Passion Talk 01 – My Grail Tudor MN
Dear watch friends,
First of all, we want to wish you all the very best for 2016 and we hope that all your dreams will come true.
The new year will also be very exciting for Bulang & Sons, with many new projects and style ahead. We are very proud of all we have achieved over the last year and the trust and friendships we have built with so many customers. To manage all the growth and future ambitions we added a new member to the B&S team, Giacomo Castelli, who next to Ross Povey and the Bulang family will work hard to offer you some great content, products, experience and fun. Always trying to take it one step further!
With the new year and a bigger team I also want to find more time again to share my passion and collecting adventures. Many of you might know that B&S started with me collecting vintage watches over the last 10 years and writing about my crazy road-trip of passionate collecting vintage Rolex watches on the forums and my blog ‘100percent Rolex Blog’. The big goal of B&S is to share that passion for watches, stories, style, design and people.
In this series ‘PASSION TALK’, I will share some of my personal watches from the past and today.
My passion about vintage watches is for a big part about the tool-watch feel of them. Iconic designs reduced to the max and with a professional purpose in mind. Many of the designs were created in the 50s and 60s, back in a world where the watch really was a tool. And reading the time was not just a luxury or accessory, as it is today, but an important tool in the kit of people depending on their function. Divers, the military, explorers, pilots etc – for them these watches often made the difference.
During my collecting life i had the privledge to own some iconic ‘issued’ tool-watches. Like a 5513 and 5517 Rolex Milsub, some amazing Rolex Comex 5513 Submariner, Comex 1665 Seadwellers and a Rolex 6265 Fuerza Aérea del Perú Daytona. Watches with a provenance and an adventurous history. I even collected the gear and other tools that these divers used in those days. I will write some more articles on these watches later in the series.
In the past i have already owned a couple of Tudor Marine National Submariners. To be honest, back then they were great watches for me, but in my hunt for the grail Rolex Milsub 5517 i neglected their special feel and position back in those days. The last years i have discovered their beauty and stories again. Together with Ross Povey (tudorcollector) we wrote about them in our article >>> TUDOR AND THE FRENCH NAVY – A QUARTER OF A CENTURY OF COLLABORATION… and we were also happy to be able to help some collectors to find their blue ‘sex on the wrist’ MN watch also. Some of these watches you can find in our sold section.
Today i want to share with you the story of this 1977 Tudor Marine Nationale from my personal collection and how out of nowhere it found me.
It all started here, last summer at this pool during my family holiday.
A relaxing day at the pool. Kids in the water, great sun and talk with my wife, when i opened the mails on my iphone. And there it was, this magical mail. I have had a couple of such mails over the past years. Mails from (original) owners, which are often connected with their watches telling their story. Don’t worry – I will share more of them in the future!
“My name is XXXXX, I was in the French Navy for 17 years. During this time I worked as a scuba diver in the diving school of the Navy in Saint-Mandrier (France). And was given a diving watch in 1991 that I kept when I left the Navy.This watch is a Tudor MN ’77 Blue Snowflake Submariner (see the pics). This watch was completely revised in 2013 (see the pics).”
Of course, such a moment always starts with adrenalin kicking in and a healthy portion of distrust. Why? Is it real? Can’t be, but looks good, what the hell, amazing… 1000 such thoughts flashing through the mind. And to be honest, I forgot all about my wife and kids at that moment. With the words there were not only the ‘amateur’ images of the watch, which seems to be kind of a standard for original owner watches, but there was more. Which pushed my blood pressure even to higher numbers…
There it was – images of the Marine National Dossier of the diver in the mail and it took forever to load with the crappy internet at the pool. The story could be true, hell the story must be true. But of course i wanted to double check with Ross Povey, our passionate team member and one of the leading experts on vintage military Tudor watches. He was also on a holiday and we tried to communicate in all kind of ways with really lousy connection. Dropping off, re-connect, off again and so on. It was so exciting and funny. But as we hoped, the serial number matched the known batches and all seemed fine. But next you are left with the question how to get and pay for the watch. Ross even offered to drive through half of France to check out and pick up the watch for me during his holiday.
I decided to call the guy and we had a great talk. He told me about his time with the MN and how sad he was when he had to personally destroy a big number of watches at the end of their issued life. And how he was able to keep his watch, which he could not part from back then. We agreed on a deal we were both happy with and the watch found its way to my home.
And what a beauty it was… way nicer than on the images. I took off the jubilee bracelet. “Yeah”, some of you will say, “an original Marine Nationale is never worn on a steel bracelet and only used with nylon nato straps or rubber straps sometimes”. In basic that is correct. But many of these watches, when from original owners, were used on nato strap during service, when it was useful and often the regulations. But afterwards, when they got back in to civilian life, they have been wearing them on other bracelets for the normal use and in their eyes a more casual way of using them.
There were no real bracelet marks on the back, the numbers all clear and the dial and hands just amazing. Such a beautiful example.
All the boxes ticked. So i got myself a great Tudor MN and copies of the diver’s MN dossier.
But the story did not end there. The diver had promised to write me a letter with more info about the watch and wanted to see if he could maybe find some images from the past of him wearing the watch. And the further investigation of the watch started.
The letter of provenance arrived with the watch and gave some great insight. See the info:
“History of the Tudor MN’77 Snowflake Submariner watch
This watch dates from 1977. It was part of a batch of around thirty intended for use by divers in the French Navy, la Marine Nationale Française.
Most of these watches were in very poor condition and after being assigned to, and used in, operations carried out by several generations of mine-clearance divers and combat swimmers, they were almost all scrapped and destroyed.
This watch along with three others are rare in having miraculously withstood their treatment by these divers, who were required to carry out missions as varied as mine clearance and special operations by combat swimmers. (I have some information, but I cannot share it because it is classified as a military secret.)
I was posted to the French Navy diving school at Saint-Mandrier, south of France, in 1991. The equipment manager gave me this Tudor MN’77 Snowflake Submariner watch when it was due to be scrapped, and sorted out the paperwork so that I could keep it permanently.
Before this Tudor came into my possession it had been used in hundreds of dives, in both warm and icy waters. It accompanied me on operations in conflict areas, such as security operations and humanitarian missions as part of the United Nations intervention in Somalia in 1993. It was subjected to extreme temperatures, including on altitude acclimatisation courses with the mountain infantry from Tignes in the north of the Alps, at altitudes in excess of 3,400 metres, and on a 12-month stay in Djibouti, which is known to be the hottest country in the world, with humidity levels up to 100%.
Having been perfectly maintained, this Tudor ’77 Snowflake Submariner has withstood the test of time without ever encountering the slightest operating problem – it still has impeccable automatic movement!”
As you can see the original owner worked on the ship “Corvette Georges Leygues” and at the Saint-Mandrier Diving school. Just some images from the net to show a bit of an atmosphere of where the watch was used. Sad times in Somalia..
The story wasn’t finished
As you can see from the letter, the watch was issued in 1977 and used by combat divers etc until the guy received the watch in 1991. When i opened the case back of the watch the story also was correct with the service marks inside. Marks from 1980, 1987 and 1991 from the MN watch maker. So all correct also with the story of the last service in 1991, which tied it all together.
But wait.. 3 service marks. Could it be? Would it be possible? Could i get… oh no. Indeed the hope raised if the watch would be registered in the Marine National Service Ledgers, found by a French friend of ours and by our knowledge today is the best and most valued register and for MN watches. Also even if only the ledgers have a register of part of the total of Tudor MN watches, its a absolute bonus when a watch comes with a mark in these books. We wrote about them also in our bigger Tudor MN article >>>
But there was some great news and some bad news. Yes my watch was in the register. But as the books have become very fragile after taking them out for photocopy for watches in the past, it was not possible to make any photo copies anymore. Of course i was a bit sad but fully understand that we don’t want to damage these precious books any further and the story ended for me there.
A great watch with provenance was sitting on my wrist… all boxes ticked.
But i was in for a surprise…
Finale at Passion Meeting
As you might know that i organise the annual Rolex Passion Meeting together with my friend Philipp Stahl. And as every year, some great collectors from all over the world unite in a private 3 day event to celebrate their passion and share their watches and stories. I also had my MN with me to show to some friends and MN collectors you might know from insta or the forums. Some great line-up was there when our friend from France also arrived that day and offered us a big surprise.
He brought the 2 original Service Ledgers Books with him to the meeting. I was stunned. The last years i had only heard the info and stories about these books. I have seen photocopies of some pages, but never had the privlelege to see them in real life. They were always a bit mysterious. But seeing them live it all became real and you could really feel all the story behind them.
They are registers of work done for the Marine Nationale by a watchmaker contracted by them to service their watches. A wide list of brands is listed in those books, serviced in batches and by unit or location.
The great thing was not only the watches registered, but also all the notes by the guy inside of the cover. It makes these books so real and puts you back in the time where workshops like that still had real handwritten records. Books that held the history and work of a lifetime. After retirement our friend was able to get the books and this way that piece of history is saved for the future.
Now you can imagine how curious i was to see if and where my watch was listed.
And how overwhelmed i was to see that my watch was not only listed in 1 of these books, but in both!
So big thanks J. for the great gift you gave me that day!!!
My Grail Tudor MN
So here it is my personal Full-House Tudor MN. A great example, bought from original owner, with copies of MN Dossier, letter of provenance and listed in both the Service Ledgers books. It really does not get better then this in my books. I still hope i might get some images of the original owner of the watch wearing it back in the years. But that would only be the cherry on a crazy tasty birthday cake.
The great thing in these watches that it is connected with some great friends. As often such watches do. And that for me is the greatest joy of all.
I hope this watch will make me happy for many years to come.
Hope you enjoyed this little story.