Birth of the Cool is a compilation album by American jazz trumpeter and bandleader Miles Davis. Released in February 1957 by Capitol Records, the album is a landmark in jazz history, featuring unusual instrumentation and innovative, rich, layered arrangements heavily influenced by classical music. The music on Birth of the Cool is an important evolution of post-bebop jazz, and it helped other jazz artists to evolve further. And the Heritage Black Bay was the birth of the cool Tudor. The introduction of the retro-styled dive watch a decade ago this year was a giant step (John Coltrane pun intended) in becoming a brand that lived outside the shadow of Rolex. It also proved to be a benchmark in modern retro design. Now, in 2022, we’re celebrating 10 years of the Tudor Black Bay.

It was the Tudor Heritage Black Bay that was the star of the show during Baselworld 2012. But the Black Bay was not the first Heritage model from Tudor. At Baselworld 2010, Tudor released the (I think soon to be discontinued) Heritage Chrono. It achieved some level of acclaim, but only within a relatively small circle of people in the know. A year later, Tudor released the Heritage Advisor Alarm with an in-house alarm module on an ETA 2892 base. I doubt you remember that watch. What I’m trying to say is that Tudor had already started to revive its past with two watches expressly for the enthusiasts. Tudor finally succeeded in touching their hearts in 2012 with the launch of the burgundy-colored Heritage Black Bay. It’s that watch that would be Tudor’s Birth of the Cool.

Tudor Heritage Black Bay Reference 79220R — Picture courtesy of Xupes

Celebrating 10 years of the Tudor Black Bay — Burgundy, an odd color to start a dive-watch collection with

The 2012 Tudor Heritage Black Bay ref. 79220R — “R” for Rouge — is both an important and a weird watch. It’s peculiar because it was designed with Tudor dive watches of yesteryear in mind. But because of that, the result was not a re-edition, but a mix and match of several historical references with a dollop of contemporary style for extra flavor. It worked. Sure, some couldn’t come to terms with the combination of snowflake hands and round luminous plots. Our photographer Bert still can’t, even after a decade of shooting different Black Bay models. But a vast majority of watch enthusiasts embraced the Black Bay. They didn’t mind the black, almost chocolatey dial with gilt details and rose gold-colored hands one bit. On the contrary, they thought it was tasteful. And above all, they loved the domed crystal that provided a warm vintage touch.

Celebrating 10 years of Tudor Heritage Black Bay watches

From red to blue and black

The Tudor Heritage Black Bay was not a revamped historical reference, but a compilation and tribute to specific dive watches of the brand’s past. Thus, it provided a lot of creative freedom, hence the choice of a burgundy bezel. It was daring to start with a shade of red for a maritime-inspired watch, but it was smart too. Blue would have been the obvious choice. Red, however, was a choice that people would talk about. Nevertheless, blue was inevitable. So, after the red version came the Black Bay Blue (79220B), and after that one, a version with a black bezel, the “BB” Black (79220N). Inside the first three Black Bay watches, you would find the automatic ETA 2824.

… the Shield that protects the Crown.

Tudor is, of course, the brainchild of parent-company founder Hans Wilsdorf. He created Tudor to market the Rolex reputation for quality at a more accessible price — the Shield that protects the Crown. In other words, Tudor offered Rolex-quality cases with less expensive movements from third parties for an unrivaled value for money.

Celebrating 10 years of Tudor Heritage Black Bay watches

The first in-house Tudor movements are not for the Black Bay

With the Black Bay, Tudor confidently presented itself with a renewed vigor. The reputation of the “poor man’s Rolex” had to be erased. Tudor re-entered the US market in 2013, and a year later, after a decade-long absence, it came back to the UK. But even bigger news came the following year when Tudor broke with the tradition of using non-in-house movements and launched the manufacture calibers MT5621 and MT5612. The new COSC-certified movements with a 70-hour power reserve didn’t make their world premiere in a Black Bay. Instead, they debuted in the now discontinued, more modernly styled North Flag and titanium Pelagos respectively.

Tudor Heritage Black Bay Harrods Limited Edition 79230G — Picture courtesy of Xupes

No more “smiley face”

It wasn’t until 2016 that the Black Bay got the in-house upgrade in the shape of the time-only, chronometer-precise caliber MT5602. As a result, the reference number changed from 79220 to 79230. The dial immediately tells you if you’re dealing with an ETA-powered or an in-house “BB”. No matter which version of the 79230 you’re dealing with — Rouge, Bleu, or Noir — the dial is was a more standard black color, with the subtle chocolatey undertones making an even subtler exit.

More noticeably, the logo also changed, with the “newer” Tudor shield replacing the older Tudor rose. And the other major difference was that the text above 6 o’clock no longer resembled a smiley face. That distinct, curved “self-winding” text was exchanged for a straight-lined indication of the Black Bay’s chronometer status.

The 43mm Black Bay Bronze from 2016 — Picture courtesy of Bulang and Sons

Bring on the patina, but not too much

In 2016, Tudor also introduced the caliber MT5601. It was basically a slightly larger MT5602 in a watch that marked another milestone for Tudor — the 43mm Black Bay Bronze. Though it is now a common sight, six years ago, it was still pretty exotic.

The first full-bronze luxury watch, to my knowledge, was the Gérald Genta Gefica Safari Chronograph from 1988. But it was Panerai that presented its first bronze watch in 2011, which initiated a wave of nautically inspired luxury watches in that alloy. Is it a coincidence that Davide Cerrato, the brain behind the Black Bay, worked at Panerai before he came to Tudor? With the Black Bay Bronze, Tudor introduced a bronze-aluminum alloy that picked up a romantic/acceptable/desirable amount of patina — and by that, I mean far less than the gruesome amounts of green gunk you can find on early Panarai Submersibles in bronze.

Shrinking down with growing appeal

And here is where I’ll stop the chronological summary of Black Bay models. So many have appeared since 2016, that it has resulted in 81 different Black Bay references on the official Tudor website. What I will touch upon are some of the watches released since then that have caught my eye. With the different Black Bay Fifty-Eight models, Tudor dove even deeper into the past. A smaller 39mm case made its debut, but the big crown and gilt details remained.

… a fresh, new watch emerged with a charismatic red triangle with lume pip at 12 o’clock on the black aluminum bezel.

The Fifty-Eight also forgoes crown guards and resembles the Tudor Submariner reference 7924 from 1958. But again, Tudor mixed and matched snowflake hands and round indices (the snowflake hands didn’t make it into a Tudor until the 1960s) until a fresh, new watch emerged with a charismatic red triangle with lume pip at 12 o’clock on the black aluminum bezel. It’s a great watch indeed, but my favorite Fifty-Eight is the 925 in soft-shimmering silver and fashionably retro-stylish taupe.

Celebrating 10 years of Tudor Heritage Black Bay watches

The prototype that went into production

Not every new Black Bay received raving reviews upon release, and the Black Bay P01 is such an example. It is based on a 1967 proposal submission to the US Navy that never made it past the prototype stage. The 42mm military dive watch re-emerged as a regular-production watch in 2019. The P01 has a unique and extra-safe bezel-locking mechanism and the crown at 4 o’clock.

The intricate way the leather strap is attached to the security system on both sides of the case causes the watch to look quite bulky. The contrast between the leather and the steel is quite harsh, somehow. Every Black Bay has a feel-good vibe, but the P01 doesn’t, and I think that’s why people shy away from this “production prototype”. But I do have to say that once it’s on your wrist, its rugged tool-watch qualities come to life.

Celebrating 10 years of Tudor Heritage Black Bay watches

The chronograph alternative

The chronograph is the most popular watch complication in the world. Pretty smart of Tudor, then, to also introduce a diver’s chronograph into the Black Bay collection. And though smart doesn’t necessarily mean handsome, I have no problem classifying the latest iteration of the Black-Bay Chrono as such. It’s an impressive chronograph and maybe even a worthy alternative to the unobtainable Rolex Daytona. The panda or reverse-panda Black Bay Chrono M79360N watches are technically on-par chronographs, with column wheels and vertical clutch mechanisms and an appealing look and price of €5,020 on a steel bracelet.

Last year’s Black Bay Ceramic didn’t impress me much on the screen, but completely turned me around when I held it in my hands and wore it on my wrist. Inside the smooth and stealthy 41mm case beats the blacked-out in-house caliber MT5602. You can have a look at the automatic movement through the transparent case back, a feature this watch has in common with the 925 and 18K versions of the Black Bay Fifty-Eight. And the Black Bay Ceramic is the first Tudor in history that is certified by METAS as a Master Chronometer. It could be the first of a new generation of Tudor Black Bay watches that are on par with the competition from Bienne, and which outclass the superlative chronometers with a crown on the dial. The BB Ceramic celebrates Tudor Black Bay in a visually sober but technically exuberant fashion.

Celebrating 10 years of Tudor Heritage Black Bay watches

Celebrating 10 years of the Tudor Black Bay — Seasoned collectors and enthusiastic newcomers

It was just twelve years ago that Tudor aimed to become a brand that could catch the eye of watch aficionados. And the 2012 Black Bay was the watch that got them hooked. Seasoned collectors knew about Tudor Submariners and were interested to see how the Tudor team led creatively by Davide Cerrato was going to implement the past into its future watches. Newcomers to the wonderful world of watches witnessed carefully designed, retro-styled timepieces that just looked plain cool; yes, I did mention Birth of the Cool for a reason. And there’s the secret to this decade of Black Bay success. Tudor managed to keep aficionados interested in reinterpreting the brand’s rich history, while simultaneously informing a new generation about its past.

Celebrating 10 years of Tudor Heritage Black Bay watches

The Shield is still guarding the Crown, but it deserves a promotion

Furthermore, by creating bronze, silver, and ceramic Black Bay watches in the right colors and with the right (NATO) straps, Tudor became known as a trend-setting, trailblazing watch brand. Again, I didn’t refer to Miles Davis’s pivotal Birth of the Cool for nothing. And ten years after its conception, the Black Bay has become the benchmark when it comes to retro-styled dive watches.

But it’s not just about watches that look good. Tudor’s top-notch quality, an impressive number of in-house movements, and affordability (besides the most expensive Tudor ever, the €16,880 Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K) are in accord with Hans Wilsdorf’s original idea. Modern Tudor is still the Shield that guards the Crown. But with the way the brand is developing and performing, clearly, Tudor now deserves its own kingdom.

Let us know your favorite Black Bay model in the comments below, and please find and follow me at Lex Stolk • Instagram.