A Fine Vin­tage

Long­ing to emerge from the shad­ows cast by big brother Rolex, Tu­dor is a brand striv­ing for a sense of in­ef­fa­ble cool. The magic bit of alchemy that just lures cus­tomers in. Plaza Watch meets David Cer­rato, Tu­dor watch de­signer and brand man­ager, to discu

Plaza Watch International - - The Big Picture - WORDS JOSH SIMS

David Cer­rato does not look like the sort of man who par­takes of the kind of ‘ac­tion man’ life­style that the watches he de­signs sug­gest. Im­mac­u­lately groomed (not wish­ing to fall prey to stereo­type, but he is Ital­ian) in sharp shoes and an el­e­gantly floppy bow-tie, Cer­rato was de­signer for his moth­er­land’s mega-brand Pan­erai be­fore tak­ing up what some might see as a tougher chal­lenge: re­viv­ing Tu­dor, Rolex’s of­ten over­shad­owed lit­tle brother.

Tu­dor, some might know, came into this world in Fe­bru­ary 1926, when watch­maker Veuve de Philippe HÜther regis­tered the Tu­dor name for Hans Wils­dorf, Rolex’s founder, with Wils­dorf tak­ing con­trol of the name and launch­ing the first watches to bear the dis­tinc­tive rose logo in 1936. And then, as many more know, in a mighty demon­stra­tion of the power of brand, for sev­eral decades made Tu­dor watches to much the same stan­dards and us­ing much the same parts (the likes of the Oys­ter wa­ter­proof case and ro­tor mech­a­nism) as his Rolexes, but sold them as their more af­ford­able al­ter­na­tive. The sim­i­lar­i­ties in all but name and price led some to cast as­per­sions. With some­thing of a spell off the radar for Tu­dor, have times changed?

“Although Tu­dor has long had that ‘poor man’s Rolex’ im­age, I do re­ally think that per­cep­tion is chang­ing,” says Cer­rato. “Peo­ple have seen five years of de­vel­op­ment in Tu­dor cre­at­ing its own lan­guage and now re-launch­ing in new mar­kets and those it hasn’t been in for decades, and it’s ac­tu­ally draw- ing a com­pletely new crowd – those who aren’t even stop­ping to look to see what Rolex is propos­ing. They look at the two brands as hav­ing noth­ing to do with each other – though of course Tu­dor still gets to ben­e­fit from Rolex’s tech­ni­cal knowl­edge and fin­ish­ing.”

It’s why, although Tu­dor’s is an hor­i­zon­tal op­er­a­tion (it buys in its move­ments, for ex­am­ple and Rolex’s is en­tirely ver­ti­cal) the Tu­dor Black Shield can have its sin­gle piece ce­ramic case made en­tirely in-house. And that has not been the only model to im­press. The Black Bay has al­ready be­come some­thing of a cult ob­ject – like a Rolex Sub­mariner with red and now blue bezel op­tions, and yet, thanks to a more 60s in­flec­tion, dis­tinc­tive in its own right.

Also the new ver­sion of the Ranger – big­ger and more pol­ished than the orig­i­nal – re­tains the same spirit of stripped back func­tion­al­ity, while adding ap­peal­ing touches like a cam­ou­flage strap that is wo­ven, not printed, by a spe­cial­ist company in France.

“It’s about rein­ter­pret­ing some clas­sic de­signs but not sim­ply reis­su­ing them,” says Cer­rato. “It’s im­por­tant to do it in a very fresh lan­guage, which is some­thing I think Tu­dor has al­ways been good at. Ac­tu­ally, it’s pretty hard to rein­ter­pret a watch that might al­ready be con­sid­ered ‘time­less’, in or­der to cre­ate a new de­sign that also needs to be con­sid­ered ‘time­less’. It can’t be too clas­sic, nor too bling.”

“It’s about rein­ter­pret­ing some clas­sic de­signs but not sim­ply reis­su­ing them. It’s im­por­tant to do it in a very fresh lan­guage, which is some­thing I think Tu­dor has al­ways been good at.”

Naysay­ers may ques­tion whether ‘her­itage with a twist’ – rem­i­nis­cent of Cer­rato’s line at Pan­erai too – is the right ap­proach to take if mak­ing a real im­pact on the mar­ket is the in­ten­tion. Although Cer­rato dis­agrees that th­ese mod­els are re-is­sues, they will surely be con­sid­ered in that cat­e­gory. But he adds that a cer­tain ret­ro­spec­tive ap­peal to de­sign is what the con­sumer wants now, and in many other fields too, from cars through to fash­ion.

“I think after the fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008 there was a move in watch­mak­ing away from crazy de­sign to more vin­tage-in­spired de­sign – and the fact is that any watch that rep­re­sented time­less de­sign then, still does now,” he ar­gues. “Fur­ther­more, this more ana­logue, older way of think­ing in de­sign is be­ing em­braced be­cause there’s some­thing more hu­man to it. I re­ally don’t think it’s a fad but a very real, very deep shift in so­ci­ety.”

Most of so­ci­ety is, ar­guably, also after more bang for its buck. While the new Tu­dor is al­ready con­sid­er­ing a plan in the medium-term to cre­ate its own move­ments for cer­tain, spe­cial pieces (they won’t be Rolex move­ments, Cer­rato as­sures) for the time be­ing it uses ETA move­ments, he ex­plains, be­cause they’re both “very re­li­able” and also be­cause they al­low for what he calls “an in­cred­i­bly ag­gres­sive price”.

It is, he con­cedes, a crowded mar­ket that Tu­dor is aim­ing to crack – along­side all those pieces from TAG Heuer, Bell & Ross and Omega, some of which are able to of­fer the afi­cionado more, such as a pro­pri­etary move­ment. But, while he sug­gests that “there is al­ways room for time­less de­sign with good value”, what Tu­dor has in spades – at least for the time be­ing – is a cer­tain cool. Cer­rato has al­ready se­lected at least another 20 Tu­dor watches in the ar­chive that he thinks have enough of this in­ef­fa­ble qual­ity to make them wor­thy of re-in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

“I just have a gut feel­ing about them, which is what makes them ap­peal,” he says. “I love cook­ing and my grand­mother gives me her recipes but she can’t tell me how she makes what she makes. It’s just there in her dishes. And that’s why Tu­dor watches can still ap­peal to the kind of col­lec­tor who has 8,000 watches al­ready and is prob­a­bly used to buy­ing much more ex­pen­sive, more me­chan­i­cally so­phis­ti­cated pieces. There’s a cer­tain se­duc­tion to Tu­dor. It has, and needs, a very strong take on style. Each watch has a spe­cific nar­ra­tive to it – its his­tory, its cre­ative process.”

Of course, it helps that Cer­rato is – un­usu­ally for the watch in­dus­try – over­see­ing not only the de­sign of new Tu­dor watches, but also their brand im­age, so the two are de­vel­oped in tan­dem. “And that makes for much more con­sis­tency than de­sign­ing a watch and then try­ing to find a story to tell about it af­ter­wards,” he says. Be­sides which, Cer­rato, with his sharp shoes and floppy bow tie, is a pretty cool guy. Ergo, some might say, cool watches.

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