Those that collect vintage Rolex watches, will know very well that the most seemingly insignificant details can have an enormous impact on the desirability and trading value of a particular piece. As a result of the endless number of exciting variants, individuals will choose to focus their collections solely on the Rolex family, which extends over into their sister brand, Tudor. Now, while it may be the case that Tudors were originally produced with the intention of introducing a more affordable alternative to a host of highly desirable Rolex models, they’ve since gained an equal regard in the eyes of experts, renowned collectors, and taste-makers within the community.
In their almost seventy years as a brand, Tudor has released a number of sports watches that have gone on to gain somewhat of an icon status, but one will always stand out: the Snowflake Submariner. Based upon the general design of a Rolex Submariner, these watches which went by the same name featured a few changed details, in addition to their non in-house movements. Essentially, these watches donned larger, square luminous markers on the dial, along with a distinct handset that resembled the tips of a snowflake, thus giving it the name. Their visual appeal was equaled by their legendary durability and reliability, which eventually caught the eyes of several world militaries. This is where things get interesting.
Just as the British military had done with Rolex, the French navy, otherwise known as the “Marine Nationale” or “MN”, began to commission Tudor Submariners for their operations, starting with the reference 7928. Although that reference was a terrific watch, officials at the MN asked Tudor for a more legible timepiece, and so the MN Snowflake was born in 1974 with the Ref. 7016/0. These black dialed dive watches within the first series of engraved MN Snowflakes were given a caseback engraved with “M.N. 74”, designating both the year of production, and the naval organization for which they were manufactured for. Such inscriptions would then become a crucial part of authenticating an example, and verifying that all parts on the watch were original, or at least period correct.
France’s Marine Nationale would later on begin to receive blue-dialed Snowflakes (Ref. 94010), since over time, divers and officials began to notice that the black dials would rot, and develop a “bubbling” look. It’s things like that that get collectors really excited about these watches, since all the progressions these watches went through were purely for functional reasons, and to build the best watch suited for the MN’s needs. This furthers the thinking of many, that military issued watches are arguably the ultimate tool watches. Reference 94010’s would be used by the Marine Nationale until the early to mid 1980’s, just before Tudor introduced the successor reference, the Ref. 79090.
So now we’ve come to a point where we’ve got some of the historical basics down, and we can understand the progression of details within the reference, meaning that it must be time to hunt an example down. When doing so, there are a few things to keep in mind – some in-line with vintage Rolex collecting in general, others not. First off, let’s talk about determining whether a watch was actually issued by the MN, or just a basic Tudor that someone engraved nicely. What you’d ideally like to find with an example are the decommission papers that the watch received upon being retired from service. The reference number shown on the papers should match that of the watch in question. Some in the past have rumored that counterfeit decommission papers, or blank decommission papers were found at one point, but from most of the esteemed individuals I’ve spoken to on the matter, these papers seem to be something of lore, and not a large matter to worry about. With that said, still check that the printing and details present on a set of decommission papers are consistent with other examples you might’ve seen online, just as you would with any other vintage or modern watch. A more definite way of confirming a piece’s authenticity is checking in the ledger books of a watchmaker that was used by the MN, which is now owned by a private collector. For a price, it is said that the owner will allow you to check for your serial number, and receive an “extract”.
Let’s now talk about the case, as it’s probably one of the most important things to look at when assessing an MN Tudor. Again, you must remember that you’re dealing with a military-issued watch here, that has more than likely seen some abuse both above and below the surface, so finding an example with perfectly sharp chamfers, and a beautiful, thick, unpolished case is quite suspicious, and almost unheard of. There may be a slight possibility that one issued watch was worn by a higher ranking official that never put the example through very much, but it’s always a better bet to go with the more likely scenario, than the paper-thin one that raises eyebrows and gets hearts racing.
Next, we’ve got the renowned casebacks to deal with. One of the points here, is not to get caught up on slight variations in printing, as it’s the general consensus that engraving was not done by Tudor, but by third party jewelers located closer to the specific bases. At the same time, don’t take a leap of faith on something that looks wildly different. Another thing to take note of is if the scratches on the caseback run through the engraving, or stop at it, as this would suggest a caseback being newly engraved, and not truly an MN. Lastly, taking a look at the inside of the caseback is equally important, as this is where a watchmaker’s marks could be seen. Given that these were military-issued watches, there’s no reason why a watch wouldn’t be serviced multiple times in its life, yielding markings on the inside.
So when all is said and done, acquiring a Tudor MN Submariner may require you to take the same steps that you would when buying any other vintage watch. However, it can’t be stressed enough that you should always be skeptical, and always look for as many answers as possible. Never hesitate to consult with an expert or community authority, and then double check their opinion, because making a mistake in this game can be very expensive. It’s all about finding the individual pieces, seeing how they add up, and getting to a point where you yourself are comfortable with taking a minor leap of faith. After that, it’s guaranteed that you’ll enjoy the watch, as MN Sub’s are some of the rarest, rawest, and at the same time most beautiful tool watches, that will surely satisfy your collector’s needs for quite some time, or at least until the next great MN example catches your eye.
Special thanks to Instagram’s @watchistry for his insight, experience, and photos.by