Tudor on Record
In 2008, a group of men stood united by a single mission— to unlock the genetic code of one of watchmaking’s most fabled names, and the second brand created by Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex. The brand’s name was Tudor. Registered in 1946, it created watches with the unique formula of Rolex cases, distinguished by their waterproof screw-down casebacks and crowns, combined with outsourced movements, to offer Rolex’s famous performance at a more-accessible price.
Throughout the ensuing four decades, Tudor would become a brand whose sports watches were synonymous with reliability and robustness. So much so that many of Tudor’s dive watches were co-opted by militaries around the world, most conspicuously by France’s Marine Nationale. The watches also possessed a unique design identity that was graphically quirky and avant-gardist, as seen in the famous snowflake hands of the 1969 Tudor Submariner ref. 7016, and the home-plate-shaped counters of the 1970 Oysterdate chronograph ref. 7031/0. But by the dawning of the new millennium, Tudor had lost its way. Its raison d’être had become the mundane task of creating accessibly-priced facsimiles of Rolex watches for the Far Eastern market. And several attempts to reinvigorate the brand had stalled.
But what was about to happen was nothing less than the single greatest revival of a marque in the past decade. By correctly understanding the modern watch consumer’s veneration for the past and fixation with all things vintage, Tudor would reach into the design codes of its history to create the single most powerful vision for retro-modernism in the contemporary watch scene. Beginning first with the Heritage Chronograph, a reinterpretation of the iconic Tudor Home Plate chronograph, which created a media frenzy at the 2010 Baselworld fair. The watches’ commercial success clearly demonstrated that Tudor was onto something.
In 2012, Tudor launched what has become the only genuine new sports-watch icon of the new millennium: the retro-infused, devastatingly seductive Black Bay. A watch so dynamically appealing and offered at such an extraordinary value, at CHF2,950, that it became an instant runaway success. What was particularly amazing was that the Black Bay’s vintage appeal empowered it to transcend its price category. Soon, you found Black Bays being proudly brandished on the wrists of younger customers and the most mature customers normally preoccupied with Richard Mille tourbillons alike. The watch was just that cool.
In the subsequent years, each new watch that joined Tudor’s Heritage collection — whether a new Black Bay in bronze or PVD-coated steel as we saw this year, or an altogether new model, like the explorer-themed Ranger — has further reinforced Tudor’s status as the single most exciting Swiss sports-watch brand around, and the Black Bay as the object of near-cult-like devotion. But the Black Bay truly ascended to the realm of horological mythology, when a unique execution of this watch, replete with a vintage-styled inverted red triangle on the bezel and a red depth rating printed on its dial, fetched a near-hallucinatory sum of CHF375,000 at the 2015 Only Watch Auction.
At the same time, Tudor continued to impress with its unbelievable combination of innovation and value in watches, such as the stunning Pelagos, which features a titanium case and bracelet, a helium-release valve, a ceramic bezel with luminous dive markers, an in-house movement with silicon hairspring and variable-inertia balance, and ultra-cool vintage-styling details such as snowflake hands, square crown guards and beveled lugs, all at a confounding low price of a hair over CHF4,000.
REDISCOVERING THEIR HISTORY
But the first step along the road to success was one related to the brand first truly understanding the power of its own history. Says designer Ander Ugarte, “The first thing we did wasn’t to design a watch. Instead, we looked into our past to search for the elements that define the brand. We looked at many of our vintage watches and analyzed why it was that certain elements, like the side of the bezel, the typography on the dial, the profile of the lugs or the shape of the crystal, were so evocative to us. We asked: ‘Why do we like certain dials and types of hands so much?’ After we identified all these elements, then we took the best of these and transported them to a new watch.”
So here’s the thing about Tudor. In the past 20 to 30 years, there have been repeated attempts to relaunch Tudor in various different markets. The brand had done reasonably well in the Asian market — with a very specific, classic type of watch — but in general, it had struggled to find real traction. The problem was that Tudor struggled to find a real identity in particular in the shadow of its titanic older sibling Rolex. The inception of Tudor’s revival occurred the moment it returned to its roots, and learned what kind of watches it made in the ’40s when the brand began. Says Ander, “We wanted to understand the vision of our founder, Hans Wilsdorf. And we wanted to understand the relationship between Tudor and Rolex, and answer the question that everyone was asking, ‘Why did he create a second brand?’
THE ROOTS OF A BRAND
Why is it that Hans Wilsdorf created Tudor? If you look at the date when it was founded — in 1946 — this was immediately following World War II. Wilsdorf was a brilliant man, and he understood that people were in the process of rebuilding — not just their lives but also their civilization. So he probably asked himself, ‘How am I going to sell watches in this environment where people are only now regaining their faith, and the will to spend money?’ By this time, he already had the name Tudor registered for 20 years. In March of 1946, he took action to create the Tudor watch brand. He was using Rolex parts, cases and crowns but with different dials and different movements to offer the watches at a lower price. His brilliance was to take advantage of the industrial economy of scale to produce parts in tandem with Rolex where it made sense, and he outsourced movements where it made sense to create a brand, that from its very birth stood for something unique. Tudor was created from the outset to be an incredible value proposition.
It was important for Tudor to reassert the excellence of the value it represented. Says Ander, “As the relaunch of Tudor was discussed in 2008/2009, the first thing that was decided was that any watch launched would have to be a great value proposition, just as Hans Wilsdorf had intended. The second thing that was decided was that the focus had to be on the sports-watch heritage of the brand. Tudor had created some of the most emblematic and collectible sports chronographs and diving watches, but the brand’s aesthetic heritage was absent of the collection at the time. Tudor couldn’t continue closing its eyes to this reality.”
WATCHES THAT TELL STORIES
Hold any Tudor Heritage Collection watch in your hand and it will tell you its story. Beginning with the brand’s marvelous Heritage Chronograph — why was this the first watch created as an expression of Tudor’s new vision? First of all, it is based on the fantastic and totally unique two-counter home-plate chronographs from the brand’s past. Second, it is totally different from any Rolex. At least, initially, Tudor felt that creating a Big Crown diving watch would be a bit too close to Rolex’s history, and the brand’s desire was to make clear that it was relaunching the brand strictly based on Tudor’s own incredible heritage. So the Heritage chronograph, the refresh of the Oysterdate chronograph, was really the Alpha, the first step in Tudor’s revival. The original chronograph was introduced in the 1970s and was relaunched in 2010, which meant that it represented 40 years of history in one watch. But the Heritage Chrono was more than a simple reinterpretation of the past. For example, it was offered on a fabric strap for two reasons, which had never been done in the past with Tudor’s chronographs. The first was to add something different to express that, along with the larger case dimensions, the spirit of the past had been taken and evolved for the present. The second was that these types of straps had become very fashionable, but Tudor wanted to offer one at a more superior quality than what you could find in the aftermarket. So Tudor found this family company that was weaving jacquard with an incredible savoir fairevery much in the Tudor way. The watch was also accompanied by a little booklet that communicated the brand’s extraordinary history. And with that, the Heritage collection was born.
DESIGNING AN ICON
Once Tudor identified what it wanted to achieve, the process of designing its first dive-watch model, the Black Bay, was quite straightforward. It was a question of loving its own vintage models and understanding what is beautiful about them, and then translating this into a new model. Says Ander Ugarte, “We decided on a Big Crown with no crown guards because this would be a unique identification point of our watch. You could see it from across the room and say, ‘That’s a Tudor Black Bay.’ Today, almost all dive watches have crown guards so this really set us apart. It comes from our history— especially the legendary model ref. 7924. We wanted a domed sapphire, which is reminiscent of the domed acrylic crystals of the past, especially in the way there was a special distortion of light when you looked through them. Even though the case and dial were reminiscent of the ’50s, we felt that we must use the snowflake hands from 1969 because they are the greatest graphic reminder of Tudor.”
In 2010, Tudor launched the Heritage chronograph, and in 2011, it introduced the Advisor. In both instances, the brand was referencing one specific watch from its past. When it created the Black Bay in 2012, it did not want to reference just one specific watch from its past, but a specific part of its history. Says Ander Ugarte, “You open the book of Tudor’s diving watches; you look at what was created from the mid-’50s to the late-’80s, and you say, ‘We cannot revisit only one watch. Rather, we had to use the totality of the history to create this new watch.’ So we picked up all these aesthetic and graphic codes from the totality of our history. We took the gilt dial and Big Crown from the ref. 7924, but we also liked the snowflake hands from 1969 and the burgundy bezel from the ’80s. So suddenly you’ve got 30 years of our history talking to you.”
A PROVOCATIVE PRICE
Amazingly, when the Black Bay was introduced, it came with an almost provocatively low price of CHF2,950. The idea for Tudor was to create every watch in accordance with the codes of Tudor when the brand was founded by Hans Wilsdorf, and that meant they had to represent great value. It was a conscious decision on the part of the brand to offer a real quality watch at a highly attractive price. The point Tudor was making was that the majority of Swiss watches could be priced similarly to them, but the industry in general decides to price its watches much, much higher. A provocative message indeed.
Want further proof of Tudor’s incredible value? Let’s look, for example, at the Pelagos. That watch is absolutely insane for what it offers, relative to what it costs. It’s got a titanium case with a helium-release valve. It’s got a ceramic bezel with luminous dive markers — which is incidentally the only bezel of its kind in the entire Swiss watchmaking industry. It’s got a special bracelet that contracts and expands with water pressure once you activate the dive link. It’s got an in-house movement with a silicon hairspring and a fricking variable-inertia balance wheel. Then it’s got a price tag that is so accessible at CHF4,200 that buying one shouldn’t even be a decision, it should be a moral imperative…
Watch the Amazing Tudor Pelagos Bracelet in Action
BROADENING THE OFFER AND TARGETING THEIR AUDIENCE
Soon Tudor would launch another wonderfully appealing vintage-themed sports watch named the Ranger. Says Ander Ugarte, “The Ranger was inspired by the Ranger 1. So again, it was inspired by a single lovable watch. This is not a very rare watch or a very expensive one, but just a great watch in terms of its simplicity and purity, with this incredible 3-6-9-12 dial. The new watch is bigger; it’s modern but at the same time it has totally kept the identity.” But the real aesthetic coup with the Ranger was that it was the first modern luxury watch to come with a highly-in-vogue military-style Bund strap. The message was clear: Tudor was making its watches out to be as relevant as possible to a young audience.
As subsequent versions of the Black Bay were released, a truly interesting phenomenon emerged. Owners of the Black Bay were coming back to buy more examples of the same watch. Says Tracey Llewellyn, Revolution’s deputy editorial director, “The Black Bay is extraordinary in that each version creates a totally different mood. I know many people who own multiple versions of the Black Bay. For example, I own both the Blue and the Black. And our founder, Wei Koh just bought both the Bronze and the Dark at one go. It’s interesting, each time Tudor experiments with different dials or different color themes on the Black Bay, we have the feeling that in some ways the watch becomes totally different. The original one might have a hotter vibration to it, while the Blue might have a cooler feel to it. Graphically, it’s the same watch but by changing only a few elements, you’ve got a totally different result. So the first watch might suit a certain mood or a certain context, like during daytime or at the beach, and the second might be better for another mood, like going out in the evening. What is great about Tudor is because of the accessibility of the prices, you could buy both watches for the same cost as many other diving watches.”
Says Sumit Nag, Revolution’s online manager Asia, “Tudor invented a new category of watches, the vintage diver. Today, it seems that every brand has a ‘vintage-inspired’ diving watch in their core collection. But Tudor was the first.”
MAKING AUCTION HISTORY
A truly seminal moment for Tudor happened during the Only Watch Auction last year, when the unique Black Bay they created shattered all expectations and was auctioned for a simply staggering sum of CHF375,000. Says Ander, “Tudor wanted to participate in Only Watch because it’s a really good cause. Anything between retail price and CHF10,000 would have been great to support the work of the organizers. (The actual retail cost of this watch should be CHF3,100)” But once the brand released images of the watch to the press to get some feedback, a famous Tudor collector immediately quipped, ‘This is easily going to be a 100K [bid], not less.’ Soon a whirlwind of stories started flying around; one that was soon confirmed was that Eric Ku, the Rolex world’s pre-eminent dealer, was interested. Another was that Ben Clymer and Kevin Rose of Hodinkee went to see the watch. Rose said, “I’ve put a 100K absentee bid on it”, and Clymer laughed and said, “You’re not going to get it.”
It seems people outside the brand were much more confident than the brand itself. Once the auction started, there was some decent bidding activity in smaller increments; then suddenly someone just stood up and said, ‘OK, 100K.’ All this took place in the matter of a minute . There were many watches at the auction that had so much more first-degree value, like hand-finishing or diamonds or gold, that sold for less. And people started looking at each other as if to say, ‘What’s going on here?’ Says Eric Ku, “I was bidding on the watch because it was the very first time Rolex had created a watch and said this is one of a kind. I had always thought they had been a bit standoffish about Only Watch, which is a truly great cause, and so it was nice to see them easing their way in with this Tudor watch.”
Then Aurel Bacs hit the hammer and the watch was sold for CHF375,000. He then asked the Tudor representatives to stand up. According to an individual who was there that day: “It was surreal. People were clapping. It was very emotional. A 3k watch had just been sold for 100 times its estimated price. It was an incredible recognition from the public that what Tudor was doing was on the right track.”
THE BRONZE AGE
By the time you read this and look at the pictures of the incredible Black Bay Bronze, you’ll have to wait several months if you want to buy one. Such is the watch’s runaway success. It has enchanted everyone from Hodinkee editor Jack Forster, to Watchonista founder Alex Friedman, not to mention legions of less-watch-centric buyers, as well as yours truly. Says Ander Ugarte, “The Bronze watch came about because Tudor wanted to create a timepiece that used a material related to the world of the oceans. It was very appealing because of its unique color and because of the way it showed patina as it got older. So Tudor took it upon itself to do a bronze watch, and started to do research into different alloys of bronze. The idea was for the bronze to patina, but uniformly and not so dramatically. So many different alloys of bronze were tested. The final material is really remarkable because it has all the aesthetic characteristics of bronze; it has the capability to age like bronze but none of the negative aspects.” Another nice detail is that while other bronze watches have casebacks or buckles in contrasting materials like titanium, the Tudor watch has both a bronze-colored caseback and buckle (steel with a bronze-toned PVD treatment) for aesthetic uniformity.
But why does the case not patina as aggressively? It has aluminum added to it to make it much more stable and user friendly. The specific recipe, like in that of Coca-Cola, is a secret. And if you look at a Heritage Black Bay Bronzethat’s been in the wild for a few months, you’ll see that the case ages in a homogenous way, rather than in patches. Also, you won’t see the green oxide on the case that you see in others. And when it reaches a certain patina, the aging will slow down. Says Ander Ugarte, “Why create a watch that would show signs of age? When we thought about the Marine Nationale and other Tudors that people collect most avidly, they are watches that show signs of age and patina. They have faded bezels; they have faded dials or creamy tritium. So it was an interesting exercise to create a watch that would similarly show signs of age. It also makes each watch unique in that patina is purely a result of the interaction between the watch, the wearer and the environment. There’s something romantic about this. The material will age in three or four months in a way it would take a steel watch 30 or 40 years to age. So it was, as they say in French, a clin d’oeil to all the patina watches that are so popular today.” The cherry on the cake related to the Black Bay Bronze is that it is priced ridiculously at CHF3,800.
The Bronze is the first Black Bay where the case size has been increased from 41mm to 43mm. When asked about this, Ugarte explained, “The idea was that the presence on the wrist had to be stronger, more heroic, and at the same time, it had to feel like a more-raw, tool-type watch. Every aspect of the Black Bay Bronze was designed to enhance the identity of the watch, to give it a unique character — from the brown bezel to the tropical-colored dial with gilt markers, to the 3-6-9 Ranger-style markers.
For many years, you’ve had opportunistic companies making black versions of Tudors and Rolexes, and charging a hefty premium for them. Consumers were waiting for Rolex or Tudor to make their own version of a black watch. This year, Tudor finally gave the people what they wanted with the Black Bay Dark.
Tudor decided that it didn’t want the consumer to have to pay three to four times the price for a black version of its watch, when it could achieve this for essentially the same price as the standard version. Says Sumit Nag, “Even more, Tudor wanted to do a black watch at the highest quality. You know that once someone else turns the case of one of their watches black, it loses its warranty. Tudor has outdone itself by giving consumers a black watch with the reassurance of its warranty.”
A lot of times when a company switches from an ETA movement to an in-house movement, there is a corresponding large jump in price for the watches. We’ve seen this, for example, with Breitling, where once they started to use their in-house chronograph movement, the prices of their watches jumped significantly and impacted sales. But starting in 2014 with their North Flag model, and increasingly across all models, Tudor introduced a brilliant COSC-certified movement with a silicon hairspring and a variable-inertia balance and only charged consumers a few hundred Swiss Francs more.
Tudor knew that it would lose its customers if it charged a premium just because it went from an outsourced movement to an in-house one. If a Pelagos costs CHF3,950 and then suddenly its price was raised to CHF5,000 or 6,000, Tudor would lose the customer. That’s why they charged only CHF250 more for their COSC-certified in-house movement the idea being that Tudor prides itself in always representing the best value in the Swiss industry.”
Amazingly, for the larger-diameter Bronze watch, Tudor introduced a corresponding larger movement, the cal. MT5601. But in-house doesn’t necessarily mean better. Are their movements reliable and robust? Can they take a licking and keep on ticking? We must never forget Tudor’s parent company is Rolex, and if Tudor were to come out with an inferior movement, it would not only damage Tudor’s reputation but the reputation of Rolex as well, and that can never happen. So if you can imagine that Rolex permitted Tudor to come out with its own movement, you can believe it is a good one. This movement was designed, tested and optimized to be incredibly reliable and robust. The COSC certification is just one of the signs of Tudor’s commitment to quality.
Tudor is also adamant that their movements are not adaptations of existing Rolex calibers. The project started from a blank page and was entirely developed by the Tudor team. There is a dedicated R&D team that works without completely under the Tudor name and that was put together for this project. Because Tudor is not a public company, they are able to think for the long term, to think 10 years or 15 years in advance, and always safeguard its equity by never doing anything that would compromise it.
As final evidence of Tudor’s unwavering commitment to quality, all its parts are made in Switzerland — and when I say ‘all’, I mean including bracelets — because there are a lot of brands getting their bracelets from the Far East nowadays. Every part of Tudor’s watches is made in Switzerland. You must remember that Tudor is owned by the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation and the wish of the foundation is that everything Rolex or Tudor does must stay in Switzerland. There is no other response than this. In this regard, Tudor could be no different from Rolex.