PAST & PRESENT
Tudor Watches. The rebellious and more abrasive little brother of Rolex, created by Rolex founder Hans Wildorf in 1926 as a more affordable alternative, but with the same focus on quality, reliability, and precision.
At first, they used off-the-shelf movements, but Rolex watch cases and chains, often with Rolex branding, to achieve reliability and quality while still maintaining their price targets.
In the fashion industry, it is now common for big brands to create a more affordable “junior brand” with strong ties to the parent brand. Often it is to attract a younger, more daring audience that may eventually grow mature (and wealthy?) enough to become a loyal consumer of the parent brand. Think of Ralph Lauren’s “Polo Ralph Lauren” or Giorgio Armani’s “Emporio Armani” and it might make sense to you. So it did for Hans Wildorf almost 100 years ago.
Tudor found its identity in the mid-20th century. In 1954, with the help of Rolex, it launched its first waterproof watch, the Oyster Prince Submariner, and in 1956 it shipped two models, ref. 7922 and 7923 for testing at the G.E.R.S. research institute in Toulon. After thorough underwater and pressure testing, the waterproofing was found to be “perfect,” and the watches functioned “perfectly”. This led to the development of ref. 7924 “Big Crown” waterproof to 200m, and in 1959 an Oyster Prince Submariner was fitted with crown guards, ref. 7928, distributed to divers in the French Navy, Marine Nationale.
The watch became an essential tool for French divers and special forces, who desperately needed a reliable tool to display their time underwater and to time and coordinate attacks and deployments. The Tudor Submariner Marine Nationale watches had distinctive features; marked with MN (Marine Nationale) and the year each watch was issued. Tudor supplied the watches without straps, and the French Navy equipped them with straps that could be used with both wet and dry suits. Tudor supplied watches to the Marine Nationale right up until the 1980s, and today the watches are extremely sought after by collectors. The US Navy was also a customer of Tudor’s Submariner.
Why is any of this interesting almost three-quarters of a century later? Well, the truth is that the story of Tudor and the Marine Nationale still influences Tudor, their watches, and their designs. There are still elements like the “snowflake hands” (the distinctive hour hands with the square on the tip to make them easier to distinguish from the minute hand) and the exposed crown that can be found in their current watches. And at Watches & Wonders in spring 2023 in Geneva, Tudor mingled with superstars like Patek Philippe, Panerai, and Jaeger LeCoultre, and together with IWC, who presented a relaunched Ingenieur, with its Black Bay 54 that paid homage to the first Oyster Prince Submariner from 1954, they were, candidates for the star of the show.
Both the IWC Ingenieur and Tudor Black Bay 54 made our own COO and watch enthusiast, Søren Søltoft Holmboe, weak in the knees. This has created a couple of films on urhandleren.dk, which you can watch here: IWC Ingenieur – Tudor Black Bay 54.
When Tudor chooses to embrace its history as a supplier of professional diving watches – true tool watches – to such a degree, and in 2023 positions itself as a manufacturer of accessible, comparatively speaking, modern versions of tool watches, we clap our hands. Tudor is stepping out of its big brother Rolex’s shadow, and with style icon and former footballer David Beckham and cycling star Fabian Cancellara as brand ambassadors and major sponsorships in freediving, rugby, and surfing, it makes a strong statement: It has its own brand and its own target audience.
Tudor has begun to find its own identity, and this is creating a significant appeal among watch enthusiasts. Tudor manages to capture a distinct segment of watch enthusiasts who seek both style and adventure.
Where in the past a Tudor has often been seen as a cheaper Rolex that in no way has been surrounded by any prestige, this is now slowly starting to change. Wearing a Tudor can now suddenly be seen as a statement that “at least I do not have a Rolex Submariner like everyone else”, a statement that you dare to stand out. Their approach to positioning themselves as a brand that dares to stand out shows their deep understanding of their target audience. This increasing popularity and recognition will inevitably lead to increased demand for Tudor watches, thus increasing their value. Well done, Tudor.
But it is not just in branding and marketing that Tudor is stepping up its own game now. Almost 100 years would pass before Tudor discontinued the use of modifications of other brands and manufacturers pieces in the 2023 lineup and only used its in-house pieces. Tudor is now so confident in its work that it is not only COSC-certified but METAS-certified.
METAS is the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology, headquartered in Bern, Switzerland. METAS defines itself as “the federal centre of competence for all issues related to measurement and for measuring equipment and measuring procedures” – and this may often include a wide range of different topics and devices, including wristwatches, which measure time.
The METAS certification is a new, even more rigorous certification jointly created by Omega and Metas. The certification consists of 8 tests, including being waterproof, sensitive to temperature fluctuations, and accuracy. Where a COSC-certified chronometer is allowed to oscillate -4/+6 seconds per day, a METAS-certified chronometer is only allowed to oscillate 0/+5 seconds. At the same time, the anti-magnetism requirement is 15 times higher than usual.
Tudor had a timeline of the entire Tudor Submariner series on display at Watches & Wonders, starting back in 1954 until its retirement in 1999 – only to be resurrected as the Black Bay 58.
It might seem like a bit of overkill in 2023, when we all have our iPhones on us 24/7 anyway, or slightly irrelevant from an investment perspective. We do not think it is, by any means!
It is a noticeably clear strategy for Tudor to go the METAS route to place at least Omega level or above. And we think that is ingenious. If you want to position yourself as a watch manufacturer in the luxury segment and guarantee high quality, you cannot use watch movements in your watches that are also found in much cheaper competitors. We believe that this will help make Tudor attractive to an even wider audience and thus increase the demand for Tudor watches in the future.
We cannot ignore the fact that suddenly there are Tudor watches that no longer exist. Previously, Tudor watches with ETA movements could be recognized by the text “SELF WINDING” at 6 o’clock on the watch face. We have previously mentioned Rolex Milgaus, which was removed from the product catalog during Watches & Wonders, and the effect it has already had on prices a few weeks later. We expect to see something similar with Tudor’s ETA watches.
So even though Tudor is distancing itself increasingly from Rolex, you could argue that Tudor is getting closer to Rolex.
Tudor’s rebellious and bold positioning, and now even higher quality, is the reason Tudor is making its way onto the watch geeks’ wish lists. I know it is on my wish list. Tudor Black Bay 54 with Oyster steel bracelet. Yes, please.