Words: Matt Solomon
The year is 1967, it’s been twenty years since the world was gripped with the atrocities of the Second World War. Yet again, the world is under the shroud of another conflict – the Cold War. This precarious situation necessitated the most up to date technology to be supplied to militaries across the globe. Any advantage gained from a new form of technology could prove to be a decisive moment should conflict arise…
Tudor had been supplying the US Navy (USN) divers and the French Navy, Marine Nationale (MN) with its Submariner models since the late 1950s. The first reference being the 7922 used by the MN and the 7924 by the USN. Continued development of the Submariner led to the reference 7928 being extensively used by both militaries for diving operations.
However, in 1967 with only a few instructions from the USN, Tudor began development of a successor to the outgoing model, the 7928. The short brief from the navy mandated that the new model required the following: a better protected crown, a bi-directional bezel that was removable for cleaning and fixed spring bars. Tudor also had its own research on ergonomics and functionality of dive watches that would be included in this new reference. The new watch was worked on under the code Project Commando.
The product of this project was aesthetically very different to the reference 7928. There were similarities in the layout of the dial, with round lume plots and a Mercedes-pattern handset but now there was the addition of a date complication. The most significant change with the new prototype model was with the bezel mechanism. Instead of incorporating a sixty-minute bezel, which gave divers the ability to track their dive time whilst underwater, the new model featured a twelve hour rotating bezel allowing the user to track a second time zone. However, this was no ordinary friction fit or even a 60/120 click standard bezel but a completely revolutionary new patented system consisting of a locking end link at the twelve o’clock position. This locking end link allowed the user to unlock the link, turn the bezel to the required hour marker and reset the link to lock the bezel down. Thus, preventing the bezel from rotating under any circumstances.
Project Commando with original design blueprints
The Project Commando prototype was ultimately rejected and the USN chose to stick with the more traditional Submariner model with the updated reference 7016. And so the story of the now famous Tudor prototype resided, deep within the archives of the Tudor vault. Until that is…2019.
Rumours of a new Tudor reference were teased by Tudor on their official Instagram page prior to the model’s launch at Baselworld in 2019. The teaser consisted of an illuminated triangle at the twelve o’clock position with the rest of the watch shrouded in darkness. Intriguing to say the least, it was at this moment that the watch community made a grave mistake. The internet in all its fickle beauty jumped to the conclusion that Tudor would be re-releasing an old favourite in the form of a Submariner reference circa 1990s; something akin to a 79000 series reference. The anticipation of this supposed new model led customers to call their local authorised dealers and place orders for the new “Submariner” reference.
Images of Tudor’s latest and greatest addition to their diving watch legacy were first leaked online, to which the internet almost imploded in some sectors. Prospective customers thought at first it was a joke, either by the people leaking the images or by Tudor themselves. This was indeed not what they expected. Then Tudor, in all its glory, confirmed its own slogan ‘Born to Dare’. The pictures that were leaked were not a joke by any means. There would be no Submariner reissue. Tudor had in fact turned the watch world upside down with a model that, even to this day, can be described as divisive. The Tudor Black Bay P01 had landed.
The watch features a stainless steel case with a satin finish as seen in the Project Commando. A satin finish is used to give the watch a reduction in reflectiveness during any covert military operations. The twelve hour bi-directional 60 notch rotating bezel remains from the Commando model, including the locking end link at the twelve o’clock position. A screw down crown at the four o’clock position also remains, which was then and is still a first for any Tudor dive watch to this day.
Inside the watch is the manufacture calibre COSC certified MT5612, which is an automatic movement with a bi-directional rotor and a power reserve of up to 70hours. A date complication is added at the three o’clock position, in addition to a domed sapphire crystal with a hybrid leather strap with rubber backing complete with a satin finished deployant clasp. Dimensions are 42mm case diameter with a thickness of just over 14mm; a lug width of 22mm where the end links join the case and 20mm where the strap connects to the end link.
Writing this in 2021 the consensus on the Tudor P01 remains mixed; it’s likely to continue to be a Marmite watch. The furore surrounding the Baselworld release has since simmered; with the model gaining many more fans. The watch press also looked at the model with more favour and it even won a prestigious award at the Grand Prix d’Horlogie de Geneve (GPHG). Many collectors believe the model may only be around for a short time and could then become collectible within the Tudor community. At best this is conjecture and buying one solely for that reason lies with the individual.
At first glance the P01 looks almost unwearable to anyone not sporting a forearm like that of a certain ex Californian Governor and bodybuilder. The design of the case, however, in addition to the end link design, affords the wearer the ability to enjoy the watch on wrists ranging from as little as 6.5’’ circumference. The truly unique design is unlike anything from Tudor or Rolex or indeed from any watchmaker ever. The only watch that would wear similarly or at least convey a similar aesthetic would be that of the Omega Ploprof. Arguably though, the P01 wears much better in reality. Yes, the proportions are bigger than most dive watches, but the utilitarian tool watch aesthetic becomes part of the reference’s appeal. The whole design just screams functional tool watch, from the satin-finish case to the matte dial with painted (not metal surrounded) lume plots. This coupled with the now all-important snowflake hands, the inclusion of the red text on the dial reading the depth rating of 200m/660ft as a nod to previous Submariner models all add to this military inspired piece. What’s more, it’s something different. It’s not a traditional Black Bay, it’s not a Submariner, it is and can only be the P01 and that for me within a community filled with the aforementioned pieces is unique.
I’m fortunate enough to also own a Tudor Black Bay 58 and a Rolex Submariner and in all honesty they both probably get more wrist time, but the P01 has an ace up its sleeve. The sheer visual aesthetic of the case coupled with the painted lume plots and red dial text instantly makes me smile, and it’s at this point that I usually have to take a quick picture of the watch then put it on to enjoy. If you’re in the market for something truly different, something a little leftfield, a conversation piece, then look no further than the Tudor P01. It definitely won’t disappoint.
You can find Matt on instagram: @sr_watches