Hands-On: Spending Time With The Tudor Black Bay 54
Tudor surprised all of us with the release of the Black Bay 54 this year. While we were fully expecting a Black Bay 58 GMT or a blue Pelagos 39, Tudor took the shrink ray to its popular diver once more. But the Tudor Black Bay 54 is more than a simple downsizing effort. It is more of a straight-up reissue and less of a merely vintage-inspired offering than its predecessors. So, what is it like to live with?
It is hard to open a web browser and not bump into a Tudor Black Bay 54 review. So I will include the basic objective review content for the sake of completeness, but I will particularly focus on some subjective matters too. This release triggers some bigger questions about vintage-inspired watches that deserve some attention. Let me try to cover all of that in a hopefully still-readable package. Settle in; this is a long one!
Context of the Tudor Black Bay 54
Okay, let me start with some context. What is the Tudor Black Bay 54? Well, at first glance, it could be mistaken for a downsized Black Bay 58, but it is not. The “58” refers to 1958, the year in which Tudor released the Submariner ref. 7924. The Black Bay 58 is loosely inspired by that watch. I say “loosely” because many details were changed in the process. The “smiley” dial printing and the Mercedes handset, for instance, were omitted. A bezel insert with gilt-tone accents was added, and the bezel itself was different, as was the crown. Furthermore, the original 37mm size was boosted to 39mm.
The Black Bay 58 was a big hit nonetheless. The 39mm size speaks to a lot of people, wearing similar to the 40mm five-digit Rolex watches of yesteryear. And the vintage styling was very much on trend. With the new Black Bay 54, however, Tudor took it a step further. While the 58 was inspired by the 1958 ref. 7924, the 54 is more of a direct reissue of the 1954 ref. 7922.
Most prominently, the diameter is now indeed 37mm. But other details have been brought closer to the historical model. The round lume pip on the seconds hand, the black and silver bezel insert, and the pencil-style minute hand are significant changes. So are the small crown and the flattened knurling on the bezel. Only two elements are dead giveaways of this being a modern Tudor — the snowflake hour hand and the straight text.
Tudor Black Bay 54 specs
The new Tudor Black Bay 54 ref. M7900N-0001 in stainless steel measures 37mm across by 46mm long. The thickness is a hair over 11mm, and the lug spacing measures 20mm. Water resistance is, like its bigger brothers, rated at 200 meters. This is up from 100 meters for the 1954 original. You get a small screw-down crown and a 60-click unidirectional bezel with an aluminum insert. There are no minute markers on the bezel insert, providing a cleaner look. The crystal is domed and made of sapphire.
Inside ticks the automatic Kenissi caliber MT5400. You get the same 70-hour power reserve, 28,800vph beat rate, and three-hand configuration as with the Black Bay 58. It is certified as a chronometer, which is confirmed on the dial under the water resistance rating.
You can have your pick of the stainless steel bracelet or a rubber strap with steel end links. Both come with the T-Fit clasp, with an excellent tool-less micro-adjustment mechanism that offers 7mm of stepped adjustment. The controversial rivets are still present on this one, as is customary for divers under the Black Bay line. The clasp is also very good, even if it is perhaps a bit long. I have worn the bracelet version that you see in the pictures.
A word on the size
At this point, I think pretty much everything has been said about the size of the Tudor Black Bay 54. All I can advise is that you give it a try if you can get access to one at a dealer. I am aware that 37mm is a no-go area for some, but the diameter of a watch just tells you too little to judge. This is another prime example of a watch that simply isn’t represented very well by numbers, so let me share my perception instead.
I have owned the 41mm Kenissi-powered Black Bay in the past. I got tired of it for two main reasons, one of which I will get into later. The size was the other thing I could not get on with. It wasn’t so much the diameter but the thickness and the way it doesn’t hide it. For my taste, the Black Bay 58 wears perfectly, thickness included. So when I first put my hands on the new Tudor Black Bay 54, it looked a bit small to me.
Interestingly, that perception changed after about an hour of wearing it. The proportions are a bit more muscular compared to its bigger brothers. The lug spacing and bezel width, for instance, are maintained while downsizing the diameter. The crown sits more flush against the case. All of this conspires to make the watch feel more condensed. And that provides it with proper wrist presence while also having the comfort benefits of a smaller watch. Now that I have spent time with both, I would pick the Black Bay 54 over the 58.
Less vintage inspired, more vintage
If you put the black 41mm, 39mm, and 37mm Black Bays side by side, you will notice clear aesthetic differences. All three carry very strong vintage vibes but in markedly different ways. The 41mm version is thoroughly modern in proportions, again, primarily because of the way it carries its thickness. The 39mm version pours a little more vintage sauce on the watch than the originals had. This is primarily due to the gilt-colored markings on the bezel insert.
This means that the 41mm and 39mm Black Bays do not actually look like vintage watches. You can see from a distance that they are vintage-inspired pieces but not truly old. The Black Bay 54, on the other hand, looks much more like an actual old Sub. I think it is due to the small crown, cleaner bezel, handset, and flat profile that it is a bit more convincing in the vintage game.
Some very personal sentiments on the Tudor Black Bay 54
Okay, if you just want a clean and factual watch review, you should probably skip this section. I have some personal thoughts about this watch that may be valuable if you are considering one yourself. At the same time, this is very much based on my preferences alone, so take it with a grain of salt, and feel free to completely discard it if it doesn’t resonate with you.
Besides the scale, my other gripe with my 41mm BB M79230N-0009 was the vintage sauce. The faux patina, gilt-colored accents, and riveted bracelet somehow felt a little disingenuous after a while. It is as if the watch is pretending to be something it isn’t — old. I had the same feeling about my bronze-bezel Oris Divers Sixty-Five. I absolutely loved both watches when I bought them, but I fell out of love with them very quickly. Looking at my watch collection now, all vintage-inspired watches have gone. That wasn’t a conscious, orchestrated purge but rather something I found myself doing along the way.
So, to me, the big question while wearing the Tudor Black Bay 54 was: is it the real deal? The fact that it feels more genuinely vintage and less vintage inspired speaks for it. But still, Lex warned me that I would get bored of it. Several days of wearing it later, I have to admit he is right. I really, really like the Black Bay 54. But I would rather own a vintage diver or a modern Tudor, such as a Pelagos. Those simply feel more authentic to me.
Strengths and weaknesses of the Tudor Black Bay 54
This section is also subjective but a little less so. If you are considering the BB54, there are a few pros and cons worth knowing. Let me share some of the things that stood out to me while wearing it.
Starting with the good, I absolutely love the fit of this watch. I love it when a watch successfully pairs a modest size with a strong presence, and the Black Bay 54 does. The T-fit clasp is great, and I found myself adjusting to a perfect fit several times a day. I love the bezel action, with its loud and confident click. Aesthetically, the small crown, handset, and monochromatic bezel inlay work really well for me. Lastly, the dial finishing stands out to me as well. I am not usually for sunburst dials on divers, but this one is just so subtle. It adds a little depth and a slight brownness that is reminiscent of tropical dials.
On to the not-so-good, which isn’t a lot, to be fair. I find the positioning of the pointy shield on the clasp less than optimal. It pricks under your nail if you don’t open the clasp carefully. I also feel this watch begs for a Mercedes handset, but Tudor just can’t do it anymore. My biggest dislike, however, is on the dial. Tudor is one of many brands that switched to extremely generic Arial-like fonts. All the text except for the wordmark is executed in this soulless, sterile lettering. If you are going for a vintage look, you have to go all the way. Surely, Tudor could have gone through the effort of developing a more vintage-correct and attractive typeface.
To me, the Tudor Black Bay 54 is the best execution of the throwback Tudor diver concept so far. We see several fine-tuned details that make all the difference. I think the crown, handset, and bezel are more congruent with the overall design. The clasp, with its adjustment mechanism, is really good as well. Add to this the machining and finishing quality you expect from Tudor, and you truly do end up with a very good watch.
The obvious truth remains: you have to be into the vintage-inspired theme. If you are, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Black Bay 54. However, if you are experiencing similar doubts about vintage-inspired styling as I am, then the 54 may not be the cure. If you already happily own a 41mm or 39mm variant, the difference is probably too small to switch to or add a 54. Those are great watches in their own right. Don’t take my preference for the Black Bay 54 as a discarding of either of those.
I am curious to see where Tudor will take the Black Bay divers next. Across the board, the brand seems to be comfortable offering tons of size options. So I am not convinced the 54 will replace the 58, contrary to what I have seen others suggest. Will Tudor treat the 54 as the most faithful re-edition while playing with color and complications on its bigger brothers? Who knows? For now, you have a tough choice to make if you are after a vintage-inspired Tudor diver.
What do you think of the new Tudor Black Bay 54? Let us know in the comments below.