Vintage Feel, Modern Build
Review: Why the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight Is My New Favorite Watch of 2018
Since Rolex’s sister brand Tudor came back to the United States in 2013, the brand has leaned heavily into its Black Bay Heritage lineup as a stalwart. A vintage-inspired dive watch in the vein of Rolex and Tudor Submariners that preceded it, the Black Bay caught on for both its vintage design cues and relatively entry-level price. As such, the model has spawned numerous versions: a black bezel version, a blue bezel version and a two-tone version to name a few.
The Black Bay Fifty-Eight is the latest member of the family. It might also just be the best. Because for all the praise that’s been heaped on the Black Bay, a sticking point for some has been the size: at 41mm in diameter and 14.75mm thick, it’s just slightly too big to truly feel like a vintage throwback. So while the Black Bay Fifty-Eight overall doesn’t deviate far from the existing formula, the drop to a 39mm case diameter and 11.9mm height makes a huge difference in the metal, even if the shavings seem miniscule on paper.
The Good: The Black Bay Fifty-Eight is perfectly proportioned. Not too big, not too small. The case is svelte, but still substantial enough to be a legitimate, 200-meter dive watch. If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to wear a vintage Submariner — either a Tudor or a Rolex — you’ll have a good analog sense for how the Fifty-Eight looks and feels on the wrist. This is to say nothing of the fact that the watch boasts an in-house chronometer movement and starts at a bit over three grand. If you’ve fallen into the wristwatch rabbit hole, you know that’s not a big ask for a watch that succeeds as a modern stand-in for vintage Submariners — they are skyrocketing in price with seemingly no ceiling in sight.
Who They’re For: If you’re interested in vintage watches, specifically vintage Submariners, this is a brand new alternative to the very expensive pieces you’ll find at auctions. It will also almost certainly appeal to buyers looking at a new Rolex Submariner but can’t swing the associated price tag.
Watch Out For: If you’re interested in the bracelet version of the watch (which adds a $250 premium), a coworker astutely pointed out to me that the finishing on the bracelet doesn’t perfectly align with the finishing on the case. It’s difficult to spot but once you notice the difference, it’s weirdly hard to ignore.
Alternatives: For those wanting an authentic vintage-style diver at a lower cost, the Oris Divers Sixty-Five has been a Gear Patrol perennial favorite since it debuted a few years ago. A myriad of case sizes and dial designs are available, but the most recent black-and-gold addition is most like the Fifty-Eight regarding color scheme and will set you back just $2,000, though you’ll lose 100 meters of depth resistance and chronometer-certified accuracy.
Review: I first saw that Black Bay Fifty-Eight at Baselworld this year where I tried it on and immediately fell in love. Granted, for me, Baselworld is a mess of appointments where general lack of sleep and seeing a barrage of new watches can affect your overall judgment. I also wore it a total of two minutes. So, upon returning home, I decided to take my initial assessment with a grain of salt until I could review the watch again. Turns out I’m still in love.
The problem with so many vintage watch reissues is that they’re made much bigger than their original counterparts to appeal to modern sensibilities. But many enthusiasts — myself included — have complained about case size enough to the point where brands are taking notice and scaling down their vintage reissues. The Fifty-Eight is what happens when you apply that method to a vintage Submariner and of course, the results are incredible. The classic Submariner has inspired so many knock-offs and imitators because it’s such a perfectly proportioned design; the Fifty-Eight matches it, but the standard Black Bay just doesn’t in my book.
Part of why the standard Black Bay is a larger watch is its original movement — that’s why Tudor had to build a new one to accommodate a downsized case. But the new caliber MT5402 is still an in-house automatic running a silicon balance spring and boasts chronometer-certified accuracy. A 70-hour power reserve ain’t bad either.
Tudor was wise to leave off the date window (as it did on the original Black Bay), letting the classic Submariner dial design shine uninterrupted. The Gold trim around the beige lume plots achieve the slightly-faded look without overdoing it, and the gilt printing around the chapter ring is a design detail that you just don’t see on modern watches. This all blends in nicely with the matte black dial and black bezel (complete with a deep red triangle at 12 o’clock). Rolex and Tudor fans will know that all these little dial details create something of a greatest hits album of different Submariner references from the past, but the overall look is cohesive.
Verdict: This is ultimately the appeal of the Black Bay; it really does look and feel almost exactly like a vintage Submariner, but it doesn’t attempt to recreate one specific reference, thus giving it its own unique identity. It’s almost a cliche to love vintage Submariners at this point — they’re like the air-cooled Porsche 911s of watch collecting. But imagine for a second if Porsche made a new air-cooled 911 that looked and felt like a vintage one and finished it with best details from every generation. That’s basically what the Fifty-Eight is to the watch world. Pretty hard to argue with that.
What Others Are Saying:
• “On the wrist, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight is simply superior to most other sports watches within the Rolex family, save perhaps the Explorer I or the Daytona. It is svelte and subtle, and the proper design elements have been brought into this watch to make it true to its roots.” — Ben Clymer, Hodinkee
• “To me, this Black Bay Fifty-Eight should remain a stand-alone piece and shouldn’t be derived in yet another sub-collection. It should be seen as the authentic heritage piece in the catalogue — in fact, it could almost have been a limited edition to make collectors line-up to get their hands on one (but it isn’t).” — Brice Goulard, Monochrome Watches
• “The rose gold dial markings create a surprisingly optical effect: though the Super-Luminova on the hands and dial is an off-white, or even ivory tone — it’s the exact same shade as on the Pelagos LHD in fact — the lume appears flat white against the rose gilt hour markers and hands. That is a good thing, because the retro looks does not feel like an affectation.” — Su Jia Xian, SJX Watches
Movement: Tudor Caliber MT5402
Case diameter: 39mm
Case thickness: 11.9mm
Water resistance: 200m
Other notable features: Officially-certified chronometer
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