Tudor and the French Navy

Pelagos FXD: the tool-watch of combat swimmers

Developed in collaboration with the famous Commando Hubert, the only unit of combat swimmers of the French Navy, the Tudor Pelagos FXD features a set of unique specifications that makes it a true tool-watch. Frank Sans C was invited on the naval base of the Commando to test the watch and to understand how it works. A top-secret incursion on a military zone…

By Nicolas Yvon

“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. 

Frank Sans C is back with the Commando Hubert team. Today’s mission? To test the new Tudor Pelagos FXD MN 21. A beautiful experience with extraordinary soldiers.

“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

In order to wear this badge, the combat swimmer must go through an intense training.

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.).

montre de plongée Tudor Oyster Submariner de 1955
A Tudor Oyster Submariner diver’s watch from 1955.

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.

Les aiguilles snowflake apparaissent en 1969 sur la montre de plongée Tudor
The Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner watch features its famous “snowflake” hands since 1969.

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 Oyster Prince Submariner de 1977 avec aiguilles snowflake et sangle de parachute
On this 1977 Tudor model made for the French Navy, the divers have used the elastic band from a parachute to create the strap.

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.

La montre Tudor Pelagos FXD
The new Tudor Pelagos FXD watch was developed by the elite of the French Navy, the famous Commando Hubert.
La Tudor Pelagos FXD est une véritable montre outil dédiée aux nageurs de combat
The new Tudor Pelagos FXD was developed with Commando Hubert 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. 

Nageur de combat du commando Hubert avec la montre Tudor Pelagos FXD
Commando Hubert swimmers always work in pairs using three instruments: a compass, a depth gauge and a watch adapted to night diving.

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.

La Tudor Pelagos FXD avec lunette bidirectionnelle et bracelet en tissu ultraréistant
The Tudor Pelagos FXD watch is equipped with a bidirectional rotating bezel for navigation by successive stages.

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. 

Tudor Pelagos FXD
For each mission, the combat swimmers plan their route by successive stages and learn it by heart. Underwater, nothing is left to chance; their life depends on it, as does the success of the mission

They also memorize he route to be taken beforehand and often operate at night. Simply amazing…

The famous FROGS, which allow the swimmer of the Commando Hubert to swim underwater without blowing bubbles to ensure the discretion of the mission. 

“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.

Tudor Pelagos FXD
All of the indicators on the Tudor Pelagos FXD are 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. 

Le bracelet en tissu de la Tudor Pelagos FXD est créé par la maison Julien Faure en France
The Tudor Pelagos FXD features an ultra-resistant fabric strap made by the French Maison Julien Faure.

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. 

See our detailed data sheet on the Tudor Pelagos FXD watch.

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”.

Le fond du boîtier de la Tudor Pelagos FXD
The “M.N 21” engraved on the case back of the Tudor Pelagos FXD stands for “Marine Nationale 2021” (“French Navy” in French).

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.

Ecole de plongée de la Marine nationale
At the heart of the French Navy diving school, near Toulon, where we’ve met the combat swimmers of the Commando Hubert.

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. 



Read also: