An Original Story of a Tudor 9401 Marine Nationale MN78 Submariner
The Tudor Submariner is perhaps one of the widely issued military dive watches, having been worn by troops in the French, United States, South African, Argentinian and Italian navies, as well as other forces such as the Royal Canadian Navy and the Jamaican Defence Force. But why did so many navies choose the Tudor?
In short, the watches had all the reliability and build quality of a Rolex Submariner, but were available at a much more accessible price point. This was exactly the vision that Hans Wilsdorf had for Tudor and the great man’s vision truly came to fruition with the Tudor MilSub and especially the Tudor Marine Nationale.
Watch Bernhard Bulang talk about the Story of this Grail Watch in his Passion Talk Video here…
The military-issued watch delivers exactly what a lot of collectors love; watches with a story! And it’s a watch we have a lot of love for at Bulang and Sons. Over the years Bernhard has been fortunate enough to both find and own some amazing examples of these cool tools. My passion is vintage Tudors and I have been fortunate to discover some great examples over the years. What’s the very best way to find such a watch? Yes, that’s right – an original owner watch. Here we present to you Bernhard Bulang’s new find from an original owner – a Tudor Submariner MN78…
The French Navy Story
The French Navy were more than just a customer to Tudor, they were a research and development partner. The story can be traced back to the mid-1950s when the French National Navy, the Marine Nationale, took delivery of a batch of Tudor Submariners reference 7922. These so-called small crown Subs were depth-rated to 100m and were in slim cases with small 6mm winding crowns.
These watches were used in the field, but even for a cilvilian in everyday life, the 6mm winding crowns were very small. Imagine trying to unscrew and set your watch with cold hands or with gloves on! To address this, Tudor introduced a larger winding crown that was 8mm and featured the word BREVET.
The extra 2mm made a big difference and was eventually used in the 200-meter depth-rated reference 7924, known as the Big Crown by collectors. What is less known, is that a prototype batch of 7922 was sent to the MN by Tudor that actually featured 8mm winding crowns. Over the years a number of these watches have surfaced and all of them can be traced back to the Marine Nationale. What makes these Big Crown watches unusual is that they are depth-rated to 100m, where all commercially produced Big Crowns had 200m dials in. The most interesting feature, however, is that the casebacks have 6538 inside that has been ‘crossed out’ and have 7922 stamped above. The cases are actually engraved as 7922 but have Rolex serial numbers and so we can presume that Tudor used cases from its older brother Rolex for this delivery to the MN.
The Marine Nationale continued to order Submariners from Tudor right through until the early to mid 1980s. These watches were used, however, until as late as the 1990s. 7928s, 7016s and 9401s were all used by Navy personnel in active service. In fcat, it is believed that the snowflake hand design, that is still used by Tudor today in the Black Bay and Pelaogos lines, was as a direct result of French navy divers requesting a more legible hand set that they could read more easily in low light conditions. And which is the most sought-after MN-issued Tudor? Well, after the 7924 Big Crowns, I would say that the blue snowflake is the watch that gets collectors a little hot under the collar. A crisp blue dial, cream snowflake hands, a faded blue bezel all combined on a grey nato-style fabric strap is about as sexy as it gets! And as I said at the beginning of this article, it gets even better if you can find one from an original owner. And that’s exactly what we’ve managed to pull off here with a cool story from a French Commando. We think you’ll enjoy this!
A Commando’s Story
This Tudor MN78 was the property of a former Marine Nationale commando, who we will call LP. Here LP picks up the story. “I enlisted with the National Marines on 1st March 1978 and had the opportunity to embark upon my initial Commando training which continued throughout the year. On 26th December 1978, I took up my first appointment as a Commando De Montfort which marked the beginning of a career which lasted 24 years and 7 months.
During these years the Marines have sent me to different parts of the world on a variety of commissions comprising humanitarian and rescue missions, peacekeeping exercises or more volatile situations.” LP was stationed all over the world including stints in Libya, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Yemen, the Arabian and Persian Gulfs as well as some other places that he cannot mention!
His main appointments were:
Commando De Montfort
Brest firearms corps
SUFFREN – a missile-launching frigate
Commando Jaubert – second posting
“I completed my last diver’s course in 1988 at the St Mandrier diving school. On leaving the Marines in 2002 I had completed 1,200 dives in my career”. As the Marine Nationale move to issuing its commandos with Casio watches, the divers were able to purchase the Tudors. The quality of the watches was without dispute and so it was quite common for divers to buy the watches and continue to use them in active service, as was the case with LP. He was particularly delighted to be able to buy an MN78 as it corresponded with the year in which he first joined the MN. As well as using the watch for the rest of his military diving career, the watch was also his companion for all his post-military adventures following his retirement in 2002.
A Watch’s Story
This watch just gets better as it is also featured in the MN watchmaker’s ledgers. Yves Pastre was a watchmaker and watch seller in Toulon in the South of France. He repaired and serviced the watches that were held by the Toulon Navy Stores or Approvisionnement de la Flotte (AF). When Mr Pastres serviced the watches he fastidiously kept a record of each watch, including the make, model and serial number. The beauty of the ledger extract is that it tells you to which division of the Marine Nationale a watch was issued. The ledger extract tell us that this MN78 was used by personnel on the aircraft carrier Foch.
Foch first went into active service in 1963, before it was sold to the Brazilian Navy in 2000. A CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery) vessel, the Foch used a catapult system to support the take-off of planes. The Foch took part in a number of high profile operations including the 1978 Operation Saphir II in the Red Sea at the Independence of Djibouti, the 1983 Operation Olifant in Lebanon and in the 1990s regularly supported French participation in combat as part of United Nations and NATO forces in ex-Yugoslavia. To think that this Tudor Marine Nationale 9401 Submariner was probably present and therefore used during all of these situations is incredible.
What Makes a 78 a 78?
Interestingly, for whatever reason the Marine Nationale only began engraving the casebacks of watches from 1974. The preceding almost 20 years’ Tudors, references 7922, 7924 and 7928, weren’t marked. The 7016 was the first to have the legendary MN markings followed by the short form version of the year – 1974 was 74 and 1976 was 76 and so on. The exception to this rule was 1975 when the full year was engraved; MN 1975.
The 1978 watches have a couple of interesting points to note about the engravings. The letters M and N do not have dots after them – they are marked as MN as opposed to M.N. Also the entire engraving is placed towards the outer edge of the caseback instead of being central. It’s a small detail, but an important one and as we know, with military watches generally and Tudor and Rolex particularly, the devil is in the detail!
The MN78 watches are all blue snowflake Submariners reference 9401. Over the years we have been able to identify common serial batches for each year of delivery. Tudor delivered the watches to the French Navy in batches, which is key when authenticating these watches. This MN78 is perfectly within the accepted serial range that we would hope to see on such a watch.
Case Back Compilation
Bulang and Sons has sold a great number of Marine Nationale Tudors over the past decade. Below is a gallery of all the case backs from 1974 to 1982, all from the Bulang archive.
Bulang Loves Tudor Marine Nationale
“I have always loved Tudors and especially the Tudor MNs; for me there is nothing better than finding one of these from an original source. That feeling when the email arrives and the journey of acquiring the watch begins is what drives all of us and it is heightened in many ways when it comes to finding a military piece. This watch is actually the second Marine Nationale Tudor that I have bought from the original diver and I will never get bored of looking at these incredible tool watches.“
And of course, the collector in me loves finding the associated equipment that goes with such a watch. I remember many years ago acquiring a black MN74 that came with some other equipment such as a depth gauge and diving board. To complete ‘the look’ I found an original MN rebreather, frog suit and fins! There are a few pictures on the internet of me at an early Rolex Passion Meeting in Maastricht wearing the full outfit. Crazy days! ” Bernhard Bulang – Founder.