The king of rein­ven­tion.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents - Words by Robin Swith­in­bank

Black bay.


how it goes now: an­other year, an­other traf­fic-stop­ping watch from Tu­dor. It might sound glib but Tu­dor’s good form is in­creas­ingly pre­dictable and not the cu­rios­ity it might be. Only a decade ago, the brand looked washed-up. Its prod­ucts were tired and sales were in re­treat. How quickly we for­get.

And yet here we are, with Tu­dor a fre­quent res­i­dent in best-of round-ups, plumped up by peachy de­signs, a good prod­uct-to-value ra­tio (yes, mar­ket­ing speak, but bear with) and heck, David Beck­ham as a brand am­bas­sador. How did that hap­pen?

Well, let’s get this out of the way first. The nub of it is Tu­dor is owned by Rolex. Backed by Rolex green, it stormed back into the mar­ket in 2014, usurp­ing the com­pe­ti­tion. A glossy mar­ket­ing cam­paign with a slick TV ad fol­lowed—it was like Tu­dor had never been away.

But, to give Tu­dor credit, all that would have been for noth­ing if the prod­uct had been duff. Which it wasn’t. It was great. Right-think­ing Bri­tish watch fans had been clam­our­ing for its re­turn for years, swayed by the brand’s run of Her­itage chrono­graphs and then the launch of the Her­itage Black Bay in 2012, a diver’s watch that re­booted one of Tu­dor’s most fa­mous ’50s de­signs. When it came, Bri­tain was ready for Tu­dor’s re­birth.

And Bri­tain more than most. One of the great tenets of Tu­dor’s story is value which we’re al­right with. The Tu­dor name was trade­marked in 1926 but only be­came an en­tity in its own right in 1946, by which time Rolex founder Hans Wils­dorf had con­firmed he needed a brand that aped Rolex’s qual­ity but car­ried what he called “a more mod­est price”. He bought in move­ments from third-party spe­cial­ists to save on man­u­fac­tur­ing costs, and set about woo­ing a new cus­tomer. It worked.

For decades, Tu­dor soared, tread­ing a par­al­lel path to Rolex. Early Tu­dor mod­els car­ried the Rolex name as a qual­ity sig­ni­fier and later shared model names—Oys­ter, Prince, Sub­mariner. The sim­ple trick was trad­ing off the re­li­a­bil­ity of the Rolex name and its prod­uct.

But by the turn of the cen­tury, the con­cept had grown stale and Tu­dor sales had crashed. Buy­ing a Tu­dor that looked sort of like a Rolex but was cheaper was sud­denly like driv­ing a Toy­ota MR2 be­cause you couldn’t af­ford a Porsche 911. Its watches dis­ap­peared from shelves all over the world in 2004.

All seemed lost un­til 2007 when the com­pany re­branded, scrap­ping the vis­i­ble Rolex ties and run­ning in­stead with new watches that had their own names and looks. Fresh de­signs such as the Pe­la­gos, Ranger and North Flag all en­joyed crit­i­cal suc­cess but Tu­dor didn’t for­get its past; in an in­dus­try where her­itage mat­ters, that would have been sui­cide.

Along­side the new mod­els came vin­tage-in­spired pieces. One such was the Her­itage Black Bay, a diver’s watch that bor­rowed its de­sign cues from one of Tu­dor’s most heroic archive pieces, the Oys­ter Prince Sub­mariner of 1954. Aside from be­ing the prod­uct of 21st cen­tury man­u­fac­tur­ing, the only salient dif­fer­ence be­tween the two was the “snowflake” hour hand in­tro­duced in 1969 to help divers dis­tin­guish the hands on their watches more clearly, now a Tu­dor hall­mark.

This year’s Chrono con­tin­ues the story. Ac­cord­ing to Tu­dor de­signer An­der Ugarte, it is a Tu­dor’s great­est hits watch, al­loy­ing its div­ing and driv­ing watch back sto­ries into one. “The watch’s de­sign el­e­ments are taken from sev­eral his­tor­i­cal Tu­dor chrono­graphs and diver’s watches,” he says. “It has the fa­mous snowflake hand and a dial lay­out typ­i­cal of the first chrono­graphs Tu­dor made in 1970. You get a 45-minute counter and screw-down push­ers in­spired by the first gen­er­a­tion of Tu­dor chrono­graphs.”

All true but only half the story. Un­der­neath that “neo-vin­tage” de­sign, as Ugarte calls it, is a move­ment made not by Tu­dor, nor by a spe­cial­ist move­ment man­u­fac­turer, nor even by Rolex, but by Bre­itling. The two com­pa­nies an­nounced a move­ment-swap­ping pro­gramme ear­lier this year through which Tu­dor gets Bre­itling’s Cal­i­bre B01 chrono­graph move­ment, while Bre­itling gets Tu­dor’s MT5612 three-hand date au­to­matic.

A good deal? If you’re buy­ing the Tu­dor, cer­tainly, as it costs con­sid­er­ably less than a Bre­itling with the same move­ment (al­most the same; Tu­dor has tweaked it but with­out strip­ping per­for­mance). There­fore, the Her­itage Black Bay Chrono is a chronome­ter-cer­ti­fied unit with a col­umn wheel, a ver­ti­cal clutch, a sil­i­con bal­ance wheel and a 70-hour power re­serve which, trans­lated from watch-speak, is a highly ac­cu­rate, re­silient and re­spon­sive chrono­graph that will run for three days if fully wound.

“The cus­tomer gets un­matched horo­log­i­cal value for money with a Tu­dor watch,” says Ugarte. Hard to ar­gue with that. An­other great watch from Tu­dor? Of course. What did you ex­pect?

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