Com­ing of age

Long known as the lit­tle brother to Rolex, Tu­dor has its sights set on be­com­ing a big name on its own terms, says Chris Hall

Business Traveller - - NEWS -

The story of Tu­dor’s gen­e­sis as a watch brand is well known among en­thu­si­asts. Rolex founder Hans Wils­dorf – hailed by many as the watch world’s orig­i­nal mas­ter of mar­ket­ing – saw an op­por­tu­nity to sell watches with Rolex lev­els of build qual­ity at a lower price. That was back in 1926, Rolex hav­ing been formed only in 1905; a few Tu­dor watches emerged in the 1930s, but it wasn’t un­til 1946 that Wils­dorf would form a sep­a­rate com­pany and make a real go of it.

From then on, Tu­dor fol­lowed a fairly pre­dictable path, shad­ow­ing Rolex through the 1960s and ’70s as watches en­joyed their boom years. It, too, cre­ated Sub­mariners – now highly prized – and other tool watches sim­i­lar to their Rolex cousins, many of which found their way on to the wrists of ad­ven­tur­ers and sol­diers around the world.

But, in line with its found­ing prin­ci­ples, Tu­dor was al­ways the younger sib­ling. Where Rolex put watches on the wrists of Ever­est’s con­querors, Tu­dor equipped less news­wor­thy pi­o­neers on the wastes of Green­land. Rolex was the brand of James Bond and Pan-Am pi­lots; Tu­dor had the French Navy. Rolex was the crown; Tu­dor had the Oys­ter Prince.

It wasn’t all sil­ver medals, how­ever – Tu­dor had a 200m Sub­mariner on sale be­fore Rolex, and boasted an au­to­matic chrono­graph years be­fore the Day­tona went the same way. But, in gen­eral, if Tu­dor was known to the wider world, it was as Rolex’s ju­nior brand.

Un­like Rolex, how­ever, Tu­dor was not stew­arded care­fully through the “quartz cri­sis” of the late 1970s and 1980s. By the 2000s it was suf­fer­ing an iden­tity cri­sis of its own, bogged down by un­ap­peal­ing de­signs and no more of a house­hold name than it had been half a cen­tury be­fore.

Tu­dor hit the re­set but­ton. With­draw­ing from key mar­kets en­tirely, it made a come­back in 2010 with an ap­proach that was to be­come em­blem­atic of the en­tire in­dus­try for years to come. Draw­ing on its 1960s and ’70s bestsellers, Tu­dor got watch nerds’ at­ten­tion with the Her­itage Ranger and Her­itage Chrono­graph. Just as its founder had en­vis­aged, these were hardy watches made to Rolex lev­els of qual­ity at prices that reached a wider mar­ket (even by to­day’s el­e­vated stan­dards).

Then in 2013 came the mas­ter­stroke – the Her­itage Black Bay. Not a reis­sue of any spe­cific watch, it nev­er­the­less bore its retro in­flu­ences proudly. With first blue, then red bezels, it kick-started a gen­er­a­tion of 1970s dive watch re­vival edi­tions, and then moved up an­other gear en­tirely to be­come the cor­ner­stone of ev­ery­thing Tu­dor does.

To date, there have been seven it­er­a­tions of the Black Bay, in­clud­ing a larger bronze ver­sion. This year Tu­dor added a chrono­graph model, pro­duced with move­ments sup­plied by Bre­itling (as part of a land­mark “swap” deal, Tu­dor gives Bre­itling move­ments for its new Su­pe­r­o­cean Her­itage).

The Her­itage Black Bay has be­come the dar­ling of watch fans, and Tu­dor has found a bet­ter way to be Rolex’s younger brother, re­al­is­ing that it can be more dar­ing (pro­duc­ing a left-handed lim­ited edi­tion Pe­la­gos), louder (work­ing with Ital­ian mo­tor­cy­cle com­pany Du­cati) and gen­er­ally ex­hibit more zest and verve while re­tain­ing that seal of qual­ity.

Im­por­tantly, in to­day’s mar­ket, mod­ern-day Tu­dor has done what its for­mer self never needed or both­ered to: in­vest in its own in-house move­ments. A mark of in­de­pen­dence and – the­o­ret­i­cally – qual­ity, in-house move­ment pro­duc­tion is usu­ally met by hefty price hikes; Tu­dor made the switch with barely a shift in re­tail prices, fur­ther en­dear­ing it­self to cus­tomers.

And yet, for all this, it is prob­a­bly fair to say that Tu­dor is not overly well known. Cer­tainly more peo­ple will be able to ref­er­ence Omega, Tag Heuer or Bre­itling. Rein­vent­ing the prod­ucts to crit­i­cal ac­claim over the past seven years has been vi­tal to win­ning over the diehard watch fans, but now Tu­dor has its sights set on the gen­uine main­stream.

Hence the an­nounce­ment last month of David Beck­ham as the brand’s flag­ship am­bas­sador, along­side a po­si­tion as of­fi­cial time­keeper to the New Zealand Lions rugby tour, spon­sor of the All Blacks and their tal­is­manic fly-half Beau­den Bar­rett. We may be en­ter­ing the era where Tu­dor no longer needs to trade on Rolex’s name; even younger broth­ers grow up even­tu­ally.

Chris Hall is edi­tor of

Her­itage Black Bay Dark; £3,050 tu­dor­

Her­itage Black Bay Bronze; £2,730

Below from left: Her­itage Black Bay Chrono, £3,430; Her­itage Black Bay Bronze with com­pli­men­tary fab­ric strap, £2,730

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