There is no archetype in the history of horology that has generated more variations, more interpretations, and more attempts at reinvention than the mid-century dive watch. I don’t even have to say the names of the watches that started this genre, since you probably spoke them out loud to yourself at the end of my previous sentence. But it’s fair to say that for many people, this is what they think of when someone says the word “watch.” The mid-century dive watch, with its rotating timing bezel, it’s clean, no-fuss dial, and its sturdy case and bracelet profile, transcends any one watch at this point. It’s an idea as much as a thing itself.
That’s why a watch like the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight is so interesting to me. Tudor essentially created its modern update to the dive watch in 2012, with the introduction of the Heritage Black Bay. At the time, it was just one watch, but in the nearly eight years since, it’s grown into a family of watches at Tudor and a formula for other brands to follow. But while the Black Bay takes a number of cues from old-school dive watches, it doesn’t make any attempt to actually be one. It’s 41mm across, it’s relatively thick, and it’s styled in such a way that you’d never mistake it for something from the 1950s. The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight is something different entirely.
With the Black Bay Fifty-Eight, Tudor splits the difference between the Black Bay and the original Tudor dive watches from the late ’50s. It balances a smaller case size and throw-back dial and bezel details with a brand new movement and modern build quality. It’s an homage that doesn’t have to feel like one if you don’t want it to. It moves seamlessly between the worlds of the old and the new in a way that feels unique and refreshing.
The very first Tudor dive watch, the reference 7922, was presented in 1954. The watch was commonly called the Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner and it came just a year after Rolex unveiled the ref. 6204 Submariner. The two shared a lot of traits. Both had simple no-date dials, bold timing bezels, and cases with small crowns and no crown guards. These traits would become archetypes in no time, spawning generations of dive watches from Tudor, Rolex, and nearly every other watch company on planet Earth.
More than half a century later, the first Heritage Black Bay model was unveiled, just ahead of Baselworld 2012. Ben reported on the release, and it’s interesting to look back at his coverage (and coverage from others) to see reactions at the time. The kind of vintage throwback watches that we’re so used to seeing today were entirely absent from the market and Tudor opened a lot of eyes with this new model.
One of the most fascinating things about the Black Bay is the way that it created its own identity out of bits and pieces from Tudor’s past. There’s the gilt dial from the earliest 1954 Tudor diver, there’s the oversized crown from late 1950s and early 1960s divers, there are the Snowflake hands from ’70s military watches, and there’s the faded red color scheme pulled from a piece in Tudor’s archive. But all of this is put together in a package that’s the size and proportions of a modern watch, utilizing modern manufacturing techniques and finishes. It’s six different vintage watches, and also none of them.
From here, we saw the Black Bay emerge as its own blueprint. New colors, new materials, and even new sizes and form factors entered the picture. I don’t think anyone would try to argue that the Black Bay Bronze, for example, is a vintage homage watch. No, it’s a Black Bay. In less than eight years, the Black Bay has become its own thing, and I can’t say I’m all that surprised.
And that brings us to the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight . It is yet another distinct moment for Tudor, in terms of how the brand thinks about its historical legacy, its modern identity, and how the two can interact. It is neither a straight homage watch, nor is it a Black Bay in the typical sense. It is its own third way – and a compelling one at that.
When it was announced at Baselworld 2018, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight quickly became one of the most-talked-about watches of the year (alongside its sibling, the Black Bay GMT). For good reason. The BB58 did a great job splitting the difference between upending the Black Bay archetype and simply offering a new color combination. You get a new form factor, a new set of historically grounded design choices, and even a new movement to power it all. This is a new watch, but a new watch that’s firmly anchored in a storied past.
The moment you put the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight on your wrist, you know you’re dealing with something special. It’s a modern watch – there’s no doubt about that. It’s sturdy, it feels like it can take anything you throw at it, and it’s got that bit of sparkle and shine that only new creations have. But it’s got an old soul. I imagine it feels something like what it might have felt like to strap on a Big Crown back in 1958. I might be spoiling my own review here, but this isn’t one of those watches that takes easing into or requires mental somersaults to come to terms with. I put it on my wrist and I knew I didn’t want to take it off.
The case is basically the perfect proportions for a sport watch, as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t look dainty, but it doesn’t hang over the edges of my relatively small wrist. The fact that the bezel and dial are the same color scheme allows it to look a bit larger and stronger on the wrist, since the visual cues are uninterrupted. The contrast between the brushed tops of the lugs and the polished sides of the case is more pronounced once you start wearing the watch. It will catch the light unexpectedly and recapture your attention. I found the case to have some unexpected dynamism on the wrist, and I really enjoyed it.
The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight biggest selling point, though, might be its versatility. Because it’s essentially monochromatic, is a medium size, and looks good on the bracelet or nearly any strap, it’s a great candidate for a first serious watch or a one-watch collection. I could see myself wearing this watch a ton to travel, since it goes with anything. It’s slim enough that I didn’t mind wearing it with a sweater (no cuff snagging issue), but I’d be equally excited to wear it to the beach with a t-shirt and trunks. Not too many watches can do this, but the Black Bay Fifty-Eight is a pretty perfect go-anywhere, do-anything watch.
I’m not normally someone obsessed with chronometry. From time to time I find myself setting my watches to the second and checking in on them, but typically, as long as I’m not late for anything, I consider myself well within an acceptable range. Just out of curiosity, I did time this watch, and the results blew me away. After seven days and six nights, the watch was running at a total of plus two seconds. Plus two. That’s wild stuff and about as good as any modern mechanical timekeeper can do. So, if you’re a timing nerd, this one might just be for you, too.
As far as comfort is concerned, I’ve only got one gripe, and I mentioned it above: I really wish the bracelet had more micro-adjustment positions. I’m somewhere between sizes, and dialing in the perfect fit is tough. With four links out and the clasp on the largest setting, it’s a bit small; with three links out and the clasp on the smallest setting, it jangles around a bit. I’ve landed on the latter position, and it’s mostly fine, but another millimeter or two and we’d be perfect.
Ultimately, after my week with the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight , I found it hard to take off (just as I thought I would). It’s a watch that hits a lot of the right notes, either despite its simplicity or because of it – I can’t quite make up my mind. It’s easy to wear, but still interesting; it’s robust but well-sized; it’s a throw-back but totally modern. It’s a watch of quiet contrasts and it’s just flat-out fun to wear.
The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight might have made waves when it was first released, but that’s no guarantee of longterm success. Here we are, nearly two years since that initial frenzy, and I think the watch is more appealing than ever. I’m not the only one either – wait lists are still months-long at most retailers here in the United States. The watch starts with a great idea and then delivers on it big time. You get a vintage-inspired watch that doesn’t look like a cheesy replica, in a size and build quality that make it an outstanding daily wearer. The way it bridges modern and vintage watches so effectively still impresses me.
Whether you’re a new collector looking to buy his or her first serious piece or a seasoned veteran who probably doesn’t need another watch at all, the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight is well worth taking a look at. It’s a watch that shines in its simplicity, doing a whole lot with not very much at all, and it only gets better the more time you spend with it.