For those who may be new to Tudor watches, I’ll start off by giving you some unofficial context: the Tudor “Snowflake” Submariner is perhaps the brand’s most important watch ever made. Tudor’s earliest Submariner (introduced alongside early big crown Rolex Submariners) was important for the brand’s prestige, but it wasn’t until the “Snowflake” reference arrived towards the end of reference 7016/0 production that Tudor took on a personality of its own. No longer were these watches simply more affordable versions of their Rolex brethren – the Snowflakes marked the beginning of a new era for Tudor.
Large lume-filled hour and minute hands were initially introduced on Tudor Submariners as a means of increasing visibility underwater, and the blocky hour markers provided an extra dose of legibility in all conditions. Snowflakes went on to enjoy a continuous production run of more than a decade, initially appearing as the reference 7016/0 and 7021/0 (the latter included a date feature), and subsequently receiving an upgraded movement with the references 9401/0 and 9411/0. These references also became the most widely-distributed military dive watches ever produced by Tudor, as Snowflakes graced the wrists of military divers all the way from France to Canada and Jamaica.
While the stylistic changes mentioned above were rooted in functional improvements, they would also later serve as the primary influence for Tudor’s brand resurgence. Tudor fully exited the North American marketplace in 2004 due to declining sales and spent nearly a decade in hibernation, but the brand made it’s re-entry in 2012 with the debut of the Tudor Black Bay and Pelagos watches, which received critical acclaim and featured a very familiar design ethos. Both models utilized the distinctive Snowflake handset, and the Pelagos also featured the same square / rectangular hour plots that were found on vintage Submariners. These two models would go on to truly reinvigorate the brand and have allowed Tudor to become a market leader within it’s price category practically overnight. An early Snowflake Submariner is a tangible means of connecting with the origin of the brand, and without this original design, there might not even be a Tudor Black Bay / Pelagos today. But I suppose we’re not here to talk about the Pelagos or Black Bay, are we? I’ll share how this particular Snowflake drifted into my collection.
If you’ve hung around the site for a while, you’ve probably seen that Craigslist has been a decent hunting ground for me. Buying there is one of the last “wild west” forums within the vintage watch world and it requires detailed knowledge of what you’re attempting to buy and the fortitude to wade through pages and pages of absolute junk. It’s all worth it when you stumble upon a diamond in the rough, however, and this Snowflake was certainly that. When I came across the advertisement, it had been sitting on the site for 28 days and only had two out of focus pictures of the watch. I felt pretty confident that my exploratory email would be met with a “sorry, the watch has sold,” but miraculously, the answer was as good as I could hope to receive. The seller (named Jeff) had informally agreed to sell it to a jewelry shop in a nearby town after not having any success on Craigslist, but the jeweler had offered him an average price and he didn’t feel great about selling the watch to a middle man. Sensing an opening, I elbowed my way into the middle, asked to learn a bit more about the watch, and established a rapport with the seller. The stunning patina had me completely sold, and the story further affirmed my desire to close the deal as soon as possible.
“I was complaining to my wife about having to change the batteries in all my watches, so one day she went into the room and pulled out this Tudor from the back of a drawer,” Jeff recounted to me via email. The watch had been her former husband’s until his early death, and she originally purchased it for him from the jewelry shop where she worked part-time for the better part of a decade. While the gesture was nice, wearing the watch felt a little weird to Jeff and instead, he decided to sell it for his wife and set aside a portion of the proceeds to buy his own mechanical watch. Over the course of the next week, I traded emails with the seller to coordinate purchasing logistics, as a face-to-face transaction was strongly preferred, and that’s when Justin Vrakas (of WatchSteez fame) came into the picture and heroically drove three hours round-trip to collect the watch / be my bag man. As with many of the greatest watches in my collection, this one was the product of some horribly blurry pictures, so when I received high-quality images from Justin after the hand-off, it was a relief to see such a well-preserved and honest Submariner.
This story has a happy ending as well – the seller stayed in touch after the sale, and some weeks later, I provided a few recommendations for modern affordable dive watches. From his “commission” portion of the Tudor proceeds, he purchased a Seiko diver and (unbeknownst to him) is well on his way down the rabbit hole of mechanical watches. Godspeed, Jeff. Godspeed.
The Nitty Gritty
Prior to this 7016/0, I had owned four different Tudor Submariners, but none of them were Snowflakes so I didn’t really know what to expect when it arrived. This example is all-original and truly in exemplary condition, which was honestly a bit lucky given how poor the listing photos were. I knew the patina was great and that the C+I rivet bracelet had zero stretch, but had a hard time confirming that the dial was in perfect condition, the lugs weren’t worn down, and that the bezel was period correct. Thankfully, all three of these gambles paid off in spades, and the domed acrylic crystal further distinguishes the 7016/0 from later references. Most importantly, the matte dial is not only in perfect condition with stunning patina, but also bears a rare hallmark – a “Swiss only” marking near the bottom, which pre-dated the “T SWISS T” era of Rolex and Tudor dial printing. These early dials are exceptionally rare in the world of Snowflakes, and even rarer when paired with top-flight condition.
As with many other hobbies, becoming a “seasoned” watch collector involves becoming comfortable judging a watch’s potential based solely on partial information. Case in point: determining the condition of lugs. If you’ve owned or handled enough Submariner examples from different time periods, you can start to get a sense for lug thickness and chamfer originality. For those still in the training phase, however, this 7016/0 presents a great teaching moment. As you can see from the profile lug shots in the gallery below, the lugs are not perfect and don’t show razor-sharp chamfers, but the lines are still clearly defined and don’t appear to be soft – and this is the key thing to be able to judge. Soft or “blurry” lines on a case are emblematic of a polishing wheel or alteration to the original shape, while “dimmed” lines and scuffing / general wear is a symptom of daily wear. The latter may take the crispness out of the chamfers themselves, but the top side of the lugs will typically remain thick and well defined – which is exactly what can be seen in this example. For any watch that wasn’t a “safe queen” for decades, this is how I would expect them to look when coming from an original owner.