For many, the post-Submariner and pre-Heritage Tudor watches fall into an era of “not sure” or “wow, never saw that.” The situation wasn’t helped as the brand was withdrawn from sale in two of its biggest markets, the US and UK, for over a decade. With prices creeping ever higher, collectors who aspired to own “Snowflake” Subs, “Big Blocks” or “Monte Carlos” had to fork out significant sums for such pieces. With that in mind, keen Tudor collectors began taking an interest in the Small Block chronos and the later Submariners with Mercedes-patterned hands, and guess what? Since then, those watches have doubled, then tripled and now quadrupled in prices.
The next era in Tudor’s history is very different, however. You may not have even heard of many of the pieces, and I can guarantee most won’t be aware of all the versions that were made. Maybe I’m not either. But the watches that I am writing about today are most likely going to be tomorrow’s collectibles… (Isn’t that just always the case?) Before delving into this relatively unknown period in Tudor’s history, let’s talk about the word “naut,” which is most commonly used as a suffix. Its most well-known use is probably astronaut or as the Russians prefer — cosmonaut. Referring to a traveler or person on a journey in a given environment, over the years we have also learnt of the adventures of aeronauts, aquanauts, oceanauts and even gastronauts. It was in the spirit of adventure and interesting journeys that Tudor created its own “naut” watches in the Hydronaut, Aeronaut and Iconaut. The Hydronaut replaced the Submariner in the pantheon of dive watches. The Aeronaut and Iconaut were a new chapter and represented Tudor’s first foray into the world of traveler watches, more specifically the dual time zone complication or GMT.
In the mid-2000s, Tudor was producing watches that were still faithful to the Oyster-based wristwatch that was the Wilsdorf stable’s staple, but these developed into a new silhouette with a profile more akin to the revamped Rolex sports watches, such as the Submariner and GMT-Master. Thicker lugs and increased case sizes were the new recipe, with very often more than a sprinkling of diamonds!
What an act to follow…
The Submariner is arguably the most iconic of all dive watches. I don’t use the term “iconic” lightly, but I think you’ll agree that whilst it might not have been the very first watch of its kind, no other model has had the long-lived impact of the good-old Subby. One could be forgiven for thinking that the Submariner name was dropped in honor of the Black Bay, but in fact, there was a chapter that preceded the Black Bay with the heading Hydronaut. In 1998, Tudor dropped the full-sized Submariner reference 79190 and replaced it with the reference 89190 (although the mid-sized 36mm 75190 Submariner and 33mm 73190 Mini Sub were still available). The new watch was simply badged as a Prince Date for the first year and cataloged as the Prince Date Diver’s Watch. The watch was a pretty drastic reinterpretation of Wilsdorf’s classic diver with a rounder case profile and a mid-case that almost wrapped around the unidirectional bezel at both ends near the lugs. Gone too were the Mercedes-patterned hands, replaced with a flanged minute hand and large arrow hour hand. The Prince Date did, however, maintain the round and triangular format hour markers that were a trademark of the post-Snowflake Tudor Subs.
This was also the time of Tudor’s involvement with professional golfer Tiger Woods. In a move quite unthinkable before or since, the 89190 and the Small Block chronographs of the era had “TIGER” on the dial. The TIGER dial 89190 had the round and triangular hour markers, and so, I’m pretty confident that these watches date to 1998, or at least the dials were made during that year.
In 1999, the reference 89190 was reborn as the Hydronaut. With the Hydronaut also came a new dial that featured rectangular hour markers with large stripes of Super-LumiNova through the middle. One element of the classic Submariners that did appear in 1999 was the use of blue bezel inserts with blue dials and black bezel inserts with black dials. The other dial colors have steel inserts. From the 89190’s introduction in 1998 in the pre- Hydronaut, the use of color on the dials was prevalent. Much like the Small Block chronos, dials came in vibrant yellow, shocking orange, cream and silver. There were also mother-of-pearl dials in white, pink and blue and also a carbon fiber black dial.
2007 was the beginning of the second chapter of the Hydronaut. The sequel came in the guise of the Hydronaut II, a watch that didn’t veer entirely off course but was still quite different to the watches that had gone before. Tudor has never stopped being part of Rolex, and the Hydronaut II came a year before Rolex launched the “maxi case” Submariner with its wider lugs and crown guards. Interestingly, the Hydronaut II was released a year before the Rolex maxi case Sub, although the first Rolex maxi case came with the GMT-Master II in 2005. The Hydronaut II was, however, very much part of that zeitgeist and had more flat, wider lugs and pronounced crown guards.
The Hydronaut II was given the reference number 20040 and had plain baton-style hands and similar applied hour markers to its predecessor. The watches had an interesting steel bezel with recesses every five minutes after 15 with the numbers printed in relief. Reference 20040 had a satin-finished bezel but there was also a reference 20030 with a polished bezel. In terms of bracelets, there were two steel bracelet choices, the reference 93570 Jubilee-style bracelet and also a Fliplock bracelet reference 95000. For a more sporty dive watch aesthetic, there were black or blue rubber straps on steel deployant clasps.
The final chapter for the Hydronaut came in 2010, which was the same year that the Heritage line was born with the incredibly popular Heritage Chrono — a riff on the vintage Homeplate chronograph from 1970. Released as the Hydronaut II reference 20060, the watches had bezels that were more like the very first Hydronaut from 1999 with a more classic-style insert but with striking red sweep between 12 o’clock and the 15-minute marker. The classic 89190 hands also made a return but with a red center seconds hand. The watch was pretty short- lived, though, as in 2012 the Black Bay was released, and we all know what happened after that!
Tudor’s GMT is born
The launch of the Black Bay GMT in 2018 was heralded as a smash hit for Tudor, with a “family” launch alongside the release of the Rolex GMT- Master II “Pepsi.” Whereas the Rolex Pepsi bezel was manufactured from 21st century ceramic, its Tudor stablemate was fitted with a vintage-style aluminum insert that gave the watch a true heritage look. Many headlines celebrated the first GMT watch from Tudor, but in fact this wasn’t the case. During Tudor’s interregnum from the UK and US markets, they were still producing watches for the Far East and European mainland. One such model was the Iconaut — a 43mm beast of a watch with dual time zone complication.
The Iconaut was released as reference 20400 and was both a sports chronograph and a dual time zone watch. It was housed in a steel case measuring 43mm with 22mm lugs and was waterproof to a depth of 150 meters. Driven by a modified Valjoux movement, the Tudor caliber 7754, it was the brand’s first multi-functional sports watch. You could dive in it, time your racing car and monitor two time zones. It really was the horological Swiss Army knife!
The most common version of the watch featured a striking dial layout with, what I see as, an upside down shark fin at nine o’clock. Tudor referred to this as the “Deco” dial in the master catalogs, with the Deco referring to the shark fin design. The watches were available with three variations of dial — black, white and gray (called “Black Sun” in the catalogs). Within this shark fin is a running seconds hand. The top subdial is a 30-minute register and at the bottom of the dial an elapsed hour register. Whilst the three subdials actually look different in size, it is an optical illusion due to the dial design; each of the sub-register hands are the same small size. The center seconds hand is the stopwatch seconds hand, which also functions for the tachymeter reading. Large, almost “exploded,” 24-hour numerals are painted onto the fixed steel bezel.
There is another Iconaut that was given the name Iconaut “Speed.” This was essentially the same watch with the same reference, 20400, but had a different dial and came on a black perforated rubber strap with pin buckle. The dial was all-black, and the watch had different hands that were shaped like arrow heads. I am unsure if referring to these as “rarer” is actually true, but certainly there are fewer available out there as far as my research indicates.
Bracelet was the only option for the standard, non- Speed Iconaut. The 22mm lugs meant that a unique bracelet reference was needed, the 95010. Oyster-esque in many ways, the bracelet is also similar to the precious- metal-only President band from the Day-Date. This steel bracelet was almost an amalgam of the two. The 43mm Iconaut case was the biggest waterproof case to come out of the Wilsdorf family until the introduction of the Rolex Deepsea. The vintage Tudor Big Block chronos were the thickest, but the Iconaut was the widest.
In 2006, a new watch was born and, in fact, this watch could have been the offspring of a Rolex Daytona 116520 and an Explorer II 16570. The Aeronaut was given the reference number 20200 and was housed in a 41mm case with 21mm lugs. Sound familiar? Yep, just like the modern Rolex Submariner. The Aeronaut enjoyed the silhouette of a chrono, albeit with an extra pusher, and yet was a true GMT watch. The pushers of the time in Tudor sports watches were a hybrid of early Oyster pump pushers and later screw- down pushers, and were unlocked by a quarter turn.
On the Aeronaut, the two o’clock pusher could be used to advance the hour hand — one click moved the hand forward by one hour. The pusher at four o’clock took the hand back by one hour. Simple and an easy way to adjust to new or changing local times for the intrepid traveler. The third pusher was located at eight o’clock and could be used to advance the date, a click and a day at a time. The screw-down Triplock crown had the usual functions of winding the watch and setting the time and was the method by which one could move the red 24-hour hand.
The 41mm case had wide polished lugs and a brushed fixed 24-hour bezel. The movement was a modified ETA caliber 2892-A2. There were essentially two different dial layouts for most of the 20200’s lifespan. A silver or champagne version with applied hour markers and the word “AERONAUT” across the entire width at the center of the dial in a lighter shade. A subdial at six o’clock was the date. At the very edge of the dial at the hour markers were small letter T’s. The other dial type had painted Arabic numerals at 2, 4, 8 and 10 with “AERONAUT” in an arc within the date subdial. The outline of the Arabic numerals was in striking red with complimentary red T’s on the dial edge at the hour markers.
The Aeronaut had an astonishing five different strap options that could be color matched to the dial. There were two steel bracelet choices, the reference 93570 Jubilee-style bracelet that was also used on the Small Block Prince chronographs in the 1990s, and also an Oyster-esque Fliplock bracelet reference 95000. One could also choose calf leather in black, red, blue or brown or what Tudor called “Tissue” in charcoal or beige. This was essentially a nylon-topped stitched strap. Finally, there were blue or black rubber straps with “TUDOR” on the upper edge. All three strap types were fitted with a steel Tudor deployant clasp.