The Tudor Black Bay P01 And The Story Of The 1967 Prototype That Inspired It
by Nick Gould
An unfortunate leak occurred one day before Baselworld 2019 began, which slightly spoiled the surprise Tudor had in store for the wider watch community: the Rolex-owned brand had been teasing the reveal of something new at the fair through its Instagram account, with a quartet of posts providing hints.
When the curtains were finally drawn at the Tudor booth, a watch that been considered a myth by many was revealed to be 100 percent real!
In 1967 Tudor, who had been supplying the U.S. Navy with diver’s watches since the late 1950s, produced a prototype watch for the American branch of armed services featuring a unique system for locking the bezel and a case with its crown at the 4 o’clock position, giving it a very distinctive look.
Ultimately, though, the U.S. Navy decided on another wristwatch, and the prototype pieces went into the Tudor vault. In 1968 a patent was awarded to parent company Rolex for the bezel locking mechanism.
Thirty years on, a “Rolex version” – that is hotly disputed
The story takes a weird turn, as more than 30 years later a Rolex watch surfaced at auction called the U.S. Marine featuring the same locking mechanism for the bezel and a Rolex Caliber 1570 automatic movement.
The story was that it was a prototype made for the U.S. Marines by Rolex. The glaring error making the watch suspect was the words “U.S. Marine” on the dial and not “U.S. Marines,” which is the regulation way of spelling that branch of the United States Armed Forces.
Nonetheless, the U.S. Marine with its “backstory” made its way to Antiquroum, where it sold for $82,000 in the December 2001 auction in New York. It sold again in 2004 for $124,000 at the Antiquorum auction in Geneva.
It has been widely acknowledged among vintage Rolex experts that the U.S. Marine watch was a fake.
In addition to the U.S. Marine, various Tudor watches with the same design features have appeared at auction and online, albeit with different dials from the one now shown by Tudor and were deemed counterfeit as well. With the reveal of the Tudor prototype, and the official information that more than one prototype was made, it does make one wonder if there are a couple of genuine pieces out there after all.
The 2019 Tudor Black Bay P01
Looking back on Tudor’s pre-Baselworld teasers, there were clues that now, upon reflection, stood out – the most important of them being a picture of a safe with a caption stating, “Some might think it’s a myth but we will soon show you it’s not.”
The Tudor Black Bay P01 – whose name stands for “prototype 1” – is a modern interpretation of the 1967 prototype. The case of the watch retains similar lines to the prototype, including the crown at the 4 o’clock position.
The 12-hour bezel offers a more modern font and can be cleverly locked using the mechanism in the prominent, extended lugs from the 12 o’clock position. The original mechanism on the prototype locked the bezel at both the 12 and 6 o’clock positions and enabled the bezel to be removed for cleaning.
The Black Bay P01 does not offer an exact reproduction of the prototype mechanism, but borrows from it extensively.
In looks, the two watches are similar but not identical: instead of the original’s arrow-tipped hour hand (called the “Mercedes hand” in collector lingo), for example, the P01 offers the now-signature Black Bay snowflake hour hand.
The strap technology is also vastly improved: the P01 offers a hybrid leather-and-rubber strap that attaches to the prominent steel lugs, ensuring that this watch looks like nothing else on the market.
Social media reactions have been mixed: some praising Tudor for releasing something different and others professing that it looks like a Seiko diver’s watch. Bear in mind that the Tudor prototype was made in 1967, in the same year Seiko released its diver’s watch with crown at the 4 o’clock position.
I personally think the watch looks good, as does most of the rest of our team from what I’ve heard.
Hats off to Tudor for revealing that the prototype actually existed and finally putting the many doubts over the watch to rest in addition to creating an interesting new timepiece generating a monumental amount of (positive) chatter both live at Baselworld and online.
For more information, please visit www.tudorwatch.com/watches/black-bay-p01.
Quick Facts Tudor Black Bay P01
Case: 42 mm, stainless steel, water resistant to 200 meters, bidirectional rotating bezel with stop system
Movement: automatic Caliber MT5612, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, power reserve 70 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: CHF 3,750
Availability: from July 2019