Tudor Black Bay P01

The Tudor Black Bay P01 is inspired by a prototype watch made in the 1960s for the US Navy. Mark McArthur-Christie provides an amusing and insightful appraisal of this military-themed watch.

Back in 2018, H. Moser & Cie ‘launched’ the Swiss Icons watch. Typically for Moser, it raised a smile with a lot of collectors, whilst simultaneously raising a few eyebrows in watch boardrooms across Switzerland.

Moser’s Swiss Icons was a deliberately provocative cut ‘n’ shut, with a Rolex GMT style bezel that looked as though it had been hammered onto an AP Royal Oak, a dial that was the progeny of a PP Nautilus and a Panerai sandwich with a dial-side tourbillon from a Girard-Perregaux. Moser, always keen to highlight the more ridiculous side of haute horlogerie, was making the point that Swiss watchmakers were just recycling the same old ideas with only incremental changes.

Edouard Meylan, CEO of H. Moser & Cie, had a point; it’s not often Switzerland’s large watchmakers try something different. That makes the Tudor Black Bay P01 stand out all the more – it’s very much a watch that’s taking a chance. But the dusty verges of watchmaking are littered with ‘novelties’ that were nothing but advertising puff with a sprinkling of magic dust from the old catalogue library. The Tudor Black Bay P01, on the other hand, has substance.

The Tudor Black Bay P01 isn’t some marketing department re-hash, it’s a modernised version of a watch that briefly saw the light of day back in the late 1960s as a prototype. Imagine Rover actually building the SD1 shooting brake rather than making the Marina even worse (yes, that was actually possible) turning it into the Ital. You get the idea.

Tudor Black Bay P01

Had you been a US Navy diver back in the 1950s or 60s, you’d quite probably have been issued with a Tudor 79XX as your dive watch. One particular version, the Oyster Prince Submariner 7928 was, to all intents, a more cost-effective version of parent company Rolex’s Submariner. In fact, Rolex made the cases (which were the same size as the ref. 5512 and 5513 Rolex models) while inside was a 17 jewel, shock-protected Fleurier cal. 350 non-chronometer movement (renamed as the 390 for Rolex). It was the ref. 7928 that the US Navy sought to replace in 1967.

Tudor wanted to keep their contract, so set to work developing a new watch that would fit the new US Navy spec. Most military watch specifications are, bar the details, the same. In essence, ‘give us a waterproof watch with a nice clear, luminous dial, that’s easy to fix, that the front-line lads can kick to hell and back and that will keep ticking even if we run it over with an Adams class destroyer’.  This explains why military watches are never pretty, but always have a very definite ‘form follows function’, fit for purpose characteristic.

Tudor’s team started work. They wanted something waterproof (clearly), robust, easy to read and easily fixable if the worst happened.  The ‘Commando’ development programme (or ‘program’ if you’re reading this west of Garraun Point) gave them a prototype watch that fitted the bill.

The new watch looked as though it had been hanging around the rough part of town, nicking cars with its mate the Omega Ploprof and smoking in alleyways with a couple of hardcore Doxas. Heavyweight case, crown at 4 o’clock with shrouds for protection, a locking (rather than just unidirectional) bezel and an integrated, riveted rubber strap. Yet, despite its appropriately boots-and-camo appearance, it didn’t make it beyond the early prototype stage and the rather more unremarkable Ref. 7016 got the gig. But it did go on, some 52 years later, to be the basis of Tudor’s new Black Bay P01, “P” standing for “prototype”.

The Tudor Black Bay P01 is best described as influenced by its 1967 ancestor rather than being a recreation or a replica, but it’s a clear and present influence. No-one’s going to be reaching for the DNA testing kit after seeing them side by side.

You get the same heavyweight, 42mm stainless steel case that could double as a knuckleduster, should it need to.  The crown is at 4 o’clock on both watches.  The bezel locking mechanism is similar, as is the strap, but the two watches still have their differences, particularly behind the caseback. But first, the similarities…

The P01’s squared-edge, utility case is brushed like it’s ancestor’s, although to a far tighter quality (as one would expect from a production model rather than a development mule). The caseback and crown both screw down, giving the watch a handy water resistance of 200m (660 ft).

The bezel on the prototype was engraved in standard 12-hour increments rather than the minute timing on the ref. 7928 model. This was probably for simple expediency – even though this was designed as a diving watch, the 12-hour bezel was probably just handy from the parts bin. All that mattered at this stage was the top lug hood’s mechanism that locked it down and stopped it moving – finding the right bezel could wait.

Tudor Black Bay P01

The Tudor Black Bay P01 takes the same 12-hour bezel and uses a combination of teeth in the lug hood and tiny machined indentations in its edge. Push the back of the hood down (or just lever it up with a fingernail) and you can move the bezel. When you’ve finished, it simply locks back in place and is held steadfast. It clearly made sense at the time, but modern unidirectional bezels are much better than their ancestors and now it’s just over-engineered and over-complicated. But who cares? It’s seriously cool.

Interestingly, the patent drawings show the 12 o’clock lug itself articulating downwards to release the bezel, so even the prototype watch clearly saw some development from the original patent designs.

The other feature of the original prototype that’s carried over in a similar but not exact way is the strap. The original looks like a cut-down rubber Tropic, and it’s been riveted on and anchored at the horn of the lugs (you can see the hole where the pin fits). The new watch uses a visually similar system, but does away with the lower mounting holes. It’s still a rubber strap, but is now faced with rather smart leather.

The P01’s dial uses the same dot and bar design as the original’s, but the hands are the more modern trademark Tudor snowflakes, rather than the original Rolex Mercedes variety. There’s also a line of rather fetching red writing picking out the depth rating; shades of the ref.1680. Even though you’d be pretty unlikely to buckle on a P01 as a main diving instrument, it’s still good to see that the whole form and function thing still stands.

Where the Tudor Black Bay P01 really differs from its ancestor is in what’s behind the caseback.  The original Fleurier movement was designed to be, above all, robust and easily repairable. The modern in-house Tudor MT5612 movement is all that, but the advances in movement making technology are very clear indeed.  Where the Fleurier ran 17 jewels, 18,000 vph (2.5Hz) and had a power reserve of just over 40 hours, the new Tudor movement is a different animal.

Beating at a rather faster 28,800 vph (4 Hz), it’ll happily do so for 70 hours – nearly twice as long as the Fleurier. Clearly, just because the Tudor Black Bay P01 is a resurrected prototype from the late 1960s doesn’t mean it’s old tech. It started life, sans date, as the MT5621 in the 2015 North Flag, acquiring a date and a “2” at the end of its name when it sat under the bonnet of the Heritage Black Bay Steel in 2017.

The MT5612, like it’s modern Rolex stablemates, runs a variable inertia balance.  This means the balance spring doesn’t have a regulator where one moves a tiny lever to change the movement’s timekeeping. Instead, the oscillation of the balance is altered with tiny timing screws on its inner edge. Why not the outer edge where they’d be easier to get at? To decrease air-friction on the balance.  Yes, modern watchmaking really is that pernickety. And no more old-hat metal balance springs either. The MT5612 uses a silicon balance spring, minimising the effect of temperature, magnetism and – best of all – lubrication. In fact, a silicon balance spring needs no lubrication at all, so there’s no oil to evaporate, gum and start slowing things down. It’s little surprise, then, that the P01 is a COSC certified chronometer.

That said, the MT5612 is not, for all of its technology, a movement you could take home to meet your parents. Indeed, it could never be described as ‘pretty’. But that’s absolutely fine. It’s not there to be revered and gawped at through a crystal caseback, it’s there to do a job. And it does it very well indeed, very much fitting the functional aspect of the P01.

Reception to the Tudor Black Bay P01 since its launch at Baselworld 2019 has been mixed. Some collectors hate it. Plenty love it. That’s generally a very good sign indeed. A watch that polarises people has a knack of becoming seriously collectable later – the Ploprof and Rolex’s own Milgauss are examples. What’s certain is that Monsieur Meylan’s criticism of laodicean design development could certainly not be levelled at Tudor for the P01. It may be a clear descendent of an earlier watch, but it’s one that’s not afraid to be different.

Further reading

Technical specifications

  • Model: Tudor Black Bay P01
  • Reference: 70150
  • Case: Stainless steel; diameter 42mm; water resistance 20ATM (200 metres); sapphire crystal to front and solid caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; central sweep seconds; date
  • Movement: Manufacture Calibre MT5612; self-winding movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4Hz); 26 jewels; power reserve = 70 hours
  • Strap: Hybrid leather and rubber strap with folding clasp and safety catch, entirely satin-finished.
  • Price: £2,990 including VAT (RRP as at 13.3.2020)

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