(The truly phenomenal Tudor Black Bay 58)
Although they are a Rolex company brand sporting inhouse movements and retailing every piece in their whole collection below £5k, Tudor is still, undeservedly, looked down upon by many of the older generation. For example, my dad was actually angered that a Pelagos, that contains an in house movement and titanium case, costs around £4k (………even though he owns a IWC Aquatimer chronograph with a valjoux movement for £5.5k….) I asked why he thought this price was unreasonable and he simply said “because they are crap and no one has ever heard of them”. Just so much wrong in one sentence I didn’t even respond. But, for his sake, I am going to highlight the historical prevalence and importance of Tudor and argue why they are an exceptional brand doing what more modern swiss brands should be doing today.
Hans Wilsdorf launched his watch brand, Rolex, in England in 1905. The plan was for Rolex to be a high end luxury brand. In 1908, realising the opportunity to jump on the Swiss band wagon, he registered his company in La Chaux-de-Fond Switzerland. Production still remained in England until 1920 when he decided to utilise the opportunity for economies of scale and moved production to Genève.
In 1946 Hans launched a sister brand to Rolex that was designed to be more moderately priced and only distributed within Europe. He called it Rolex Tudor, with the Tudor being a nod the Tudor era in England. The brand logo was initially a Tudor rose, again a nod to English Heritage, but was replaced by the Shield we now know in the 1960s. Although Tudor cases, bracelets and crowns came from Rolex, sporting the Rolex signature up until the 90s, they used ETA movements instead of in-house Rolex movements. This is where the price difference was justified.. However, in 2016 Tudor began producing their own in-house movement, initially launched in their North Flag model.
(Very early 1946 Rolex Tudor Oyster. Probably one of the first models launched under the Tudor name.)
Where the Tudor story gets very cool is when Rolex Tudor started making submariners for the French Marine Nationale and the US Navy seals in the 60s. These watches were designed and built to be the ultimate tool watches, supporting soldiers in the most extreme conditions. These original Marine Nationale and Navy seal models are now extremely rare and collectable, selling for five figure sums.
(An important Tudor Milsub MN80 requested by the French Marine National for its automatic movement, oyster case and water resistance. Not as pricey as the Rolex milsubs but this will still fetch £20k at auction pretty comfortably)
So, to highlight, Tudor is the more affordable Rolex sister brand that historically used the same cases, crowns, dals and bracelets but used ETA movements to save on price. Now-a-days Tudor still uses the same manufactures as Rolex for their cases, bracelets, dials and crowns AND produce their own movements. Regarding the cases etc it is worth noting that Tudor will only use the basic range steel (they do not use the top of the range materials Rolex have patents on such as Everose etc). However, all considered you can now, if you didn't already before, agree that Tudor definitely still holds a candle up to Rolex and arguably competes with the likes of Omega and Tag Heuer etc. So, dad they aren’t crap - David Beckham wears one for god sake.
Three reasons to buy a Tudor
I have owned two vintage Tudor Oysters and loved them. However, I believe some of the stuff Tudor are doing now a days is truly exceptional. Firstly though, to get it out of the way, I am not too keen on their marketing scheme of using Lady Gaga as an ambassador. I of course understand the “Biver style” of marketing to the mainstream, but I don’t like the brand being represented by someone who couldn't give two shits about the history or mechanical provenance of the brand. This is very different from the likes of Roger Federer representing Rolex, who is well known for being a massive Rolex nerd. I do, however approve of the collaboration with the All Blacks Rugby team as Rolex and many other brands have and still do make connections with Elite sportsmen. For example, Richard Mille and Raffa Nadal, IWC and Lewis Hamilton, Omega and Michael Schumacher.
I digress, here are three fantastic reasons that you should buy modern Tudor who are still underappreciated by many.
1. They have creative sovereignty from Rolex and take advantage in order to make more heritage inspired "Nerdy" pieces.
Rolex are very, very conservative with their designs and evolution of their pieces. In fact many would say the new ceramic bezel Rolex was a huge and unexpected move from the Swiss giant who usually do not take such risks to pay homage to their famous history. Tudor on the other hand have the freedom to produce more creative as well as heritage inspired pieces. Tudor are so popular with watch purists because they regularly greatly appease the nerds with their constant nods to famous vintage Tudor and Rolex models in their modern models. For example the Black Bay Black and the 58 are a clear homages to the famous Rolex 6538 and the Tudor divers with the no crown guard and red triangle at 12.
(My favourite Black Bay, the BB 58 laying next to the infamous 6538 it is heavily based on. Seeing them side by side you can see why nerds like me are so excited about this watch.)
Furthermore, the Tudor GMT is a homage to the Rolex 6542 more so than the new Rolex Pepsi because the Tudor leaves out the crown guards again like on the 6542. Finally, their modern heritage chrono is still pretty much exactly the same as their infamous Monte Carlo.
(The new Black Bay GMT next to two iterations of the Rolex 6542 Bakerlite Bezel it is based on. Again one can appreciate the similarities)
Due to this, I feel like Tudor is the cooler, edgier, younger sister of a conservative accountant older brother. Tudor is less predictable, more daring and more experimental in presentation than her older brother with a keen eye for vintage styling. Actually in hindsight this analogy is a bit of a stretch but you get what I mean!
2. Great bang for buck (now)
One of the main reasons to love Tudor is because it is one of the best "entry level" brands there are. For example they produce pieces that utilise their inhouse calibres for around £3.5k. This is comparable to a brand new time only Rolex costing around £3.5k which unfortunately just isn't possible anymore. Comparing to other brands, this is cheaper than any of the Tag or Breitling in house pieces. Omega's new Omega Seamaster uses their new inhouse co-axial chronometer and retails for around the same but that is Omega so.... . Tudor also produce pieces in different materials at the pre-£4k mark. For example, they have titanium pieces for around £4k and a very cool ceramic Valjoux 7753 chronograph for £3.5k. This ceramic piece is of course the Black Shield which is essentially an affordable, ceramic Daytona. In fact I was always under the impression that Tudor couldn't release this piece in steel because it would compete directly with the Daytona.
(The phenomenal Tudor Black shield black and red edition or as I like to call it "The Ducati". This particular piece is in the ownership of our very own Ilkay Olmez. So if you fancy it but don't have the cash, find him and mug him. You can usually find him in Dragoni-I nightclub in Lan Kwai Fung, Hong Kong.....)
3. They a so much more than just a poor mans Rolex.
Finally, one of the best characteristics of Tudor is that it is so much more than a "poor man's Rolex"- Tudor really is its own brand with its own Identity. In fact, Tudor arguably currently have their own iconic model, the Black Bay. One could also argue the old Military Subs and the Monte Carlo are also historically iconic Tudor pieces in their own right. As a result Tudor have their own history separate from Rolex and continue to have their own identity today. Also because the quality and finishing of their watches is still exceptional, it disperses the feeling that you're simply buying a budget Rolex. Some could argue that because Seiko pieces do sometimes feel noticeably lesser quality than Grand Seiko pieces, a normal Seiko can feel like a budget Grand Seiko. This is controversial I know. I love Seiko but their bracelets and dials, in particular, aren't even in the same category as that of Grand Seiko. The gap between Tudor and Rolex doesn't feel that vast.
I also think that the move toward different materials makes Tudor almost more exciting when compared with Rolex. I see about 3 submariners a day on average I reckon. I hardly ever see a Titanium Tudor Pelagos or a ceramic Black shield. I get more excited seeing someone wearing a Tudor than a Rolex these days. Unless its a steel Skydweller or a vintage Daytona obviously...… Come on.
(A modern Titanium Pelagos lying next to a very collectable vintage Tudor Submariner. You can see the direct lineage of this piece just looking at the dial)
Conclusions and criticism of Tudor
I still see many overlook the brand when it offers the opportunity to get real high quality swiss watch making at an entry level price. I do think that with Tudor's recent "Jean Claude-Biver" style marketing that the brand's recognition may increase and, as a result, the knowledge of Tudor's quality and reputability will spread to those who are currently non-believers. I would like to see a bit more variety in their range. I, like many other, think they rely too heavily on their Black Bay range. A great range but almost their entire catalogue is made up of the Black Bay. I think a steel Blackshield, however controversial, would be outstanding. I also think if they did more with their North Flag range and dress watch range they could really develop their offering. Tudor could also potentially dive into pilots watches, something Rolex has never really done. Although Rolex did bring out the Air King it was just an explorer with a different dial. I don't think this is something Rolex should or ever consider but I definitely think there is scope and creative freedom for Tudor to delve more into the Air King's heritage. After all Rolex company, which still owns Tudor, is a listed charity subsequently paying no tax, and the biggest private watch company in the world. Therefore, they aren't at risk of collapsing as many of the other brands are and can easily afford to explore and take a bit more risk in Tudor's catalogue, borne on Rolex's balance sheet. Either way I am always excited at Basel to see what Tudor do.
I know this article is brief but I do have a Job! What I hope this article gets across is how Tudor always has been and still is very much more than just Rolex's Budget option. With creative freedom to produce more much loved heritage inspired pieces, more experimental pieces utilising different materials and their own in house movements to power them, Tudor is a very exciting, dynamic and even investable brand that is hopefully becoming less under appreciate. Dad if you reading this, I hope this dispels some of your misconceptions and understanding of Tudor.