At Baselworld this year, Tudor unveiled the fourth iteration of its bronze diver, which has become one of the most successful in its category. The watch was first released not too long ago, in 2016 to be exact, with brown dial, followed by a special edition for Swiss retailer Bucherer as well as the one-off “destro” for Only Watch.
So how does the new bronze diver stack up?
In a nutshell, the latest Black Bay Bronze has all the goodness of the original – price, features, design – presented in a new colour. The dial has a graduated, dark grey finish matched with a grey bezel.
A nuanced study
When the Black Bay Bronze was first launched three years ago, it was a move that signified Tudor’s independence. Put simply, if the original Black Bay was a symbol of Tudor’s renaissance, then the Black Bay Bronze, along with subsequent all-back Dark and recent P01, demonstrated a willingness to experiment outside historical boundaries at a brand that was all too often seen as Rolex’s poor relation.
While the first Black Bay watch and its subsequent iterations were attractively dressed in bold colours, the new model is a far more nuanced, essentially a more refined take on the original.
In theory, bronze has useful properties for a dive watch, including corrosion-resistance, but in practical terms it’s a stylistically polarising material because it can feel like an affectation. Furthermore, the alloy looks rosy when new and probably too well aged after a while. Add to that an emphatic dial colour and large case, and you have an almost overwhelming wrist presence. In fact, from the get-go, every aspect of the original Black Bay Bronze was designed to amplify the look.
But with the slate grey dial and bezel, the new Black Bay Bronze is much more muted, and wearable. And that will only increase with age as the bronze case acquires a patina, reducing its brightness.
The dial has a subtle finish that is a lighter in the centre and fades almost to black at the edges, which is also known as fumé or dégradé. The bezel, on the other hand, is a uniform slate grey.
While the decision to use grey over black might seem inconsequential, it offers a less starkly technical look, avoiding looking like a would-be professional instrument, preserving the unique character of the Black Bay Bronze while still being properly functional.
And everything else
The case remains large, the largest of all the Black Bays in fact, at 43mm wide and 14mm in height. It is still a big watch, a smaller case would be more practical – the Black Bay Fifty-Eight is a case in point – though the visual impact is reduced after the case acquires a patina.
While Panerai made bronze fashionable in the 21st century – while Gerald Genta and Chronoswiss pioneered it in the 20th century – Tudor was the first brand to utilise aluminium-based bronze for a watch case. The alloy acquires a brownish patina over time, instead of the sunken-treasure-green known as verdigris that characterise the patina of copper-based bronze. And to ensure that it oxidises more evenly, the case is entirely satin brushed.
Another appreciable detail is that while most other bronze watches have case backs and buckles in a contrasting material like titanium for hypoallergenic reasons – bronze can cause a rash from prolonged contact with the skin – the Black Bay Bronze has both a steel back and buckle coated in bronze-tone PVD layer for aesthetic uniformity.
Notably, the colour of the back has been selected quite carefully. When new the case back is a shade darker than the case, which resembles rose gold, but after the case acquires a patina the colours converge.
Today, Tudor is brand that makes some of the most advanced movements in its price bracket. The MT5601 that powers the Black Bay Bronze is a proven performer.
Not only is it proprietary (though a variant now sits inside the new Chanel J12), the movement is high spec, featuring a silicon hairspring, variable-inertia balance, and a 70-hour power reserve. And as with all of Tudor’s in-house movements, it is COSC-certified, which is a nice bonus but less important than its tangible features.
And it is worth noting that Tudor uses different variants of the same movement for each model, something that is just not practiced at this price point. The ordinary Black Bay, for instance, is powered by the MT5602. But as the bronze version has a larger case, the MT5601 has a larger base plate to fit – visible above around the rotor – so it isn’t just a matter of plug and play with the in-house movements.
And the strap
The watch is offered with two strap options, black nubuck leather or a fabric NATO-style strap, which has become a favourite of the brand.
Tudor, under the auspices of its then design director, the Italian Davide Cerrato, had picked up on the cultural obsession with fabric straps, offering its own NATO-style straps as early as 2010.
But Tudor’s fabric straps are no mere ordinary “NATO” replicas. Considerable effort was expended to purposefully go beyond the standard synthetic fabric straps that are commonplace (and usually made in China).
All Tudor’s fabric straps are manufactured by a passementerie manufacturer in Lyon that still relies on old fashioned, wood frame looms. The firm’s clients include the likes of Lanvin, Dolce & Gabbana and Chanel. Like the elaborate lace ribbons and trimmings the firm makes for haute couture, the watch straps are woven with the traditional Jacquard loom, resulting in high-quality straps that are thick yet soft. And although the straps are intentionally woven to look and feel like cotton, they are actually synthetic fibre as cotton wears out and frays too easily.
Unfortunately, the fabric straps were once packaged as an extra for all Tudor watches, up until mid 2018 when Tudor phased out the bonus straps. All watches are now sold with either on one or the other, but not both. Extra straps can, however, be purchased for relatively reasonable sums.
Though the changes to the Black Bay Bronze are entirely cosmetic, they are well thought out, making for a dramatically different look. Pairing the bronze case with a muted and neutral colour offsets the warmth of bronze. It’s definitely a good comeback after the influx of heavily retro bronze watches with green, brown or blue dials that have proliferated since 2016. And most importantly, the Black Bay Bronze remains excellent value for money.
Price and Availability
The Black Bay Bronze in grey (ref. 79250BA) is priced at US$4050, or S$5544 and is available in stores now.
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