Hands-On: The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K
A precious zig in a world of steely zags.
The idea of a gold dive watch is neither new nor all that strange. After all, Rolex launched a gold version of the ref. 1680 Submariner in 1969 and has iterated several times upon the same theme. In a more modern context, Seiko makes dozens of references that combine a dive-watch platform with a smattering of “gold-tone” allure, Omega offers their Seamaster 300 in a trio of precious metals, and even Oris and Doxa recently have dipped a toe into the gold stream.
Perhaps now more than ever, the lines between watches and jewelry are quite blurry, and watchmakers are boldly bending the traditional rules. Consider the new and polarizing two-tone Explorer, the limited reality of a $70,000 Doxa chronograph, or a comic-book-themed Audemars Piguet. Like the watches above, the solid yellow gold Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K is an ambitious and divisive creation that blends traits both common and uncommon to Tudor’s usual fare.
As with the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925, the format here is well established by both the broader Black Bay design language and the more recent but quite popular Fifty-Eight flavor therein. Measuring 39mm across but this time rendered in satin-finished 18-karat yellow gold, the 18K is 12.7mm thick and has a lug-to-lug of 47mm.
Controversially, and like the 925, the 18K has a display case back. Specific to this watch is a pair of included straps – a brown alligator strap and a green/gold fabric strap, both fitted with matching 18-karat gold hardware. No gold bracelet is offered, and without it, the Black Bay 18K only weighs 103 grams and doesn’t wear all that differently from any other version of the Fifty-Eight, which is not surprising given its similar weight and stock mount options.
My first hands-on impressions came from the general coloring and how different the green can be based on available light. In bright sunlight – or perhaps in the over-blown light of a boutique – the green is quite punchy with a minimal yellow undertone that makes me think of banana leaves. But in more casual lighting, or even the balanced light from a pair of flashes, I found the color to be a darker olive green, much more richly saturated, and simply more earthy in tonality. The way the green combines with the gold case and accents doesn’t read like any other gold dive watch I’ve come across. To my eyes, the warm and earthy coloring has the effect of making this gold watch look as though it’s made from bronze.
I think either element in its own format (a green Fifty-Eight in steel, or a gold Fifty-Eight with a blue or black colorway) could be excellent. But as it stands, this execution is so on-trend that it feels forced – especially compared with the utterly original silver Black Bay, which I raved about just last week.
As a mixing of two of the most ubiquitous trends in sport watches right now – green dials and bronze cases, though not always together – an 18K should feel wild, a bit flashy, and endlessly fun, but this precious-metal Tudor has less charisma than I had hoped. I love gold watches, even gold sport watches, but without a matched bracelet (for that pleasing heft) or a more classic colorway, this combo doesn’t speak to me.
That said, the bezel remains excellent, the all-brushed finishing is lovey, and the 18K (like any Fifty-Eight) feels perfect on my seven-inch wrist. Swapped onto a tan leather strap (the blasphemy!), it’s casual and offers something of a wink toward Tudor’s own legacy in dive watches. These are all good things, and I’d love to see the same watch in different coloring (blue with gold accents for me, please).
As with the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925, I don’t begrudge Tudor the display case back. But I’d certainly prefer the option of an engravable case back, and might suggest – given the price point – that the movement could have been treated to a higher level of finishing. In its current form, this is not a movement that demands to be seen. Conversely, it is the sort of watch one might want to engrave.
In any case, the movement you’re looking at is Tudor’s MT5400, a version of the MT5402 (which is common to the steel Fifty-Eights) that has been upsized to better fill the aperture of the display case back. Ticking at 4Hz and offering 70 hours of power reserve, the MT5400 is COSC-certified and backed by Tudor’s 5-year warranty.
This watch costs $16,800 MSRP. That’s a lot of money, full stop. It’s also a lot for a Tudor, and this will undoubtedly take brand fans some time to reckon with.
Ultimately, if you compare it to other Black Bay models, you’re paying a huge premium for the gold. In the other hand, if you compare it to other luxe dive watches like those from Rolex, Panerai, and Omega (let’s not cloud the waters with the gold Doxa) you’ll see that Tudor’s usual relative position remains in play – but the brand is now playing in a totally different market.
While Tudor typically excels in the steel market, the competitors I mentioned above have a presence in both steel and gold. I’m not saying these other brands are better equipped (I like the 18K as much or more than many of the options from its competitors), I’m just suggesting that it’s a different scene and Tudor doesn’t have a specific legacy to rely upon in making the translation for their core enthusiast audience. And while I’m admittedly not crazy about this specific Black Bay, I do rather admire this more daring phase for Tudor.
In my personal opinion, thanks to its ample weirdness, the silver Fifty-Eight 925 is a more successful product. As much as I’d like to see the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K as a Black Bay that just happens to be gold, I find that it feels more like a gold watch that just happens to be a Black Bay. It seems to be going for a whole different audience than those fans (like me) who love the steel dive watches. The Black Bay line has been huge for Tudor, and while I will continue to dream of a Fifty-Eight equipped with Tudor’s GMT movement, I get why they’d want a “bold and gold” move at the top of the range. Maybe it could even be bolder and golder.
The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K is a 39mm 18-karat gold dive watch measuring 12.7mm thick and 47mm lug to lug. With 200 meters of water resistance, a display caseback, and a green dial and bezel. The 18K uses Tudor’s MT5400 automatic movement with hacking, hand-winding, and no phantom date position, COSC-certified timekeeping, and a 5-year guarantee. Production is not limited and the 18K costs $16,800 and comes with both a fabric and an alligator strap with matching gold hardware. For more, visit Tudor online.