Tudor's Naval History - October 2020 News
J Farren-Price is proud to be TUDOR's longest standing official agent in the country, so history is a big part of our business. This particular story dates back to the mid-1950s: 1954, to be precise. That was the year that TUDOR presented its first divers’ watch, reference 7922, one of the first professional instruments aimed specifically at this emerging discipline.
TUDOR’s typical combination of a robust, technical product, positioned at an accessible price, made this divers’ watch the ideal option for any organisation carrying out large-scale underwater activities. The French navy was one of them. Building on the recent innovations of a small group of officers with a passion for underwater exploration, it had the benefit of a unique expertise concentrated at the GERS (Groupement d’Étude et de Recherche Sous-marine – Underwater Study and Research Group). It was this organisation that contacted TUDOR in 1956 to evaluate the suitability of the brand’s models for equipping the French navy’s combat swimmers. What followed was over half a century of TUDOR watches on the wrists of divers from the largest navies in the world. Today, the TUDOR collection comprises a number of references whose aesthetics allude to this heritage, with models either directly inspired by divers’ watches famously used by military divers, or presenting an allegory of life at sea.
For vintage watch enthusiasts, blue TUDOR divers’ watches are inextricably linked to the French navy. In the mid-1970s, this institution, which had trusted TUDOR to deliver robust, technical watches for nearly 20 years, opted for blue. For several years, the brand had offered a blue alternative to the classic black dial typical of the divers’ watches of the time. This feature, coupled with the specific inscriptions engraved on the back (M.N. together with the last two digits of the year of issue), which evoked a life of aquatic adventure, made these watches, dubbed “TUDOR MN”, extremely popular among collectors. It is to these models, and this period, that Black Bay Fifty-Eight “Navy Blue” alludes. In addition to the matt navy blue colour of its dial and bezel, this model also adopts the proportions of this generation of watches. With its 39-millimetre diameter, it is ideal for narrow wrists, for those who prefer a smaller watch and, of course, for vintage enthusiasts. Its configuration on a fabric strap, also in navy blue and woven in France using traditional techniques, is the strongest visual evocation of the famous “TUDOR MN”s. These watches were in fact delivered to the French navy without TUDOR bracelets and were then fitted with various types of fabric straps, particularly woven ones.
The 1960s will go down in history as a period of heightened innovation, culminating in the conquest of the moon. At that time, watchmaking generally and TUDOR in particular were experiencing the same creative impetus, of which the “Commando project” is the greatest example. In 1967 the brand, which had been supplying the American navy with divers’ watches since the second half of the 1950s, began developing a technical model to replace the Oyster Prince Submariner 7928 reference supplied at that time. This new watch needed to meet a set of specifications laid down by the American government and incorporated the results of the latest research into functionality and ergonomics carried out by the brand’s engineers. A development phase was launched, resulting in the production of prototypes, as well as a patent for a hitherto unseen function. “Commando” was the code name of this ambitious project that was perfectly in tune with the zeitgeist. The Black Bay P01 model – meaning Prototype 1 – is directly inspired by a prototype developed as part of this study and preserved within the TUDOR archives. Half a century later, this series brings to life its unique functional appearance, where function and innovation took priority over any consideration of the watchmaking aesthetics in fashion at that time. Produced in a contemporary spirit, while at the same time retaining the principle of the winding crown at 4 o’clock, as well as the prominent lug covers of the 1960s model, the Black Bay P01 tells a story that was hitherto little known in TUDOR’s naval history. In the end, the US Navy chose to equip its divers with a simpler TUDOR model, the Oyster Prince Submariner 7016, and the “Commando” project was halted at the prototype stage.
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