The story in a second:
The Black Bay 36 is an outstanding watch – but is it a Black Bay, and does that even matter?
When I first laid eyes the Tudor Black Bay 36 it was during a photo session at Baselworld. I saw it cold, without the watch being contextualised by Tudor staff or a journalist’s review. Shocked is too strong a word to describe my reaction, so let’s go with very surprised. My head was full of the Bronze and Dark Black Bays I had already seen, so I was expecting more of the same – bold, assertive, masculine pieces. Instead, I was holding the Black Bay 36, smaller and very traditional. It looked good, but the fact that it bore the Black Bay name didn’t sit right with me. It’s six months later, and I’m still not sure. If I had to declare my relationship status with this watch, I would have to say: It’s complicated.
It was the dial that got me. It’s pure Black Bay – those snowflake hands, and oversized luminous hours – and it’s become in the last few years the stuff of modern legend. But in the small case, naked without a bezel, that dial was a stylistic curveball.
It’s pure Black Bay – those snowflake hands, and oversized luminous hours – and it’s become in the last few years the stuff of modern legend. But in the small case, naked without a bezel, that dial was a stylistic curveball.
Given time to reflect though, I think I’ve made sense of it. Not only is this dial the Black Bay 36’s strongest link to the rest of the line, it also fits within the broader narrative of unassuming tool watches – a sub-genre exemplified by the BB 36’s spiritual grandfather – the Rolex Explorer. The glossy black dial itself is a smart choice, as it elevates the otherwise Spartan aesthetic. Just as the choice of a flat sapphire crystal tones down the heritage feel. I do wonder if the hands and markers are a little overpowering – especially the very large hour hand. That sort of blocky-ness works fine in a larger case, but I do wonder if a more pared-back approach wouldn’t result in a more balanced watch. Finally, though the nostalgic rose logo is no longer present, we still have the smiling text at six that proudly exclaims that the Black Bay 36 is powered by a self-winding rotor.
While the dial references the Black Bay DNA, the case is another story altogether. The most obvious difference is the size – the 36mm case is 5mm smaller than the regular Black Bays. But there’s also the bezel. The unidirectional elapsed time bezel is a key feature of the family, so to replace it with a fixed, polished steel bezel is a big shift. Even the water resistance is different – 150 metres compared to the usual 200. Having said that there’s a note of familiarity in the crown, with its rose logo, and coloured tube.
But to compare the 36 to its bigger brothers and sisters misses the point. Even though the smaller size is the BB 36’s biggest point of difference, it’s also its greatest strength. Not only does it make the watch an attractive option for women, while still being a completely wearable size for men, but it evokes an historic, vintage vibe that speaks directly to its place within Tudor’s heritage collection. The Black Bay 36 is a direct descendant of the Oyster-cased Prince watches that were a staple of Tudor’s line-up for decades.
Remember that curved dial text – the ‘rotor self-winding’ that was such a charming feature of the Black Bay until this year? The fact that BB 36 retains this feature hints at the movement that lies behind the dial – the ever-reliable ETA 2824. Tudor do quite a bit of work on these movements themselves – so don’t expect a stock ebauche. But it would be great to see an in-house version become available soon.
Like all the Heritage models, the Black Bay 36 has some great strap options. The bracelet is in the Oyster style, and has curved end-pieces, then there’s the aged leather option with a neutral, vegetable-tanned look that softens the watch off nicely, and will, I suspect, be popular with women. Finally there’s the Tudor woven strap – in this case it’s a monochrome camouflage pattern, which ramps up the combat-chic appeal. What these straps show is just how versatile the BB 36 is – it can, with the flick of a springbar, move between timeless classic, dressed-down elegance and trendy statement. A true chameleon.
Let me say to close that the Black Bay 36 is probably my favourite Tudor of 2016. It’s a smart and supremely wearable watch. But for all that I’m still gripped by my initial hesitation. For all it’s charm, the BB 36 is still something of a curious amalgamation. A Black Bay dial shoehorned into a vintage-sized, ultra classic steel case, sprinkled with a few dashes of Heritage collection magic. The resulting watch is truly versatile. A simple steel time-only number that goes with everything and never looks out of place.
For all that it’s not a dive watch, and for me the Black Bay is family of dive watches, if it sat in another line or on its own I’d be all for it. The fact is ‘Black Bay’ as a sub-brand is so successful for Tudor that I can see the commercial sense in making it all things for all people. And with red, blue, black, blacked-out, bronze and small versions we’re certainly reaching that point of saturation. It begs the question, what’s left to do? A Black Bay 48 for Panerai-lovers? The risk is that at some point Tudor’s free interpretation of its own history may overreach, at the expense of the core of the Black Bay collection.
Luckily, after all the aforementioned thought, that day is not today. My conflicted response is a problem of horological taxonomy, and is completely irrelevant to watch buyers seeking a solid everyday performer that won’t overwhelm your wrist. With or without my baggage, you could do a lot worse than the Black Bay 36.
Did you know 36 is the new 42?
Who’s it for?
If you get fed up with the dinner plates they call watches these days, this watch is for you.
What would we change?
I’d like to see a slightly smaller hour markers and hour hand.
Tudor Heritage Black Bay 36 Australian pricing
The Heritage Black Bay 36, $3400 on bracelet, $3000 on leather.
Images by Jason Reekie.