Tornek-Rayville Returns With TR-660 Dive Watch

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I don’t remember exactly where or when I caught wind of MKII’s Bill Yao getting ahold of the Tornek-Rayville trademark, but it’s been in the back of my mind for a very long time. Today, I’m excited to share the first official look at the new Tornek-Rayville TR-660, a diver that resurrects an ethos first put forth with the TR-900, a watch which earned its place as official equipment of the U.S. Navy’s Experimental Diving Unit in the early 1960s. The TR-900 is legendary today due to its relative rarity, along with the story of its origin, which of course begins with Blancpain. 

Our story begins in the late ‘50s, with Blancpain on their A game producing top spec submersible dive watches for both military and civilian markets. The Fifty Fathoms, and its associated mil-spec offspring laid the very foundations of the dive watch as we know it today. It’s kind of a big deal. When the U.S. Navy was looking to kit out their Underwater Demolition Team divers, they went to the American company Bulova, whose chairman at the time was retired General Omar Bradley, with the request.

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With the request in, the Navy’s Experimental Diving Unit, not keen to waste time, surely, put three commercially available divers through the ringer for good measure. The Rolex Submariner, Enicar Sea Pearl 600, and Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms were selected and put through a gauntlet of tests to see which would survive the rigors of, well, whatever it is the Navy’s experimental divers and demolition teams (now called SEALs) might find themselves doing in the middle of the Vietnam War. The Blancpain was the sole survivor, and consequently recommended for use until Bulova’s diver was ready. (Spoiler alert, the prototype Bulova MIL-SHIPS were unable to pass the same testing procedures, and would not see use.)

Thanks to the “Buy American Act” (passed in 1933 by Congress under President Hoover), ordering a batch of Blancpain dive watches for government use was, well, complicated (requiring a non-availability determination, assuming a domestically sourced option is unavailable). A quick thinking importer based in New York by the name of Allen V. Tornek suggested Blancpain reliable the watch “Tornek-Raville” and let him sell them to the U.S. Navy. Rayville, by the way, is a phonetic anagram of Blancpain’s hometown, Villeret. The plan worked, and around 1,000 TR-900s were created and promptly put to use between 1964 and 1965. Most were destroyed upon return due to their use of radioactive luminescence on the dials, leaving very few surviving examples in the hands of collectors today. Check out our friend Jason Heaton’s account of diving in a restored model right here.

Tornek-Rayville is officially back as of today, with the TR-660, a watch following in the footsteps of the legendary TR-900, and marking the first step of the brand’s re-introduction. You’ll be pleased to know it looks like a Tornek-Rayville, with a bead blessed 40mm steel case featuring thin, drilled lugs with reinforced spring bars, a simple dial that retains the footprint of the original’s moisture indicator, and a whopping 660 foot depth rating. We have not handled the watch, but we’re no stranger to Bill’s work and if MKII watches are anything to go by, expect top notch fit and finish all around befitting of the TR label on the dial. 

Inside you’ll find the Japanese SII NE15 automatic movement pulling duty, providing more power reserve and greater accuracy than you’d find in the original reference (no surprise there). A pair of bezel inserts are available and the watch will be offered with three strap options: a woven nylon in black or khaki; black rubber; and a MODspec black nylon unit. Pre-order pricing is set at $845 with a $450 deposit required. Regular pricing will be $949. Experience more of the new Tornek-Rayville at their just launched website and keep an eye out for some hands-on impressions in the near future. Tornek-Rayville

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent the past decade covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seikos to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for classic cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.
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