- Dimensions: 37 x 11.24 x 46mm
- Case: Stainless Steel
- Water Resistance: 200m
- Movement: MT5400 In-House
- Price: $3,850 (steel bracelet) / $3,625 (rubber strap)
In March of 2023, Tudor released the Black Bay 54 at the Watches & Wonders tradeshow, and Tudor fans swarmed and swooned. I’ve seen this feeding frenzy before with the Baselworld 2018 release of the Black Bay 58. Another Black Bay. Should I care? Curiosity manifested and I asked my local Rolex/Tudor AD to let me know when they got one in (even if it’s already allocated).
Seven weeks after Watches & Wonders 2023 my cell phone rang with the AD’s number on the caller-ID. I mentally prepared; so this is what it feels like to get “the call” for a new steel GMT Master II. Breathe, play it cool, and try not to sound too excited. My heart sank as “the call” was for a Tudor BB54. Still, I took the bait.
Ooh-wee-ooh, I look just like Buddy Holly
During the 1950s, stylish products cascaded into middle-class homes in unprecedented quantities. My three favorite enduring examples from this era are the Ray-Ban Wayfarers (1952), the Rolex Submariner (1953), and the Fender Stratocaster (1954). All three represent steadfast 1950s designs that have prevailed over the last 70 years. This is the era to which the Tudor Black Bay 54 pays tribute as closely as any modern Tudor ever has.
The Black Bay 54 is the culmination of a decades-long departure from Tudor’s late 1990s/early 2000s oversized designs that lacked staying power to a closer replication of Tudor’s earliest models. When Tudor released the 41mm Black Bay Heritage in 2012 the consumer mass market wasn’t ready for a 37mm watch like the BB54, but those 50s designs, though blown up to modern sizes, were a hit. Rolex had successfully introduced the six-digit “Super Case” seven years earlier to meet the demand for watches with more wrist presence, and Tudor’s slabby 41mm Black Bay followed suit. It took Tudor over a decade to slowly move back towards its 1954 dive watch roots and bring the size back down to 37mm.
Scaling-Down to Scale-up
Taking an extremely successful watch design and then adding additional case sizes is usually bungled by even the most seasoned of watch brands. It’s a reactionary attempt at capitalizing on a hit with a remix, or three. The iterations so often botch the proportional balance of the original.
This has been executed poorly by Omega with the Speedmaster Professional and the Automatic “Reduced”, and again with the 36mm Seamaster 300M. Study the Seiko SKX009 vs the SKX013 as the design unravels when scaled down. Or take a Cartier Tank and super-size it to the current Extra-large (it’s really called that), and the elegance is lost.
Design elements need to be rebalanced to support the design. For example, the original 1954 Tudor Submariner Ref 7922 did have a small 6mm crown, similar to the Black Bay 54. These little things matter — a lot.
Today, we see a “big” oversized crown on the 39mm Black Bay 58, as well as the rest of the Black Bay product lines. An oversized (6.75mm) crown wouldn’t have worked with Black Bay 54. Using a relatively small crown (5.9mm) on the Black Bay 54 makes the 37mm case size appear larger. Don’t think of the difference in millimeters, but in ratios to the case diameter. The eye can’t help but compare the size of multiple objects. This is the essence of proportional design.
This concept also works when viewing the profile of the Blacky Bay 54. Tudor moved the Black Bay 54 case away from the Heritage model and closer to the much sleeker Rolex Oyster Case. The bezel gains additional height visually offsetting the case flanks. This is something that Rolex figured out in the 1950s. Today in 2023 with the BB54, we’re right back where it all started — and the BB54’s proportions are easily the most lovely of all Black Bay divers.
Gilty As Charged
The “Gilt” dial if the Black Bay 54 is actually gilt printed as opposed to the labor-intensive true as gilt process. The gilt treatment isn’t overwhelming thanks to the silver printing on the aluminum bezel insert. The lack of sub-fifteen-minute graduations on the bezel insert pays homage to the original reference and cleans up the package.
Those design tenants flow over to the hands. The Black Bay 54 seconds hand is missing the signature Tudor snowflake, which would overpower this smaller dial. In 1954, Tudor had not yet developed the squared-snowflake hands, however. The snowflake hand was not introduced to the Tudor Submariner until 1968. This BB54 is crying out for a Mercedes hand. Carrying that over to the modern Black Bay 54 would perhaps have infringed too closely on Rolex territory. A strict no-no, leaving the Black Bay 54 with no option except for a snowflake hour hand. I lament this choice, as it looks a bit clunky in this diminutive watch, and defies the “leave it alone” methodology.
There isn’t much of a story with the movement and that’s OK with a tool watch. In this case, a reliable workaholic such as the MT5400 is ideal. The Tudor Black Bay 54 is supplied with an in-house (Kenissi) automatic COSC Certified movement. Introduced in 2018, The caliber MT5400 is the same time-only movement that is shared with the Black Bay 58. The caliber MT5400 movement has a seventy-hour power reserve.
The Black Bay 58 925 Silver and 18k Gold variants have exhibition casebacks (and MT5402 movements with a higher level of finishing for display). Exhibition casebacks are even creeping into Rolex as seen in recent 2023 Daytona releases. I do appreciate that Tudor kept the solid caseback with the Black Bay 54 staying true to its 1950s roots.
The Imperfect, but Improved Clasp
Despite the fantastic T-fit clasp, I couldn’t get the BB54 to wear correctly on my 6.75” wrist. I was in purgatory with the micro adjusts needing to be all the way in or out with removal of a full link, thus rendering the coveted feature useless. The Tudor T-fit clasp travels a total of 8.5mm, while the Rolex Ostyerglide clasp almost doubles that at 16.6mm. The Oysterglide is designed for a wetsuit, but most use it for comfort and ease, which I needed. However, to get any more travel the T-fit clasp would have to be lengthened and therefore be proportionally too large for the Black Bay 54. I was stuck in purgatory.
I had the same issue sizing my Black Bay 58. Luckily, the same Blacky Bay 58 half-link ($29) from Uncle Straps fits the bracelet for the 54. I resent that an aftermarket part is necessary to achieve the perfect fit on a $4,000 luxury watch. Even the Oris D65 ($2,450) comes with two half-links for the bracelet.
It should be noted that I am a bit of a fuss when it comes to bracelet fit and features. Perhaps a bit obsessive, but still.
The Black Bay 58 is also available on a black rubber strap with the same Tudor T-fit clasp. There are no OEM leather or fabric straps offered. When talking to the local Rolex/Tudor AD, the salesperson said,”[they] have only ordered Black Bay 54’s with the bracelets,… and have not received any customer requests for the rubber strap [version].”
The rubber strap is very modern (especially with the T-fit clap) and feels very modern compared to the 1950s design of the watch — like an Oyseterflex or the Pelagos. In addition, Tudor chose raised snowflake hand patterns the underside of the straps to let your skin breathe under the rubber. This is similar to what Omega does with moon craters on the gold Speedmaster rubber straps. To stay true to the 1950s, the rubber strap should probably be a Tropic style, something that is not in Tudor’s current offerings, but is easy enough to fit to the watch for vintage vibes.
Reflecting from the midway point of 2023, the watches with the most buzz of late have fallen into two categories. Whimsical, over-the-top flashiness has plagued the industry of late (including Rolex). Those designs cry of cultural status anxiety.
On the completely other spectrum is the category of practicality and wearability. That’s where the Tudor Black at 54 resides. Wearability and classic design are everything on the road to long-term satisfaction. That sustainable delight is much more powerful than the shiny flavor of the week.
I bought the Black Bay 54 and it’s an excellent addition to my Rolex-centric collection.