Last September, we brought you the story of 1st Lieutenant Barry Jones, Corpsman Lorrie McLaughlin, and a very special Tudor Submariner that was able to reconnect the veterans some 50 years after the battlefield in Vietnam sought to tear them apart. If you haven’t watched the original video, please take a moment to learn the story of how this severely damaged Tudor came to be and how it was returned to 1st Lt. Jones in the exact same condition in which it left Da Nang in 1968.
As I mentioned in the original post, it is rare that a watch can transcend its original function and become something truly special. What started as a simple and reliable tool would become both a lasting link to a harrowing wartime experience and a cherished token to a bond that war could not break.
The Long Return, Part I
So where does the story go from here? Well, what if we told you that, after having the watch returned to him in its battle-damaged state, 1st Lt. Jones had hopes of seeing his storied Tudor restored and ready for another tour on wrist?
As it turns out, Tudor was listening and offered to have the watch rebuilt in-house by Rolex’s restoration specialists. Tudor devised a plan to repair Barry’s watch while maintaining as much of the original as possible; however, a series of considerable challenges would need to be overcome to bring this Tudor back up to spec. This would be a ground-up restoration completed entirely by hand at Rolex HQ in Geneva. The movement was entirely non-functional and would need to be fully rebuilt. The case, twisted and bent by a bullet, would need to be straightened. Likewise, the delicate hands and dial would need considerable attention if any of the components could be salvaged and re-used.
Using old-school techniques, including a hammer and a custom jig, the case was slowly straightened to a point where the tolerances could accept the movement, the crystal, the screwed caseback, and the crown and stem. This was painstaking work that required a surgeon’s touch – even with a hammer. Even once massaged back into shape, the case still bore the scars of its former life.
Likewise, reassembly was a slow and considered process in which Barry’s watch had to pass the muster of modern Tudor. It couldn’t just run – it needed to run properly, as though it were new. As captured in the above video, I was fortunate enough to be in the room for some of these stages, including when the movement first started to tick again. It was quite a moment.
Once back together, it mostly looks like a proper old Tudor Sub. The original hour and minute hands were not re-lumed, the case’s lugs have the correct inner dimension, but the damaged lug has not been restored. A period-correct bezel and matching crystal finish the project, and the watch is ready to return to life with Barry and his family.
If you’ve read this far and not watched the video, I implore you to take a few minutes and see the entire story come together. This was a rare and special opportunity, and I know I speak for all of HODINKEE when I extend my thanks and gratitude to 1st Lt. Barry Jones and Corpsman Lorrie McLaughlin for their openness to this project, their perspective, and of course, their service. Likewise, I would like to extend additional thanks to the entire team at Tudor and Rolex for the considerable effort put forth in restoring the Barry Jones Tudor Submariner.
Producer’s Note: When we first heard that Barry wanted to restore the bullet-dented Tudor Submariner from “The Long Return,” we will admit we had doubts that it could run again. Those doubts were quickly replaced by the excitement of being able to document the process, however it unfolded. Chasing this story took us from New York City and Toronto to Geneva and to the shadows of Mt. Hood, Oregon. It was made possible because we were given unprecedented access to the Rolex Restoration Workshop, and because of the unwavering good nature of Mr. Jones and Mr. McLaughlin. Thank you to all who made this possible. It was an honor. – Will Holloway
“The Long Return, Part II” was filmed by Will Holloway, David Aujero, Grey Korhonen, and Samuel Grandchamp; it was edited by David Aujero.