Being a close relative to the undisputed champion can be at times frustrating. It’s easy to fall into the high-expectations trap, to be constantly overshadowed, and so on. But some family members come full of surprises.
For better or worse, the perception of Tudor as the Rolex’s little brother is alive and well. And rooted through the years, this fact often played a double-edged marketing role. On the one hand, such kinship does ensure a certain level of trust in brand’s quality. On the other hand though, the same way of thinking might become an issue: if you’ve got the means to buy a Rolex, why bother with Tudor? Answering this question is a whole lot easier if one has some basic understanding of the brand’s history, especially the last 10 years, that took Tudor on a daring journey of finding its own path.
After taking Rolex through its first huge successful releases, Hans Wilsdorf had a natural thought of producing watches of a more affordable price segment as well. At first it was just the Tudor name, and some pieces sold in rectangular or cushion cases – quite typical watches of the 1930s era. In 1946, however, the Montres Tudor S.A. company was officially created, and the enterprise was set to get serious. The plan was simple and effective: taking the outsourced movements – reliable but more crudely finished – and putting them inside Rolex cases. Apart from the overall know-how and styling, the Crown also provided the distribution network and after-sales service. From now on, the customer could get the water-proof Oyster cases, automatic winding, great legibility, and timeless casual aesthetics – all for a significantly less money. What’s not to like?
The Oyster Prince was officially launched in 1952 (few Tudor pieces were produced in Rolex cases earlier, and are now hunted by collectors, but that’s a story for another time) quickly becoming the staple for the brand. In some sense, all the future releases – be it the Oysterdate, the Submariner, or the extremely cool 1970s Oysterdate Chronograph 'Monte Carlo' – were more or less built-up from this aesthetics. And some of the various design details added through the years to help develop the unique brand’s DNA, have inevitably become the trademark features in their own right. For example, the Submariner born in 1955 was at first almost identical to the Rolex version, until the so-called snowflake hands and square indices came into play. There’s very few hand-shapes in the industry, that can rival its distinctiveness. And just like anything really authentic it can be quite polarizing: that’s why Tudor tends to also use the other hand-types for a certain collections.
Early Tudor watches were signed with just the brand’s name on the dial, – with the upper part of the letter ’T’ being emphasized. Then came the Tudor rose logo of the namesake English royal dynasty with a flower depicted inside a shield. Then the shield was dismissed, leaving only the rose, and finally the shield came back while the rose was gone.
With the background of nearly 70 years now, the world of vintage Tudor watches is unsurprisingly strong: tropical dials, transitional references, military-signed series, you name it. And while the numbers aren’t exactly as crazy as in the vintage Rolex territory, the latter has to be mentioned in any Tudor-related conversation. Saying the last 10 years were incredible for Tudor won’t be an overstatement. And the vintage Rolex-collecting territory was clearly one of the obvious inspiration sources for its latest bestsellers. Ask any Rolex lover about the main differences between the modern references and their peers from 1960s and 1970s, and you’d likely get the same answer: the tool-watch vibe of the years past has been taken over by a luxury statement that some may find too loud. And while this is neither good nor bad, it simply means that this kind of market was left behind by the bigger brother just to be taken by the younger one. And Tudor does deliver: restrained sizing, matte surfaces, dial color variety, total freedom regarding the straps and bands right out of the box. There’s really a lot to like here, especially if you’d be somehow unhappy with the existing Rolex options often playing too safe.
Tudor R&D in 2010s has been quite a blast too, with the introduction of the in-house movements featuring COSC chronometer certified precision and anti-magnetic silicon balance springs. There was even a movement exchange between Tudor and Breitling in the mid decade, when both brands proudly co-branded the pieces. That’s how these three-handers (Breitling guys provided the chronograph movement) are sought-after by the market! Every new Black Bay seemed to take the horology world by storm. Demand-wise, the latest GMT version was clearly on par with the simultaneously debuting new ‘Pepsi’ Rolex GMT Master.
Some additional credibility among the non-watch crowd was won via top celebrity ambassadors like Lady Gaga or David Beckham. As a result, seeing a modern-looking Black Bay Chrono Dark or the classically styled Pelagos diver in the wild wouldn't likely raise any question about its origin or Rolex-like aesthetics. This is a Tudor, the one and only. And this time the hero won’t be left unsung.
Jan. 23, 2020