Legacy of Tudor: Timekeeper of the Mariners

For more than half a century, some of the world’s largest navies relied on professional diving watches from one brand: TUDOR.

TUDOR introduced its first diving watch in 1954. It proved to be a timely development as it allowed the brand to provide the burgeoning community of professional scuba divers with cutting-edge, reliable and robust underwater timekeeping instruments that came at an accessible price.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for naval forces—some of the world’s biggest navies, in fact—to take note of this as well. Soon, TUDOR found itself supplying diving watches for frogmen and combat divers serving in some of the most powerful militaries in the world. These are some of the most intriguing tales of TUDOR watches relied on by some of the most storied armed mariners…

Marine Nationale

The French Navy is one of the world’s oldest naval forces, with a proud history stretching all the way back to 1624. Today, it is a modern, blue-water navy operating all over the world with an impressive fleet, including the majestic aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

Back in 1956, however, the Marine Nationale began looking into TUDOR diving watches and ordered samples of the TUDOR Oyster Prince Submariner reference 7922 for testing. Finding the watches well suited to its needs, the Marine Nationale immediately put them to use. Following extensive field-test, the navy then informed TUDOR that they required a diving watch that was rated for depths of up to 200 meters. This would then lead to the birth of a TUDOR icon: the Big Crown Submariner.

“They represent the epitome of tool watches—instruments that were relied on under the most demanding conditions”

Developed in the late 1950s, the TUDOR Submariner reference 7924 was instantly recognizable by its oversized winding crown—hence the name Big Crown. French combat divers made extensive use of this watch as well as its subsequent versions, namely reference 7928 and 7016.

That being said, the most famous TUDOR diving watch used by the Marine Nationale was the reference 9401, which featured a blue dial, square hour markers and—most importantly—the now-famous Snowflake hands. This last feature was introduced in 1969 as a direct response to the need for highly legible hands during dives under poor lighting conditions. These watches were famously delivered without bracelets—they were worn using either Navy-issue black fabric straps or, in some cases, fitted with improvised straps made using parachute webbing—and engraved with the initials MN followed by the short-form year of delivery. So, a watch bearing the inscription MN77 would have been delivered to the Marine Nationale in 1977.

All in all, the TUDOR Submariner was delivered regularly to the Marine Nationale until the mid-1980s and were in active use right up to the early 2000s.

The U.S. Navy

It says quite a lot about a brand when some of the most elite warriors from basically the world’s most powerful military rely on the brand’s products. Such was the case with TUDOR and the United States Navy. While this relationship began with the adaptation of the TUDOR Oyster Prince Submariner reference 7924 at the end of the 1950s, it was the reference 7928—driven by the exclusive Fleurier caliber 390 movement—that became associated with the USN. And while the 7928 and its modified versions were used by a wide range of diving specialists, it was famously used throughout the 1960s by the Underwater Demolition Teams and the special operations force that it would develop into: the United States Navy SEALs.

During the 1970s, U.S. Navy personnel were issued with “Snowflake” Submariner watches, particularly references 7016, 9401 and 9411. Interestingly, much like in the French navy, these watches were often fitted with one-piece pass-through fabric straps. Not only were these helpful in preventing the watches from getting lost when the spring bars failed, they also allowed the wearer to attach a wrist compass or temperature gauge. Unlike the Marine Nationale, however, the U.S. Navy never introduced a large-scale marking system for its TUDOR diving watches, so surviving specimens tend to be hard to identify—and are, unsurprisingly, in high demand.

Other Naval Forces

While the French and United States navies were the two most prominent naval forces to procure TUDOR watches for its diving specialists, plenty of other nations have done the same. The United States’ northern neighbor for instance, had a long-standing relationship with the brand since the 1960s. The Royal Canadian Navy used the reference 7928 well into the 1980s and also issued “Snowflake” references. References 76100 and 79090 are also known to be used by Canadians.

Moving to the south we have the Argentinian navy, which at the end of the 1950s started using the Big Crown Submariner—known among collectors as ARA Big Crowns due to the initials ARA, for Armada de la República de Argentina, on the casebacks.

And beyond the Americas, TUDOR diving watches were also worn by combat divers in Italy, South Africa, Jamaica and many more.

In Civilian Life

It goes without saying that the vintage TUDOR diving watches used by the Marine Nationale, the United States Navy, the Armada de la República de Argentina and other major naval forces are highly sought after these days. It’s easy to see why: They represent the epitome of tool watches—instruments that were relied on under the most demanding conditions. These are watches that were born to dare and were worn by men who were beyond daring.

This legacy now lives on in TUDOR’s Black Bay and Pelagos lines. And yes, some of these watches are still worn by some of the best elite naval units working on and under the seas.