Introducing

Tudor: A brief history and why they are so much more than Rolex’s sibling.

Tudor Watches - Wikipedia

Introduction.

In the eyes and minds of most people who have a shallow knowledge about watches Tudor are often considered a poor man’s Rolex. For the layman this may seem a compliment. Surely, Rolex are the best brand in the world and simply being associated with them is fine praise indeed. Simply put: No and no. Rolex are a fabulous brand with an illustrious history and a back catalogue of world firsts and innovations. However, they are not the world’s best watch brand, just the world’s most famous, best promoted watch brand. When you buy a Rolex you are buying into a status symbol attitude. I don’t mind that at all. We need to feel special when we look down at our chosen timepiece that we carry with us all of the time. However, you need to consider whether you are willing to spend way over retail price on a watch that is already expensive. I am not here solely to debunk or belittle Rolex. I’d get hung, drawn and quartered by the massive Rolex following worldwide if I were to even consider such heresy. I do respect them as a brand. After all, they constantly sit atop the luxury watch sales tree year after year. They offer in-house movements with 5 year warranties and 10 year service life. You are getting a fantastic and reliable timepiece. I have owned eight of them. My wife still adores her solid gold Cellini that I bought for her when she became Chartered. I also appreciate that most people aspire to owning a Rolex and once they do it is a life changing experience. However, the premise of this article is to highlight that there is a much more cost effective way of achieving a desirable and reliable timepiece that has the potential to become a family heirloom from that very same maison.

So, what if you could get the same heritage, the same option of an in-house movement, the same warranty period and the same servicing period but at a fraction of the cost? And what if that very brand was run by the same industry giant mentioned above, Rolex? Tudor is that very marque. They may not have the same household name as Rolex but I can assure you, at the rate they are progressing, they will be pretty close in the future. 

Let me back that statement up with some facts: There are, literally, thousands of watch brands in the world. From the multimillion-unit-per-year giants such as Seiko and Casio to the hand crafted extraordinary feats of horology by Greubel Forsey and McGonicle, who each make less than 100 watches per year. Or even totally exclusive brands like Struthers Watchmakers Limited who make just two watches per year with their Project 248!

Home | Greubel Forsey

Greubel Forsey GMT Quadruple Tourbillon

McGonicle Water Resistant Minute Repeater

Struthers Watchakers Project 248 prototype

Since starting up again in 2007, after a small hiatus, Tudor have reached number 7 in the annual turnover figures for luxury watch brands. Just in front of Patek Phillipe and just behind Longines. Two brands that you don’t need an interest in horology to have heard of. There is no other brand that has grown at the annual percentage rate of Tudor. The reasons for this is mainly as described above. By having the backing and the same attitude towards customer satisfaction as Rolex they are creating, not only covetable timepieces, but also a name within the industry that stands for honesty, integrity, reliability, refinement, innovation, and, arguably unlike their sister brand, accessibility. This extraordinary growth is perpetually maintained despite the fact that Tudor retailers, such as ourselves at Andrew Michaels Jewellers (amjwatches.co.uk), are unable to ship out sold timepieces to their lucky new owners. Only a retailer-to-customer, face-to-face handover is permitted, further adding to the luxury experience. Another reflection of how popular Tudor have become is that people are willing to travel to pick up their new Black Bay or 1926, etc. New owners truly enjoy picking up their new timepiece, having the intricacies of ownership explained to them by our passionate watch specialists and having the watch sized to perfection by our trained technicians. We have nothing but 5 star Trustpilot reviews from Tudor customers.

History.

For many of their early years Tudor could be considered to be the younger, less talented, more disadvantaged, not so well-known sibling. A bit like Michael and Ralf Schumacher or Marq and Alex Marquez. Ralf and Alex are incredibly talented individuals, each acquiring multiple race wins at world championship level, but are inexorably linked to the GOATs (Greatest Of All Time) within their sport.

The idea for the Tudor brand transpired in Hans Wilsdorf’s head as far back as 1926 when he had the Tudor name, chosen because of his links to and admiration for England, registered on his behalf by “Veuve de Philippe Huther”. In 1936 Wilsdorf purchased this Swiss manufacture and registered the Tudor moniker under his own name. He then launched Montre Tudor in 1946. Wilsdorf’s intentions were made clear from a statement he made in the same year:

“For some years now, I have been considering the idea of making a watch that our agents could sell at a more modest price than our Rolex watches, and yet one that would attain the standard of dependability for which Rolex is famous. I decided to form a separate company, with the object of making and marketing this new watch. It is called The Tudor Watch Company.”

Within a year the Tudor Oyster model was presented. The Oyster nomenclature within Rolex has always been used to signify a water resistant case.

A year later Tudor released its very own advertising which exhibited its own unique personality and character. In fact, many of these advertising campaigns, that presented a unique style at the time, became legendary:

1956 Rolex Tudor Oyster Princess vintage UK print ad. #tudor ...

In 1952 Tudor launched the Oyster Prince with its own unique advertising campaign that highlighted the robust nature of this every day version of the more costly Rolex Oysters of the time. 

Rolex - Do you fancy being punished without mercy?

Above is a selection of early advertising for the Tudor Oyster Prince

The advertisements were categorically backed up when 26 Tudor Oyster Princes were used in the British Scientific Expedition to Greenland which was organised by the Royal Navy. One of these very watches was recently discovered at the back of a kitchen drawer by the original recipient Roy Homard. The expedition party consisted of glaciologists, geologists, seismologists, meteorologists and geophysicists. You can be very certain that each one of these gallant gentlemen put their Tudor Oyster Princes through hell during their stay in Dronning Louise Land, North Greenland, where temperatures could frequently drop to -50°F. The Oyster Prince was chosen because of its hermetically sealed case, with screw down crown and the 390 automatic movement, which negated the requirement to unscrew the crown and manually rewind on a regular basis. When Mr Homard donated the watch back to Tudor they waivered the disciplinary offence of not returning the Oyster Prince to Tudor after the expedition had concluded and presented him with a brand new Tudor Black Bay. This vital piece of expedition equipment now resides with its meticulously filled out accuracy logbook, itself an historical artefact, within the Rolex museum. 

One of the most covetable Tudor watches is the Prince Submariner that was introduced in 1954, one year after the infamous Rolex Submariner. 

TUDOR Diving Watches | History | From 1954 to 1968

During the 1960s Tudor Submariners, affectionately called Snowflakes by collectors because of the square tipped hands, became standard equipment for the US Navy and the Marine Nationale Francaise (French Navy). The Prince Submariner remained in the catalogue until 1999.

A recent example of a Tudor Prince Submariner Big Crown from 1958, reference 7924 and with incredible provenance, sold at auction for $162,500!

By comparing the two examples of Submariners above, during the 1960s the rose emblem, a reflection of the Tudor name, was replaced with the shield logo to further represent the robust and trustworthy nature of the brand’s timepieces.

An extremely rare left hand version of the Submariner, reference 94010, was released in 1981. This watch lives on in the exceptional Pelagos LHD in the current catalogue.

Left Hand Drive Submariner from 1981

The specification rich, all Titanium Pelagos LHD

The final Tudor Submariner was the 79190, which was available from 1995 until 1999. The Tudor Submariner is becoming as valued to vintage watch collectors as the Rolex Submariner, as can be seen with the $162,500 reference 7924. The Tudor Submariner, and its incredible history, is perfectly poised for a remake.

Another early Tudor, circa 1957, that deserves a special mention is the Advisor. This was Rolex’s and Tudor’s only Alarm timepiece. Mechanical alarms are few and far between even now. Back in 1957 it was a rare watch indeed and gave the brand a unique identity over it’s bigger and older brother. It was originally introduced in a version of the famous Oyster case and then later received its own case design, reference 10050. This exceptional example of horology was re-introduced into the Tudor catalogue in 2011, with a 42mm diameter, alarm on/off indicator and power reserve display.

Unique for the Rolex family was the original Advisor, 34mm

TUDOR Heritage Advisor Swiss Watch

The contemporary, current catalogue version of the beautifully aural Advisor

Tudor carved its own identity with regards to Chronographs with the Oysterdate Chronograph 7031, from 1970. This model is now perfectly represented in Tudor’s current Heritage line-up, with reference 70330.

The Chronograph Heritage strikes an uncanny resemblance to the 1970 reference 7031.

The increasing popularity of the Rolex Daytona throughout the 1980s and 1990s saw the homage release of the Tudor Tiger Chronograph in 1995.

TUDOR Chronograph Watches | History | From 1995 to 2000

Look at this Tudor Tiger Chronograph, reference 79280, and you would be forgiven in thinking it was a Daytona. The date display under a cyclops magnifier is the only incongruent.

Tudor continued to be successful, never straying from its intended place within the market and the Rolex family, until the early 2000s. At which point they were discontinued. Whether the 5 or-so year break was intentional or not, Tudor came back in 2007 as a unique body with their own unique designs. I have struggled to find out the reason for the original cessation. One thing is for sure, there will be no more such intervals in the foreseeable future.

Today.

Tudor are unique within the watch world because they have the backing of one of the world’s strongest brands and all the support that comes with that. They have access to the same design software, the metallurgy foundry and educational facilities of the seemingly omnipotent Rolex. However, Tudor are a disparate entity. Although they reside in the same headquarters, use Rolex letterheaded paper and their staff have @rolex.com email addresses they are distinctive where it matters. They have their own design division, their own R and D facility, their own assembly line and their own testing/QA department. But more important than this is they have their own watches with their own motif and their own identity. As we can see from the brief history lesson above, this was not always the case. It is this very level of autonomy that has been the secret to Tudor’s recent exponential growth and success, in my opinion.

The watches today sit in three defined categories within an ever-growing catalogue: Heritage, Technology and Classic.

The Heritage line is epitomised by the Black Bay, which is based loosely on the celebrated Tudor Submariners, mentioned above. So popular are the Black Bays that they have almost become a brand in themselves. Notable examples include the Black Bay GMT, the Black Bay Fifty Eight, the Black Bay Bronze, the Black Bay Dark and the Black Bay 41.

Black Bay GMT

Black Bay Fifty Eight

Black Bay Bronze

Black Bay Dark

Black Bay 41

Also, in the Heritage range is one of my favourite Tudor watches: The oh-so unpretentious Ranger. This perfect re-imagining of a past Tudor first caught my eye with its commanding publicity: The infamous 1950s Tudor advertising mentioned above was transposed perfectly with this convincing advert for the Ranger.

TUDOR Watches | History | From 1960 to 1969

The original Tudor Ranger

Other notable entries in the Heritage range are the Heritage Chronograph and the Advisor, previously covered.

Within the Technology ensemble we have the contemporary Pelagos, the historically pertinent and almost estranged P01, the robust and stealthy Fastrider Black Shield and the in-house flag bearer North Flag.

The Pelagos is one of the most accomplished dive watches on the market. Its case is full grade 5 Titanium, it has a patented rotating bezel system, a ceramic inlay for the diver’s bezel, 500m water resistance, a clever clasp expansion system and a helium escape valve. It is available in black, blue or, my personal favourite, the afore-mentioned LHD, with its unique crown placement inherited from the Submariner range.

The Pelagos LHD

The North Flag will always command a special mention in Tudor’s story because it was the first timepiece to contain an in-house movement. This was the moment where Tudor distanced itself from Rolex and became its own brand. The original concept Hans Wilsdorf had for Tudor was to create more affordable Rolex watches. This was achieved by utilising Rolex cases, dials, crowns and hands whilst being powered by an over-the-counter tractor movement of the period. Now the North Flag comes along with its striking good looks virtue of a unique Tudor only case and an in-house movement. It is the antithesis of Hans Wilsdorf’s original aspirations for the brand.

The Fastrider Black Shield Chronograph is unique within the Tudor portfolio because it has a full ceramic case and bezel. The bead blasted ceramic exterior gives a cool stealth aesthetic coupled with an incredible hard surface that has a high tolerance to scratches and blemishes.

Last, but by no means least, is the exciting new P01. The P prefix standing for prototype. This standout release is inspired by a Tudor watch of yore that was requested by the US Navy and then never released. Legend has it that the watch was requested with a specific brief, designed by Tudor and then never put into production because the US Navy simply decided to use the standard Tudor Submariners they had become so accustomed to and confident in. Their loss is our gain as we are now presented with the most daring and distinctive Tudor watch to date. One of the unique elements is obvious; the crown placed at 4 O’clock with crown guards. The other is not so apparent. The crown is bi-directional, because it is intended for navigational purposes, and is locked in place by the pivoting plate above the 12 O’clock position. This combination of unique aesthetics and unique practicality has made the P01 a collector’s favourite and great seller already.

If you’re of a classically refined, austere mindset then Tudor have an assortment of beautifully detailed timepieces that are, deceptively, full of discrete design nuances that makes each one individual in character. The watches that come under this banner of elegance are the Glamour, the 1926, the Style, the Classic and the Claire de Rose. I find it very difficult to write about classic style watches. Their whole design philosophy is about the aesthetics. This will always be polarising to some degree. There are some watches in Tudor’s Classic range that I love and some that I’m not so keen on. However, what is not subjective is quality and you can be assured that these stylish time keepers are engineered to last a life time. My usual benchmark for the longevity of a watch, through strength, is its water resistance. Every single model in this category are water resistant to at least 100m. In addition, they all have scratch resistant sapphire glass and are constructed using surgical grade stainless steel. So, if you like the look of what are presented below that is wonderful because you will be choosing a timepiece of impeccable manufacturing.

One small caveat is that this fine selection of timepieces do not carry the Tudor in-house movement. Therefore, the warranty is a standard two years and the service life is nearer to five years than nine. At the price point that these immaculately detailed and finished watches are, it would not be feasible.

The 42mm bi-metal Glamour

The 1926 (available in 41mm, 39mm, 36mm and 28mm)

The 41mm Style (available in bi-metal or steel with a myriad of dials)

The 38mm Classic (available in bi-metal and steel with or without diamonds)

The delightfully feminine Claire de Rose (34mm, 30mm or 26mm)

Good looks and a watch that is fit-for-purpose and suitable for your own personal lifestyle requirements doesn’t get you over the line. Tudor realise this by offering the very same level of peace of mind you get from their sibling brand, Rolex, who have created an enviable reputation within the industry with this very same attitude and approach.

Just as with our look back the history of Tudor I will conclude this chapter with the extraordinary auction result of a brand new Tudor, which emphasises the current strength of the brand:

The Tudor Black Bay One was created for the Only Watch auction. All proceeds of this annual event go to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The hammer finally dropped at an eye watering CHF375,000. Which is the equivalent of the standard Tudor Black Bay and a detached three bedroom house near Manchester! This particular Black Bay differs from the catalogue version by only a few small cosmetic alterations. However, the fact that this watch was the only unique piece ever to be auctioned by either Tudor or Rolex, at the time, saw the bidding reach stratospheric levels.

Just to prove this was no fluke, last year the Black Bay Ceramic One fetched another impressive final bid of CHF350,000. This unique Tudor separates itself further from any other Black Bays in the catalogue than the original Only Watch Tudor by virtue of its full ceramic case. Ceramic cases are nothing new to Tudor with their glorious Fastrider Chronograph series, mentioned previously.

Tudor creates all-black ceramic Black Bay for Only Watch 2019

The unique ceramic cased Black Bay created for the Only Watch charity.

Tudor need to make a version of this watch. It will create a backorder headache for retailers, similar to the Black Bay GMT and the Black Bay Fifty Eight, upon its release but this is a slight hardship I would gladly suffer.

Conclusion.

Tudor is growing at a rate that must even have Rolex looking over their shoulder. I cannot see this being an overnight fad. In fact, the opposite will happen whereby Tudor will continue to make an incredible impact in the world of luxury timepieces with an eclectic range of wrist watches to suit any occasion, fastidious attention to detail, class leading refinement, incredible reliability coupled with excellent after sales service and a collection of watches that are, simply, very desirable.

To express my point in as succinct manner as possible, I would like to conclude by asking you to consider this: For the price of a brand new steel Rolex Daytona from a grey market dealer, because you will not ever get one from a retailer, you can buy one of each of Tudor’s desirable Black Bay GMT, historically pertinent Black Bay Fifty Eight, impressive Pelagos LHD, elegant bi-metal 1926 and the great Daytona alternative which is the beautiful steel and gold Black Bay Chronograph. Furthermore, you will have enough change left over to get them all serviced in 9 years time. Variety is the spice of life.

TUDOR Black Bay Chrono S&G Swiss Watch

The Black Bay Chronograph S&G would grace any watch collection.

 
All words by Richard Atkins. All images from Tudorwatch.com, unless otherwise stated. This article may not be reproduced in part or in whole without the permission of the author.

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