Tudor Watch History: A Complete Guide
Are you here to learn more about the Tudor watch history? You’re at the right place.
Known by some as the ”Poor man’s Rolex”, known by others as a watch brand that makes watches that offer great value for money. Both because of their high quality, their reliability, but also because they allow you to wear a watch that has a long, rich, and interesting heritage, but at a fraction of the price of watches from brands that carry the same history.
It is hardly a secret by now, but Tudor is owned by Rolex. This is the reason why Tudor long has had the label ”poor man’s Rolex”. A cheaper alternative for people who want a Rolex but simply cannot afford one. But we would argue (and most people who know what Tudor is), that this is not true.
But today, Tudor is loved by collectors and experts alike, and we can say without hesitating that Tudor definitely is strong enough to stand on its own legs.
As a matter of fact, Tudor was founded by Hans Wilsdorf, the same man who founded Rolex. For context, a quote from Wilsdorf about Tudor is:
“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 would attain the standard 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.”
In this article, we are digging deep into the Tudor watch history, talk about its rich and interesting heritage, as well as what has made Tudor what it is today.
Tudor history: the beginning
Tudor watch company was registered In February 1926 by the house of “Veuve de Philippe Hüther”, a watch dealer and maker for Hans Wilsdorf. Established in Geneva, he acquired exclusive usage rights from the dealer.
In 1932, Tudor released its first watches. The first watches were made exclusively for the Australian market.
The first Tudor watches bear a simple TUDOR signature on the dial, with the horizontal bar of the T lengthened above the other letters. This is the first Tudor logo, and since then, the logo has changed quite a bit, but more on that later.
On some rare Tudor pieces from this time, the name Rolex also appears. The reason for this is that Rolex has already established itself quite well on the market, and therefore, Tudor could leverage the Rolex name to gain trust and leverage.
The first TUDOR-signed watches included models for both men and women, and they were designed the way most watches were looked at at this time. This means small dress watches. In Tudor’s case, mainly rectangular, barrel-shaped, or with beveled sides. When Tudor delivered watches to the Australian market, they were delivered exclusively to the Willis company, which was entrusted with distributing them to the best jewelry shops in the country.
”The aim of the Tudor brand was to offer a more affordable watch that would preserve the Rolex reputation for quality”
Tudor history: 1936
In 1936, Tudor brought back the brand ”The Tudor”. When Tudor was originally registered, it was registered as ”The Tudor”, but changed to ”Tudor” when Wilsdorf took it over. But on 15 October 1936, the brand was transferred from the house of “Veuve de Philippe Hüther” transferred the brand “The Tudor” to Hans Wilsdorf. During the same time period, the iconic Tudor rose logo that is now loved and recognized by collectors and enthusiasts started appearing on the dials.
The rose logo was originally inscribed within a shield, which is also a symbol that is strongly associated with Tudor today. The rose inside the shield was meant to symbolize the invincible union of strength – the watch’s robustness – with grace – the beauty of its lines.
1946 Tudor history
In 1946, shortly after the Second World War, ”Montres Tudor S.A. Company” was established. Wilsdorf wanted to expand the brand and start to establish it so that it could stand on its own legs without leaning on Rolex. The first step in doing this was to give the brand a proper identity of its own. This took place on 6 March 1946. Just like today, the company specialized in models for both men and women.
Simultaneously, Tudor was not completely independent from Rolex as you would expect, as Rolex would guarantee the technical, aesthetic, and functional characteristics, along with the distribution and after-sales service.
1947 Tudor History
In 1947, the Tudor logo evolved. A year after the official launch of TUDOR, the shield gradually disappeared from the logo. Now, the logo would only consist of the iconic Tudor rose with the Tudor name beneath it. The logo was finely drawn or as an applique in relief to emphasize the brand’s elegance and style.
During this time, the watch market started expanding the range of watches to not only include elegant dress watches. For Tudor, the first step in doing this was the introduction of the Tudor Oyster.
This also came to become the first waterproof watch from Tudor, building on Rolex’s own Oyster watch at the time.
The Tudor Oyster originally had a 34 mm case, reflecting the size ideals of watches at the time. Remember that this is a time when the standard sizes of watches were significantly smaller than today.
1948 Tudor advertising
In 1948, Tudor launched its first Tudor-specific advertising. This was yet another step in the direction to make the brand more independent and not just a ”cheaper alternative than Rolex”
1947: The Tudor Oyster Prince is born
In 1947, the Tudor Oyster Prince was released.
In the year of 1952, Tudor also launched an advertising campaign that was particularly original as it focused on emphasizing qualities of strength, reliability, and precision, which was different from how watches were normally viewed at this time – elegant and delicate dress watches.
Today, most people associate Tudor with reliability and sportiness, and this is why this time is particularly interesting as it allows us to identify when Tudor ”officially” started going in the direction of sports watches which it is today most known and appreciated for.
Hans Wilsdorf said this about Tudor’s new focus and direction:
”I HAVE DECIDED THAT THE TUDOR PRINCE DESERVES TO SHARE WITH ROLEX TWO ADVANTAGES I WOULD ALLOW NO OTHER WATCH TO USE – THE FAMOUS AND UNIQUE WATERPROOF OYSTER CASE AND THE ORIGINAL SELF-WINDING PERPETUAL ’ROTOR’ MECHANISM. ALL TUDOR OYSTER PRINCES WILL HAVE THESE TWO EXCEPTIONAL FEATURES, PREVIOUSLY EXCLUSIVE TO ROLEX. THIS INDICATES, I THINK, THE MEASURE OF OUR FAITH IN THE NEW WATCH. I AM PROUD TO GIVE MY PERSONAL ENDORSEMENT.”
In 1952, 26 Tudor Oyster Prince watches were included in the British scientific expedition to Greenland organized by the Royal Navy and sponsored by The Queen and Winston Churchill. This was exactly what Tudor needed since the brand started going in the direction of portraying and promoting its watches as sporty and robust.
Thanks to the Oyster case as well as the self-winding rotor, Tudor was also now able to back up its promotions, as it was very early in this field.
Tudor History: 1953
To further promote Tudor’s new direction of sportiness and robustness, Rolex launched a campaign in 1953, Rolex launched a campaign based on robustness tests on the TUDOR Oyster Prince and its endurance in, particularly difficult conditions.
These were some of the things that were promoted in the campaigns:
- ”watch worn by a coal miner during 252 hours of excavation by hand
- watch subjected to the vibrations of a pneumatic drill for 30 hours
- watch was worn by a stonecutter for three months
- watch worn for a month while riveting metal girders in building construction
- watch worn by a motorbike racer over a distance of 1,000 miles.”
- The point was to showcase that the watches are reliable in even the harshest and most demanding conditions.”
Tudor dive watches: a new era begins in 1954
Tudor is probably most known for its dive watches. Both in modern times, but also for its vintage dive watches.
The French Navy (Marine Nationale) played a key role in the creation of a Tudor diving watch. In doing so, the French Navy became the brand’s “in the field” research and development partner, giving detailed feedback on what worked well and what could be improved.
Tudor launched its first diving watch in 1954, the Oyster Prince Submariner, which was waterproof to 100 meters. In 1958, this w.as increased to 200, which of course was a big deal. Still, to this day, this is a watch that is loved by collectors and which fetches great sums at auctions. This also goes to show just how important the Tudor dive watches are and were for its history.
Over the course of Tudor’s diving watch history, the brand has changed, refined, and adopted various features for its dive watches. But at the center of Tudor’s dive watches is the Submariner model. This can be recognized from the Rolex Submariner, which is still in production today under the same name.
Tudor and the French Navy
The French navy began using Tudor watches, as mentioned, but as of the late ‘60s, it was buying them in bulk without bracelets. This means that all were worn with military-issued straps or those adapted by the wearers themselves. This continued until the mid-1980s. And if you know modern history, you know that this has inspired the Tudor fabric straps that Tudor manufactures today.
During this era, Tudor launched some of the most iconic design elements and features to its watches that people have come to love, and which have become design ideals in many people’s eyes.
Two of the new design features that were introduced are
- The big crown
- The snowflake hands
Both of these have been introduced in the modern Tudor diving watches.
1957: Tudor launches the first alarm watch
1957 was an important year for Tudor as it was when the brand launched the first alarm watch with the name ”Tudor Advisor”. This is the only one in its history to offer an alarm function. Furthermore, from 1957 to 1977 three different versions of the TUDOR Advisor were produced.
Two of these featured an Oyster-type case, which was references 7926 and 1537. Lastly was a watch with a new dedicated case, reference 10050. Tudor came to revive this model in 2011 under reference 79620T, of course, redesigned and adapted for the modern market, yet still creating a clear and close connection to an important time in Tudor’s history.
Tudor history: movements
Originally, Tudor watches were equipped with off-the-shelf movements while using Rolex quality cases and bracelets, allowing it to provide the reliability and dependability of a Rolex but at a lower price. This is why when looking at old Tudor watches, all of them can be found as Rolex watches. Most of the time here, the only difference is the fact that they feature a Tudor logo on the dial and are powered by off-the-shelf movements.
Some watches also feature a few other minor changes.
Over the course of its history, the movements in Tudor watches have been manufactures
In recent years, Tudor has also started introducing in-house movements to some of its watches which has allowed Tudor to show that it is strong enough to stand on their own legs. It has also prevented movement geeks from saying ”Tudor only use off-the-shelf movements”. While many people don’t care about the movement, it is an important aspect of a watch, and maybe most importantly is that it sends signals that Tudor is a watch brand that means serious business and can be classified as a watchmaker, not just a watch assembler. In 2015, Tudor launched its first in-house movement for its Pelagos and North Flag watches.
The off-the-shelf movements used both earlier and today are manufactured by the Swiss companies ETA or Valjoux.
In 2017, Tudor did something that was very unexpected regarding its movements. Tudor entered a cooperative agreement with Breitling, which meant providing the MT5612 movement for Breitling’s Superocean Heritage watch, while in return Breitling produces the Tudor Calibre MT5813 movement for use in the new Tudor Heritage Chronograph, based on the Breitling B01. This is a really interesting collaboration in the watch industry since they are not very common, but also because Breathing is particularly known for its chronograph movements. Maybe this goes to show that you don’t have to manufacture every single movement in-house, and sometimes, you should leave it to people that are better than yourself.
Tudor and the US Navy
Tudor began producing an Oyster Prince Submariner specifically for the US Navy in 1957.
Tudor history: 1970
In 1970, Tudor released its first chronograph, which was the Oysterdate with a manually-wound Valjoux mechanical caliber 7734 and a cam mechanism chronograph function.
A year later, in 1971, Tudor released a watch that has come to be loved by collectors today, the “Montecarlo” because the dials on this model are reminiscent of a casino roulette wheel. T
Later, in 1976, Tudor released yet another chronograph, which was the Oysterdate “Big Block”. These were the first Tudor chronographs to introduce a self-winding movement.
Tudor Fabric straps
Let’s talk a little about the fabric straps of Tudor.
As mentioned, the French Navy ordered Tudor watches without bracelets so that they could use them on fabric straps.
These were a functional and hardwearing alternative to leather and metal watch strap varieties that were available at the time.
In 1973, the NATO strap with two pieces that adds another level of safety if one pin breaks debuted in the British Ministry of Defence in 1973. NATO straps were also used by many professional divers since leather straps don’t suit the water and they could be adapted to fit over a diving suit more easily than metal bracelets.
Wearing a watch on a NATO strap became trendy in the early 2000s as more and more people started wearing their watches with fabric straps.
In 2010, Tudor first embraced this trend, as the straps at the same time were a nod back to its roots. At the launch of the Heritage Chrono watch in 2010, Tudor introduced the watch on a metal bracelet but also included an additional fabric strap.
Since then, all Tudor’s heritage models included a complimentary fabric strap, but around the time of the introduction of the new Black Bay with an in-house movement, Tudor stopped including the complimentary fabric strap. Instead, they give you an option of buying the heritage models either on the steep bracelet, leather strap, or fabric strap. And, you are also left with the choice to buy the strap separately.
Tudor’s fabric straps are woven by a passementerie manufacturer near St.-Etienne, which was the center of French silk weaving since the 15th century. The same company also makes ribbons for Vatican medals and passementerie for haute couture houses like Chanel.
It has been discussed a bit about why Tudor decided not to make the straps complimentary anymore. One theory is of course that they wanted to save money, another theory is that the factory simply didn’t have the capacity to increase its production so much to meet the demand.
In 2009, a major relaunch took place of the Tudor brand. For many years, the Tudor brand had been quite weak, and something that most people did not pay attention to. At the same time, Tudor had its long and rich history, and a reputation of making high quality and reliable watches, and then with the Rolex brand to lean on, it sure had some things right from the get to lean on.
In 2009, Tudor introduced new product lines, starting with the Tudor Grantour Chronograph and Tudor Glamour collection of classic watches. In 2010, Tudor released the Heritage Chrono, inspired by the Tudor “Montecarlo” from the 1970s. This came to become the first heritage-inspired timepiece, and its success probably got Tudor thinking about releasing more of them. In 2011, the brand released the Tudor Heritage Advisor alarm watch, the Fastrider Chronograph, and the Clair de Rose collection for women.
2012 was the big year for Tudor, as it was when they released the Heritage Black Bay, a reinterpretation of the early Tudor Submariner models, as well as the Pelagos diver’s watch.
Both of these models were instant successes, in particular, the Heritage Black Bay, as it took all of the things about the vintage Tudor dive watches that collectors and enthusiasts alike loved and went crazy about, and put them into one watch.
The dive watch also made sense because of Tudor’s close heritage with dive watches, but also because it is an extremely popular type of watch. In 2013, the Heritage Black Bay won the “Revival” Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
The Tudor Pelagos is water-resistant to a depth of 500 meters which makes it a true serious dive watch. Moreover, the Pelagos won the “Sports Watch” prize in 2015.
Tudor launched the Ranger in 2014, drawing on a military-style watch of the same name that was first introduced in 1967. The Ranger is a field watch that embraces a number of different vintage design features.
The North Flag was introduced in 2015, which is named for an important moment in Tudor’s history, the British North Greenland Expedition in 1952. The North Flag was the first Tudor model to be fitted with an in-house movement. During 2016 and 2017, “Manufacture” movements were introduced across all of Tudor’s sports watches, including the Black Bay. Tudor also broadened the Black Bay line significantly.