HANDS-ON: The Tudor Black Bay Bronze (Live Pics, Price)Felix Scholz
If you had to put Tudor in a boxing weight division, the brand would, without doubt, fight as a welterweight. Light and quick enough on their feet to change it up and keep us on our toes, but also with enough power to deliver massive hits with regularity.
Last year Tudor snuck in an unexpected left jab in the form of the North Flag, and followed up with a strong right cross in the form of the Black Bay Black. And now they’ve surprised us again, delivering a blow no one saw coming, the Black Bay Bronze.
We didn’t expect to see the Black Bay at Baselworld 2016. We thought that Tudor would give it and their entire heritage collection a well-earned rest. The three existing Black Bay variants are a strong and cohesive triumvirate, clearly akin, but with strongly distinct personalities – something for everyone.
The Bronze is like the long-lost brother nobody knew about, just returned from a long sea voyage; calloused, bearded and yes, bronzed by the sun. Because, while at first glance the Black Bay Bronze appears to be just like his brothers, there’s a lot going on here that makes the Bronze completely unlike any other Black Bay.
The biggest, most obvious change is the case material. Tudor has used a satin-brushed bronze for the case (including the crown and bezel). But rather than the CuSn8 tin bronze alloy that seems to have become the default bronze for the watch industry, Tudor is using an alloy heavy in aluminium. This particular blend will mean the watch develops a more subtle, brownish patina – and the finely brushed finish ensures that the patina will occur evenly across the case, though the bezel will no doubt develop a greener tinge. This is, frankly, bad news for lovers of – to pick an example – the Panerai Bronzo, which lent itself to extreme patina.
The caseback is steel that’s been given a bronze-tone PVD finish to match the case – a nice touch that many other brands don’t bother about.
The other big change to the Black Bay Bronze is the size. It now measures a hefty 43mm across, compared to the 41mm of all other versions. It might only be a few millimetres, but it makes a definite difference on the wrist. If you’ve ever knocked back a Tudor because it wasn’t big or beefy enough, guess what, you’ve just run out of excuses.
This is the first Black Bay to not be offered with a bracelet – as a bronze bracelet would quickly give your wrist a green patina of its own, something best left on the watch in our experience. It does however come on a good-looking aged mid-brown leather strap, along with the now customary woven fabric strap. Both come with bronze hardware. Oh, and the lugs are now drilled which, aside from being convenient, is a nice reference to vintage case designs.
The fabric strap is particularly interesting – it’s inspired by a unique strap from a 1975 Snowflake Sub issued to the French navy. This particular strap was made from elastic scavenged from a rescue parachute. And while Tudor haven’t gone to the extreme lengths of finding stockpiles of old French parachutes to produces their straps, they have replicated the particular mossy shade of green with its central yellow stripe. It doesn’t provide much in the way of contrast with either the case or the dial, but it’s certainly in the right tonal range.
Both the dial and the bezel of the Black Bay Bronze are matte brown – Tudor’s first foray into the earthy colour is reminiscent of a vintage ‘tropical’ dial – originally the product of paints degrading over time to create a unique patina. This choice on a bronze watch that will develop its own unique look over time is far from a coincidence. The other notable change to the dial is the ‘Explorer’ style layout, with Arabic numerals in a 3,6,9 layout. It’s a dial layout that occasionally shows up on much coveted Rolex Submariners. The inclusion here (Tudor’s most significant dial deviation from the Black Bay formula) further amps up the macho, military look of the watch, though it will take some time to get used to this ‘Explorer dial and snowflake hands’ combo. The other notable changes on the dial are the use of the shield logo and that the text at six now indicates that the watch is COSC certified. Which brings us to the movement.
In perhaps the most significant change of all, the Black Bay Bronze is no longer powered by an ETA movement. Instead it’s running off the MT5601, a version of the in-house calibre that debuted in the North Flag and Pelagos. Its most notable features are the 70 hours of power reserve and silicon balance.
No word yet if we can expect all the Black Bays to be powered by the in-house movement, but it can only be a matter of time.
Tudor’s Heritage line has always demonstrated a particularly post-modern approach to their past. Instead of slavishly recreating a particular reference as other brands tend to do, Tudor cherry-pick elements from their extensive back catalogue to create an entirely new, evocative watch. This greatest hits approach was the reason the Black Bay has been such a phenomenal success – culminating in the crowd-pleasing Black Bay Black.
The Bronze takes this bower bird approach to a new level. New case, new dial colour, new dial layout, new case size. There’s a lot going on. It’s a surprising change of pace from a brand that’s been remarkably measured in its product release strategy for the last four years. If this watch had come out in 2013, it would have slayed. Bronze was hot then. Now – I’m not so sure. Perhaps Tudor took the time to make sure the market was ready for it? Yet more proof of their measured approach? This isn’t a limited edition piece or a small indie release after all.
Having said that, the watch stands to be a great exercise in patina, but only time will tell just how great. All the elements – most obviously the case, but also the dial and the strap, are designed to look worn and these elements will only improve with age.
This will be a truly intriguing watch to go on a journey with; especially because it looks, even box-fresh, to have started without you. Hence the brother returning from sea comment above. You are not this watch’s first voyage. It’s ironic that bronze isn’t magnetic because the pull to adventure that it presents is something you can actually feel, especially with it on the wrist.
Tudor Heritage Black Bay Bronze pricing
The Black Bay Bronze has an RRP of 3,800 CHF, inc. VAT.
Heritage Black Bay Bronze
Bronze case, bronze coloured PVD treated steel case back, satin finish
Aged leather strap with bronze buckle, additional fabric strap with bronze buckle included in the box
MT5601, Manufacture Tudor (COSC), 70 hours power reserve, nonmagnetic silicon balance spring
Domed sapphire crystal
Bronze unidirectional rotatable bezel with disc in matt brown anodised aluminium