Tudor Submariner: A Brief History
There’s been a lot of conjecture that in 2019, Tudor will re-release a new reference of its iconic Tudor Submariner collection. Tudor has done little to dissuade these rumors, and now seems to be actively encouraging the hype (and of course, its Black Bay collection shows the brand’s affinity for re-releasing old hits).
On January 21 on its Instagram, Tudor posted a macro shot of a dial, zooming in on an hour marker that looks an awful lot like some of the vintage Tudor Submariners that enthusiasts are hoping inspire a new Submariner release. And since rumors are also swirling that a new Rolex Submariner is in the works for this year (new movement and all), many buyers may end up with a Tudor Sub if they can’t stand to wile away on an authorized Rolex dealer’s waitlist. With the seemingly imminent release of a Tudor Submariner, it’s a good time to recap the history of the Sub, it’s most important references, and why this year’s re-release could be so cool.
Tudor Submariner: Origins
The Tudor name was officially registered in 1926, and Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf took it over in 1946. Initially, Tudor watches used Rolex cases and off-the-shelf movements to product cheaper alternatives to watches from the Crown (okay, they still do this a little bit). They started by launching the waterproof Tudor oyster collection, followed by the Tudor Prince collection in 1952. At this time, Tudor became the research and development partner of the French Navy, giving feedback on how the watch could be improved (le, it’s too heavy on my wrist and I cannot wave le white flag). During this period, multiple experiments were conducted to determine which characteristics were indispensable to the ideal divers’ watch. Each reference in the initial 7900 series thus featured subtle specifics which make them perfect fodor for collectors.
Honestly, until almost 1970, the Tudor Submariner aesthetic was meant to evoke that of a Rolex Submariner, albeit at a fraction of the cost. It was a watch meant for those who couldn’t — or wouldn’t— pay for a Rolex. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Tudor wasn’t innovating or taking design risks during this era. It was taking Rolex cases and packing them with off-the-shelf, non-chronometer movements.
The first Tudor diving watch was released in 1954, the Oyster Prince Submariner Reference 7922, a year after Rolex released its first Submariner. This original model had 100 meters of water resistance, a self-winding calibre Fleurier 390 movement, and a tropic-type Plexiglas crystal that was dome-shaped for better water pressure resistance. Vintage lovers swear by that domed crystal! The screw down crown and Oyster bracelet were both signed with the Rolex logo.
In 1955, Tudor released its only manually would Submariner, Reference 7923. In place of the “rotor, self-winding” inscription at 6 o’clock, the dial read “Submariner, Shock-resisting”. The Ref. 7923 was equipped with the manually-wound ETA calibre 1182 with a frequency of 18,000 beats per hour. It came on the same Rolex-stamped Oyster-type bracelet, reference 6636, as the Ref. 7922.
In 1958, Tudor released the “Big Crown”, Reference 7924. The nickname is a reference to the watch’s 8mm winding crown (previous Subs had a 5mm winding crown). This watch was significant because it doubled the water resistance from 100 meters to 200 meters. To reach achieve this new threshold, the Submariner case, 37 mm in diameter, had been made thicker and was equipped with a larger screw-down crown. A new Plexiglas crystal, thicker and dome-shaped, was installed for better resistance to great pressure. With the same self-winding calibre 390 as reference 7922 at its heart, this new Submariner bore at 6 o’clock on its black lacquered dial the inscription “200 m = 660 ft”. Its hands reverted to the characteristic Mercedes-style Submariner design. Its Oyster-type bracelet with riveted links, reference 7206, bore the Rolex signature.
The “Classic” Tudor Submariner
The next year, Tudor released the Submariner Reference 7928, distinguished by its square crown guards (and often called “Square Crown Guards” by collectors). The Ref. 7928 would be produced until about 1968, and while the crown-guard shape changed through the decade, the basic shape — and movement inside — did not change. For reference, Rolex was also producing its iconic Submariner Ref. 5512 (date) and Ref. 5513 (no date) models during this period.
Like the references before it, Ref. 7928 featured the self-winding Fleurier calibre 390, and like the Ref. 7924, it was water resistant to 200 meters. But, the case grew to 39mm and bore the signature “Original Oyster Case by Rolex.” The rest of the case design, bezel, and dial resembled earlier references in the 7900 series, though the bezel had deeper teeth at its edges. The Ref. 7928 to be the “classic” Tudor Submariner for all of these features, likely in addition to the fact that it existed alongside the Rolex Submariner 5512 and 5513 for its lifespan.
In 1960 and 1961, Tudor continued with the Ref. 7928, but this time with Pointed Crown Guards. In all other ways it was similar to Square Crown Guards, with a bidirectional bezel and graduated with a luminous insert placed at zero on the graduation. Finally, its movement was the self-winding calibre 390. Its dial bore the gilt inscriptions “Oyster Prince” at noon under the brand logo, and “200 m = 660 ft”, “Submariner”, “Rotor”, “Self-Winding” on four lines at 6 o’clock.
Now it gets fun. In 1964, Tudor manufactured the Ref. 7928 with rounded crown guards, a shape that would define the Submariner collection until the end of the 1990s. The bezels on many of these examples underwent significant discoularation after exposure to the sun, creating beautiful tropic bezels.
A Tudor Submariner was also specifically produced for the U.S. Navy from 1964 to 1966.
By 1967, Tudor had made subtle changes to the Ref. 7928 to achieve what it considered the ideal expression of its Submariner line. The dial was now printed in white (instead of gilt), the hands were characteristic of the Submariner collection, and the case featured rounded crown guards and a Rolex signature. Since release its first diving watch in 1954, Tudor had crafted a finely tuned watch ready to serve as the foundation for a new generation of dive watches.
Making the Submariner Modern: 1969-1999
In 1969, Tudor released a new Submariner reference for the first time since introducing the Ref. 7928 ten years prior. Instead of using the calibre 390 from Fleurier that had defined the Ref. 7928, Tudor turned to ETA to supply its self-winding movements.
Tudor also took a huge design risk in 1969: departing from the Rolex aesthetic that had defined the 7900 series. Most 7900 models feature hands and other design cues drawn directly from Rolex, most notably the Mercedes-style hour hand. In 1969, Tudor finally said “fuck it let’s do it my way.”
In total, from 1969 to 1999, more than 20 different references with numerous variations, all retaining the principal Tudor Submariner characteristics, would be produced. The Submariner has not appeared in the catalog since 1999 — which shows you why, on this 20th anniversary of retiring the Tudor Submariner, watch enthusiasts might just be in for something special from Tudor.
Additionally, this is the era when Tudor started using its shield logo at 12 o’clock instead of the much beloved rose.
The Tudor Submariner “Snowflake”
1969 saw the introduction of two new Submariner models, a date and no-date reference. First, let’s take a look at the Submariner Reference 7016, or “Snowflake”. The nickname refers to the large square hands. It also has distinctive, luminous square hour markers, meant to be easily legible against the blue dial. This design gave Tudor a distinctive identity, earning it a reputation as something of a fun younger brother to Rolex, who was attending to more serious matters.
In the Ref. 7016, Tudor also used a new movement, an ETA 2483, which beat at the same 18,000 bph frequency as its predecessor. The case remained the same as previous Submariners: 39mm, signed by Rolex, waterproof to 200 meters and rounded crown guards. But in another change, the Plexiglas crystal was no longer domed but flat, thick and prominent.
The Tudor Submariner Reference 7021 first appeared alongside the Ref. 7016 in 1969, but featured a date window at 3 o’clock, magnified by a cyclops for easier reading. The date disc was two-colored “casino” style: red for the uneven numbers and black for the even numbers. Like the Ref. 7016, the Ref. 7021 featured an ETA movement, here the self-winding calibre 2484. Both references also featured Oyster bracelets, reference 7836 with folding links and the Rolex signature.
The Snowflake remained in the Tudor catalog until 1981, and in 1976, Tudor began offering smaller case diameters of the watch. For example, the Ref. 94400 is a 32mm “mini Snowflake” with a calibre 2671 movement.
Every Snowflake Is Unique
In the 1970s, Tudor released the original Submariner Snowflake with Reference 9401/0, powered by a new ETA calibre 2776 which featured hacking seconds. The Reference 9411 (with its ETA calibre 2784) is the date version of this watch.
Tudor offered the Ref. 9401/0 in four dial/bezel combinations: blue or black with “snowflakes” hands and hour markers, as well as blue or black with characteristic Submariner (Mercedes) hands and triangular and round hour markers. The example pictured here features snowflake hands, and a blue dial. The case remained 39mm in diameter, and its lines did not change. Two bracelets were offered on this reference: a folding link Rolex Oyster reference 7836/0, or a Rolex Oyster reference 9315/0, which was the same bracelet but with a “Fliplock” folding clasp, an extension link system so you could fit the watch over your diving suit — now, I use it to wear watches over my dress shirts.
Next, the Reference 76100 is a reference Tudor collectors often call a transitional model. It was produced roughly at the same time as the 9410 and 9411, and technically it is identical to that watch. But, it had different hands, defined by an hour hand that was circular in shape at the bottom, but with no “Mercedes” markings. The Ref. 76100 was produced around 1984
79000 Series: The Last of the Subs
In 1989, Tudor introduced the 79000 series of Submariners (Ref. 79090 and 79190), the third numerical series of Submariners (note the harkening back to the original 7900 series in the naming) First up is the Reference 79090. It was again offered in either a blue or black dial and came with a matching bezel. The print at 12 and 6 o’clock was the same as the previous references, but the hour markers changed shapes: most notably, the hour markers placed at 6 and 9 o’clock were no longer rectangular but triangular (more on that in a minute)
The 39mm case housed an ETA 2824-2, a movement still popular with watch manufacturers today. Unlike previous references, the Oyster-type steel bracelet, reference 9315/0, had folding links and a “Fliplock” folding clasp; it bore the Tudor logo.
Finally, in 1995, Tudor introduced Reference 79190. To date, it is the last Tudor Submariner produced, and introduced new elements to the Tudor line. It had a sapphire crystal with a Cyclops lens, round hour markers, and a unidirectional rotatable bezel with deep notching. Its dial came in blue or black. Like the Ref. 79090, the bracelet was an Oyster-type three-link bracelet with the Tudor logo. The 39 mm case diameter remained unchanged.
In 1997, Tudor began placing a engraved polished steel inserts into the bezel, a departure from he printed bezels of previous years. In 1999, Tudor retired the Submariner, never to be heard from again.
What’s Next for the Tudor Submariner?
Let’s get back to where this journey began. When Tudor titillated us with that macro shot, it was of what looks to be a triangular 9 o’clock hour marker. Only two Submariner models we mentioned have this feature: the Ref. 79090 and Ref. 79190. The Ref. 79190 is a modern watch in many respects, with its steel bezel, sapphire crystal and steel surrounding the hour markers.
If I had to venture a guess, I’d bet Tudor releases a new Tudor Submariner at Baselworld 2019 that has a dial similar to the 79000 series references, but with snowflake hands. And here’s to hoping for a blue dial/bezel combination as the first colorway. Whatever it is, no doubt generations of Tudor enthusiasts will be lining up to buy the new Submariner. So here’s to hoping that 2019 is the year of the Submariner.
Here’s a summary of the most important Tudor Submariner references in its history:
Ref. 7922: The first Tudor Submariner
Ref. 7923: The manual Submariner
Ref. 7924: “Big Crown”
Ref. 7928: “Square Crown Guards,” “Pointed Crown Guards,” or Rounded Crown Guards”
Ref. 7016: “Snowflake” (and Ref. 7021, Snowflake date)
Ref. 9401, 9411: Snowflake 2
Ref. 79090, 79190: The Last Submariners