Autopsy of a Cult Watch: The Tornek Rayville.

Apr 26, 2018,18:18 PM

When collecting the Fifty Fathoms, your way will necessarily cross the Tornek Rayville.

It is unavoidable, at least in your desires, in your dreams.

You begin with the easier Fifty Fathoms to get, the " No Rad ".

Then you are on the hunt for a Mil Spec.

If you're in love enough with these very strong watches, you will try to find an original 1953 FF, or / and a LIP Blancpain.

Then, one will always miss..The Tornek Rayville.

Is it so necessary to get one?

No, of course.

But it is better with than without. smile

In the world of Miltary Watches, there were several Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watches:

The LIP Blancpain, the " No Radiations " , the Mil Spec I, the US NAVY, some " AM " and the Tornek Rayville, which maybe be called Mil Spec II, by several armies, like the French ( due to the fact that the French Officers Riffaud and Maloubier were the initiators of the project, and in a certain way, the fathers of the Fifty Fathoms ), the US Navy, The Israelians, the Germans, the Norvegians, the Danish, The Polish and some few others...

As the Fifty Fathoms was one of the very first Diving Watches, this watch is interesting and a true object of Passion for every Collector of Diving watches.

And the Tornek Rayville is certainly one of the most interesting.

Every Legend requires a part of Mystery, and with the Tornek Rayville, it is the case.

First of all, because it was on the point to not exist, as Bulova should have taken its place, with a very close aesthetic, but for some reasons, it failed and, at the end of 1964, the Tornek Rayville was born.

Here a pic found on the net of the Bulova ( Credit Pic: Camfam. Thanks for your kind authorization! ):

Here an interesting picture, taken by our fellow Ryan, which shows together a Mil Spec Military, a TR 900, and the famous Bulova:

Then, because most of the 1000 TR produced between 64 and 65 were destroyed by the US Navy, at the end of their service, and a few of them has survived, for the greatest joy of the Collectors.

So, if we compare the number of Tornek Rayville ever produced to the number of all the Fifty Fathoms released from 1953 till 1980 ( 7 or 8 000 pieces per year during 28 Years, according to Stefan CIEJKA ), we can say that it was and still is a very rare bird.

Let's see this watch in detail, now.

The first thing which comes to mind while looking at the Tornek Rayville is the very close look with the Milspec.

The 2 watches are very close, indeed.

Here, the Civilian Version, with the drilled lugs:

It is even closer to the Military Milspec, with the non drilled lugs:

In both cases, we have the moisture indicator, the microbillé case, round and rectangular indexes, the same small crown, well, to make it short, quite the same general layout.

But, if you pay some attention to both of them, you will notice some differences.

1/ The dial, first:

As you can see, the round indexes are a bit smaller on the Tornek, and the rectangular are a bit shorter, too.

The Losange at 12 on the Milspec is a Triangle on the Tornek, and you will notice that all the round indexes almost touch the 5 minutes indexes on this last one, while on the Milspec the round indexes are clearly separated.

Here, the impressive Moisture indicator:

When the blue part doesn't come pink, all is correct and the watch is still waterproof.

As soon as the blue part turns to pink, you'd better check the water resistance of your watch...

On the Tornek, the writing is different, too, on its dial.

There is no mention about Blancpain.

The Tornek dial looks larger than on the Milspec.

And you have another detail, which is quite important, if you look at the down part of the dial:

On the Milspec, the Luminous material is T < 25 mc, while on the Tornek, it is written PM 147 ( PM for Promethium ), wich has a very short luminous life ( 2.5 years, instead of the average 15 years for the Tritium ).

Here, a pic with the Military Milspec.

No big difference compared with the Civilian Milspec:

2/ Now, let's have a look at the bezel and the case.

Like on the Milspec, the case has a microbillé finish, which gives to the watch a slightly dark, matt and very nice look.

The lugs are shorter on the Tornek ( 19mm ) than on the Milspec ( 20 mm ).

Here are some comparative pics of the Miitary Milspec and the Tornek ( the Tornek is under )

The bezel is thicker, but narrower, too, on the Tornek Rayville, and bears the triangle at 12 instead of the losange, even if I saw some Milspec bezels coming with the triangle...( In this case, the triangle is also at 12, on the Mil Spec dial )

On the following pic, the Milspec ( Civilan version ) is under the Tornek:

Here, with the Military Milpsec:

A detail which jumps to the eyes, is that the plexy is less domed on the Tornek.

Is it to enhance the legibility, due to the fact that a flatter plexy presents less distorsion?

3/ The Case Back:

Looking at the case back is a bit like reading the Military Specifications of this watch:

- " If Found, return to nearest military facility ".

- " Danger Radioactive material 2mc PM 147 ", and the radioactivity symbol..

- The month and year of release: " 11/ 64 ".

- " Non Magnetic "

- The rec license reference.

- The famous Milspec reference: MIL - W - 22176.

- The not less famous Trident symbol.

- And the individual number of the watch.

You will notice that the screwed case back is in 2 parts: A kind of ring, and the case back in itself, which gives access to the soft iron anti magnetic dust cover:

The bars are always fixed, on the Tornek.

4/ The movement:

On the Tornek, the movement is a well known one, the AS 1361, but at the difference with the Milspec, the complete code is 1361 N.

Here is the TR 900 movement:

And now, let's have a look on the Milspec movement:



As you can see, there are some noticeable differences.

Some parts seem to be made in brass or copper, certainly to reinforce the resistance to magnetic fields ( if someone has better or more complete informations about this detail, it will be my pleasure to read them ).

Here are some macros of the TR 900 to enhance these differences:

A real tractor, conceived to work in the worst conditions, with a minimum of finish, but not ugly at all...

These details seem to be specific to the Tornek Rayville, as another enhancement, the hacking second, which was required by the Army. ( Credit Pic: Billy Schorr ) :

For the anecdote, Mr Tornek bought American jewels to use them on the movement, because of Taxes, but changed them for better quality Swiss Jewels.

5/ General thoughts:

Each Fifty Fathoms has something special, something hard to describe in words, a kind of blend of strength and sensuality, in the same time.

I took several pics of this Beauty, to try to give it Justice, while thinking at the Military Subs, we all have in mind Panerai, Rolex, Omega, and so on...Forgetting a bit that these Blancpain were real toolwatches!

Look at this pic I took from Billy Schorr:

Isn't it a tempting Duo?

A tool, certainly, but a very nice one:

Here, on a Milspec ad:

In ..." Action ":


Don't think so.

The slightly domed plexy added to the moisture indicator, to the satined black dial and to the nicely patined indexes gives a lot of depth, warmth to this watch, contrasting in a very impressive way with the grey matt microbillé case.

While the Milspec I ( is the Tornek to be considered as a Milspec II ? ) is more looking like a brutal watch with its large and thin bezel, and its smaller dial and a bit more centered indexes, the Tornek is more ..Elegant, better balanced in its proportions, which is clearly noticeable on 3 dimension pics:

The diameter of the case, which is a bit more than 41mm, its moderated thickness, the sensual matt curves jump to the eyes.

The only reserve I still have is relative to the size of the crown.

I like a lot its shape, but I find strange that for a Diving watch, and a Military one, you have such a small sized crown, even if it is evident that no one will use the crown when diving.

When you have to wind the watch, it is not a pleasant excercize.

But, on another side, this small crown is perfectly integrated to the case.

Compared to the Big Crown of the Civilian Milspec:

Aesthetics against Utility and Functionnality?

That is the only small bad point, to me, about this watch which obviously has a lot of presence, character and charm:


On the wrist?

A great moment!

Try it, and you will certainly adopt it.


If we had to think about Legendary Military Diving Watches, I'd say that the Dream List would be a Panerai 3646, a Rolex 5517 or 6538, and a Tornek Rayville.

Among all the fifty Fathoms, it is certainly, at least to me, the nicest, with the " 3 / 6 / 9 / 12 " Dials.

An important and Legendary watch to consider, indeed.



PS: I would like to specially thank Stefan Ciejka, Billy Schorr, JC ( you know who you are ) and Dr Strong for all the informations I found here and there which helped me a lot to better know this watch, and to love it.

More posts: Fifty FathomsLIP BlancpainMilspecTornek Rayville

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Comments: view entire thread


Wonderful post ...

 By: Chris Meisenzahl : January 5th, 2010-10:12
Wonderful post, I love the look of those old watches.

It's quite an addiction, eeeh, Chris? :)

 By: amanico : January 5th, 2010-23:30
Thanks for your nice comment, my friend. Best, Nicolas


 By: MiniCooper : January 5th, 2010-11:22
you worked hard on this post my friend.... Much appreciated..... Cheers

I was lucky enough to see several of these Beauties, PP

 By: amanico : January 5th, 2010-23:34
Before deciding to get one... I was very niterested by its Story, did my homework, and gathered informations here and there, adding my personal observations on this watch. That's all! Best, my friend. Nicolas

One more impressive post here !!!

 By: tripon : January 5th, 2010-13:52
Hard work for those wonderful watches THANKS! Pascal

Be very careful, Pascal,

 By: amanico : January 5th, 2010-23:36
These Vintage FFs are very attractive! It is very difficult to not fall under their charm. Best, Nicolas

LOL! ...and you know that more than anyone :-)

 By: tripon : January 6th, 2010-09:10
That's fine, it's still a pleasure to see it in pictures and to read your reports. Maybe later this year I'll be able to post about a FF as well Best, Pascal

Like always Nicolas, huge congratulations for this...

 By: claude.f : January 5th, 2010-16:22
TOP article TOP pictures TOP review !!! Perfection on the higest level !!! best regards Claude

Thank you for your TOP comments, Claude! :)))

 By: amanico : January 6th, 2010-06:55
Very pleased than a fan like you appreciated it! Nothing new to share??? Best, Nicolas

I am working hard on the first part of my personal FF report. :-)

 By: claude.f : January 6th, 2010-14:21
It will contain a surprise for you, I will post it in the upcoming days. If all turns well I can finish it tonight so I only need to take some pictures tomorrow and can post it here afterwards! ;-) best regards Claude

Now, I'm getting very curious, Claude...

 By: amanico : January 6th, 2010-15:40
What can it be??? Come on! Best, Nicolas

The Tornek Rayville...

 By: dxboon : January 5th, 2010-23:27 certainly a strong and attractive watch. Your article does a great job of pointing out the differences, and the similarities between it and the Milspec. I do think the Milspec may present more elegantly overall, due to the smaller/thinner indices, f... 

My problem is that I love them all, Daos.

 By: amanico : January 6th, 2010-07:44
The TR 900, of course, for the Story behind, for its maxi dial, to use a Rolex Terminology, and for the bezel, thicker. The Milspec, for its elegance, and because it was the first. It is funny that you say that, because I know some passionate collectors w... 

Well, we know I'll NEVER be a good girl!

 By: dxboon : January 7th, 2010-00:31
After all, mother says that only bad girls have tattoos. I must be a lost cause if that's the case. I am, however, very intrigued by your message. What could it be? Another FF? Something different? Another Polaris? IWC 812? I would DIE if you found a clea... 

Well, another FF, and a special one.

 By: amanico : January 7th, 2010-00:38
But I already posted it, just before this post about the TR 900. But, I also got something else, yesterday... Something I was running after for a long time... By the way, there are, from time to time, some Ref 812 spotting here and there, but they are rea... 

What a thorough review and informative

 By: gazoz : January 6th, 2010-01:00
i dont even want to ask how and where you get or dig up all the old information or ads my compliments to you as alot of time and effort must go there then also you have to have the sickness which nicolas you certainly have but seriously i like the TR and ... 

Well, Garry, others than me made an awesome job on this topic

 By: amanico : January 6th, 2010-08:10
And I don't want to " steal " their Job... I specially think about Billy Schorr, who dedicated a lot of his time on the TR 900, to not only collect all the available informations, but also the watches, and who made a lot of searches. When doing my own hom... 

Impressive work, Nicolas,

 By: E.J. : January 6th, 2010-01:26
I liked the comparison with Milspecs I, in its civilian and military version. It is clear that both watches share a similar aesthetic, adapting the TR-900 to the MilSpec I (in production when the latter Tornek saw the light). Its design, due to Mr. Tornek...  

You raise an interesting question Emilio

 By: amanico : January 6th, 2010-07:37
Who inspired who? This is only my guess, because I don't have any documented evidence to demonstrate my point of view, BUT: The Milspec is a variation of an earlier FF: The FF was released since 1953. The Bulova proto, AFAIK, was released at the end of th... 


 By: E.J. : January 6th, 2010-10:30
I´m thinking about it for a long time. Your theory is simply credible. If we reach the dates, we can see that the first FF were made in the earliest ´50 (1953 to be more precise). Between 1953 and 1960 the Ff knew more variations, and in those variations ... 

I have some doubts, Emilio

 By: amanico : January 6th, 2010-22:35
How can we be sure that the Milspec was released in 1960 and not a bit before, like 1958 or 59...? Was the Milpspec the first and the only one to use the moisture indicator? Certainly not the only one, but the first? NB: I don't know who to credit nor to ...  

I have to correct one point in my last post...

 By: E.J. : January 7th, 2010-14:23
when I said: The moisture indicator didn´t appear in any Ff since 1960, with the Milspec, like in the Bulova (one year before, aprox). Here are some proofs... *LIP Blancpain, 1954-1956, 34mm, AS 1361. LIP Blancpain, 1954-1956, militar model of the CIEPM, ...  

Thanks for the legitim reminder, Emilio

 By: amanico : January 7th, 2010-20:52
Of course the CIEPM from the mid fifties is a, if not THE most famous example of the pre existence of moisture indicators on Blancpain watches. Agree on the man who take the plane and the watch... Best, Hermano. Nicolas

I want to obey in the dust :-)

 By: hans_jorgen_1968 : January 6th, 2010-03:50
Hello my friend That is probably the best, the most impressive post I have seen on the forum. Great work. Especially the Autopsy aka the inside (the calibre mhhhmm yummie), and the details. WUNDERFUL indeed So far I dont know anything (OK, a little) about... 

Excellent post Nicolas

 By: terenceho : January 6th, 2010-05:29
Cannot stop reading your post .....

Thank you a lot, Terence.

 By: amanico : January 6th, 2010-08:12
These words, coming from you, are much appreciated, my friend. Best, Nicolas

There wasn't any Mr Rayville, Hans

 By: amanico : January 6th, 2010-06:53
According to Jeff Kingston, in his superb article ( Lettres du Brassus Nr 3 ), " Rayville was a name used by J.J FIECHTER for some of the Blancpain production." Well, I own this one for almost one year, now, but I wanted to take my time to make a review o... 

Thankyou my friend..

 By: hans_jorgen_1968 : January 6th, 2010-07:43
... you have already made me search the www (intensively in my lunchbreak that is ) Lets see if I one day have a FF Best Hans

You are probably right..

 By: hans_jorgen_1968 : January 6th, 2010-11:12
.. I found a few, but all sold :-( But I found a lot of interesting articles I will probably have to start with a plain FF or a 'plain' mil.... Any idear where to start looking..? BR Hans

Send me a PM, Hans.

 By: amanico : January 6th, 2010-22:01

Thank you Nicolas !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 By: fifty fathoms : January 6th, 2010-10:47
thank you, Nicolas what a great opening for 2010. This is a very good abstract about the for me most wanted vintage diver watch. I think it is easier to get a vintage bond rolex or a panerai than the Tornek Rayville. I will make a colour print of this rep... 

Hi Stephan,

 By: amanico : January 6th, 2010-22:17
As for the bezel, it is not unidirectional, and yes, you have to press on it to turn it. You have a point when you say that it is rarer than a Vintage Bond Rolex. As for the Vintage Pannies, if you take them all, yes the TR 900 is rarer. Now, if you want ... 

Very enjoyable thanks!!

 By: shepcs : January 6th, 2010-20:44
Fun read, great watches!

Thanks to you!

 By: amanico : January 6th, 2010-22:03
It was funny to see you posting your 2 TR 900 quite at the same moment! Best, Nicolas

Very interesting thoughts and observations about ...

 By: small-luxury-world : January 7th, 2010-07:12
some really cool vintage pieces. Congrats! Lucky me, I can enjoy them without any jealousy. Don´t know why, but sometimes it is good to "feel save" Oliver

Thanks, Oliver.

 By: amanico : January 7th, 2010-13:42
Sure? No " Sister "for your lovely modern FF? Tsssssss! Best, 666

Well, I am strong enough ...

 By: small-luxury-world : January 8th, 2010-13:33
to resist the "devils advocat" ... at the moment Oliver

Will be ...

 By: small-luxury-world : January 8th, 2010-14:04

Another killing post !

 By: bimbeano : January 7th, 2010-08:23
Thanks Nicolas, this post was most pleasant to read . Not that i'm able to follow anymore ... ... if i ever think of buying an FF i will NOT ask you which one, because i fear i could end up with each model ... Yours truly, Ze bim

Yep, Filip

 By: amanico : January 7th, 2010-13:40
The embarss of the choice, indeed. No need to go on such a scarce piece, a simple early FF will also bring you a lot of pleasure. And even in the Milspec family, there are so many to fall in love with! One day, maybe... Best, my friend. Nicolas

You outdid yourself with this post.

 By: BDLJ : January 7th, 2010-20:56
Absolutely wonderful post. I am glad I have no desire for any of these, or else this post would have pushed me over the edge. Great job (again!), Nico.

I'm far from being a pioneer in reviewing the TR 900, Ben.

 By: amanico : January 7th, 2010-21:28
But it was really interesting to gather all these informations, and to make this " Autopsy "...of a still living watch! Thanks for the kind comments, my friend. Nicolas

That may be the case,

 By: BDLJ : January 7th, 2010-22:24
but having read many TR900 reviews, I still believe yours stands out. Great fun to read. (Has the strange watchband arrived yet?)

Much appreciated, Ben...

 By: amanico : January 7th, 2010-22:26
No, it didn't arrive, yet... But you know, in France, right now, nothing works, because of the ..snow. Best, Nicolas

Great job !

 By: DrStrong : January 8th, 2010-01:18
amazing review of a mythical timepiece ! thanks for the great work and beautiful pictures my friend ! Cheers Jeff

Thanks for the nice words, Jeff! [nt]

 By: amanico : January 8th, 2010-01:44
No message body

so impressive

 By: Ryan5446 : January 9th, 2010-00:28
thanks for the great write up. It is one thing to collect vintage watches, but it is another thing to get the complete story behind it. You ve done a great thing on both !! Brgds, Steven

You know that very well, Steven

 By: amanico : January 9th, 2010-00:37
The story is a nice addition to the watch... Not easy to find, but that's all the interest! Thanks for your nice words, my friend. Best, Nicolas

A few additional points...

 By: camfam : January 14th, 2010-13:35
Outstanding review! Perhaps the best out there. Some reviews of this watch have been marred by authors who own a TR-900 but have little or no hands-on knowledge of Blancpains. Your review brings a depth of knowledge that is outstanding. A couple points. F... 

Camfam, your input is really precious.

 By: amanico : January 14th, 2010-13:56
Of course, I know your work on this topic, but I didn't remember where I " saved " this pic of the Bulova. Thanks a lot for the precious informations and the impressive work you made on these watches. There is, again, a lot to say, and to dig about the TR...  

I believe the AM stands for...

 By: camfam : January 14th, 2010-19:56
I think that the "AM" prefix indicates those few TR-900 cases that were made up into the "civilian version" of the TR-900 watch. My theory is that they were left over cases rather than a prototype, but this is a guess. These civilian TR-900s seem much mor... 

Thanks again, Camfam.

 By: amanico : January 14th, 2010-20:24
Will open quite soon another topic about these AM FFs. I don't know, Camfam, I thought " American Military ", too, but a guy in the US, who has a certain knowledge in Military Watches, was laughting at this theory, and told me the true meaning of " NFW ".... 

Thank you for indepth information Camfam :-)

 By: hans_jorgen_1968 : January 15th, 2010-06:24
..Really interesting to learn so much on these great watches Best Hans

Which one? [nt]

 By: amanico : April 27th, 2018-06:45

My English is too bad, not the comment, the thread is too indecent, too unbearable, I droll

 By: ninolitaliano : April 27th, 2018-08:15
and if I had written : this comment is exhaustive, there would not have been a syllabic palindrome

Nicolas what a superb write-up

 By: 198042 : May 22nd, 2018-10:36
I missed it 8 years ago. Thanks to whoever brought it up again and to you for writing it. Cheers from Zurich Richard