Spot On – A Canadian Navy Tudor Submariner Story         

by bulang - Jan 27 2016

I have spent many years now researching (and chasing) Tudor Submariner watches that were issued to military forces across the globe. The most well-known and fully documented Tudor MilSubs are the now legendary Marine Nationale (MN) watches. At Bulang & Sons we have been able to offer you some of the very finest examples of these French Navy issued Subs. When I first became interested (or is it an obsession?) in these watches I was vaguely aware of some rumored issued Tudors including the South African and Argentinian pieces. I have extensive research now on the South African Tudors and even discovered a previously unheard of MilSub – the Jamaican Defense Force MilSub.

Ross SA

South African Tudor MilSub (Ross Povey)

The Canadian Milsubs

This piece, however, focuses on one of the least known about Tudor Military Submariners, those issued by the Canadian Navy. One of the most exciting aspects of my role in researching Tudor watches is that rare occasion when an email arrives from an ex-navy diver who has a story about a watch he was issued or information on watches delivered to colleagues. Over the years I’ve had a few such emails from Canadian Navy divers who were issued Tudor Subs. Most of the divers had either given the watches back at the end of their service or had sold them in civilian life to raise cash when the need had arisen. I managed to piece together a fairly certain picture though that the Canadian Navy had most certainly issued Tudor Submariners to their divers and so naturally I was hooked! Another Tudor enthusiast, Paul Russell, has also done a lot of research on the Canadian Tudors and the sharing of information with him has been both enjoyable and enlightening. So I share the credit for this knowledge with him!

Canadian Clearance Diver

Canadian Clearance Divers at work

Canadian Combat Divers

Canadian Combat Divers with support Vessel 

The Marks of Military Life

As I have said previously, all the Military Tudor MilSubs we have discovered have no discernable markings on the front (face side) unlike their Rolex British MilSub cousins. The interesting aspect of Tudor military watches is generally the casebacks. With the French Navy watches we see MN engraved on the reverse of the watch, with the South African watches the serial number and so is the case with the other documented examples we have. The exception to this rule are the Canadian pieces. Whist we now know for certain that they were in fact issued, with these watches the provenance is crucial. So far we have discovered Canadian Navy issued Tudor watches with the following caseback features – Sterile (as delivered by Rolex), owners name (and rank), serial number, and what we believe to be Navy Stores stock numbers.

IMG_7591

Interesting 94010 uncovered by Canadian Navy Stores Manager posted on MWR Forum. This watch was part of issued Canadian divers’ equipment (MichaelC)

Buy The Seller

There are currently no known service ledgers for any of the other Tudor MilSubs apart from the French, so we have to rely on our piecing together of information gathered from various online watch forums, emails with navy personnel (divers and administrators) and collating databases of serial numbers of ‘known’ examples. I began looking into the Canadian watches a few years ago when a retired clearance diver emailed me to discuss two Tudor Submariners he had been issued when in service. He actually still owned both examples and was keen to learn more about the watches collectability. He had no interest in selling them, as he wanted to pass them on to his two sons. This kind of scenario is the perfect way to buy these watches (if they’re for sale!) as you are dealing directly with somebody who has owned the watch during its active service. You’ve heard the phrase “buy the seller, not the watch”, never is this more important than with the less well-known MilSubs.

VTHAM 94010 Can with serial on back

Vintage Tudor 94010 bought from original owner by VTHAM. He acquired the watch from an ex-diver who had served on  HMCS Kootenay and HMCS Miramichi (VTHAM)

CREW-PHOTO HMCS Miramichi

HMCS Miramichi Crew photo (VTHAM)

VTHAM Diver pic

The original owner whilst working as a Canadian navy Diver (VTHAM)

Which Watches

Paul has compiled the most comprehensive database that we know of and across this the following watches appear:

a) 7016 from 1968 with transitional ‘rose’ dial and merc hands.
b) 7021 with standard snowflake dial and hands
c) 9411/0 with standard snowflake dial and hands (this is the only recorded blue dial)
d) 9401/0 with standard non-date snowflake dial and hands.
e) 9401/0 with rectangular 3,6 and 9 plots, triangular 12 plot and the remaining circular plots, with snowflake hands
f) 79090 with standard (for this model) triangular 12, 6 and 9, date at 3 and the remainder of plots circular, with merc hands.

 

The watches I have seen the most are types ‘e’ and ‘f’. The 9401/0 watches with the ‘mismatched’ dial and hands configuration are actually the same layout as the Tudor Heritage Black Bay watches – a traditional Submariner dial (like on a 5513) but with the snowflake hands. We know that these watches were delivered in a reasonably small serial number batch and I suspect they were delivered in this configuration. One train of thought is that the Canadian Navy added the snowflake hands at the request of divers, to improve legibility. I suspect that this wasn’t the case as I came across an original owner watch in the North West of England three years ago in the exact same configuration as these watches within the correct serial range.

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Interesting Canadian issued Tudor Submariner 94010 owned by Paul Russell. Note the interesting dial and snowflake hands combination (Paul Russell)

Distribution to Divers

In a similar way to the French watches, the watches were issued to individual ships as a stores item. In the case of the diving stores, the Diving Officer signed for all the items on their charge.  They then signed out all the equipment (regulators, watches, masks, fins, etc) on ‘Temporary Loan Cards’ to individual divers. The diving officer kept a log of this equipment, but our research indicates that this log unfortunately did not go into any detail as to model or serial number of the watch; it was more just a checklist that six watches were handed out, to ensure six came back when the divers either left the team or were posted off the vessel.

The Last Days…

We anecdotally know that the Navy ordered one last batch of Tudor Submariners from Rolex Toronto in the form of reference 79090. The 79090 was the last of the plexi glass model Subs, featuring the triangle and round hour markers and Mercedes hands. My experience of these watches is that they were either sterile or had the owner’s name engraved across the caseback. Interestingly, none that I have seen had the Cyclops crystal replaced by a T19 domed glass. This modification is very common on date model Submariners that I have come across from Argentina and Jamaica.

Ross Can 2

Canadian Navy issued Tudor Submariner reference 79090 issued to Petty Officer Cumberland (Ross Povey)

I was delighted to be able to buy one of these issued watches from a collector in Canada a coupe of years ago. Mine is a black 79090 on its original black nato strap – which has incredible patina and wear from its use. My example was acquired by a militaria collector in Canada, who bought it from an ex-Navy diver. The case back features the owners name – ‘Petty Officer Cumberland’ which is partially erased. The insert has turned into a beautiful cobalt blue colour, which gives the watch a really cool weathered look…I presume the colour change of the bezel is due to the watch being exposed to the sea water.

Certainly these military issued vintage Tudor Submariners are an undiscovered gem and are watches that have a great history!

Ross Povey