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Tudor: No longer the poor man’s Rolex

With brand ambassadors including Jay Chou, Lady Gaga and David Beckham, the watchmaker is stepping out of its more famous sibling’s shadow 

“Today, we try to make our own watches with our own designs. We need to have our own personality.” ~ Philippe Peverelli

Tudor is a watch brand that seems to have risen out of the ashes. A once-forgotten second child in the shadow of its family name, it now occupies a new position in the competitive world of horology.

I’ve often heard Tudor referred to as the “poor man’s Rolex”, but that’s not the whole story. So here it is.

In 1905, Hans Wilsdorf founded what became arguably the world’s most famous watch company, Rolex SA. For the first few decades, Rolex was the undisputed pioneer of the wristwatch market, but others soon followed and the increasing competition eventually forced Wilsdorf to come up with a new plan. So, in 1946 the Rolex founder started a sister company: Tudor. His idea was to leverage the  Rolex design patents (like the famous Oyster case), which Tudor would sell for two-thirds of the price of a Rolex. 

“Today, we try to make our own watches with our own designs. We need to have our own personality.” ~ Philippe Peverelli

The Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner may have been a fine diver’s watch, but for most of Tudor’s history it lived in Rolex’s shadow, until it actually left the US market in 1996. Outside of the US, Tudor was still considered “the poor man’s Rolex”.

More than a decade later the brand returned with a bang, releasing the Tudor Heritage Chronograph and re-entered the US market. It was time for the brand to carve out its own destiny — and ever since then, that’s what it’s been doing.

When Tudor introduced the Black Bay and Pelagos dive watches, they became instant hits and overnight sensations. These new creations felt like true “vintage” Tudors but they weren’t carbon copies — a smart move by the company. Watch fans now had access to highly affordable, and exquisitely Swiss-made, robust and durable diving watches — with all the right pedigrees. It was the perfect ratio of desirability to price.

By 2015 the Tudor shield took another step away from the Rolex crown. The world was introduced to the Tudor North Flag and, more importantly, the caliber MT5621 movement. Up until that point, Tudor had used ETA movements — but this one was produced in-house. 

It was a bold design and marketing move, causing a stir at Baselworld and it convinced a lot of people, including me, that the brand could no longer be considered by its former epithet. Tudor became a unique brand in its own right, and it was going in its own direction. It represents something new, without losing the feel for its unique watchmaking heritage — and best of all for many watch lovers, it was in an approachable price bracket.

Tudor is steadily rolling out its in-house manufactured movements to the rest of the range, and it’s just what the fan base wanted. The new Black Bay Fifty-Eight is smaller in size and houses the MT5402 COSC-certified movement, boasting a 70-hour power reserve, a variable inertia balance and a non-magnetic silicon balance spring.

Match the watch

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The dynamo behind Tudor’s new rise to fame is Philippe Peverelli. He’s led the brand since 2010, and during a recent Baselworld fair he described the move away from Rolex in an interview with Bloomberg: “Today, we try to make our own watches with our own designs. We need to have our own personality. Before we were an underbrand. We are starting to have a real life. We’ve never been so young.”

The brand has hit a winning formula with its design ethos, the snowflake hands, big crown and its clean, clear-cut design. More importantly, it’s innovating. 

Tudor released a surprise at Baselworld this year — the Tudor Black Bay GMT with a Pepsi bezel. It’s interesting to note that Rolex released a Pepsi bezel at the same event, but with the popularity — and the hitherto — scarcity of these watches, nobody was complaining.

“Today, we try to make our own watches with our own designs. We need to have our own personality.”

~Philippe Peverelli

Part of the appeal lies in its family history, and vintage roots no doubt. But the original three Tudor Heritage Black Bays (in red, blue and black, plus the new bronze) have all been updated with the new Tudor in-house calibers, and for many these are the dive watches to own. 

They’re rugged tool watches, superbly crafted and combine the best in vintage heritage with a few modern updates and, best of all, they are priced right — what more could you want? 

The writer is cofounder and managing partner of Momentum

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