[VIDEO] Review: The Black Bay 54 – A Black Bay to Rule them All?

It’s amazing to look back to 2018 and see the utter excitement and disbelief I felt when Tudor launched the Black Bay Fifty-Eight, a sentiment that was shared by many. It seemed as though our hopes and prayers had been answered. Finally, a vintage-inspired dive watch with a great movement at a smaller size, by a brand with provenance. While that seems like daily news in 2023, a sub-40mm dive watch, at the time, from a major Swiss brand was still hard to come by. It was clear Tudor had a hit.

And, as per usual, we expected they would capitalize on that hit. In the conclusion of my review from 2019, I say “…it’s likely they will expand greatly on the collection.” I was wrong, and this is where the story of the Black Bay Fifty-Eight, and Tudor, takes a slightly different direction. Rather than doing what most brands do, including themselves with other models, they pumped the brakes. The rainbow of options never came, instead, there were a total of five variations broken down as two in steel, a silver model (still crazy), a solid gold, and a bronze boutique edition. Not what we expected.

37mm is just right

Tudor then left the Black Bay Fifty-Eight behind for a while, coming out instead with a series of unexpected sports watches in new-ish platforms. The Pelagos FXD, while part of their larger tech diver line, featured a different case, modified dial and bezel designs, and a genuine military tie-in. The Black Bay Pro put their GMT and a date complication into a 39mm case (and is perhaps the closest thing to a 3rd steel BB58, though technically it isn’t). The Ranger got reintroduced in a reduced size and marks the entry to a Tudor in-house movement. And then they launched the Pelagos 39, a smaller take on their modern titanium dive watch.

Surely, we thought, at Watches & Wonders 2023, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight in steel would make its triumphant return. Wrong again. Instead, we got the Black Bay 54, a whole new model with a very similar name, designed to stay true to Tudor’s first dive watch. While there are some cosmetic differences that jump out at first glance, the real news, the reason for this watch’s existence, is a new 37mm case. Yes, after five years, instead of getting more of what we thought we wanted, Tudor gave us something different, unexpected, and once again, kind of unbelievable.


[VIDEO] Review: The Black Bay 54 – A Black Bay to Rule them All?

316L Steel
Tudor MT5400 Chronometer
Sunray Black
Domed Sapphire
Water Resistance
37 x 45.8mm
Lug Width

So, What’s a Black Bay 54?

With the Black Bay 54, Tudor has gone back to the roots of their dive watches, the reference 7922 from 1954. But, you wouldn’t be blamed for mistaking the Black Bay 54 as a Black Bay Fifty-Eight (BB54 and BB58 from here out) at a glance. The dials are nearly identical, save a couple of tiny details and millimeters. The surface is black, and features the typical Sub-layout of applied lume-filled plots with rose-gold tone surrounds. Encircling the dial is a minute/seconds index in faux-gilt print, which matches the text and logos at the center of the dial. All of which is identical to that of the BB58. Sadly, no return to the smile text here.

It might just be me, but I’d love to see something other than the faux-gilt. I get that it’s a play on the gilt dials of the originals, but Tudor picks and chooses what to keep and what to change, and the dial in particular already has taken many liberties. I think the slightly off-white print used on the BBPro would have been a nice change of pace here, as would the molded ceramic composite lume blocks, which glow so well from every angle, and sort of split the visual difference between applied and pad-printed markers. The lume plots on the BB54 seen here did have some slight shadowing in the 10 and 11 markers while glowing. I don’t think this would even be a potential issue with the ceramic composite. It’s a bit odd to have a better technology at their disposal, but not use it.

Vintage when convenient
Solid Lume, but not solid lume

Back on topic, the most noticeable change to the dial can be found in the hands. The hour and minute hands are the same, the signature snowflake and a straight sword, respectively. The seconds hand, however, drops the snowflake/diamond lume plot for a lollipop/circle instead. This is a change that Tudor is making across all newer Black Bay models, and can already be found on the METAS 41mm model, as well as the bezel-less Black Bays.

The other difference I noticed is quite subtle, the surface of the BB54 has a slight metallic sheen. It’s hard to notice at first and depends on the lighting, but up close or in sunlight/harsh light, you can see a sunray finish on the black. Compared to the BB58, which is matte, it has a bit more depth and the black appears a touch darker as well.

Smaller, but not small

Now, in all fairness, you can’t mistake a BB54 for a BB58 as the bezels are quite different. The clearest reference to the 7922, the insert is black anodized aluminum with numerals at intervals of ten, alternating with wide blocks. All of the markings, including the triangle at the origin, are in raw aluminum. No gold or red here.

At this point and time, retro-dive bezels are so common that they don’t really look different or stand out. That said, I like this one. It’s simple and stripped down. It has an openness to it from the lack of minute markings for the first 15, and in general. The text is also a bit thinner than that of the BB54, and a touch rounder too. As someone who doesn’t dive and barely actually uses the bezel for any real purpose, this one suits my needs and tastes. Which is to say, looking good on the wrist.

A dial you know and likely are fond of

Inside, the BB54 features the MT5400 in-house caliber. Yes, it’s made by Kennisi, but that’s Tudor’s movement brand and they literally share a roof (you can read about it here). The MT5400 is what we’ve come to expect from a modern Tudor movement with a silicon hairspring, free-sprung balance, 70-hr power reserve, frequency of 28,800bph, bi-directional automatic winding, and, of course, chronometer certification.

It’s the same movement they use in the Pelagos 39, as well as some Black Bay Fifty-Eights, including the silver and gold models, but, oddly, not the black or blue models. They use the MT5402, which has the exact same specs but, and this surprised me, is smaller. Yeah, the 37mm BB54 uses a larger movement than the 39mm BB58, but the difference appears to only be in the baseplate, as seen below.

image via Caliber Corner

In my experience with Tudor’s movements, both from review units and ones in my own collection, they keep phenomenal time. While the movements are chronometer certified, Tudor’s own standard is -2/+4 seconds per day, which is quite exceptional. It’s uncommon for brands to offer greater than chronometer standards in general on purely mechanical timepieces, with Rolex, Omega, and Grand Seiko being some offerings that come to mind, but Tudor is the only one that currently does so at under $4k. Considering the other specs and features of the movement, it’s really hard to argue with the value that they are offering.

Insert “Size Matters” Joke Here

With the history, style, and quality all being similar or equal to the BB58, what will likely bring you to the BB54 party is its size. Measuring 37mm x 45.8mm x 11.5mm with 20mm lugs, the BB54 is boldly going where few dive watches have gone before. Ok, ok, that’s not true, but I wanted to be dramatic. It seems as though 37mm is becoming the new 39mm, with Aquastar, Citizen, and likely others in the near future, all coming to the same conclusion at the same time. This is most surprising for the larger brands that used to be reactive to trends, seemingly leading the way. Good for them.

37mm squared

And why are we just getting here in 2023? Well, let’s be honest with ourselves, 37mm sounds damn small. Even as a fan and longtime proponent of smaller watches (hey, one of my first higher-end watches was a 36mm Nomos club!), a 37mm diver, in my mind, would feel petite. Divers are kind of funky in that at times the bezel compresses the dial, making a watch feel smaller than the diameter might suggest. Other times, the bezels seem to stretch the dial out to the edge, making it wear larger. It’s sort of a case-by-case (pun intended) situation.

Additionally, the very nature of dive watches as “tool” watches grants them certain permission for bulk. As such the 38mm to 40mm divers that have become fairly common in the last several years felt like they found the right balance. I guess in some secret backroom somewhere, brands got together and decided it was time to shave that last millimeter off. And man, am I glad they did.

20mm lugs for the win
Old bezel design, fresh flavor
Wide lug tips

Having only tried the BB54, it’s the only 37mm diver I can comment on, but it’s wonderful. On my seven-inch wrist, it feels and looks perfect. Nothing small or undersized about it. Smaller, perhaps, but not small. To my eye, the BB54 falls in the “bezel pulls the dial to the edge” category of diver given its thin, vertical coin edging and fairly seamless transition from dial to bezel (i.e. no rehaut or noticeable retention ring). This makes for a much larger visual impact than otherwise.

But, that’s not the only element at play. At 37mm, you’re squarely in 18mm and 19mm lug width territory, yet Tudor stayed with the same 20mm lug width found on the BB58. The result is a wider overall silhouette on the wrist, particularly when factoring in the bracelet. Further emphasizing this, the lugs of the BB54 are quite thick, giving it a boxier, stronger look.

Proportions maketh the watch

Additionally, the crown looks small, at least by Tudor standards. It measures 5.8mm x ~2.6mm, which is wider than I expected, but quite thin. It also sits flush against the case, unlike crowns on most other Tudors. Another device that can be used for some visual trickery, oversized crowns and pushers can make a watch look smaller, so, logically, the opposite is true as well.

An element that speaks for itself is the thickness. 11.5mm is pleasantly thin for a 200m diver, and it’s a number that overstates how the BB54 actually feels and reads. The domed sapphire crystal accounts for around 1mm, and there’s a protrusion from the case back that mates with Tudor’s opening tool that is likely about .5mm. That takes you down to 10mm already. The midcase, which does have flat sides measures just about 5.4mm thick. This is the visually dominant element, followed by the bezel edge, which is about 1.6mm. This is all to say that on the wrist, this is just about the thinnest feeling dive watch I’ve encountered, registering in the 7-8mm range. Combined with the T-Fit clasp, it’s just incredibly comfortable all day.

A complaint-proof profile

I appreciate there’s an irony in this whole description. I typically discuss how a watch wears by analyzing the ways that a brand has designed around larger measurements to make a watch look, feel, and wear smaller. Here, I am doing the exact opposite. I’m looking at how Tudor managed to make a small watch wear larger where it needed to. I have to say, it’s a better approach. What a wild world we live in.


A Game of Proportions

With that all said, I had just about the same reaction to the BB58 when I first reviewed it. That was, and perhaps is, a watch that felt tailored for my wrist at the time. The BB54? Well, it does too. Being that the BB54 is probably going to be the biggest competitor to the black BB58, and that both exemplify a certain notion of “ideal” sizing, I want to actually look at how these two watches size up to each other. Luckily, I have both in front of me.

37mm vs 39mm

I’ll start by putting the general numbers right next to each other (though as we say often these days, they don’t tell the whole story). BB54: 37mm x 45.8mm x 11.5mm with 20mm lugs. BB58: 39mm x 47.75mm x 12mm with 20mm lugs. So, 2mm in diameter, 1.95mm in length, half a millimeter in height, and no change in lug width. Different, but not remarkably so, with the matching lug widths negating that somewhat as, for example, an 18mm lug width would have made a noticeable difference.

Now for some more interesting measurements. The dial opening of the BB54 measures about 28.9mm, making the bezel around 4mm wide. The dial opening of the BB58 is about 30.7mm, for a 4.15mm bezel. So a reduction of about 2mm, which is perceivable, yet a bezel that is nearly the same width, which actually makes it appear bolder (if there are two circles of the same line weight, the smaller will look bolder). This makes the BB54 look denser, perhaps a bit more rugged even.

Barely different, but not the same

A detail that quite surprised me is that the end of the lugs on the BB54 are wider than that of the BB58, measuring ~2.5mm vs ~2mm. This is a tricky measurement to take due to the bevels, so let’s just ballpark it at a .5mm difference per lug, which is perceivable. Additionally, the BB58 has slightly wider bevels, to my eyes. This makes the lugs of the BB54 appear wider in general, and more bluntly boxed off at the end. This was an interesting choice, like the 20mm lug width, as it almost looks like the lines of BB58, but cut off sooner given the difference in lug-to-lug.

Both the BB54 and BB58 are commendable for their respective thicknesses, but within that .5mm of variation is actually quite a bit of difference. As said before, the side wall of the BB54 is 5.4mm thick, which is just noticeably thinner than the 6mm of the BB58. To my eye, the BB54 is also flatter too, though hard to confirm. This case side allows for a 5.8mm vs 6.7mm crowns, the latter of which looks much larger in person, and in turn has the opposite effect on the case as a whole.

the BB58 in profile
the Bb54 in profile

The bezel edges are both ~1.5mm tall, but the wider coining of the BB54 makes it look taller. Similarly, the domed crystals are about the same height, but the smaller diameter of the BB54’s makes it more dramatic. These variations amount to the BB54 seeming more than .5mm thinner and with a more dominant bezel.

Combining the wider lugs, same bezel and lug width, smaller dial opening, and smaller crown, the BB54 looks not like a smaller watch, but rather a more compact one. The same amount of material, in a smaller space. Like two people, one six feet, the other five and some change, but both the same weight (we’re talking muscle here), the BB54 is stocky, but not out of proportion.

It just fits

And on the wrist? Well, here’s where things get a bit trickier to determine. I’ve alternated between the two watches minute to minute. I’ve double-wristed them. I’ve even put them side by side on one wrist, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that both wear really well. I wasn’t wrong in 2019, the BB58 feels perfect for my wrist, and had the BB54 never come along, I wouldn’t have questioned it. (side note, I did put the BB58 on once thinking it was the BB54, and didn’t notice for a while).

But now, presented with the choice, I would probably go for the BB54 over the BB58. The subtly altered proportions result in a watch that just feels more well-tuned for my wrist. While the BB58 might look a touch larger and longer, the stockiness of the BB54 from above is preferable to my eyes. Additionally, the slight reduction in height and decreased mid-case make it feel a bit more svelte with a lower center of gravity. Factor in the adjustability of the T-Fit clasp, which has become almost essential for me on a bracelet (I don’t think the BBPro would have stayed in my collection without it), and the winner appears clear.

Little differences make the difference

What’s to Become of the Black Bay Fifty-Eight?

This leads me to wonder what will happen to the BB58 in the Tudor lineup. I think there’s an argument to be made that BB54 is a replacement for the black BB58. They are too similar in too many ways to logically coexist. They both occupy the “vintage-inspired” smaller-scale diver space. They have nearly the same dial and movement. While different diameters, the BB54 feels more like a refinement on the vintage-diver concept than a new size, or really a whole new model. The BB54 is also $100 less on a bracelet, and comes with the T-Fit clasp, making it a better value at this point in time.

Furthermore, with the release of the Black Bay Pro, Ranger, Pelagos 39, and updated Black Bay 39s (non-bezel) the 39mm range in Tudor’s catalog has become saturated. So here’s my theory. Tudor will periodically come out with watches called “Black Bay XX”, with the latter being a year. Those models will pay tribute to specific references from their archive like the 7922, but perhaps also the 7016 and 79090. When they do, the previous version will be retired.

Let’s be frank, the BB58 wears very well too

And yet, I don’t really think they’d kill BB58 either, but it is in need of an update. Predicting Tudor’s plans and strategies is about as fruitful as chasing windmills, but I wonder if they will update them to Master Chronometers next, allowing for a bump in price and specs, and giving them an opportunity to update the bracelets, as they don’t seem to ever do so retroactively (which is quite annoying). They also need a thin date option… like, badly.

Conclusion, Finally…

What does it mean to reach “peak vintage”? While the expression is typically used to describe the saturation of vintage-inspired timepieces on the market, I think there is another use for the term that is applicable when discussing the new Tudor Black Bay 54. You see, the Black Bay 54 is itself, peak-vintage. We’ve hit a potential terminus in the journey toward rediscovering the charm of vintage watches through a modern lens.

Wouldn’t be complete without the Worn & Wound Pose

At first, we saw watches (and I’ll stick with Tudor’s own catalog here) like the Black Bay 41mm. It had the look, but not the feel. It was still wildly successful as any acknowledgment of the growing interest in vintage watches was well-appreciated. Eventually, they put an in-house movement with modern specs and features inside, and we got closer to a true collision of old meets new.

And then, years later, we got the Black Bay Fifty-Eight, which seemed like, for a time, as close as we’d get to a vintage-Sub-made-modern. It had the look but with a modern movement and was a lot closer in feel. Big enough for retail consumers yet small enough for enthusiasts. And things were good.

It’s just what we always wanted… right?

Now, we have the Black Bay 54, a watch that pushes even further into the territory that the Fifty-Eight opened up. It’s technically even smaller and thinner, but more importantly, re-proportioned and detailed to look and feel more like the original thing. Yet, in specs and features, it’s every bit as modern. At this point, beyond 1:1 replicas, I don’t think a watch can get any more “vintage-inspired”. There isn’t another millimeter to shave. They did it. This is the peak (for a diver, at least). Ok, they could have added drilled lugs, but now I’m just getting picky.

And, of course, it’s every bit as well executed as you’d expect from a Tudor. The lines are clean and sharp. The finishing is excellent. The movement beyond chronometer specs. The bracelet and strap bit fit with an adjustable clasp. And it looks just stunning on the wrist. At $3,850, it’s truly compelling for anyone who has sought or enjoyed the aesthetic of a vintage Sub but wanted something newer, and more obtainable. Tudor

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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