Tudor Heritage Black Bay Black ChronographApril 8, 2021
At the beginning of the 19th century, Hans Wilsdorf – the founder of Rolex established a high-quality lower priced brand, named Tudor. The name decision was influenced by one of England’s dynasties, the Tudors, honouring in this way the country in which he opened his first watch company. This year at Baselworld, Tudor released a chronograph with diver ambitions – Tudor Heritage Black Bay Chrono. A nice surprise was the announcement of the calibre MT5813, a collaboration with Breitling. We had the pleasure to do a hands-on at Basel.
The latest Tudor watch is a welcomed presence. The easy-going character with a pleasant look and a powerful combination between the chronometer certified movement and diver capabilities makes and interesting proposition. The Tudor Black Bay Chronograph was first shown at Baselworld 2017, and right away it was the center of a great deal of attention and not a small amount of controversy.
First of all, it was the very first Tudor chronograph to use the Breitling B01 chronograph movement, which was a startling move to say the least, and one which few if any outside Breitling and Tudor saw coming. The movement is an excellent one technically; many in the industry praised its overall engineering and watchmaker-friendly design when it first debuted, and all of the excellent technical properties of this modern, column wheel, vertical clutch controlled chronograph are obviously present in the Tudor version, but it was still a bit of a surprise.
Secondly, there was the design, which combines elements of both vintage diver and chronograph watches – there are plenty of watches that combine features of both types of watches, but there seemed to be some feeling among vintage Tudor purists that these design domains should remain distinct from each other.
And finally, of course, there was the question of the hands, and whether or not the snowflake hour hand was a less-than-terrific idea for a chronograph. Let’s take a closer look at the watch, and how it fared during A Week On The Wrist.
First a quick refresher on the movement. The version of the B01 as modified and used by Tudor is called MT5813 and there are some significant differences between the base movement and the Tudor version. Most notably, the caliber MT5813 has a free-sprung adjustable mass balance and uses a silicon balance spring. A free-sprung balance should be less susceptible to variation in rate over time and silicon provides much better resistance to the adverse effects of external magnetic fields on a watch as well. There is shock protection on both the balance staff and the escape wheel. It’s a relatively fast-beat modern movement, at 28,800 vph and in general gives the impression of a mechanism that should tolerate anything you can reasonably expect to throw at it. One other modification: the caliber MT5813 has a 45 minute, rather than a 30 minute, chronograph register.
The first impression I got when I picked up the Replica Tudor Black Bay Chronograph at Baselworld was of impressive solidity, if a fair amount of heft too. The case and bracelet both have a very attractive sculpted quality with the bevels on the lugs doing much to add some elegance to what otherwise might be a somewhat stolid design. That touch as well as the details added by such features as the knurling on the screw down chronograph pushers, as well as the engraved tachymeter scale on the (non-rotating) bezel help keep the watch feeling pleasantly overbuilt without seeming excessively static.
The dial and hands are as you would expect from Tudor/Rolex: very cleanly done technically, extremely legible, and in general quite well executed. If you like the snowflake hands on the non-chronograph Black Bay models, you’ll like them here (leaving aside for the moment the question of the degree to which the snowflake hour hand may obscure the 45-minute chronograph register). The dial has a subtle grained finish that extends into the sunken sub-dials and again, the texture helps keep the whole composition feeling warm and approachable.
The bracelet and clasp are amazing. There is absolutely no play whatsoever in between the links, and operating the fliplock clasp gives the same pleasurable sense of interaction with a precision piece of machinery that, say, operating the film advance lever on a vintage Leica provides. Unlike many clasps this one feels specifically engineered not just for functional excellence but for tactile pleasure as well (of course to some extent the two go hand in hand). Thanks to the solidity of the bracelet the watch though slightly on the heavier side sits very comfortably on the wrist, with a sense of mass to be sure, but mass kept well controlled. I’m reluctant to say “built like a tank” both because it is a cliché and because there have been some pretty terrible tanks (Kugelpanzer ball tank, I’m looking at you) but in this case the cliché is apt.
During the week I wore the Tudor Black Bay Chronograph 79360N, I never ceased to find it an extremely satisfying watch to wear in many respects. It kept excellent time (gaining about one and a half seconds per day, which is Superlative Chronometer level stuff, thanks to the well-designed and well-set-up regulating system) and was a comfortable fit with everything from jeans and a t-shirt to a button up shirt and jacket, though the thickness of the Black Bay Chronograph was a bit of a challenge even for the fairly loose-fitting cuffs of a Brooks Brothers shirt (case dimensions are 41mm x 14.9mm).
Stylistically, the Black Bay Chronograph is a mixture of elements from both vintage Tudor dive watch and chronograph production, including the riveted link bracelet seen on some Tudor Submariners (and of course the snowflake hour hand) as well as the general design of the screw down pushers, crown, and case guards from the Tudor Oysterdate chronographs. The combination works well from a design standpoint, and there’s nothing aesthetically dissonant about seeing these design cues together, with all the pieces contributing to the overall sport-vintage vibe.
Operating the chronograph is perhaps more of an exercise in well-executed technical functionality than sybaritic tactile pleasure. On the sample I had, a little additional effort seemed necessary to push the start button through the detent but let-off was crisp and positive (and, let’s remember, being able to deploy that well-worn horological cliché “buttery smooth” seriously generally requires spending more money).
Additionally, the screw-down crowns on the pushers were very easy and exact to operate – one of the most noticeable differences between a watch with high quality casing components and one without, is the ease with which things like screw-down crowns can be engaged or disengaged. If the start-stop action was a bit stiff (though in no way rough or imprecise) the threads engaged on the winding crown and pushers with wonderful smoothness. This along with the very clean machining of the case, and the strongly and precisely made bracelet, all went to reinforce the impression of handling and wearing a piece of carefully thought through, sturdy machinery. Now to the meat of the question with the Black Bay Chronograph, the $64,000 question as it were. Does the snowflake hour hand block read off of the 45 minute subdial to such a degree that it constitutes a truly unacceptable design flaw?
Putting dive watch-legible hands on a chronograph is inherently challenging. Not for nothing are chronograph hands typically on the thinner side, the better to optimize legibility, irrespective of time of day or interval timed. The problem of balancing legibility of the hour and minute hands, with readability of the chronograph, has interested watch designers intermittently probably for as long as chronographs have existed. By and large watch designers have generally accepted that some degree of compromise to one or the other is unavoidable, and inherent to traditional chronograph design (although the issue can certainly be minimized).
Different layouts can do away with the problem entirely, and watches from the DeBethune Maxichrono, to the recent AngeGraphe caliber as used in the Fabergé Visionnaire Chronograph and the Singer Track1 (as well as the venerable Mido Multicenter Chronograph) have experimented with the idea of placing the chronograph minute hand on the central axis as well. This of course solves one problem but creates another in that legibility can still suffer, but for different reasons (it can require effort to adapt to a different type of display; reading the time generally is more difficult, and so on).
Nonetheless, the search for solutions does reveal that the quest for a perfect answer to the problem of legible chronograph read-off continues in mechanical horology, and underscores that it’s a problem everyone has to think about when designing one. So let’s talk turkey about the snowflake hour hand in the Black Bay Chronograph.
Yes, it blocks the read-off of the 45 minute register more than I would like. However in daily use, it turns out the problem is actually a minimal one at worst.
Obviously it’s only between 2:00 and 4:00 AM or PM that the snowflake hand is in position to block the minutes subdial. Even in those positions, it’s only an issue if you are timing intervals longer than roughly 23 minutes (at 4PM) or 36 minutes (at 2PM) as the snowflake only moves across the lefthand side of the dial. And even then, you can still read off the minutes most of the time thanks to the diamond shape of the snowflake, which only blocks a significant segment of the minutes track relatively briefly (at 4PM for instance, the tick marks from 22 to 29 minutes elapse time are blocked).
So basically you’re really only looking at obstruction of immediate read-off of the minutes, if you are timing an elapsed time interval somewhere between 23 to 28 minutes long, or 36 to 45 minutes long, and it’s somewhere near 2:00 or 4:00 PM, which is a fairly narrow range in which the snowflake itself is an issue. Yes at 3PM, the 33 and 34 minute counters are blocked but you can actually see every single other minute mark. Is a snowflake hand ideal on a chronograph from an absolute legibility perspective? No. Is it in real life going to be a problem for all our laundry cycle, pasta-cooking, egg-timing needs? Very unlikely and I don’t think after a week it was ever once an issue for me (I don’t drive at a constant speed down a measured mile very often and those three things are what I mostly use mechanical chronos for these days).
In practice, I didn’t find the hour hand to be problematic. It’s worth noting as well that there are quite a few modern diver’s chronograph watches and all of them represent a compromise, to some degree, between getting the high degree of visibility for the hands that’s essential for a diver’s watch, and making the hands narrow enough that they don’t obscure the chronograph sub-registers.
Over a week, I thoroughly enjoyed having the watch on. It feels very well made indeed (much more so than many other chronograph watches at this price point, maybe most) it has a very attractive, retro-tough-guy design, and inside is a Tudor-tweaked version of one of the most technically well-thought-out chronograph movements out there.
At $5050 it seems an excellent value to put it mildly, and unless you foresee needing to know exactly the number of elapsed minutes of events of 23 to 28 minute’s duration at 4PM/AM, or 36 to 45 minute’s duration at 2PM/AM, you’re probably good. In my case this would only be a deal breaker if I were timing a 45 minute dryer load at 2:00 or a 36 minute washing machine load at 4:00 and I found it pretty easy to live with that IRL, as the kids say.