Have you heard of the Tudor Black Bay 36 Ref M79500? No shame if you haven’t. It’s one of the less popular models in the Tudor line-up. Often lost in the shadows of its more popular, vintage-inspired cousins. Yet, it’s a great go-to choice for an everyday watch at a modest price. Plus it has the backing of a decent brand on the dial. Even though, as we will see, it is not quite as “in-house” as some of its stablemates. But does that mean the Black Bay 36 is not as good as the Black Bay Heritage models? Let’s get into the detail and find out.
The Tudor Black Bay collection made its debut in 2012. The now familiar, heritage-inspired, dive watch Ref 79220 has become a best-seller for Tudor. Four years later the modern and refined Ref M795XX series joined the party. The Ref 79550 debuted with a 36mm case, but Tudor has since added 32mm and 41mm options. The sub-collection has proven a solid performer for the brand. But it’s tough to compete when your sibling is one of the most popular models on the planet in its category.
As the name suggests, the Heritage Black Bay draws heavy inspiration from Tudor’s past. The brand has a pretty rich history when it comes to making functional tool watches. With the focus being on quality and affordability. The Black Bay 36 meanwhile – and its smaller and larger counterparts – takes a more modern approach.
There’s no obvious tie-in to Tudor’s history here, other than a few minor touches. Such as the snowflake hands. Taken from the Tudor watches created for the French National Navy in the 1970s. As well as the oversized winding crown, a key feature of the Black Bay collection, from the Ref 7924. That model, better known as the Big Crown, also serves as the inspiration for the Black Bay 58.
Another quirky feature of the Black Bay 36 is its “smile” dial. So called because of the way the “Rotor Self-Winding” text curves up above six o’clock. The Heritage Black Bay featured this same dial text on early models too. Before Tudor upgraded it to an in-house movement in 2015. And with it, the dial text too. Although some still prefer the original version, complete with ETA movement.
Following its debut in 2016, the Black Bay 36 has remained pretty consistent. Tudor has introduced case metal and dial variations, but that’s about it as far as major changes go. That’s not a bad thing mind you. As they say, if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it,
For most options, the case is in stainless steel and shows polished and brushed finishes. There’s also a steel and yellow gold, two-tone version with a champagne or black dial. On paper it would seem the Tudor Black Bay 36 is a touch on the small side for the modern gentleman. But in reality, it wears a bit bigger than its 36mm diameter would suggest.
This is in large part due to the solid, Oyster-style case with broad-shouldered lugs. In fact, lug to lug it measures 44mm. Yet the case remains a very manageable 10.5mm thick. Somehow it looks chunky yet feels slim on the wrist at the same time. Particularly when paired with the matching steel bracelet. This is also what’s led to favourable comparisons between the Black Bay 36 and the Rolex Explorer. Both are, at their heart, functional tool watches. But they also lend themselves very well to everyday wear.
Some will still have an issue with the smaller diameter. And that’s fair enough, it’s not for everyone. There is of course also the 41mm option. Still, the case size is definitely less of an issue now than when the model first came out. Back then, the perception was that smaller diameter watches were for women. The market was still having its love affair with larger cases. Although it’s worth noting that Tudor never marketed this model as a ladies watch. Now, the trend seems to towards smaller case sizes. Watches that are attractive and robust but also wearable. The Tudor Black Bay 36 ticks all those boxes.
The dial is a simple three-hand, time only affair. No date. It’s available in your choice of blue, black or silver. The latter having joined the line up in 2021. Luminous snowflake hands combine with round and baton-shaped hour markers for easy legibility. With an upside-down triangle at 12 o’clock. The dial layout is almost identical to that of the Heritage Black Bay model. Although the Black Bay 36 is not intended as a dive watch. As shown by its fixed, shiny bezel, in place of a rotating one with a diving insert. It’s still water resistant to a respectable 150m though.
Inside the Black Bay 36 is the self-winding Calibre T600. Which is Tudor’s fancy name for the Sellita SW200-1. An outsourced movement that offers decent, reliable performance. The power reserve of approximately 38 hours is a little lacking. But comparable at this price point. Tudor used to use the ETA 2824-2 but for whatever reason has moved on from that movement. The smile dial though, remains.
Given that this is Tudor, the Tudor Black Bay 36 is available with several strap options. There’s a steel bracelet, with folding clasp and safety catch. A leather strap with a folding clasp, or a fabric strap. I prefer it on the matching steel bracelet, although you can’t go wrong with any of the options.
The closest thing to the Black Bay 36 in the Heritage range is the Black Bay 58. And I’m sure most will agree that these watches play in two very different leagues. Not only is the Black Bay 58 a legit dive watch. It’s also a very desirable model in general. People wait a long time to get their hands on one new from an authorized retailer. It’s achieved cult status thanks to its vintage-inspired good looks and ideal proportions. Not to mention the fact it has a manufacture movement inside.
The key thing to note here though is that the Tudor Black Bay 36 is not trying to compete with the Heritage versions. Tudor has created this watch for people who like the style of a Black Bay but don’t want a dive watch. And also don’t want to pay a premium for the “heritage” component. It’s modern, it’s minimalist and it does the job it’s supposed to do. Yes, it doesn’t have an in-house movement. The water resistance rating isn’t as good. And there’s no fauxtina (fake patina) all over the dial. But it’s still a solid watch for the money. Even more so if you pick one up pre-owned on the secondary market (affiliate link). Try it on first though if you can. In case 36mm really is too small for your wrist.