TUDOR Watch Brand Review & History: Timeless Style Gets A New Twist
TUDOR Watch Brand Review & History: Timeless Style Gets A New TwistPaul Anthony2020-10-16T02:51:19-04:00
TUDOR Watches, the sole sister brand of Rolex, offers legendary Rolex aesthetics and style at a more affordable price point. They are known for their high-quality wristwatches made with third-party movements, though now they also offer TUDOR movements made in-house.
TUDOR partners with other Swiss companies, such as ETA, Valjoux, and Breitling, who make the majority of their movements.
Initially, TUDOR was somewhat regarded as an affordable alternative that solely used third-party movements.
However, TUDOR today has largely surpassed this reputation and has garnered critical acclaim for its timepieces.
In this detailed overview, we will cover TUDOR’s beginnings, their historical claims to fame, and their recent comeback.
Our overview will be broken down between the following talking points:
Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex and TUDOR, understood that many watch buyers wanted Rolex watches, but couldn’t afford them.
Therefore, he decided to sell watches with modified off-the-shelf movements and high-quality cases made and designed in-house.
The first TUDOR watches, mostly rectangular in shape, were occasionally made with “Rolex” on the dials. Because it was a new brand, Hans Wilsdorf wanted to build its reputation by association with his more established lines. These first watches displayed a logo consisting of the name TUDOR with an extended top bar on the “T.”
TUDOR: High Quality, Lower Cost
1932 TUDOR Catanachs with original TUDOR logo
Once he was confident that the brand was building its reputation, Hans Wilsdorf featured the TUDOR name and logo prominently.
The Oyster: The Pearl Of The British Military
Hans Wilsdorf created a separate company for TUDOR after the end of World War II. At this point, the logo was the Tudor rose, emblem of the eponymous English dynasty, inside a shield.
TUDOR “Oyster” with rose shield logo
It was not long after this that the company released one of its more well-known watch lines, the Oyster Prince. This used the Oyster case, a sturdy, waterproof case originally designed by Hans Wilsdorf for Rolex.
26 self-winding Oyster Prince watches went with the British Royal Navy on their 1952-1954 scientific expedition to Greenland. This was because the Oyster Prince was designed to be durable, reliable and accurate even in tough conditions. The expedition put these TUDORs to the test not only because the military air-dropped them alongside other supplies without parachutes.
An impressed Royal Engineers member on the Greenland excursion for 13 months wrote to the company about his experiences. This Royal Engineer, Captain JD Walker, performed various intense physical duties while wearing his watch. He dug, built and swam through snow and frigid waters with his Oyster Prince. Frequently, the watch and wearer endured temperatures of -50 degrees Fahrenheit (-45°C) during these activities.
Captain Walker and others on the expedition checked the watches for accuracy against time signals from England. They found that the watches were still accurate, and did not need winding for the duration of the expedition. The British military gave glowing recommendations so TUDOR seized the opportunity to promote the Oyster Prince’s toughness.
In the next advertising campaign, they put the watch through various publicized endurance tests. A stonecutter operating a pneumatic drill wore the watch for three months. In another test, a coal miner swung his pick for a combined 252 hours wearing the Oyster Prince.
The Submariner Takes TUDOR Under The Sea
Next, mirroring the Rolex Submariner, TUDOR started the Oyster Prince Submariner line.
These diver’s watches sought to offer comparable high visibility and depth resistance at a lower price than the Rolex.
Because of this, large, bright indices mark the hours, and several styles of high-visibility hands appear throughout the years. The indices are also luminous, maximizing underwater clarity.
A slightly-convex, pressure-resistant Plexiglas crystal makes these markers easy to see underwater.
The initial model, the 1954 Oyster Prince Submariner 7922, used a modified Fleurier 350 movement known as the TUDOR 390.
Subsequent models further improved the case design, because of divers’ frequent need for improved durability.
Crown guard on the 1964 Oyster Prince Submariner.
For example, the motions of divers swimming through rock formations and debris often damaged or detached the watches’ crowns.
Therefore, in the Submariner 7928, a pair of metal guards on the case protect the crown from both sides.
This creates a sleeker profile which is much less likely to catch on rock protrusions encountered underwater.
Because of their popularity after the Oyster Prince’s acclaim in the British military’s Greenland expedition, TUDOR sought more military partnerships.
Therefore, in the Vietnam War era they made their Submariner watches available to the US Navy for a deep discount. A Vietnam veteran Navy SEAL, author Larry Simmons, recalls buying one of the watches for around $50 at the time.
This SEAL wore the watch through the whole war, and only stopped using it in 1978. This was because it needed a repair but he couldn’t afford to have it fixed. Recently, TUDOR discovered this and found his watch in a safe. They promptly fixed it and sent it back to him.
Many of these military users of Submariner watches opted not to use their stock steel bracelets. Instead, they installed improvised fabric bands, most often using elastic parachute straps. Nowadays, many collectors prize these fabric-banded TUDORs.
TUDOR military watches with improvised fabric bands
TUDOR continued to make timepieces for military branches, especially the US Navy and the French Marine Nationale. They continued to supply the French naval forces with marine watches up into the 1980s.
Oyster Prince Submariner 7016
TUDOR In The 1970s And Beyond
In 1969, TUDOR simplified its logo, removing the rose and leaving the shield. The shield suited the company’s emphasis on military-grade durability and reliability.
They first used this on the Oyster Prince Submariner 7016, with its iconic feature, the large, square “snowflake” hour hand.
TUDOR added this feature because of French Navy divers’ requests to make the hands more easily seen underwater. This watch also featured a flat, rather than domed, acrylic crystal, which was also thicker than those on earlier models.
TUDOR also created “left-handed” versions of the Submariner watches they produced for the Marine Nationale, which are worn on the right hand.
This version, requested by a left-handed officer, reversed the case so the crown was to the left of the dial.
The TUDOR Oysterdate, Built For Speed And Sport
In 1970, TUDOR started producing chronographs, beginning with the Oysterdate, which mirrors the Rolex Oysterdate. These first TUDOR models were specially designed for quick reading by boasting a high-contrast face and a wide 39mm-diameter dial. Also, white and bright orange numbers and hands gave these watches a distinctively bold look.
TUDOR Oysterdate 7031 chronograph
This era of TUDOR chronograph was known for its wide, pentagonal indices also known as “home plate” markers. This made them especially convenient for sports and other high-intensity activity where accurate on-the-go timing is key. Hence, a tachymeter around the bezel makes it easy to work out speed and distance.
These TUDOR Oysterdate watches were made with acrylic bezels and crystals, and a Submariner-style metal crown protector. Both TUDOR and Rolex commonly used Plexiglas crystals at the time. While less resistant to scratches than their current sapphire crystals, it’s easier to repair and refinish the acrylic crystals.
First running from the mid-1970s to the 1990s, the TUDOR Prince Oysterdate series brought new features to the line. The dials, while still high-contrast, changed to a classic black-and-white.
Its Valjoux caliber 7750 movement was self-winding, because of which the watch was thicker than its slim-profiled predecessors. This property earned it the name “Big Block” from its users.
The mid-1990s saw more changes to the collection, replacing Plexiglas bezels with steel and aluminium, and Plexiglas crystals with sapphire.
By this time, TUDOR was phasing out the Rolex logos engraved on parts shared with Rolex watches. This was because they wanted to emphasize that they are a separate brand and company.
A Brave New Era For TUDOR
In the new milennium, TUDOR would work to bring truly unique style and engineering to the market.
TUDOR’s Rebirth and Reimagining
In the early 2000s, TUDOR withdrew from the UK and USA markets owing to waning popularity in those regions. During this hiatus, the company planned its big comeback.
They sought to establish their place as a watch brand without the need for association with popular Rolex collections. Therefore, they looked to what defined the classic TUDOR models and what made their most-liked watches into classics.
Because the fabric strap was a popular addition among military wearers, this type of strap had become associated with TUDOR. So, the company started including them with many of their watches, incorporating the fabric strap into the brand identity.
TUDOR fabric watch straps
Unlike their forebears, these new watchbands were not improvised from parachute straps. Rather, TUDOR sought an expert in decorative fabrics. They partnered with Julien Faure, a third-generation passementier whose workshop, techniques, and oldest looms date to the 19th century.
TUDOR North Flag: A New Direction, Inside And Out
Perhaps the most significant change in this new era of TUDOR was the unveiling of in-house movements. For most of its history, the brand was known by its fans and detractors alike for its off-the-shelf movements.
The big debate about the watchmaker before this point was whether the third-party movement was worth the lower price. Therefore, this was the biggest step the company could take to redefine itself.
This new “Manufacture” line of movements was first released with the North Flag watch. This 28-jewel, bidirectional self-winding movement marked the triumphant return of TUDOR to the British and American markets.
The North Flag prominently displays the “Manufacture,” which is visible through a sapphire crystal on the caseback. This video shows the inside of the MT5621 movement:
“TUDOR” embossed on the back of the movement visibly dispels all doubt that this watch is in-house through and through.
Sapphire caseback window
The MT5621 caliber movement used in this model is certified as a chronometer by the COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres).
With a 70-hour power reserve, this watch will keep running over a whole weekend off of its owner’s wrist.
The North Flag, while retaining classic TUDOR style, employs very durable materials, such as super-hard ceramics and scratch-resistant sapphire.
Its name refers to the 1952 British expedition to Greenland which brought the company fame and acclaim.
This is not an idle association, because the North Flag is built ready for an Arctic excursion.
A black dial and matte steel case minimize glare, essential for exploring snowy northern latitudes.
The Pelagos: A Revival Of TUDOR Dive Watch Classics
With the Pelagos, TUDOR goes back to the dive watches that impressed the US Navy and the French Marine Nationale. The Pelagos sports the famous “snowflake” hour hand that originated with 1969’s Oyster Prince Submariner 7016.
Another element borrowed from older Submariners is the square crown guards of the 1959 Oyster Prince Submariner 7928.
As with the North Flag, an extremely resilient titanium-and-ceramic bezel replaces the Plexiglas one seen on older watches.
Also, this watch is able to withstand depths of 500 meters, five times that of its predecessors.
Because of its deeper pressure tolerance, the Pelagos includes a helium escape valve at nine o’ clock.
TUDOR Pelagos watch, helium escape valve visible
Overall, the Pelagos takes classic TUDOR dive watch aesthetics to new heights with top-quality materials and an in-house MT5612 movement.
This watch also pays respects to the 1980s French Marine Nationale models of the Submariner with its readily-available left-handed version.
A Culmination Of TUDOR History In The Black Bay
Heritage Black Bay with red bezel
After the North Flag and the Pelagos, TUDOR released the Heritage Black Bay. This model pays homage to many landmark watches over the history of the brand.
This is possible because the watch is highly customizable, with many available options for cases, bezels, bands, and dials.
The watch comes with the iconic Submariner-style snowflake hands, and can have, for example, the 1947 Oyster-style brown leather strap.
Though it’s a dive watch usable to 200-meter depths, it can also be a chronograph. In this variant, the Black Bay has chronograph second and minute hands and a tachymeter bezel to calculate speed. If not ordered with a tachymeter, the bezel displays second markers.
TUDOR Heritage Black Bay possible variants
As is becoming TUDOR’s standard, all parts use ultra-tough, scratch-resistant materials. State-of-the-art vacuum deposition coats steel components in black for dark models. Finally, an engraved rose on the Black Bay’s crown refers to the Tudor rose logo.
TUDOR Heritage Black Bay, classic rose logo visible on crown