Tudor Introduces the Black Bay Ceramic

That's a METAS Master Chronometer.

Tudor hit it out of the park at Watches & Wonders 2021 with the surprising pair of precious-metal Fifty Eights (in 18k gold as well as sterling silver), but it’s clear the brand is not done with the year yet. Tudor has just taken the covers off the Black Bay Ceramic.

The new 41 mm diver is the brand’s first regular-production dive watch with a ceramic case, but more significant is the fact that this is Tudor’s first watch to obtain METAS certification, making it a Master Chronometer.

Initial thoughts

The Black Bay Ceramic is a surprise. Tudor hinted at a new launch recently, but given it just announced a partnership with French Navy, or Marine Nationale, I was expecting an “MN” dive watch with blue dial.

That said, it was inevitable a ceramic dive watch was in the pipeline after. For one, the brand already had a ceramic case chronograph in the catalogue with the usually overlooked the Fastrider Black Shield. And more importantly, the unique Black Bay Ceramic One – essentially the forerunner of the Black Bay Ceramic – sold for CHF350,000 at charity auction Only Watch 2019.

The Black Bay Ceramic One from 2019

The Black Bay Ceramic

While inevitable, the Black Bay Ceramic is still very much welcome. Its aesthetic is a good one, managing to feel contemporary despite the all-black aesthetic having had its heyday about decade ago.

I would have hoped for a 39 mm Fifty-Eight case, instead of the 41 mm that it is, but its dark colours will make the case appear smaller on wrist, meaning it will wear friendlier than its 41 mm counterparts in steel.

Still, the Black Bay Ceramic is slightly thinner than its steel equivalent, standing 14.4 mm high, compared to the 14.75 mm of the steel model.

Crucially, the watch is good value at US$4,725, especially when set against to comparable dive watches from Omega that start at US$8,100.

Going against convention, the depth rating is absent from the dial, and instead replaced by the METAS label

The all-Black Bay

While the case middle is ceramic, as is the bezel insert, the case parts that are more prone to wear or impact, such as case back, bezel, crown, and buckle, are black-coated steel.

Being a hard, scratch-resistant material, ceramic is nevertheless brittle in that it can fracture under stress. That makes it incompatible with torsional or shearing forces, which is why components like the screw-down back and screw-in crown are steel (which is also the norm for most watches). For those wondering, the screw-down back screws into a steel inner ring secured within the ceramic case middle.

Reflecting the Black Bay Ceramic’s status as a highlight in the catalogue, the watch is supplied with two straps, a leather-topped rubber strap as well as a fabric, NATO-style strap, each with its own black-coated steel buckle – folding for the rubber and pin for the NATO. The twin-strap package was once the standard for Tudor but is now reserved for high-end models Black Bay Fifty Eight 18k and Pelagos.

A new look inside

Like the Black Bay Fifty Eight 18k, the new ceramic model has an open case back, revealing the MT5602-1U within. Instead of a movement with the customary frosted, rhodium-plated finish typical for Tudor, the MT5602-1U within has been dressed up to match the case and dial – a welcome upgrade.

Movement decoration has never been a thing at Tudor, which makes the MT5602-1U unusual. It’s not only been treated to match the case, but equipped with bridges that have a relief grid pattern finished in alternating grained and frosted surfaces.

The MT5602-1U is a variant of the MT5602 found in the standard, 41 mm Black Bay, as well as the Black Bay Bronze. Like all of the brand’s proprietary calibres – which are mostly produced by Kenissi – the MT5602-1U is tested both in-house and at the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute, better known by its French acronym COSC.

As a result, Tudor’s manufacture movements are rated to within -2/+4 seconds a day. But now Tudor is going one better. In a first for Tudor, the MT5602-1U is certified by the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS). This makes Tudor the second major brand, after the giant of Bienne named after a Greek alphabet, to subject its watches to METAS certification.

METAS magnetism-resistance testing

Unlike COSC testing that only examines uncased movements, the METAS test covers the entire watch. Amongst other criteria, the METAS standard dictates a maximum daily range of deviation of five seconds in six positions, two temperatures, and two levels of power reserve (fully wound and one-third remaining).

That’s a higher standard than the 10-second range (-4/+6 seconds) of COSC, or the six-second band (-2/+4 seconds) for Tudor’s internal testing. Importantly, METAS also requires resistance to magnetic fields of 15,000 Gauss, which is many times the magnitude of magnetism encountered in everyday objects like speakers and mobile phones.

Key facts and price

Tudor Black Bay Ceramic
Ref. M79210CNU

Diameter: 41 mm
Height: 14.4 mm
Material: Black ceramic
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 200 m

Movement: Cal. MT5602-1U
Functions: Hours, minutes, and seconds
Additional features: METAS and COSC certification
: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 70 hours

Strap: Rubber strap with leather inlay, and additional fabric strap

Availability: Now at Tudor boutiques and retailers
Price: US$4,725; or 6,510 Singapore dollars

For more, visit Tudorwatch.com.


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In-Depth: Recreating the Vacheron Constantin American 1921 One Hundred Years Later

Painstakingly replicating the vintage original.

As one of Vacheron Constantin’s most distinctive timepieces marks its 100th anniversary, the watchmaker rolled out a handful of jubilee models during Watches & Wonders 2021 for the occasion, most notably the extremely good looking American 1921 Collection Excellence Platine.

But Vacheron Constantin had something else up its sleeve for the 1921’s century – something really special – a near-exact recreation of the vintage original from 1921. Christened the American 1921 Pièce Unique, the watch is a one-off created as a joint project by the brand’s Restoration Workshop and Heritage Department, overseen by Style & Heritage Director Christian Selmoni, whose long tenure at Vacheron Constantin means he is practically the brand’s institutional memory.

The watch is more than just a visual replica – an identical case and movement is a given – but even the most minor of details have been reproduced faithfully, right down to the gold alloy of the case and period-correct vintage parts from its archives.

Initial thoughts

While the modern-day American 1921 is a fan-favourite, it necessarily omits some of the finer details of the vintage original, in order to cater to current tastes as well as production methods. As such, even the most-delicious Collection Excellence Platine edition can be critiqued, for the mismatch in hand colours or the seemingly misaligned seconds register.

In contrast, the recreation is satisfyingly spot on, which give it an attractive, bona fide coinage feel that’s absent in today’s American 1921. Minor details such as typography on the dial, and even the Vacheron Constantin logo, are rendered with finesse – capturing subtle but crucial elements needed for a genuine vintage feel.

It’s practically impossible to distinguish between the modern recreation (left) and the vintage original

While it is a feat to accurately replicate a watch, the 1921 Pièce Unique is even more impressive for being period correct in materials and techniques. Components such as the hands are actually vintage spare parts, while other components were made from scratch, but using the traditional tools and methods as well as period-correct materials.

In short, the 1921 Pièce Unique demonstrates not just the eye for detail possessed by the people at the brand’s Heritage Department and Restoration Workshop, but also the artisanal and technical skill. In fact, it was the very same craftspeople who restored the historically-important “Don Pancho” minute repeater that sold for over US$750,000 in 2019.

Time travelling to 1921

To faithfully remake the vintage 1921, the brand turned to the singular example in its museum collection – one of the 24 made in the 1920s – studying the vintage original in forensic detail. That meant disassembling the watch as thoroughly as possible and then measuring every part.

At the same time, some production techniques, such as the original process for pressing the jewels into the bridges, are now obscure, leading to lengthy research and experimentation to reverse engineer the original methods.

The case of the 1921 Pièce Unique is not only identical in size – it’s a minute 31 mm wide and distinctive in shape – but also a perfect replica in composition and consequently, colour. Using a spectrometer, a device able determine the make up of a metal alloy, the development team analysed the original yellow gold case. The case was discovered to be 3N yellow gold alloy, which allowed them to replicate the alloy, giving the new case the same sheen as the original.

With the same alloy as a raw material, the case was then reproduced as the original would have been made in the 1920s. Techniques closer to those of a jeweller – as opposed to the automated, precise processes of modern-day case making – were employed, including filing, sawing, and stamping.

The thin sheet of gold that will be pressed to form the case back

Sawing the pinched corners of the case back

Soldering the lugs onto the case

A vintage crown

The 1921 is distinguished by its eccentrically-positioned crown

The polished back of the 1921 Piece Unique

Just like the case, the dial was fabricated with traditional method in several painstaking steps.

It’s a two-part, grand feu enamel dial comprising the main dial with a cutout at six to accommodate the small-seconds register. Each part of the dial is produced separately, then welded together after each disc is complete.

Both sections of the dial requiring several layers of enamel and accompanying trips to the oven, before being printed with enamel and fired once again create the markings like hour markers and scales. The hour numerals are Breguet style, as was common during the period, while the Vacheron Constantin logo is period correct.

The reverse of the dial is painted to create “counter enamel”, which prevents warping of the dial during firing

Smoothening the edges of the aperture for the seconds with a file

The dial is printed with the modern technique of pad writing, but printed in enamel

The fonts on the dial evoke a reassuring nostalgia that’s absent on the modern 1921

Unlike the dial on which they sit, the hands are actually vintage. The steel Breguet hands – for the hours, minutes, and seconds – are drawn from Vacheron Constantin’s inventory of vintage spare parts.

But as is often the case with vintage parts and watches – components were then hand made and not immediately interchangeable – the hands had to be finished by hand. They were cleaned, polished, and flame blued before being installed in the watch.

But the star of the 1921 Pièce Unique is its movement, the 11-ligne “Nouveau Amerique” calibre originally developed for ladies’ pendant watches. Undoubtedly the most difficult aspect to replicate by virtue of the number of parts, the movement is a reproduction of the original, built from scratch with both new and vintage parts.

Though hidden beneath a solid case back, the movement is a perfect fit for the 1921 Pièce Unique. Its styling fits the aesthetic of the watch, in contrast to the contemporary cal. 4400 in the modern-day 1921

A drawer full of spare parts in the Restoration Workshop

After studying the vintage movement, the development team proceeded to assemble an exact copy, using as many vintage parts as possible.

They were successful: except for the bridges and main plate, which were produced by the Restoration Workshop, the movement is comprised of vintage components from the spare-parts inventory of the Restoration Workshop.

Installing the vintage hairspring and screwed balance

Even though the bridges are newly-made, they were finished exactly as the would have been in the 1920s. The brand’s logo on the crown-wheel bridge, for instance, was hand engraved with a graver.

Hand-engraving the crown-wheel bridge

Additionally, the team used century-old tools, both to drill the jewel holes on the bridges as well as press fit the jewels – a once forgotten technique that the watchmakers of the Restoration Workshop rediscovered during the project.

Vintage jewels in a modern bridge

The fate of the American 1921 Pièce Unique is undecided. For now, the watch will embark on a world tour, with stops at Vacheron Constantin boutiques around the world, starting with New York from June 14. Subsequent destinations have yet to be announced.

Key Facts and Price

Vacheron Constantin American 1921 Pièce Unique
Ref. 1921H/000J-B949

Diameter: 31 mm
Height: 8.75 mm
Material: 18k yellow gold
Water resistance:
 30 m

Dial: Grand feu enamel

Movement: Cal. 1921
Functions: Hours, minutes, and seconds
Winding: Hand wind
18,800 beats per hour (4 hz)
Power reserve:
 30 hours

Strap: Alligator with pin buckle

Limited edition: Pièce unique
Price: Undetermined

For more, visit vacheronconstantin.com


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