hold their value quite well. Not that I anticipate giving up the Black Bay Fifty-Eight “Navy Blue” if I acquire it, though. I may just start diving again with it.
This article first appeared on Sept 7, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.