Years of SCUBA diving with mechanical watches on my wrist have revealed certain strengths and weaknesses in functional design that would otherwise remain hidden on terra firma. I’ve also learned that my aesthetic assessment of a dive watch often changes once I’ve had the chance to dive with it. The significance – and, in turn, the satisfaction – of specific design details can shift considerably at depth.
After spending a few weeks with the Tudor Pelagos FXD Marine Nationale, including a week SCUBA diving with it off the rustic Dutch island of Bonaire in the West Caribbean, my attitude shifted from a watch nerd’s middling curiosity to a diver’s full-blown fandom. My perspective transitioned in stages as I came to better appreciate the FXD’s aesthetic, experience its functional design, and, finally, maximize its unique capabilities as an underwater navigational tool.
Jack Forster summed up my initial reaction to the Pelagos FXD in his Second Look. Like Jack, I found the concept of the watch vaguely interesting until I strapped it on and found myself entirely enthralled. This was long before I got anywhere near water with it.
What I didn’t know about the FXD prior to handling it was how different it actually was from other dive watches, including the standard Pelagos. I didn’t expect the various design tweaks of the FXD to form such a novel and cohesive aesthetic.
The FXD is exceptionally light, due to the monobloc satin-brushed titanium case and lack of bracelet, and surprisingly sleek for a 42mm watch (just 12.75mm tall). For this reason, the FXD offers a totally unique tactile experience for a mechanical dive watch, one akin to lifting a piece of ultra-light camping equipment or a carbon fiber bicycle. Wearing the FXD feels the opposite of strapping on, say, a hefty Rolex Submariner with a solid-link bracelet.
As a mechanical watch, the Tudor Pelagos FXD Marine Nationale doesn’t exactly feel futuristic or high-tech on the wrist, but it does feel cutting-edge – like a serious, purposeful, and relevant mechanical tool.
The FXD immediately ranked among the most legible dive watches I’ve used, which further heightened its sense of purpose. The “Snowflake”-style hands, square hour markers, and rich shade of blue echo the appearance of Tudor’s original Submariner ref. 9401/0 “MN,” a mil-spec watch that was issued to the French Marine Nationale’s elite dive unit starting in 1969. Yet, despite its ancestry, nothing about the FXD looks especially vintage once it’s strapped on and ready for use.
The fabric velcro strap slotted through the fixed titanium strap bars feels ready for action (there’s also a rubber strap option that I didn’t use for this story). A fabric strap with Velcro may sound bland, but this lovely dark blue unit is produced by a renowned French ribbon maker named Julien Faure. It’s both supple and hard-wearing, an all too rare combination. Velcro enables instant adjustment over a wetsuit and is absolutely the easiest mechanism to adjust on the fly while diving. It dried in less than 15 minutes after our dives.
The fixed strap bars on the FXD derive from older military designs meant for hard abuse in combat scenarios. I never beat up a watch as much as when I’m SCUBA diving, especially before and after dives while moving air tanks in and out of trucks or climbing metal ladders onto boats in the rolling seas. Spring bars really never seem sturdy enough, and the confidence that the FXD’s fixed strap bars inspired was a revelation to me. Adding it up, the FXD inspires heaps of what I seek in dive watches: a sense of purpose and adventure. None of this inspiration, however, arose until I experienced the FXD first-hand. Due to its many unique design details that express themselves through tactile interaction, I submit that the FXD needs to be handled to be fully appreciated.
After months of speculation and more than a handful of leaks, Tudor Pelagos FXD Marine Nationale has officially announced the Pelagos FXD – the watch born of their revived connection with the Marine Nationale. Something of a more specific and specialized take on the Pelagos format, the FXD has been designed with direct input from the Marine Nationale’s combat swimmers, the Commando Hubert, in the hopes of fine-tuning Tudor’s popular titanium dive watch to suit their needs for underwater navigation. The result is an exacting evolution of the Pelagos that includes several small tweaks and a few big changes. I’m sorry to do this… but let’s dive in.
First, I’d like to make something clear. For my money, especially if you want to take it diving, the Pelagos is the best dive watch in the world. It’s modern, over-built, over spec’d, and very thoughtfully designed and the final product has a casual wrist presence that belies its professional level of capability. It’s amazing how well it manages to operate like a piece of dive gear when you’re underwater only to then become nothing more than a very nice watch when you’re above water. A huge part of that wide-ranging ability is the generalist “checks all boxes” nature of its design.
But, because we’re all pals here, I’m going to give you a shortcut to help inform your take on the FXD. It’s no generalist – heck, it doesn’t even conform to the warm-waters of ISO 6425. Those with a base understanding of evolutionary theory (yes, I too have read Jurassic Park) know that evolution is not a purely additive process, as most evolution has a cost. Think of it this way, when was the last time you saw gills and legs at the same party?
The FXD, in following the needs of the MN, has traded some of the standard Pelagos’ wide range of charms for a more specific and focused set of skills. Your personal taste and (I hope) actual use case will determine which is likely a better fit for you, but let’s look at a breakdown of the new Tudor Pelagos FXD Marine Nationale.