A Tale of Two Original Owner Tudor Marine Nationale Submariners
They say that good things come in threes. So, it is with absolute delight that we present to you the second and third original owner Tudor Marine Nationale (MN) Submariners that we have discovered in the past few months. And this pair have come from the same original owner…
Today we can share with you not one, but two Tudor Submariners that were issued to and worn by a French navy diver. We have written extensively in the past about the story between Tudor and the French national navy, the Marine Nationale. Over the years we have been fortunate enough to make contact with a number of original owners who have been able to share their watches and also, maybe more importantly for us, the stories behind them. The blue snowflake Submariner has become one of Tudor’s most iconic watches and interest from collectors is at an all time high. When one adds military provenance, these watches become a serious collector proposition.
Beauty and The Beast
Both these watches come from the same original owner who was in the Marine Nationale for many years. We’ll call him TJ. The two watches that we are offering are blue Tudor snowflake Submariners, reference 9401. Both appear in the MN watchmaker ledgers having been serviced by the official watchmaker in Toulon. We have given the watches the nicknames Beauty and The Beast, as one is in really beautiful original condition, with clear MN78 case back engraving and all original lume on the dial and tritium hands. This watch is the Beauty (you can shop here…).
The second watch, The Beast, has had a more complicated life and has at some point had the lume on the dial redone and also has a polished case back. Judging by the serial number I would estimate that it would have originally been an MN80 watch (you can shop the watch here…). For whatever reason, at some point the caseback was heavily polished to remove the MN80 caseback engraving. For all that this watch has ben through, the case is stunning – maybe one of the best we’ve seen. And importantly, there are no bracelet marks on the backs of the lugs – an important point for MN aficionados. TJ bought and wore the watches in the 1990s as they are today, with The Beast having been used for heavy duty and Beauty for more formal occasions. For this reason we are offering the watches as a pair, to keep them together as the perfect MN set. You can keep Beauty for special occasions and wear The Beast whenever you need to not worry about your wrist wear. Just like TJ!
Matte Dial and Matte Case
The Tudor snowflake Submariners we always fitted with matte dials, the classic Sub dial of the 1970s. Both blue and black dials were used with matching bezel inserts. The cases on civilian models were finished with brushed lug tops and polished case sides. Interestingly, both these watches and the last MN78 we had have had fully matted cases. We have seen this in the past on MN-issued Tudors and, of course, Rolex MilSubs had fully matted cases. We can presume that this was done to reduce any potential glare that might come off the watches, which could have been problematic in combat situations.
Our Original Owner
Our owner, TJ, joined the Marine Nationale in October 1986. For the first six months he undertook firearms training and then in the spring of 1987 he began his Marine Commando professional training and, towards the end of the year, did Parachute Training in Pau, Nouvelle Aquitaine, South West France. In 1988, he took up a two-and-a-half-year appointment as a Montfort Commando.
During this period he was deployed to Lebanon, where he was stationed in Beirut and also saw active service in the first Gulf War. In June 1991 he was promoted to head of a team of Commando Fusiliers, followed by the role of officer in charge of a unit of Marine Commandos.
TJ clearly showed a high level of ability in his work and was enrolled as a Penfentenyo Commando, an elite unit, also known as the French Naval Special Forces unit. Suring his time in this elite force, he carried out active duty in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia and Africa. During this time he also became involved in the education and training of young servicemen in Qatar and Kuwait.
It was in 1995 that the Marine Nationale began phasing out the use of the Tudors in favour of the Casio G-Shock watches. TJ would know, as by this point had been attached to a small fleet of amphibian boats and led the Beach Reconnaissance Team at the amphibious naval base at Toulon. As part of this he had the responsibility of looking after all the diving equipment. Having always worn Tudor Submariners for active service he took the opportunity to buy two examples; the watches that we are excited to share with you today.
The two Tudor watches accompanied TJ for the next 13 years of active service. In 1998 he began a two year appointment as a Trefel Commando, taking in active service in Africa and the Gulf. TJ retired from the Marine Nationale in 2008 and for the last eight years had a range of interesting postings including a deployment as Leader of a detachment of Marine Fusiliers on the Caribbean Island of Martinique, responsible for the protection and defence of three sensitive locations. It was as a firearms officer that he was also used, first as an instructor at the Marine Fusiliers’ College in Lorient, Brittany and then as Officer in charge of a squad at the Association of Marine Fusiliers in Toulon. Since retiring, TJ has led teams of private security professionals on transport vessels and oil rigs.
The Snowflake Hands
The introduction of the snowflake hands occurred in 1969 on the reference 7016 and the distinctive shape was developed as a direct request from the French divers for a more legible handset. Of course, now the snowflake hands are a key signature for Tudor, as seen on the Pelagos and Black Bay ranges.
I’ve said it before and I’ll likely keep saying until my last breath, but in my mind, there is nothing horologically cooler than a blue snowflake Sub worn on a grey nato-style strap. This classic MN look just works, especially when the watch sports a naturally faded bezel and has a few scuffs on the crystal. It’s important that these watches were true tool watches in every sense. Before the advent of wrist-mounted dive computer, any diver and especially professional divers needed a good quality, accurate and waterproof watch to time diving sessions. These watches were a matter of life and death and as a consequence saw a lot of action and often have fascinating stories to tell.