“First, I want to thank the French Navy and the Commando Hubert for welcoming me on their base, with sympathy and kindness, for a technical and professional journey that will remain one of the most beautiful experiences of my journalistic career.”
Frank sans C
Sometimes, the collaboration between a watchmaking Maison and a partner goes beyond a simple makeover. That’s the case with the Tudor Pelagos FXD watch. On this occasion, the sharing of skills between the manufacture engineers and the combat swimmers of the French Navy Commando Hubert goes much further.
“The duo of swimmers, and the instructor who was with me during this day spent with the Commando Hubert, made me realize the commitment, self-sacrifice and humility of these men, who can leave everything at anytime to go anywhere on the world, to carry out dangerous missions and risk their lives for our freedom. More than commanding respect, they deserve our admiration.”
Frank sans C
The history of Tudor and the French Navy goes back to the 1950s
First thing you should know is that the bond between Tudor and the French Navy goes back to 1956. At that time, the Swiss manufacture had the good idea of sending to Toulon some diver’s watches that were water-resistant up to 100 meters. Their goal was simple: to have them evaluated under real-life situations by the Groupe d’Études et de Recherches Sous-Marines (G.E.R.S.).
This scientific body, attached to the French Navy, had to validate the performance of these instruments of great potential. After the tests and validation, the French Navy ordered the watches and Tudor became their official supplier in 1961.
The famous “snowflake” hands appeared on one of these military models in the late 1960s. This signature feature from Tudor owes its name to its snowflake-like shape.
Another fun fact: combat swimmers typically ordered the instruments from Tudor without a strap! Indeed, the they used their own handcrafted straps, made with black braided nylon or elastic bands… recycled from parachutes!
Tudor remained the official supplier until the 1980s. But still 20 years later, the French Navy diving school and combat swimmers were still using their watches.
Tudor Pelagos FXD: developed with the elite of subaquatic forces
“The Commando Hubert is the elite of the French Navy commandos. They are not simply trained but hyper-trained, in a physical and intellectual level. And in all areas: diving, parachuting, orientation, explosives, precision shooting, hand-to-hand combat, and survival in a hostile environment… many foreign armies envy them. And rightly so!”
Frank sans C
2021 was the year of a new collaboration between Tudor and the French Navy. A natural bond that historically makes sense. So they needed to created a watch for the special occasion… but not just any watch! The Pelagos FXD (€ 3,650) is water-resistant up to 200 meters and, at first glance, looks like a diver’s watch… but it’s much more than that. The brand developed it according to a very precise specification manual, written by Commando Hubert himself. In other words, by the best of the best French combat swimmers.
It is with that elite group that Frank Sans C had the chance to “go on a mission” to test the Pelagos FXD.
He made the appointment one December morning at the French Navy diving school, near Toulon, with some members of the Commando. The weather was clear and cool but without wind, the sea (or “pool” as they say in the area) was calm and clear: all the conditions were optimal.
The difference between a Pelagos FXD and a normal diver’s watch
First thing you need to know: never call a member of the Commando Hubert a combat “diver”, that doesn’t exist! The correct term is combat “swimmer”. No one is playing on words, this is not a joke. To understand this term is to understand the main particularity of the Pelagos FXD: it is a combat swimmer’s watch, not a diver’s watch… according to the official criteria of the ISO 6425 standard.
Made in titanium (a light, robust and corrosion-resistant alloy), the watch features a rotating bezel. However, it is not unidirectional, as required by international standards. Instead, the bezel rotates in both directions. In addition, it features an anticlockwise graduation that allows setting up countdowns, which is its purpose as specified in the video by the two swimmers of the Commando Hubert.
A bidirectional bezel with an anticlockwise graduation.
During their missions, combat swimmers carry out their navigation in pairs. Their aim is to reach a location by swimming horizontally at a depth that remains a secret, impossible to know even if it’s not that deep. In order to remain as discreet as possible, they breathe pure oxygen in a closed circuit with the help of a FROGS (Full Range Oxygen Gas System) that does not blow bubbles.
Connected to one another by strap known as a “life line”, the swimmers navigate by “successive stages”. Their goal is to swim at a constant speed in several stages and changing direction every time it is necessary. Each swimmer has very precise roles: the “course keeper” who is the leader and keeps the compass and the depth gauge, and the “time master”, who times the mission.
They also memorize he route to be taken beforehand and often operate at night. Simply amazing…
“How far can they navigate? And how long can they swim underwater with their FROGS? How fast can they dive? And how far can they go when parachuting at high altitude? So many questions remain answered. Or rather, they always give the same answer: “that’s classified information”. Just like their faces and their names, which must remain anonymous. I tried to find out a few things, but to no avail. These men are like iron bars, their will and their personality alike are made of tempered steel. I would even say it’s titanium grade 5…”
Frank sans C
Superluminova X1 for the Tudor Pelagos FXD
The bezel is easy to handle, even with gloves. Needless to say, the scale on the bezel ceramic insert is fully luminescent.
The watch is actually treated with X1 grade Superluminova, like the markers and hands. This is the latest evolution of this luminescent material, which is well known in the watchmaking world. It is twice as bright and lasts twice as long as the standard Superluminova. An obligation that was obviously part of the specifications manual since the swimmers navigate at night and without a flashlight! Their only instruments underwater are: a watch, a compass, and a depth gauge. Impressive.
Integrated lugs and a Velcro strap
Another great feature on the Pelagos FXD is its fully integrated lugs. They are, indeed, machined in the same titanium block as the case middle and filed on the skin side edges, so as not to create wear on the neoprene wetsuit. Besides, they allow the strap to be passed under the case to securely fasten the watch on the wrist.
Finally, the “FXD” adjective of this Tudor Pelagos is a direct reference to these fixed lugs.
As for the fabric strap, it is woven in France by the Maison Julien Faure using a handcrafted technique. Fun fact: Julien Faure has been Tudor’s partner from many years, but the brand has also collaborated with the French Navy. Indeed, the Maison used to make the ribbons of the famous “bachis”, the famous caps with pompons worn by French sailor men.
As is often the case with Tudor, the Pelagos FXD watch comes with a second strap, and the box includes a complimentary strap. Having tried it, I can say that it is very confortable to wear it and the woven pattern in relief is very realistic.
The Tudor Pelagos FXD is also certified chronometer
This watch is also a certified chronometer. Which is a detail that one can only see by removing the strap: the screwed back of the 42 mm diameter case is engraved. It bears the brand logo “Marine Nationale” and the letters M.N like the old models. There is also a “21” engraved, as a reference to the year, the models that will be released will be marked “M.N 22”.
At the heart of the Pelagos FXD is the Tudor calibre MT5206. The self-winding movement is certified by the Swiss Official Chronometer Control system (COSC). Tudor does even better than the COSC tolerance (-4/+6 seconds per day) since it imposes on its calibres a time gap between -2 and +4 seconds. But there’s more: a non-magnetic silicon balance spring and a “weekend proof” power reserve of 70 hours. With all of this, you can sure that the Pelagos FXD has a calibre cut for it. In other words: it can rises to any challenge.
Meeting with the Commando Hubert
I must admit that meeting some of the members of the famous Commando Hubert was a great moment, as it was a privilege to understand how to use this Pelagos FXD thanks to their practical explanations. These guys are truly amazing; they are a family, a group.
Keep in mind that those are the very best French combat swimmers, and the difficulty of this profession is notable. The complete training lasts a very long time, you can count the chosen ones on the fingers of one hand and the still active swimmer at 40 years old are very rare. Mind and body are put under extreme pressure. Their body shape is strong, their gait is confident, determined.
As for the rest, the Commando Hubert swimmers rely on two essential pillars: seriousness and humility.
HUGE THANKS TO THE FRENCH NAVY AND ITS COMMUNICATION TEAM THAT ALLOWED US TO SHOOT THIS REPORT.