Formed in 1946 by Rolex founder Hans Wisldorf, Tudor was intended to be a brand providing more affordable watches that remained faithful to the high standards for which Rolex was renowned.
“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 standards 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.”
This was March 6, 1946 and Hans Wilsdorf, the author of these words is a leading figure in the world of Swiss watchmaking and distinguished for having created Rolex in the first decade of the 20th century. In this statement, he officially unveils not only Tudor, but also the positioning and communications strategy he has in mind for the brand.
His intuition was simple and well placed since at that time the wristwatch market was expanding along with its development. The public was also ready to recognize and appreciate a reasonably priced watch that not only had all the technical, aesthetic and functional characteristics but also had guaranteed distribution by a brand like Rolex, already known worldwide for the quality of its production.
The declaration of Hans Wilsdorf was not rhetoric merely to impress but was a commitment. A commitment to a program that between 1947 and 1952 developed and launched the first Tudor model: the Tudor Oyster. After this came the Tudor Oyster Prince line, which aimed to embody an alliance between accuracy and reliability, style and functionality and high production quality. The Oyster Prince line would become the basis of the Tudor watch collection for a long time.
Before long advertisements devoted entirely to Tudor first appeared, in these Hans Wilsdorf expressed his pride and satisfaction for being personally involved in the birth of this new brand. The Tudors, who ruled England from 1485 until 1603 inspired Hans Wilsdorf for the name of his new company, and originally the Tudor brand was symbolized by a decorative rose which was the emblem of the dynasty. Early production models featured a signed rose on the dial, in the late 60’s the rose emblem was replaced by the shield which is still currently in use.
From the start Tudor employed Rolex technical developments like the waterproof Oyster case and automatic movements, but did not reduce these strengths to a purely functional aspect, but made them stylistic elements of the watch’s design. Although at first accompanied in its infancy by Rolex, the brand with the rose quickly made its own way independently of the brand with the five-prong crown (although in the minds of consumers, the two brands are intimately linked.)
There are actually traces of the Tudor brand and its creations as far back as 1926, the year in which it was registered by the Swiss watchmaker “Veuve de Philippe Hüther” on behalf of Hans Wilsdorf. Wilsdorf though personally took over in 1936 and founded Tudor in 1946. But it isn’t until Tudor’s products and advertising campaigns of the 1950s that the brand finally acquired its strength and personality.
In 1952 the Tudor Oyster Prince was launched , accompanied by an advertising campaign that was striking and original for the time. Not limited, as they were back then to the customary images and descriptions of the product, it also highlighted the qualities of strength, reliability and accuracy, not only by very detailed text but also through illustrations.
The illustrations showed a man wearing a Tudor wristwatch at work in extreme circumstances – the hard labors of constructing roads or working in a mine as well as engaged in sports such as motorcycling, playing golf or riding horses. By using workmen the campaign was intended to not only portray Tudor watches as more attainable but more affordable and accessible too. Furthermore, the participation of thirty Tudor Oyster Prince watches in the British scientific expedition to Greenland organized in 1952 by the Royal Navy is in this respect a significant episode.
The very first Tudor submariner (7922 reference) was launched In 1954, also called the “big crown” because of its large 8mm diameter crown, similar to its big brother the Rolex 6538. This first Tudor Submariner was mostly Rolex made (oyster case and bracelet) except that it had the Tudor 390 cal movement made by by Fleurier. Fitted with a bi-directional bezel they were initially 100m divers, but 200m versions were produced in the late 1950’s.
In the 1960s, after the momentum of its technical successes and the stronger image as a result of its involvement with the Arctic expedition Tudor joined a project to develop a professional diving watch that might be officially adopted by the armed forces. The result was the Tudor Prince Submariner (ref. 7928) which was produced for the U.S. Navy between 1964 and 1966. This was the first model to feature crown guards and had the same Tropic 19 plexi crystal as the Rolex Submariner (ref. 5512-5513). The Tudor Prince Submariner was followed in the early 1970s (until 1984) by the (very popular) “Marine Nationale” model, which was officially adopted by the French Navy.
Then begins the era that Tudor starts producing watches with a more technical design, inspired by professions considered to be dangerous. These have, for these reasons, specific functionality, for example a divers watch fitted with a date or chronograph function. The advertising campaigns for the Tudor Prince Submariner and Tudor Prince Date-Day models used people who were not well known celebrities in order to get the general public to identify more readily with the watches. The campaign involved rescue divers, mining engineers and rally drivers. They were shown with their full names, along with their equipment in order to given the impression of professional mastery.
Mention should be made of the highly sought after Tudor submariner ‘snowflake’ (ref. 9401/0 – 9411/0 and more the recent 94010 – 94110 ) with the legendary Snowflake hour hand. This also featured the classic Triplock Rolex style bracelet, new automatic movement cal. 2776 ETA modified by Tudor and was made until 1983 when it was replaced by the 76100 Submariner with a new dial set featuring the ‘lollipop’ hour hand and powered by the contemporary ETA 2824. The very last Tudor submariner made was the 79190 reference which was produced from 1990 until 2000 and used the ETA 2824-2.
Another important model was the Tudor Chronograph Oysterdate Introduced in 1970 which had a long production run until 1996 and led to a partneship with Porsche Racing as their official timing partner. In 2004 Tudor discontinued marketing watches in the US but finally returned in 2013, one of the standout models for the year was the Tudor Heritage Chrono model which was inspired by the Tudor Oysterdate Chronograph. For Baselworld 2014 they introduced three new models for the Heritage line, the Tudor Heritage Style, Tudor Heritage Ranger and Tudor Heritage Black Bay in Blue.
Tudor watches were for a long time rather like more affordable copies of Rolex watches using cases and bracelets virtually identical and featuring Rolex signed parts. Indeed the only major difference was the use of non Rolex movements. These days though the Rolex DNA is still very much a part of Tudor watches they have developed into a brand with a much stronger identity of their own.