Tudor. Swiss Made and Royal

Tudor Watches. Stages of formation of the Tudor watch brand. From affordable timepieces to luxury. Reliability, quality and elegance at a reasonable price are the main characteristics of Tudor watches.

“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 could attain the standards 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.”

Hans Wilsdorf

This quote from Rolex and Tudor founder Hans Wilsdorf reveals Tudor’s unspoken modus vivendi. Thus, the reason for the creation of Tudor was unequivocally determined, which is relevant to this day. The brand’s watches are distinguished by their reliability and excellent value for money.

Tudor Oyster-Prince Submariner ref. 7924 (1958), Tudor Oyster ref. 4463 in 14k rose gold (1959) and Tudor Montecarlo chronograph ref. 7159/01 (1972).
Tudor Oyster-Prince Submariner ref. 7924 (1958), Tudor Oyster ref. 4463 in 14k rose gold (1959) and Tudor Montecarlo chronograph ref. 7159/01 (1972).

For most of its history, Tudors have been Rolex watches with fewer embellishments. Wilsdorf didn’t start the new company to make some other kind of watch. He founded it in order to sell his watches to a wider range of customers.

Tudor’s Humble Beginnings

1952 Tudor print ad.
1952 Tudor print ad. Source: tudorwatch.com

The first lines of the Tudor story were written in February 1926. Then the heiress of the watchmaker Philipp Hüter registered the Tudor trademark in Geneva at the request of Wilsdorf. Ten years later, the brand was re-registered for Wilsdorf himself. In 1946, a separate enterprise was created – Montres Tudor S.A.

In any conversation about Tudor mentioning of Rolex is inevitable. The connection between the two companies derives from the purposeful strategy of their founder. The Rolex brand was registered in 1908, and in 1915 the company became known as the Rolex Watch Co Ltd. After moving the production base to Geneva in 1919, it was re-registered as Montres Rolex S.A. Since its founding, Rolex has focused on quality and precision in a new industry.

How Tudor Used Rolex Advertising

In 1914, Rolex received the “Kew A” certificate, confirming the degree of accuracy and reliability. Previously, this was the exclusive prerogative of marine chronometers. Wilsdorf also took care of building and protecting the appropriate brand reputation. This is evidenced by the famous and extremely successful testing of Rolex Oyster waterproof watches. They were used by swimmer Mercedes Gleitze during her swim across the English Channel in 1927.

The registration of the Tudor brand in the same year is no coincidence either. Most likely, this is an early example of the phenomenon now widely known in the fashion world as the diffusion brand. After reading in the newspapers about the brilliant achievement of Mercedes Gleitze, a person wants to buy a Swiss watch and goes to a Rolex retail store. They cannot afford the then substantial price of five pounds fifteen shillings to pay for a Silver Oyster. To such a customer, the seller can offer an alternative in the form of Tudor watches. Reliable and affordable and with the same Oyster movement.

Tudor, aka Rolex

1932 Tudor sold and signed by Catanach's in Melbourne, Australia.
1932 Tudor sold and signed by Catanach’s in Melbourne, Australia.

The line between the Tudor and Rolex watch brands was blurred in the first decades of their coexistence. The careful and balanced formation of brand identity in watchmaking is a phenomenon of later times. Wilsdorf recognized the importance of brand positioning, but in the early years, centralized control was much less common. The interaction between Tudor, Rolex and their retailers has been more dynamic.

One of the first markets for Tudor was Australia. One of the earliest surviving models of the brand comes from Australia. This is a 1932 watch sold by Melbourne jeweler Catanach’s. Corresponding to the tastes of the era, it is equipped with a chrome-plated rectangular base metal case. The dial has a double signature – the manufacturer and the seller. The Australian distributor of these watches was Willis & Sons, which had been in the jewelry and watch trade since 1858. In a remote market in 1932, the Tudor name carried much less weight than the name of a reputable local merchant or supplier. Even more confusing, local retailers frequently advertised Tudor products with an optional Rolex upgrade. This kind of interaction between brands stopped only relatively recently.

King and Prince of Swiss Watches

Tudor Oyster Prince ref. 7909 1952
Tudor Oyster Prince ref. 7909 1952

An important step in the formation of the brand’s identity was the introduction of the logo in the form of a rose and a shield in 1936. This key visual change coincided with a major business decision – Wilsdorf became the owner of the Tudor brand. The “crown” and “rose” logos have become markers not only of identity, but also of the hierarchy within the company. Both are royal symbols, but the Rolex “crown” is clearly superior and more important than the Tudor “rose”. This disengagement continued in 1946 when Montres Tudor S.A. was founded as a separate company. Since 1948, it began to place its own advertisements. However, the warranty documents stated that the watch was backed by the full power of Rolex when it came to warranties and service. And so they lived – not together, and not quite separately – in a state of symbiosis.

1965 Tudor Oysterdate with Rolex clasp and case back.
1965 Tudor Oysterdate with Rolex clasp and case back.

Oyster Prince

This bond was strengthened in 1952 when part of the Tudor Oyster Prince collection was introduced. This is a key line in the development of the brand, created on the basis of Rolex technologies. In particular, it inherited the vaunted Oyster case and the automatic movement itself. This watch was related to the “royal family”, but it was still only a “prince”. There was no place for the crown on the dial.

However, throughout the long history of the Oyster Prince, this family connection has not faded. The Rolex crown did occasionally appear on the crown, depending on the year and model. The case back was engraved with “Original Oyster Case by Rolex Geneva”, and even the clasp of the bracelet was branded Rolex. Place comparable Tudor and Rolex models in an Oyster case in front of you. If you do not pay attention to the logo on the dial, for most people the difference will be insignificant. From a distance of several meters, even an experienced collector will have to take a good look to tell them apart.

A Reliable Watch

"1000 miles of ruthless vibrations." 1953 Tudor flyer.
“1000 miles of ruthless vibrations.” 1953 Tudor flyer.

Over time, however, minor differences became more and more significant. By 1953, the brand had identified its target customer. It was the year of the first Mount Everest ascend, the launch of the Submariner, and the start of the civil jet era for Rolex’s advertising partner, Pan-Am Airlines. Rolex has become a brand associated with achievement. The company cemented this reputation a few years later with a bold advertising slogan: “Rolex is worn by the people who decide the fate of the world.”

"Succumbed to incredible shocks." 1954 Tudor advertisement.
“Succumbed to incredible shocks.” 1954 Tudor advertisement.

Tudor was destined for a rather ordinary lot. The advertising campaign of 1953 was based on the main sales argument – reliability. To support this argument, the Oyster Prince was subjected to a series of ordeals. They were worn by miners, masons and builders while working. They were on the wrist, wielding air drills for hours and during 1000-mile bike races. Advertising headlines claimed that the watch had been “tested ruthlessly” and “succumbed to incredible shocks.” The campaign heralded the durability of Tudor watches, but what is more remarkable here is the target audience of this advertisement. Rolex is the brand for those who rule the world. Tudor is a brand of people who build this world. Reliable watches for workers.

Tudor Reboot

Tudor Oyster Submariner 1980 and Tudor Black Bay Fifty Eight.
Tudor Oyster Submariner 1980 and Tudor Black Bay Fifty Eight.

The relationship between Tudor and Rolex defined the brand’s first 84 years of existence. In 2010, this relationship changed. After a long period of exploration, the Tudor has entered a new era defined by a well-defined image. Tudor has evolved as a brand that draws on a solid technical and aesthetic heritage of its own. This transformation was accompanied by a relaunch of the Heritage Chrono, a redesign of the Heritage Advisor. And then – the restart of Heritage Black Bay. The latter have become the dominant line of the brand.

Now Tudor has a new image, which, however, still adheres to the fundamental principle laid down by Hans Wilsdorf – more modest, but reliable. One more criterion can be added here: experimental. Today Tudor makes watches that have never been, and perhaps never will be, part of the Rolex canon.

For the last decade, Tudor has been releasing watches with ceramic and titanium cases, in bronze, something that Rolex has not yet done. In addition, Tudor is much more responsive to new trends in terms of design and is not afraid to start and stop the release of collections. Thus, a much more dynamic image was formed, which, as before, is based on the principles of quality and reliability.

Vintage Tudor

Tudor Heritage Black Bay.
Tudor Heritage Black Bay.

What happened was the greatest renaissance in the watchmaking world in the last decade. Tudor was well aware of the modern consumers’ reverence for watches from the last century and their affinity for everything vintage. The company used its old design markers to create the most powerful retro-modern look in today’s watch industry. The rebirth began with the Heritage Chronograph, a reimagining of the iconic Tudor Home Plate chronograph that caused a buzz at Baselworld 2010. The commercial success of this watch clearly demonstrated that Tudor had a sense of modern trends.

In 2012, the company released a real watch icon: the luxurious and retrospective Black Bay. Tudor Black Bay watches quickly gained general popularity and became a real bestseller. The vintage appeal of the Tudor Black Bay has allowed them to go beyond their price point. Black Bay is proudly worn on the wrist by both young buyers and mature tourbillon connoisseurs.

In the following years, each new watch added to the Tudor’s Heritage collection further cemented Tudor’s status as the most exciting Swiss sports watch brand in the world. Black Bay has become a cultural icon. The model gained a truly cult status in 2015. The unique performance of this watch went under the hammer at the Only Watch auction. The offered price of 375,000 Swiss francs exceeded the market value of the model by a hundred times.

Tradition and Know-How of Tudor Watches

Tudor Pelagos.
Tudor Pelagos.

Tudor continues to delight with a skillful blend of innovation and value in watches such as the Pelagos in a titanium case and bracelet, with a ceramic bezel with luminous diving markers and an in-house silicone spring and variable inertia balance movement, as well as ultra-cool vintage design elements, such as snowflake arrows and beveled lugs.

Tudor develops his own know-how and finds interesting solutions. An example of the latter is the collaboration of the brand with the French textile manufacturer Julien Faure. It has been manufacturing textile straps since 1864, and takes orders from the Vatican and from fashion designers of the caliber of Christian Louboutin. Since 2009, the factory has been producing high-quality Tudor watch straps on hundred-year-old machines and using no less ancient technologies.

Undoubtedly, the first step on the road to success was the brand’s awareness of the appeal of its own history. Watch designer Ander Ugarte admits: “The first thing we did was not design new watches. Instead, we explored our past in search of brand-defining elements. We looked at many of our vintage watches and analyzed why the bezel, the typography on the dial, the profile of the lugs, or the shape of the crystal of a particular model appealed to us. We asked ourselves: “Why do we like these dials and types of hands so much? Once we identified all of these elements, we took the best of them and carried them over to the new watch.”

For years, Tudor has struggled to define the brand’s true identity, which is hard enough to do while remaining in the shadow of Rolex. The beginning of the true revival of Tudor occurred at the moment when the company returned to its roots, remembering what kind of watches it produced when the brand was born.

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