Modern Icons: The Evolution of The Tudor Submariner

Posted by Mike Johnson on in Articles, Collector's Guides

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Out of the Shadow of Rolex

The Tudor Submariner, once thought to be a lowly derivative of the iconic Rolex Sub, is now widely considered to be one of the most desirable and collectible dive watches in the world.

Tudor Submariner 7928


And why is that? It’s well-known that Tudor and Rolex are sister companies, both being founded by Hans Wilsdorf and sharing many of the same parts during the manufacturing process.

But Tudor’s are fitted with generic ETA movements instead of the meticulously crafted in-house movements found in every Rolex model. In exchange, Tudor’s are offered at a more reasonable price.

Simple, right?

Still, Tudor has managed to become much more than a poor-man’s Rolex, carving out it’s own unique style and history along the way. In recent years, Tudor has established itself as a completely unique entity by launching exciting models like the Tudor Black Bay, Tudor Pelagos and Tudor Ranger.

The most recent Black Bay is actually fitted with an in-house movement, further establishing Tudor as a brand that can stand on it’s own two feet, instead of one that stands in the shadow of the Rolex luxury behemoth.

Vintage examples of the Tudor Submariner are now commanding prices nearly equal to that of their Rolex counterparts. And with ample reason, these high-quality tool watches are different enough to fly under the mainstream radar while still maintaining the parts and build quality to be considered legitimate subs by enthusiasts. They’ve got a “cool” factor that is hard to objectify.

And with the recent release and popularity of the Black Bay, interest in these vintage models has hit an apex. Today we’ll take a look a the evolution of the iconic Tudor Submariner and it’s influence on the design of the some of Tudor’s most popular modern watches.

Photos included in this post were generously provided by H.Q. Milton, a vintage Rolex and Tudor boutique located in San Francisco.

Historical Tudor Submariner Models

Tudor “Oyster Prince” Submariner 7922

Tudor Submariner 7922Tudor released it’s first dive watch to the world in 1954 with the Tudor Submariner “Oyster Prince”. Utilizing the same case, crown, bezels and other parts as the early Rolex ref. 6538, the Tudor positioned itself as a high quality sports watch offered at an excellent value.

Hands and dial featured reflective gilt indexes, and early Tudor divers featured the iconic “Tudor Rose” icon, which will later be replaced by the Tudor “Shield” in 1968.

The 7922 was an important development in the history of tool watches, even though at the time there was little to distinguish it from it’s Rolex counterpart and sales were lackluster. Over the next decade, we’ll see the Tudor Sub begin to come into it’s own identity and separate itself visually from the Rolex Submariner.

Tudor “Big Crown” Submariner 7924

Tudor Submariner 7924The “Big Crown” 7924 was a minor evolution of the previous model. Improvements were made to it’s overall water resistance (doubled from 100M to 200M), and as a result the case was made slightly thicker and larger (39mm). Additionally, the crown was increased in size from 5mm to 8mm, thus giving it the nickname “Big Crown” by collectors.

This model had some problems though. Often used by actual sport divers and military personnel, the crown was prone to getting knocked, compromising the water-tightness of the case. This problem would be addressed later with the release of the 7928.

Tudor “Square Crown” Submariner 7928

Tudor Submariner 7928Developed for the “Marine Nationale” (French Navy) in 1959, the “Square Crown” was the first of the Tudor Sub’s to sport crown guards. Also reducing the overall size of the crown to 6mm, the 7928 was much less susceptible to “crown shock”. It’s dial, hands, and bezel were similar in design to the previous references, most notably the “Big Crown” 7924.

Enjoying a decade long production run until 1968, the “Square Crown” Tudor Submariner is a highly sought after piece for both Tudor and Mil-Sub collectors.

Tudor “Tropical” Submariner 7928

Tudor Submariner 7928 TropicalThe 7928 “Tropical” was introduced in 1964 and contained a few unique traits. On the case, the square crown guards were replaced with a more rounded variation (a change that would persist until the 1990s).

The term “tropical” was coined by collectors to describe the particular type of fading which occurred on this model’s bezel and dial, often imparting a creamy blue and brown hue to the watch. This unintended discoloration appears to be an inspiration for the faded color schemes found in the new Black Bay Heritage models.

A handful of these watches were also used by the U.S. Navy, with some rare examples bearing the engravings of their particular ship. Military issued Tudor Subs were marked with either “MN” (Military Nationale) or “USN” (US Navy) and command a significant premium over their civilian counterparts.

Tudor “Snowflake” Submariner 7016/7021/9401/9411

First released in 1968, the Tudor 7016 “Snowflake” introduced a host of new changes to the iconic line. Featuring a date and non-date version, these watches were also released in two colors (black and blue). Most obvious though was the change to the iconic “Snowflake” handset and square markers, a change that has become a hallmark of modern Tudor models (most notably the “Black Bay”).

The charming domed plexiglass crystal was also replaced by a flat crystal. Additionally, this model marked the transition away from the Fleurier provided calibers of the early models and into the ETA movements, whom still provide movements to Tudor today.

The 7021, although nearly visually identical, sported a cyclops-date with a red/black date wheel. In the Mid-1970s, the 7016 was replaced with the 9401 reference, a visually similar model offered with an upgraded ETA Calibre 2776. In addition to the more robust movement, more dial and color combinations were added, offering both the classic “mercedes” style hands in addition to the iconic square set.

Many vintage examples of the 7016 and 7021 are in dire shape. These particular dials were prone to extreme “dial rot”, a condition caused by water ingress or poor maintenance. Still, the “Snowflake” design of these particular models marked Tudor’s stylistic divergence from Rolex and have become some of the most collectible vintage Subs on the market.

Tudor “Prince Date” Submariner 79090/79190

The 79190 was the third and last generation of the Tudor Submariner, enjoying a production run from 1989 into the late 90’s. Powered by the ubiquitous ETA 2824-2, the third-generation Submariner now shared much of it’s design language with the Rolex Submariner once again. Being relatively recent in production, the 79090/79190 is not yet considered vintage and can be acquired reasonably on the second-hand market.

The 79190 was introduced in 1995 and features a couple of subtle changes. Primarily, the acrylic crystal was replaced with a more durable sapphire fitment. Additionally, the bezel was replaced with a unidirectional part, thus preventing the timer from being nudged in the wrong direction during dives.

Choosing between the 79090 and 79190 is a matter of personal preference, as the acrylic crystal is generally preferred for it’s unique vintage character and the sapphire for it’s durability.

The Tudor “Black Bay Heritage”

Tudor Black Bay HeritageToday, Tudor has several models that pay homage to the history of the Tudor Submariner under the “Black Bay Heritage” line. These modern “vintage” versions of the Tudor submariner have been a huge success for Tudor. Sporting a modern size and classic design, Tudor has been able to deftly cash-in on the resurgence in popularity of vintage-inspired sports watches.

Notice how the new design pays homage to and combines elements of several vintage Tudor references:

  • The oversized crown of the 7924
  • The faded coloration of the 7928
  • The gilt dial of the original 7922
  • The snowflake hands of the 7016

All of these elements add up to one of the best modern vintage reproductions you can buy, the Tudor Black Bay.

Currently available in three colors (Black, Red, and Blue), the Black Bay was also released in a 36mm size (sans-bezel), and exciting move by Tudor to re-introduce smaller sports watches to the market. If you love the looks of the vintage Tudor sub but don’t want to deal with the maintenance, a modern Black Bay may be an excellent choice.

In my opinion, Tudor is one of the most exciting brands out there with limitless potential for further distancing itself from it’s Rolex inspired lineage. With it’s own set of products and unique history, demand for the vintage Tudor Submariners will only continue to grow. And the watches Tudor is producing today may very well become future classics.

What do you think? Is Tudor simply a low-budget derivative of Rolex aimed at wannabes or a genuine and unique brand it it’s own right? Would love to hear your thoughts below.

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About the Author

Mike Johnson

Mike Johnson is the managing editor and primary contributor to Born into a military family as the son of US Navy pilot, Mike spent many of his formative years studying Computer Science and User Experience Design. When not obsessing over watches, Mike spends time hiking, traveling, and spending time with his family in Phoenix, Arizona.

Comments 1

  1. Raymund Kist

    I have a question regarding the case size diameter of the Tudor 7924 – Big Crown (which came on the market in 1958). In fact, in different articles, writers refer to quite different diameter sizes.
    The most common quoted size is 38 mm, but you can also read about a 37 mm case size. You mention in your article 39 mm as the case size of the Tudor 7924 Big Crown. What is actually the true diameter of the case (without crown) – 37, 38 or 39 mm?
    I would be very grateful for a reply by a specialist like you, in order to know the correct dimension of this famous watch.
    Kind regards,

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