It's unclear exactly what we were expecting from Tudor at Baselworld 2019, but it's doubtful there is anyone who would have guessed that the flagship timepiece would be inspired by an obscure idea from the 1960s that was never even brought to market. So what to make of the Black Bay P01?
All four of the new watches, or groups of watches, that Tudor is hyping as its 2019 novelties are Black Bays. This is already an unusually singular focus for the brand, which many thought might be looking to revive other watch families, including even the long-awaited Submariner. But while the bronze and two-tone Black Bays (which we review in a separate article) fit our image for the brand's rugged sport-watch aesthetic, the grand - and unexpected - launch of the P01 is something of a tonal jump.
Let us provide the context that Tudor wants us to have for this release. P01 stands for "prototype", a designation that refers to a very specific watch created in the late 1960s but never produced or sold. At this time, Tudor was providing watches to various armed forces, including the US Navy, which used the Submariner ref 7928 to be precise. But the Americans wanted something better, requesting new specifications from Tudor. Thus was born the project code-named montre plongeur "Commando" - Tudor's R&D of a new diving watch for the Navy.
In an unfortunate turn of events, the Navy ended up using the next model of the Submariner (ref 7016) as its new watch, and project Commando was scrapped. No one would have been any the wiser, since the whole thing was a military secret - except that Tudor's work on the doomed timepiece had produced a patent for new end-link technology that was available to the public. Ever since, those in the know have speculated about what this tech was used for - did the watch ever really exist?
After decades of silence, Tudor have finally put the rumours to bed and confirmed that the watch was indeed brought to prototype stage: five were made of which two are still owned by Tudor - one was even on display at Baselworld. To honour this mysterious and extremely obscure Tudor legend, the brand has created the new P01.
A new prototype
The watch is not a direct recreation of the original, but it is heavily inspired. The distinctive crown is positioned at an asymmetric four o'clock, and the bezel is the same raw steel bi-directional 12-hour display. While the original patent for an end-link system that allowed for both locking and disassembly of the bezel (for easier maintenance) has not been used in the P01, a new patent has been developed instead, with the same unique end-link style at the top and bottom of the case. These claw-type contraptions can be used to set and lock the bezel in a specific position.
There are other clear changes between the new model and the original - the latter had Mercedes hands, the old rose logo and a large triangle on the top end-link, for example, and the new version has a distinctive line of red text in the modern style. We can forgive the use of snowflake hands - 2019 is the fiftieth anniversary of their invention, after all. And overall, the aesthetic is extremely similar between the two - but not at all what we are used to seeing from Tudor.
We might be accustomed to think of Tudor in rich warm colours: burgundy, deep blue, chocolate brown - or brushed bronze as in the case of the company's other major releases at Baselworld 2019. The P01 has none of that - it's simple, plain steel, at first glance seeming like a watch they forgot to paint. Together with the large end links, the watch has an almost industrial, heavy quality to it - although it is possibly not quite so bulky when you see it in the metal. By the way, the watch uses calibre MT5612, a manufacture movement, which is impressive for the 3,750 CHF price.
The P01's spartan look is sure to have both admirers and critics. This is a watch with a strong personality, making a strong statement, and it's therefore certain to polarise opinions. If nothing else, such a statement is a sign of the brand's growing confidence. Tudor no longer feels it has to stick to crowd-pleasers, and is free to branch out into more creative, unusual ideas and explore strange sources of inspiration. Dare we call the P01 downright weird? If so, it's as much a compliment as a complaint.
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