Hands-On: The Black Bay Ceramic Is Tudor’s New Dark Star
The latest Black Bay is a technical powerhouse – but is it the Tudor dive watch you’ve been waiting for?
On my wrist, right now, is a Tudor Black Bay, with a black bezel, vintage 2015. In a way, this is peak Black Bay, or at least, peak Black Bay of a certain era. The watch, as Ben Clymer noted in 2012, is not a reproduction of any particular vintage Tudor. Instead, it’s a combination of greatest-hits design cues from vintage Tudor dive watches, including the snowflake hands Tudor first used for the Tudor Submariner ref. 7016/0, in 1968, the big crown from the ref. 7922, first used in 1954, as well as its slab-sided case design and gilt dial.
And the movement is also peak Tudor – of a certain era. It’s a modified ETA 2824. Tudor applied its own finishing to the main plate, bridges, ratchet wheel, and screw heads, and used a Kif anti-shock system for balance pivots, as well as modifying the escape wheel teeth and pallet fork to produce greater rate stability (even after six years, mine keeps excellent time). What all that means is that while the base caliber was supplied by ETA, extra trouble was taken to make sure that if not a Rolex caliber, the movement could keep time to Rolex standards.
While the watch was, in terms of design, a bit of a new direction for Tudor – and controversial among some enthusiasts at launch, because it was in fact not a copy paste of a vintage Tudor Sub – it had, and has, its own retro-nostalgia appeal. Tudor fans are still waiting for a straight reboot of the Tudor Submariner (and I suspect we can just keep waiting) but, then and now, the Black Bay has oodles of charm if you like that sort of thing at all. Today’s model has switched out the rose on the dial for a shield (full disclosure, I miss the rose) but it’s still a lot of bang for the buck. The movement is the in-house(ish) MT5602, with silicon balance spring, and the price has hardly gone up at all – a measly fifty bucks, at $3,475 on a strap, vs. $3,425 in 2015.
The reason I’m going through all this is because that watch, compared to the new Black Bay Ceramic, shows an interesting arc of product development, as well as evolution of design at Tudor.
The Black Bay Ceramic, first of all, is visibly and immediately a Black Bay. Sure, it’s in ceramic now, but there’s still the familiar slab-sided case, with its tank-like proportions (and I mean the armored fighting vehicle, not the Cartier wristwatch). It’s a lighter watch, thanks to the case material, but it’s still at its heart the burly, retro-adjacent sports watch we’ve all come to know and love.
Or is it? While the original Black Bay (and BB 58) made no bones about reaching for the retro, the Black Bay Ceramic is in some ways a totally new Black Bay. No slightly Ye Olde Vintage Watch cues here. Instead, we have a slickly rendered exercise in glossy and matte black textures, without a speck of color anywhere. The gilt is gone, with the dial legend now in muted grayscale lettering, and the ceramic bezel is uncompromising in its devotion to the Dark Side – there isn’t even a bezel lume pip.
If you’re used to what the Black Bay was before the Ceramic debuted, it’s actually shocking. It’s also eerily beautiful. The luminous markers and hands seem to float, glowing by their own light, like the landing lights on the deck of an aircraft carrier at night.
It’s a thought-provoking watch, and indeed comes across as a bit of an intentional provocation (which is not a new thing for either Rolex or Tudor – think of that platinum anniversary Daytona from 2013, or more recently, Tudor’s 2019 P01 – both watches that had a non-zero percentage of enthusiasts gnashing their teeth). The whole thing is, yes, a Black Bay, but in its slick, icy modernity, it also seems a rejection of everything we thought the Black Bay stood for. The fact that there’s no lume pip means you’re pushing it even calling this a “dive watch.”
It’s also, not gonna lie, gasp-inducingly handsome. Both back and front – that METAS-certified MT5602-IU is almost as nicely turned out on the back, as the watch is topside – it’s got all the sable seductiveness of an SR-71 Blackbird. Unlike the spy plane, though, the color scheme of the BB Ceramic isn’t driven by practical considerations – it is, instead, design for the sake of design.
But that’s not a dealbreaker. Tudor, let’s not forget, has a perfectly nice, purely practical dive watch – the Pelagos – in its collections. The BB Ceramic isn’t that, exactly, but then, it never has been.
Oh, sure, the original version I have on right now is arguably a more practical dive watch – at least, the bezel was obviously intended to be readable and I don’t think anyone would accuse the BB Ceramic bezel of striving for legibility (the numbers basically disappear in low light).
At the same, though, the Black Bay was always the more design-oriented, between it and the Pelagos – at first, in a gently retro-kitsch fashion, and now, in a much more contemporary idiom. It is less a dive watch than an illustration, so to speak, of a dive watch, but it gets points for style and contemporary flair which the original never dreamt of. And this kind of evolution is hardly unique to Tudor – there are only about a bajillion floridly colorful G-Shocks which are hell and gone from the Brutalist charm of the original DW-5000.
The whole thing makes me wonder just how the Black Bay Ceramic would have landed if the caliber MT5602-IU hadn’t been part of the launch as well. Purely from the standpoint of utility, it seems as if it’d have made more sense to launch it in the Pelagos – a contemporary technical movement for a contemporary technical dive watch.
That’s not how Tudor decided to play it. Instead, they went for something much more apt to become a talking piece (our launch article has 250+ comments and counting, which is something you usually have to be a travel clock or a Black Panther Royal Oak Concept to pull off) and while the grumpy enthusiast in me wishes they’d used it as a chance to bring the Pelagos back into the foreground, I don’t think there’s any doubt that making something as provocative and punchy as the Black Bay Ceramic was a viable strategy too.
That said, producing the first METAS-certified watch that doesn’t say “Omega” on the dial is undoubtedly a power move no matter how you slice it. It’s worth remembering that METAS is not just about resistance to magnetism, although that’s a big part of it. There is quite a bit more to the standard, including stringent precision and durability tests (applied to the whole watch, not just the movement – the COSC, which certifies chronometers, tests movements only). Having Tudor (and by extension, Rolex) support the standard is more than just an obvious challenge to Omega; it’s also a validation of the standard’s potential as a distinguishing feature in Swiss watchmaking in general. I can only assume everyone at the Federal Office Of Metrology in Bern had an extra glass of schnapps after lunch when they got the news.
And, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s a darned – no ma’am, a damned fine looking watch. It’s not what we have gotten used to thinking of when we think of the Black Bay, but that’s both okay and necessary, as the lineup of watches from Tudor evolves. I don’t know if I’m cool enough to pull one off – but someone is.
All photos, Tiffany Wade. For full specs and pricing, check out our Introducing post.