Review: Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925
The surprising revelation that Rolex’s junior brand Tudor was to release a new version of the immensely popular Black Bay Fifty-Eight in silver certainly raised a few eyebrows, this being the first time in living memory that a major watch brand made a watch entirely from the precious metal. But whilst many asked the question why, nobody wondered if Tudor even should—until now. So, what is silver, why did Tudor use is—and is it a deadly mistake?
What Is Silver?
In its purest form, the element silver is to be found just above gold in the periodic table, and is one of a handful of precious metals sought-after for their alluring appearance. Given the chemical symbol “Ag”, from the Latin argentum, the name of this element literally means “shiny”, because silver, not gold, is the shiniest metal on Earth. This high reflectivity across the visible spectrum is what makes silver appear colourless, returning white light almost entirely—in fact, 95% of it.
By comparison, a close second in reflectance is aluminium, bouncing back just 90% of white light. You’ll find both used in the reflective layer of mirrors, for household and advanced optical purposes—although despite silver’s better reflective properties, its comparative weakness to corrosion means it loses out to aluminium in circumstances like the mirror in the Hubble space telescope. You would instinctively think that gold is a shinier metal than silver, and for wavelengths of light above about 600nm, it is. You can probably guess what colour 600nm is—yep, yellow.
Although not as rare as gold, being nineteen times more abundant, silver is used far more copiously in industry thanks to its incredible conductive and antibacterial properties, and unfortunately in ways that are not economic to recycle. Silver’s cheaper value means that almost three quarters of it is mined as a by-product of extracting other metals like lead and copper. This means that, where the vast majority of all the gold ever mined is still here, silver is … disappearing.
The shiny white metal is also experiencing something of a renaissance in jewellery. With gold becoming increasingly more expensive, the bright lustre of silver has caught many an eye … not least, at the Tudor watch company. But this Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925, as the title implies, isn’t pure silver, it’s 925 silver. What is that, and why did Tudor use it?
Why Did Tudor Use It?
Raw silver may be bright and beautiful, but it’s way too soft to be used in jewellery. Sterling silver, however, mixes silver and other metals together into an alloy, commonly copper, nickel or zinc. It’s been in use in England since the 12th century and is believed to have been named after the star found on silver currency used by early Normans. The percentage of silver in sterling silver? 92.5%, also known as a millesimal fineness of 925 parts per 1,000.
There are other kinds of silver, too: fine silver, with a millesimal fineness of 999; Britannia silver at 958 and French First Standard at 950. The same scale is also used with other precious metals, like 950 for platinum and 750 for 18 carat gold. For the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925, Tudor unsurprisingly chose 925 sterling silver, something not seen in a timepiece at this level since the era of the pocket watch. Why is that?
Compared to steel, which has a lower reflectivity across the spectrum somewhere around 60%, silver is just so much brighter. In contrast, it appears to glow, an effect that is incredibly alluring and very unique in the industry. The familiar 39mm Black Bay Fifty-Eight case, framed by the taupe aluminium bezel insert and dial unique to this model, is transformed by this unusual and surprising decision. Silver also has a density around 30% higher than steel, so there’s something of the satisfying weight experienced with other precious metals, too.
So why has silver not been used before like this? It makes a frequent appearance in dials, thanks to the ease in machining fine detail, but rarely in the actual case. That’s because a downside to alloying silver is that corrosion resistance decreases. Where gold stays bright indefinitely, silver, over time, can tarnish, a property that is exacerbated by the partnering metal. Traditional silver and copper alloys, for example, build an orange sheen that can progress to green in a similar fashion to pure copper. Dials made in silver are anodised to protect them, which of course loses the visual properties of the silver, so for the case, wouldn’t make any sense.
But Tudor’s done something different. Many expect the case to tarnish like the Black Bay Bronze, developing an organic patina over time, but that would defeat the point of choosing silver for its reflectivity. Instead, Tudor insists that its proprietary alloy won’t age like expected, that it has been formulated for luminance, keeping the watch bright for a long time to come.
Is It A Deadly Mistake?
If you’ve ever seen Tudor’s Black Bay Bronze, you may have noticed something unusual about it. The case back is a slightly different colour, and that’s because it’s actually steel anodized to match. There are two reasons for that: one, so the patina that builds on the bronze doesn’t stain your skin, and two, because bronze contains nickel.
What’s the problem with nickel? Well, nearly 20% of the population is allergic to it. It’s one of the most common allergens in the developed world. The reactions aren’t particularly pleasant, including dryness, redness and even blistering. It’s also often found in alloys of 925 silver and is most often the reason people have an allergic reaction to silver jewellery.
But the nickel’s not going to kill you. Some topical cream and you’ll be fine. But how about the silver? Combined with nitrogen and oxygen it can form a corrosive substance called silver nitrate, often used in small quantities as an antiseptic cauterizing agent that is fatally toxic when consumed in quantities as low as 10g.
And pure silver? If just 1g enters your bloodstream, you could experience a condition called argyria, where—and this is absolutely true—you turn silver. In the 1950s, Rosemary Jacobs, given nose drops containing silver when she was just 11, spent the rest of her life being … silver. Of course, you’re unlikely to be eating your Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925, but there’s something curious here worth noting: the case back, unlike the Black Bay Bronze, does not appear to be steel. It’s silver, like the rest of the watch.
New for the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 is the clear, sapphire case back through which to see the in-house calibre MT5400, and perhaps that will serve as a partial boundary to allergens and the transfer of tarnishing to the skin—but it is far removed from the precautions taken on the Black Bay Bronze. There is, however, a clue on the case itself, a marking that states, “Ag925/Al”. Ag is the silver and Al is aluminium. Perhaps it’s referring to the bezel, but I have another theory. That proprietary alloy Tudor was talking about, the one that will keep the watch bright and clearly poses no threat to those allergic to nickel—what if it was a combination of silver and aluminium?
Advanced materials manufacturer American Elements has developed such a thing, and actively encourages custom compositions like the 925-specification potentially used by Tudor. Combining these two incredibly reflective elements would result in the brightest alloy of silver yet, combined with hypoallergenic and anti-corrosion properties that make it wearable for everyone and keep it looking as spectacular in ten years as it does brand new.
Through the reimagination of an old, forgotten material in watchmaking, Tudor has introduced a whole new world of possibilities. The use of silver in the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 demonstrates Tudor’s continuing ability to surprise and impress, as it has done since the Black Bay first hit the scene back in 2012. All sounds great, but what about the million-dollar question: the price? If the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 goes against the grain of the standard Black Bay Fifty-Eight’s aggressively competitive £2,520 entry price, it may as well cost a million dollars. Well, you’ll be pleased to know then that not only is the 925 safe, it’s also a precious metal Black Bay Fifty-Eight for just £3,230. Silver may not be digestible, but that price certainly is.
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