The “sister” brand of Rolex, Tudor, returns to the UK, after a 10-year absence. Originally positioned as a more affordable Rolex, it can now be more accurately described as the firm’s cutting edge, with more adventurous designs and use of materials.
It is almost 70 years since Tudor was launched in 1945, the brainchild of Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex, when he decided to market a wristwatch that would compete with Rolex for “dependability and accuracy, yet sell at a more modest price”. Hans was born in Germany but moved to London in 1905 and adopted an über-British identity, reflected in the names he chose for various Rolex models: Prince, Windsor, Imperial and Princess. So, when casting around for a suitable title for his new brand, the name Tudor came to mind.
For the first 40 years of Tudor’s existence, the watches mirrored their Rolex siblings. Rolex made watches with Oyster waterproof cases, so did Tudor; Rolex made self-winding watches with the date visible through a window on the dial, so did Tudor; Rolex launched diving watches, and so did Tudor. It was these diving watches that brought the Tudor range into the wider public’s eye.
In the Sixties, Israeli naval commandos were issued with the Tudor Submariner; the French adopted it for their naval Tudor rose flourishes anew divers and the US navy issued the watch to elite combat divers. Back in Europe, Tudor caught the radical feel of the Seventies with its first chronographs. They featured oversized cases and dials with vibrant orange and grey or blue and red combinations and looked as at home behind the wheel of a Riva speedboat or an E-Type Jaguar as they were in the casinos of Monte Carlo, which became the nickname for the range.
The chronographs didn’t follow an existing Rolex design and this was the path that Tudor chose to follow from the Eighties onwards; while the Oyster models remained, new models had no corresponding versions in the Rolex range. It was at this point that things started to go wrong for Tudor; the arrival of overpriced Japanese watches and inexpensive quartz ones, and the devaluation of the US dollar became the perfect storm that almost destroyed lower- to midprice Swiss watch businesses.
Thanks to the deep pockets of Rolex, Tudor survived the storm, but little of the parent firm’s energy was expended in promoting Tudor and it slowly slipped out of many markets. All this changed less than a decade ago when Rolex revived the brand in spectacular fashion. Tudor would no longer slavishly follow Rolex in style; rather it would establish a distinctive Tudor style. The first excursion was a range named Grantour, featuring dials in red and black with a strong motor-racing theme.
A year later Tudor launched another chronograph, based on its Seventies versions, but significantly updated. The Tudor Submariner diver’s watch was not to be left out. One of the first versions was reimagined for a modern audience; it was slightly bigger and the bezel edge was knurled, but the gloss dark chocolate dial with gilt print paid homage to the earlier watches; even the old Tudor rose logo reappeared on the dial.
With these reimaginings of previous models, Tudor has become the hothouse for Rolex where more adventurous concepts can be tried out; Rolex has used titanium for the caseback of only one of its models, yet Tudor makes an entire diving watch from it. The reintroduction of Tudor to the UK market is very, very interesting. The brand is now available in selected Rolex dealerships, but also in stores that have never previously sold Rolex. Tudor watches are likely to appeal to a new era of clients – possibly under-35 males who admire technology, speed and adventure.
They have a contemporary style appeal all their own and Wilsdorf’s “modest price” approach (they start at £1,400; Rolex’s entry price is £3,350) still stands, so, whoever the buyer, Tudor’s arrival here will have watch lovers smiling from ear to ear.