The Tudor Black Bay Bronze is easily one of the most hotly anticipated watches of the year. It takes the emerging legend that is the Black Bay, adds a bronze case, a very advanced in-house movement and makes it a bit larger. It has all the makings of a future classic. Read on to learn more.
The Black Bay is something of a phenomenon in the watch world these days. It began modestly enough, basically an homage to a variety of classic Tudor dive watches like Submariner Big Crown and Snowflake. But it's grown to be so much more.
First came the color variations. Ultimately, the first generation Black Bay was limited to three colors, red, blue and black. 2016 marks the arrival of the second generation of Black Bays, and more importantly, the transition from the Black Bay as a model to the Black Bay as an entire line of watches, comparable to something like the Omega Seamaster in taxonomy. While all Black Bays are receiving wide ranging updates for 2.0, all-new creations like this Bronze definitely warrant the attention they're getting. In fact, this is the vanguard for the entire new collection.
The Black Bay Bronze is all-new in the most literal sense, with, as far as I can tell, roughly 0% parts carried over from the first generation. The larger bronze case is impossible to ignore, but what's inside is at least as remarkable. There you'll find Tudor's third version of their MT-56XX calibre (the MT-5601), a high-tech chronometer. The Bronze, like all Black Bays, has a solid back, so I'll be using some Photoshop magic to "see" through the back of the watch into a North Flag's movement, which is virtually identical.
The Black Bay has always been something of a love letter to classic Tudor divers, but none of them are quite as big a throwback as the dial of this Bronze. That's kind of ironic, if you think about it, because this is actually the most novel Black Bay yet, truly a creation of 2016 rather than a reissue of something from the '50s or '60s.
Looking a little closer, we can notice a subtle curvature to the dial, another great vintage touch. The dial color is a perfect match for a bronze case too, being a relatively light chocolate.
When the Pelagos recently made the similar transition to the "2.0" version, Tudor added a lot of text to the dial. This was quite controversial, and I suspect someone at Tudor had an ear to the forums because this is what we got for the Black Bay 2.0. It's roughly the same amount of text as the last model, but in my opinion, far less obtrusive because it lacks the semi-circular "SELF-WINDING" writing in favor of the equally unnecessary "OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED" (because all chronometers are officially certified, by definition). Still, I think this is a big improvement. The CHRONOMETER writing sure beats the word "ROTOR" and is far more informative. I am generally from the "less is more" crowd of dial writing, but this balances very nicely. Good job here, Tudor.
The changes in the lower writing are easily explained by the switch to a unique chronometer movement, but the upper writing’s changes are a little more interesting. The amount of text hasn't changed, only the logo. You'll find that in most modern Tudor watches, the "vintage" pieces use the Tudor Rose logo while the more contemporary pieces, like the North Flag and Pelagos, use the Shield. Tudor has swapped the old rose for the shield in this model. Are they suggesting that the Black Bay has been modernized now? That's counterintuitive, because the Black Bay 2.0 is more vintage-looking than ever. Your guess is as good as mine. I like both logos just fine, so it makes no aesthetic difference in my view. You'll still find the rose on the crown anyway.
A much bigger change, compared to the original Black Bay, is the addition of Arabic numerals at 3, 6 and 9. They look great, although Tudor seems to have reserved them for just the Bronze model.
The Snowflake hands remain basically unchanged, which is great. They're one of the trademark features of Tudor divers, so no reason to mess with success. You can tell that the minute and seconds hands have been bent slightly downward to match the curvature of the dial as well.
The lume, of course, is excellent, as you'd expect from a well-made diver like this. Thanks to the 3, 6 and 9, this is arguably easier to orient in total darkness since no quadrant of the dial looks like any other. I'm particularly pleased with the uniformity of the lume here. Even on very expensive watches, you can usually find slightly uneven distribution of the paint somewhere, but Tudor just has uniform, clean lines. This is also a good moment to explain the utilitarian purpose for the disparately shaped hands on many divers. As you can see here, neither the hour, minute or seconds hands resemble one another at night. In many watches, conversely, they are just similar straight glowing lines. This makes it possible to get them confused at a glance. A well designed diver, conversely, uses hands that cannot possibly be confused because they don't look alike.
By far the most interesting, and I dare say provocative, aspect of the Bronze is, of course, its bronze case. This is made all the more obvious due to its small, but significant, size increase from 41 to 43mm.
Bronze has long been associated with maritime equipment due to its resistance to corrosion, hence its popularity in dive watches. The bronze isn't just some PVD coating either (sans the steel back, more on that in a moment). It's actually an "aluminum bronze" alloy. Not being a metallurgist myself, I can't tell you why that's better than any other formulation.
The Black Bay Bronze, like every other Black Bay so far, has a solid back. But, perhaps out of concern for the uncommon, but not unheard of, bronze allergy (or an allergy to one of the elemental constituents of bronze), it's actually steel under a bronze-colored PVD coat. Because the back of the watch is unlikely to get bumped around much, I suspect that the coating will be very durable. For those who may have a copper allergy, keep in mind that the buckle is "real" bronze, so you can still wear the watch, just fit it with a different buckle.
The crown signature remains a rose, like the Black Bay 1.0, but it's far more elaborate now. Before it was relatively small and was in a very shallow engraving. Now it's a very deep, sharp engraving with a different, apparently bead-blasted, finish on the inside compared to the fine radial brush on the outside. It's gorgeous. If you've read my other Tudor reviews, you'll notice I'm always talking about their crowns. For whatever reason, they put a lot more thought into them than most companies. Naturally, it screws down for 200 meters of water resistance.
The unidirectional rotating bezel is also made from bronze while the brown insert is made from aluminum. As is the case with all Tudors I've reviewed, it's a very smooth action yet with very clear detents. I'd say it's ever so slightly on the "light" side, in terms of force required to turn it. This is also a good view of the extended crown tube, also (apparently) made from bronze, a feature that comes from the classic Tudor Submariner "Big Crown".
At 14.6mm, it's not a particularly thin watch, but then, it's a big, old school bronze diver. It's not really trying to slip by unnoticed here. This also shows its nice, thick box sapphire, which contributes pretty substantially to its thickness.
Of course, I can give you details and, if I'm lucky, historical insights all day about this case, but it ultimately boils down to whether or not you like bronze cases. If you do, then by all means, this is as about as good as it gets. If not, stick with the other Black Bays. For me, I'm just happy Tudor had the guts to make this thing. This is very risky for such a conservative company, but I think it's going to pay off.
Since the Black Bay has a solid back, we'll be looking at a North Flag, which has a virtually identical movement. The North Flag has the most complex Tudor movement so far, the MT-5621. That just means it has a power reserve and a date. Then there's the MT-5612, the Pelagos' movement, which is date only. This is the newest iteration, the MT-5601, meaning it has no complications at all. That's just fine with me, I usually like my divers with as little clutter on the dial as possible. Since I've covered these movements so thoroughly already in my North Flag and Pelagos reviews, I'll be doing a rather brief overview here. Feel free to head over to those if you want to learn more.
What we're looking at is the series of components responsible for the actual timekeeping of a watch. This includes the balance wheel, hairspring, escape wheel and pallet fork. Tudor's work here is extremely sophisticated, but before we get into the details, this is a good time to take a look at the balance bridge they've used. The vast majority of movements use the simpler balance cock, which suspends the balance wheel by only one side. This is certainly robust enough for most applications, but a few manufacturers opt for a bridge instead, Rolex and Omega being two of the major exponents of the design. This should make it a little tougher.
Now that I've hacked (stopped) the balance wheel, we can appreciate the truly impressive design of this watch. First, we can see that it's a free sprung balance, an approach which is most often associated with very high-end Swiss watches. Virtually all watches in this price class use regulators, which, while very convenient, also present some limitations for the stability of a movement, both in the short and long term.
Even rarer, and more expensive, is the silicon hairspring. Silicon hairsprings, outside of Omega anyway, still tend to be quite exotic. These hairsprings are great because they're immune to magnetism and it seems that the industry is rapidly moving to them, abandoning their metallic predecessors.
Based on the photos I've seen from Tudor, I have no reason to believe that the movement inside the Black Bay Bronze is finished any differently than the North Flag. If that's the case, then it's actually a well finished movement, although extremely utilitarian. This is somewhat divisive, with some fans asking for more traditional and elaborate decoration, while others, namely the tool watch faithful, praise its no-nonsense design. I actually wear a North Flag and it's grown on me quite a bit. I kind of like the rough bead blast it has to it. Of course, I can't give any objective answers on this, you'll just have to decide for yourself, although given that you'll probably never even see the movement in the Black Bay Bronze, it shouldn't be a deciding factor. Much more important is its chronometer certification, something that'll actually make your life a little easier as you won't be setting the time as often.
Finally, we take a look at the rotor, which has something of a sunburst finish to it, making it look a little brighter than the top plate. Like its Rolex brethren, it's a bidirectional winding mechanism, meaning it winds both clockwise and counterclockwise. It's becoming ever more common to see unidirectional winders these days, but the nice, quiet and reliable system used by companies like Rolex and Omega, as well as Grand Seiko automatics, is generally my preference.
The Black Bay Bronze is more than just an all-new Black Bay, it's the vanguard of all new Black Bays.
But, more broadly, this Black Bay Bronze may be the tip of the spear for Tudor in general. I had written in earlier reviews that there was a sort of symmetry behind the vintage, ETA-powered Black Bay and the more contemporary, in-house Pelagos. I had suspected that Tudor liked that sort of balance, and perhaps they did, but that distinction has evaporated with this watch. Going forward, there's little reason to doubt that most, if not all, new Tudors will be powered by some variant of the MT-56XX movements. That's a great thing in my book, because it's a remarkably good movement for this price. In my opinion, it's more sophisticated than many other in-house movements, even from a few big names, that cost twice as much.
While the chronometer movement may be gradually becoming commonplace in Tudor's lineup, I think it's safe to say bronze cases will not become common any time soon. I actually quite like the bronze here. It suits the character of the watch well. I said bronze was divisive earlier, which is true, but that's the beauty of it. If you don't like the Black Bay Bronze, you've got a wide variety of non-bronze Black Bay 2.0s to choose from.
Beneath the allure of the new movement and cool case remains a functional dive watch that gets the fundamentals right. It's very stylized, of course, but it'll do the same job its ancestor, the Tudor Submariner, did, only quite a bit more accurately. One thing I didn't have time to discuss was the straps. Like the Pelagos, the Bronze comes with two straps. Here I've got it on the aged leather strap, which is quite thick and has a nice bit of give to it. Another strap, called the "woven fabric strap" (great job marketing guys) is also included. Apparently, the French Navy ordered their Submariners without bracelets, opting instead to fit straps of their own. The yellow woven fabric strap comes from one of these classic watches and was then made from a recovered French parachute. I suspect this one is not (the supply of recovered French parachutes is probably a bit short), but it sure is nice to get the option of two straps right out of the box.