Scything through hostile waters, no more than seven metres below, breathing with recirculatory SCUBA gear to avoid surface bubbles betraying their presence, the elite frogmen of Marine Nationale Française (MN) are as covert as it gets – and as uncompromisingly technical as it gets.
So it speaks volumes of Tudor and its post-war Submariner diving watches that MN remained loyal customers right up to the 1980s, never once requesting custom tweaks or specs.
In fact, unbeknownst to Tudor – Rolex younger, upwardly mobile sibling, famed today for the Black Bay, which distils the best of those Fifties and Sixties waterbabies – their watches remained in service long after the official MN contract expired, such is the eternally reparable, shire-horse indefatigability of a solid Swiss mechanical watch.
With the advent of Black Bay in all its vintage finery come 2012, it was easy to overlook Tudor’s more contemporary diver, the ‘Pelagos’, launched quietly in parallel.
But the utilitarian modernity of Pelagos’s titanium case, chronometer movement, crisp-click ceramic bezel were never going to go unnoticed by the French Navy’s finest. And sure enough, under appropriately deep cover for the past two years, a Tudor diving watch even-fitter for 2021’s breed of combat swimmer has been developed, once again in cahoots with MN’s Q Branch.
The most famous Tudor Submariner used by the French Navy is the reference 9401 of 1977, with its iconic blue dial and bezel, retrofitted to a strap that MN itself fashioned from comfortable yet rugged fabric parachute belts – so the aesthetics of this year’s Pelagos FXD were coined easily enough. But that ‘FXD’ suffix hints at where things have been taken beyond…
Reinsert some vowels and you get ‘fixed’ – as in fixed strap bars, machined from the same block of titanium as the case itself. Shaped as an extension of the four horns or ‘lugs’ protruding from the top and bottom, they lend a dynamic new silhouette to the Pelagos and of course guarantee infinitely more reliable robustness than your usual, poked-in spring bars.
And then there’s the 120-notch rotating bezel ring, circling the dial. Bidirectional, with its minutes calibration running anticlockwise rather than clockwise, it does not correspond to the ISO 6425 standard of divers’ watches. But for very good reason: according to MN’s demands, the FXD’s bezel is now suited perfectly to the tricky task of ‘underwater navigation’ – the means of reaching a precise location by sea, without ever surfacing… in zig-zags.
Military divers carry this out in pairs, tied to one another (via their watch strap) by a ‘life line’. One keeps an eye on a magnetic compass, swimming straight and true for an allotted time, counted down by the other using his Tudor. When the minute hand ticks past the bezel’s ‘zero’ triangle, the team tracks 90º the other way and another countdown commences.
Needless to say, all the other bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from Tudor are present and correct – chiefly in-house-manufactured mechanics ticking to chronometer-levels of precision, for 70 hours per wind, with five-year warranty – but the best part is that you can own a Pelagos FXD yourself, even if that PADI certificate you got on holiday has long expired. And it’s just £2,920.
Make like an MN insurgent and snap one up soon, as this is one prime target.
Tudor Pelagos FXD
Want more of the watchmaker’s best models? Here’s the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight Bronze…
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