In this series, we focus on one particular vintage watch or a watch collection from the past. For this installment, we are looking at Tudor’s Oysterdate “Big Block” Chronograph models; a chronograph that is now quite popular, though it was neglected by the masses for some time. Since Tudor’s reintroduction into the European and US markets a few years ago (2010), interest in vintage Tudor timepieces has taken flight.
Tudor Collector’s Market
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was rather ‘easy’ to ignore Tudor. Prices for Rolex watches weren’t as high as they are today, and there was no real need to look at Tudor since they used similar case and bracelet designs, but relied on third party movements instead of in-house calibers. Some collecting visionaries made their moves then and invested in affordable Tudor Submariners and “Big Block” chronographs. At the time, you could pick them up for relatively cheap, especially compared to today’s price tags.
As interest in vintage Rolex rose, interest in vintage Tudor rose as well since they were more financially accessible for certain groups of collectors. At some point, Tudor more or less disappeared from a lot of retailers, which caused a buying spree among collectors during clearance sales. However, those times are now over and Tudor is hot as a ‘mainstream’ brand once again. A 1990s Tudor Big Block Chronograph currently fetches around 4,000 euros, while older models go for significantly more.
But before we dive in deeper with the “Big Block” Chronograph, let’s go back a bit further.
Hand-Wound Tudor Chronographs
1970: Six years before Tudor introduced the Prince Oysterdate, or “Big Block” as collectors have nicknamed it, Tudor released their very first chronograph. This 1970 chronograph was a hand-wound model and simply called the Oysterdate Chronograph. At 39 mm, the watch came with a fixed tachymeter scale bezel in either stainless steel or black. A third version of the watch featuring a rotatable bezel was never commercialized, but can be seen in historic Tudor documentation. These watches, with reference numbers 7031/0, 7032/0, and the never produced 7033/0, were the very first Tudor chronographs from 1970. All these versions were powered by manually-wound Valjoux 7734 movements.
Although the case resembles that of the Rolex Daytona, the Tudor Chronograph had a larger diameter (39 mm) than the Rolex Daytona at the time, which was only 37 mm. The Tudor chronograph also featured the date from the very start, whereas the Daytona never had a date.
By 1971, Tudor had already released a new generation of chronographs, the 7100 series. These are better known as the “Monte Carlo” models among collectors. The movement was upgraded from the Valjoux 7734 to the Valjoux 234, which is also manually wound, but has a higher ticking rate (21,600 vph instead of 18,000 vph), giving the timepiece better accuracy. Three new references were introduced, replacing their predecessors.
The main differences are found in the color schemes and the bezel (rotatable or with a tachymeter scale). These three references remained part of the Tudor catalogue a bit longer than the first versions. In fact, when Tudor introduced the “Big Block” in 1976, they remained in the catalogue for another whole year.
Tudor “Big Block”
The third generation of Tudor chronographs came to be known as the “Big Block” due to their thick cases. The self-winding movement, based on Valjoux (now ETA) caliber 7750, required more space than the manually-wound Valjoux 234, thus the thicker case.
The dial of the watch changed drastically, going from a two-register chronograph to a three-register chronograph with the typical Valjoux 7750 layout of subdials at 12, 9, and 6 o’clock and the date at 3 o’clock. Similar to all Rolex watches with a date (except for the Sea-Dweller at the time), the Tudor chronograph had a cyclops lens to magnify the date aperture by two-and-a-half times.
The reference 9430/0 was available in a couple of dial variations, including another “Monte Carlo” version and an “Exotic” version, which was named for its black and orange color scheme. The new dials also featured the text “Automatic Chrono Time” printed on the subdial at 6 o’clock.
There were a couple versions of the Big Block; for example, the 1980s model (9420/0) came with flat square-shaped crown-guards. This version had a grey and blue dial with painted markers, and quickly earned itself the repeated nickname “Exotic.” The model also featured a blue Plexiglas bezel, similar to that on its 7149/0 ancestor. The winding crowns and bracelets were all signed Rolex until 1992, after which the bracelets were signed Tudor.
The End Of The Plexi
In 1989, another update to the Tudor Big Block Chronograph was undertaken. Reference 79100 was born to replace the 94×0 references. Only a couple of minor aesthetic changes took place on the dial. The most major change was the 1992 introduction of the Tudor signed bracelet as mentioned above. Up until 1995, all Tudor chronograph watches were equipped with Plexiglas.
The Tudor Big Blocks in the 79100 series were the last to use Plexiglas. Rolex had already starting using sapphire crystal glass for their sports watches in the latter half of the 1980s. The Tudor 79100 is the last reference known as Big Block.
The Big Block Becomes A Prince
In 1996, the next major change to Tudor’s chronograph was unveiled. In that year, Tudor introduced reference 79200. In addition to using sapphire crystal glass, the cases had a slightly ‘improved’ design, meaning they became a bit more round and elegant. You could argue that the case became a bit more similar to the Rolex Daytona 16520. The 79200 is not considered a Big Block; it’s known by its official title of Prince Oysterdate Chronograph.
The movement was still based on the Valjoux 7750 but from this model on, all the Rolex signed parts (such as the crown and bracelet) gradually disappeared from Tudor chronographs. In 2000, Tudor added the ‘Prince Date’ model name onto the dial. And by the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tudor had started to used Jubilee-like bracelets and leather straps on their chronographs.
Fast Forward To The Black Bay Chronograph
In 2011, Tudor introduced the Heritage Chrono 70330N. In 2013, a “Monte Carlo” version with a blue/white/orange dial also appeared. These watches hearken back to the old 7169, for example, which was equipped with an ETA movement plus an add-on chronograph module. These are modern interpretations of the 1970s two-register chronograph that was well received amongst watch journalists and collectors alike.
This year, Tudor surprised everyone by introducing a new chronograph as part of their popular Black Bay collection. It is further away from the Big Block and the 7100/7030 series than the Heritage Chrono, but it does have vintage appeal with its two-register chronograph dial layout, screw-down pushers, and lack of crown guards. The bezel is reminiscent of the Rolex Daytona bezel from the 16520 and 116520 references. The dial layout, with two registers and a date at 6 o’clock, is very typical of Tudor’s 1970s chronographs.
The watch clearly mixes several elements, but it certainly has its own Tudor identity. One interesting thing about this new Tudor Black Bay Chrono is its movement, which resulted from a collaboration between Breitling and Tudor. It is based on the Caliber B01 from the Grenchen manufacture. It is interesting to note that the most affordable Breitling with the B01 movement is approximately twice as expensive as the Tudor chronograph. Of course, there’s more to a watch than its movement, but it is indeed the most expensive component of a watch. In exchange, Breitling now uses Tudor’s in-house MT5613 movement for some of their models. This is an interesting decision and a clear nod to the Swatch Group, owner of ETA.
The legacy of Tudor’s chronographs continues with the Tudor Heritage Chrono and the Black Bay Chrono. You are going to have to make the call for yourself whether you prefer one of their more modern watches or something vintage.