A Week On The Wrist: The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
There is no archetype in the history of horology that has generated more variations, more interpretations, and more attempts at reinvention than the mid-century dive watch. I don’t even have to say the names of the watches that started this genre, since you probably spoke them out loud to yourself at the end of my previous sentence. But it’s fair to say that for many people, this is what they think of when someone says the word “watch.” The mid-century dive watch, with its rotating timing bezel, it’s clean, no-fuss dial, and its sturdy case and bracelet profile, transcends any one watch at this point. It’s an idea as much as a thing itself.
That’s why a watch like the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight is so interesting to me. Tudor essentially created its modern update to the dive watch in 2012, with the introduction of the Heritage Black Bay. At the time, it was just one watch, but in the nearly eight years since, it’s grown into a family of watches at Tudor and a formula for other brands to follow. But while the Black Bay takes a number of cues from old-school dive watches, it doesn’t make any attempt to actually be one. It’s 41mm across, it’s relatively thick, and it’s styled in such a way that you’d never mistake it for something from the 1950s. The Black Bay Fifty-Eight is something different entirely.
With the Black Bay Fifty-Eight, Tudor splits the difference between the Black Bay and the original Tudor dive watches from the late ’50s. It balances a smaller case size and throw-back dial and bezel details with a brand new movement and modern build quality. It’s an homage that doesn’t have to feel like one if you don’t want it to. It moves seamlessly between the worlds of the old and the new in a way that feels unique and refreshing.
So, obviously, I had to take one for a spin myself.
A Tale Of Two Archetypes
The very first Tudor dive watch, the reference 7922, was presented in 1954. The watch was commonly called the Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner and it came just a year after Rolex unveiled the ref. 6204 Submariner. The two shared a lot of traits. Both had simple no-date dials, bold timing bezels, and cases with small crowns and no crown guards. These traits would become archetypes in no time, spawning generations of dive watches from Tudor, Rolex, and nearly every other watch company on planet Earth.
More than half a century later, the first Heritage Black Bay model was unveiled, just ahead of Baselworld 2012. Ben reported on the release, and it’s interesting to look back at his coverage (and coverage from others) to see reactions at the time. The kind of vintage throwback watches that we’re so used to seeing today were entirely absent from the market and Tudor opened a lot of eyes with this new model.
One of the most fascinating things about the Black Bay is the way that it created its own identity out of bits and pieces from Tudor’s past. There’s the gilt dial from the earliest 1954 Tudor diver, there’s the oversized crown from late 1950s and early 1960s divers, there are the Snowflake hands from ’70s military watches, and there’s the faded red color scheme pulled from a piece in Tudor’s archive. But all of this is put together in a package that’s the size and proportions of a modern watch, utilizing modern manufacturing techniques and finishes. It’s six different vintage watches, and also none of them.
From here, we saw the Black Bay emerge as its own blueprint. New colors, new materials, and even new sizes and form factors entered the picture. I don’t think anyone would try to argue that the Black Bay Bronze, for example, is a vintage homage watch. No, it’s a Black Bay. In less than eight years, the Black Bay has become its own thing, and I can’t say I’m all that surprised.
And that brings us to the Black Bay Fifty-Eight. It is yet another distinct moment for Tudor, in terms of how the brand thinks about its historical legacy, its modern identity, and how the two can interact. It is neither a straight homage watch, nor is it a Black Bay in the typical sense. It is its own third way – and a compelling one at that.
The Black Bay Fifty-Eight
When it was announced at Baselworld 2018, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight quickly became one of the most-talked-about watches of the year (alongside its sibling, the Black Bay GMT). For good reason. The BB58 did a great job splitting the difference between upending the Black Bay archetype and simply offering a new color combination. You get a new form factor, a new set of historically grounded design choices, and even a new movement to power it all. This is a new watch, but a new watch that’s firmly anchored in a storied past.
The Case & Bracelet
The most important new thing the Black Bay Fifty-Eight brings to the table is its size. The watch is 39mm across and 11.9mm thick – that makes it a full 2mm smaller in diameter and nearly 3mm thinner than the typical Heritage Black Bay models. You might not think 2mm sounds like a lot, but when it comes to a watch like this, it’s night and day. You feel the difference when you pick the watch up, and when you put it on your wrist, the difference is even more pronounced. I’ve always loved the Black Bay, but I’ve always found it to be just a bit too wide and a little too thick for me to wear on a daily basis. Problem solved.
The watch is basically the size of a vintage Tudor Submariner, and it’s got the details to match. First off, there are no crown guards, which, for me, immediately elevates the watch. Just as important, though, are the thick bevels on the case. When Rolex switched to the so-called “maxi case” for its sport watches, the lug bevels that long defined watches like the Submariner and GMT-Master disappeared. We get them here on the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight, and they give the case great visual definition as well as some vintage charm.
While you have the option to buy the Black Bay Fifty-Eight on a leather strap or a fabric strap, I think you’re making a big mistake if you purchase this without the bracelet. It’s a Tudor dive watch – without the bracelet it feels incomplete to me. That bracelet is the rivet-style bracelet that Tudor introduced a few years ago. It’s one of my favorite modern bracelets, and has been for some time. The links are solid (unlike the folded links in vintage rivet bracelets) though the caps on the sides make it look like a bracelet from 50 years ago.
One huge upside to this bracelet is that it’s easy to size on your own. Just get the right size screwdriver and you can remove a few links from either side of the clasp without having to visit a watchmaker. This is one of those little, user-friendly things that too many watch companies ignore. On the other hand, though, there are only three sets of holes for micro-adjustments on the clasp. I’d like to see five. It would cost pennies per bracelet and it adds a lot of comfort to customers.
The Dial & Bezel
If I had to use one word to describe the dial and bezel of the Black Bay Fifty-Eight, it would be “gilt.” As a throw-back to those old-school 1950s dive watches, Tudor opted for gold-on-black printing reminiscent of those watches’ galvanic dials. The Tudor logo, the depth rating, the chronometer certification, the chapter ring, the hour marker surrounds, the hands, and the bezel markings are all a warm shade of gold. Tudor officially describes them as “pink gold” markings, but I think in reality they look like warm yellow more than true pink. But I digress.
When the watch first came out, all of this gold was a polarizing thing. Some people loved that the BB58 had a warmth and subtle glow to it, while others thought it was a bit much and crossed the line. I’m in the former camp, though I see where the critics are coming from. Since the Black Bay Fifty-Eight is explicitly referencing 1950s divers, I think the gold is appropriate and I think it helps distinguish the watch from something like the Black Bay Black, for instance. The only color you’ll find is the red triangle at the 0/60 spot on the bezel, yet another spot-on nod to the past.
The dial is super legible, just as you’d expect, and the three-hand, no-date configuration is just what this watch needs. It’s no-frills and has nothing extra. The bezel insert is aluminum and has a matte finish, making it look a lot more like a vintage bezel than one of the ceramic implementations you’ll find on most modern divers. The coin edge is a bit slim, so it can be tough to turn if you’re wearing gloves or have wet hands, though the trade off is that it looks a lot nicer and feels better in most day-to-day situations. If you’re diving with this watch, that might be an issue. Otherwise, I think you’re in good shape.
While you can’t see the Black Bay Fifty-Eight’s movement due to the solid caseback, it’s an extremely important part of this watch. The in-house Tudor caliber MT5402 is a brand new movement that was created specifically for this watch. In order to get the Black Bay Fifty-Eight’s dimensions down, Tudor couldn’t use an existing movement from it’s arsenal, so this is what they came up with.
The MT5402 is smaller and thinner than the caliber you’ll find in the other, larger Black Bay models, the MT5602. That movement is 31.8mm in diameter, while the MT5402 is just 26mm across. The MT5402 still provides a 70-hour power reserve, still has a 4 Hz balance, and is still COSC chronometer certified. It’s a no-date movement and Tudor said upon its release at Baselworld 2018 that it will be used as a platform for more watches down the line. We’re yet to see those, since the smaller Black Bay 36 is still utilizing an ETA 2824, but there must be some good stuff on the way.
Personally, I really like that Tudor went for an in-house movement here, when they could have just used an ETA caliber instead. I mean, they use them elsewhere in the line-up and with a closed back you’re not going to see it anyway. To me, this is what elevates the Black Bay Fifty-Eight into the realm of a flagship watch for Tudor, placing it alongside the other top Black Bay models. It’s a variation, not a novelty.
On The Wrist
The moment you put the Black Bay Fifty-Eight on your wrist, you know you’re dealing with something special. It’s a modern watch – there’s no doubt about that. It’s sturdy, it feels like it can take anything you throw at it, and it’s got that bit of sparkle and shine that only new creations have. But it’s got an old soul. I imagine it feels something like what it might have felt like to strap on a Big Crown back in 1958. I might be spoiling my own review here, but this isn’t one of those watches that takes easing into or requires mental somersaults to come to terms with. I put it on my wrist and I knew I didn’t want to take it off.
The case is basically the perfect proportions for a sport watch, as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t look dainty, but it doesn’t hang over the edges of my relatively small wrist. The fact that the bezel and dial are the same color scheme allows it to look a bit larger and stronger on the wrist, since the visual cues are uninterrupted. The contrast between the brushed tops of the lugs and the polished sides of the case is more pronounced once you start wearing the watch. It will catch the light unexpectedly and recapture your attention. I found the case to have some unexpected dynamism on the wrist, and I really enjoyed it.
The Black Bay Fifty-Eight’s biggest selling point, though, might be its versatility. Because it’s essentially monochromatic, is a medium size, and looks good on the bracelet or nearly any strap, it’s a great candidate for a first serious watch or a one-watch collection. I could see myself wearing this watch a ton to travel, since it goes with anything. It’s slim enough that I didn’t mind wearing it with a sweater (no cuff snagging issue), but I’d be equally excited to wear it to the beach with a t-shirt and trunks. Not too many watches can do this, but the Black Bay Fifty-Eight is a pretty perfect go-anywhere, do-anything watch.
I’m not normally someone obsessed with chronometry. From time to time I find myself setting my watches to the second and checking in on them, but typically, as long as I’m not late for anything, I consider myself well within an acceptable range. Just out of curiosity, I did time this watch, and the results blew me away. After seven days and six nights, the watch was running at a total of plus two seconds. Plus two. That’s wild stuff and about as good as any modern mechanical timekeeper can do. So, if you’re a timing nerd, this one might just be for you, too.
As far as comfort is concerned, I’ve only got one gripe, and I mentioned it above: I really wish the bracelet had more micro-adjustment positions. I’m somewhere between sizes, and dialing in the perfect fit is tough. With four links out and the clasp on the largest setting, it’s a bit small; with three links out and the clasp on the smallest setting, it jangles around a bit. I’ve landed on the latter position, and it’s mostly fine, but another millimeter or two and we’d be perfect.
Ultimately, after my week with the Black Bay Fifty-Eight, I found it hard to take off (just as I thought I would). It’s a watch that hits a lot of the right notes, either despite its simplicity or because of it – I can’t quite make up my mind. It’s easy to wear, but still interesting; it’s robust but well-sized; it’s a throw-back but totally modern. It’s a watch of quiet contrasts and it’s just flat-out fun to wear.
The Black Bay Fifty-Eight might be an outstanding watch, but it sits squarely in some of the most competitive territory in all of watchmaking. Priced at $3,625, it’s up against all entry-to-mid level luxury sport watches. As a diver too, it’s a category that most people feel pretty familiar with, so it has to make a case to distinguish itself. For this set of comparisons, I’ve chosen to limit it to sport watches under $5,000 that I think offer strong value for money and that you could in theory wear every day.
The Omega Seamaster Diver 300M Co-Axial 41mm
Omega has a massive catalog of Seamaster variations, so there’s basically something for everyone. But in trying to compare something directly to the BB58, I think this version is the closest they’ve got. It’s 41mm, so a bit bigger than the Tudor, but it has one of Omega’s in-house co-axial movements, a rotating ceramic bezel, and a solid caseback. It comes in the classic Omega blue or a more understated black, so you can decide how bold you want to be. At $4,000, it’s also the entry point into the Seamaster range. If you’re dead-set on something vintage inspired, the Seamaster 300 is nearly twice the price at $6,800 on the bracelet, and if you want to get a Seamaster Diver 300M with a Master Chronometer movement and one of Omega’s “wave dials,” you have to step up to a 42mm case and a $5,200 price tag. As I said – something for everyone.
Oris Divers Sixty-Five Bronze Bezel 40mm
Oris’s Divers Sixty-Five collection has been a hit with vintage enthusiasts for a while now, and for good reason. The watches are easy to wear, they look great, and they offer outstanding value. At just a hair over $2,000, the 40mm version of the Divers Sixty-Five is a ton of watch for the money. If you want to go for an even more vintage-tinged version, there’s one at 36mm that I also really like (though I understand it will be too small as a sport watch for many people). This is the watch on the market that I think most closely parallels the BB58, with its warm accents (in this case thanks to a bronze bezel) and no-nonsense design. The movement isn’t quite as advanced as Tudor’s (it’s an Oris caliber based on a Sellita SW 200-1) and it does have a date, but it’s one third less expensive, too. As far as pure alternatives go, this is the ticket if you’re looking for one.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII
This is the wild card of the bunch. Yes, I know this isn’t a dive watch, and thus it’s kind of a wonky comparison. But hear me out. If you’re looking to spend a few thousand dollars on a great everyday sport watch, this has to be part of the conversation. It’s a total classic and it’s got some historical vibes, despite not having a single explicit vintage homage on it. I think IWC made a great choice a few years back to shrink the Mark’s case from 41mm back to 40mm. The result is that the Mark XVIII wears better than ever. The bracelet on this watch is crazy comfortable and the dial is a masterclass in tool-watch design. It is more than a third more expensive than the BB58, but it’s a watch you should definitely try on if you’re in the market.
The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight might have made waves when it was first released, but that’s no guarantee of longterm success. Here we are, nearly two years since that initial frenzy, and I think the watch is more appealing than ever. I’m not the only one either – wait lists are still months-long at most retailers here in the United States. The watch starts with a great idea and then delivers on it big time. You get a vintage-inspired watch that doesn’t look like a cheesy replica, in a size and build quality that make it an outstanding daily wearer. The way it bridges modern and vintage watches so effectively still impresses me.
Whether you’re a new collector looking to buy his or her first serious piece or a seasoned veteran who probably doesn’t need another watch at all, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight is well worth taking a look at. It’s a watch that shines in its simplicity, doing a whole lot with not very much at all, and it only gets better the more time you spend with it.
For more on the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight, visit Tudor online.