Imagine yourself in a position to buy your first nice watch, but you feel a little shy about the prospect of a shiny sports watch on the wrist. “What will my friends say?” “Will someone try to steal it?” These and other intrusive thoughts circle you as you sift through the Omegas, Rolexes, and APs on the pages of Instagram watch freaks.
The answer to all your watch problems might be sitting right in front of you, ever so slightly out of view. The answer is Tudor.
The above title might sound like an oxymoron… the working man’s Rolex?! But it’s true. Since 1926, when Hans Wilsdorf, the creator of Rolex, had the idea to make a down-market watch brand, Tudors have been the go-to choice for hard workers, humble collectors, and those with excellent taste.
Since the brand’s inception, Tudor watches have been made at Rolex, from the very same case materials and featuring many of the same technological innovations, with one exception. Where each Rolex featured a complex in-house movement, Tudors (until very recently) featured less expensive, off-the-shelf movements from other Swiss brands. The interior of the watch might not have been as fancy as the main-line Rolexes, but the same tech and design that kept those more expensive watches looking good, served the exact same function on the Tudors.
Luckily for Tudor, Rolexes just kept getting better, which meant the cases on the little brother brand did too.
Though Tudor was founded on Hans Wilsdorf’s behalf in 1926, it wasn’t until 1946 that he took full control of Tudor, doubling down on their mission to create handsome, affordable timepieces. The first Tudors took advantage of the Oyster technology developed by Rolex, a fully waterproof case that greatly increased the lifespan of the watch. By 1952, Tudor introduced their first self-winding model, the Prince – so if you see a Tudor Oyster Prince, you know the case is waterproof and the watch is automatically wound.
The 1950s proved to be one of the greatest decades for Rolex, with the introduction of hard-wearing tool watches like the famous Rolex Explorer and Submariner, innovations that in turn made their way to Tudor’s pieces.
1954 saw the first Tudor Submariner reference, the 7922, (the above is the 7923), the second of its kind. For all intents and purposes, it was a Rolex, and one of the best. Ths same Mercedes hands, the same bezel. The only difference was the text on the dial reading Tudor with the rose icon, and of course, a less expensive movement.
Less expensive than the mainline Rolex Submariners, but just as waterproof, many of the world’s Navies began ordering Tudors for their divers. Most significantly, the U.S. Navy and the Marine Nationale (the French Navy) found the Tudor subs to be perfect for their underwater ventures.
In 1969, Tudor finally found the design that would differentiate it from its big brother, the snowflake hands. These jagged hour and minute hands, along with a charming sweep hand, dispensed with the Rolex Mercedes hands and helped the watch stand out from the pack. Available in black and eventually a much sought-after blue, this was one of the first Tudors to use the off-the-shelf ETA movement that is still used in many modern-day Tudors.
As with many heritage brands, the Tudor line fell somewhat fallow between the glory days of the 1960s and the modern era. Brilliantly, the brand began resurrecting classic models with the Black Bay line, which premiered in 2012. The Black Bay line released vintage-inspired watches with all the modern bells and whistles and in 2019 released the Black Bay 58, a reproduction of the 1958 Submariner.
Chock-full of vintage details like a more authentically sized case, (which was a far cry smaller than many of the bloated modern watches being made by other brands) and gilt hands; this was a watch collector’s dream.
Tudor began to become a creative space where classic watches could be reproduced (with some modern changes) and sold for a fraction of the Rolex premium. The brand also began designing in-house movements that were hardy, functional, and remained less expensive than those from their big brother brand. These simple tool watches exploded when they hit the market, selling out quickly and establishing Tudor as a contender in its own right. Especially in an era when Rolex seems reluctant to re-release classics, and simply adds new precious metals and excessive bells and whistles to their main-line pieces, these watches are simply too good to pass up.
Tudor Watch Models to Look For
Tudor has made many excellent pieces over the years, and here are some particularly interesting ones to look out for. Though modern Tudors are considered affordable by luxury watch standards, prices are wont to go up, and most of the vintage models listed here are collectibles and can be very expensive.
Black Bay 36
A reproduction from the modern Black Bay line, the Tudor Black Bay 36 is a budget option, retailing for $2,950. This watch, with its snowflake hands and relatively small case, represents a fusion of all that’s great about Tudor, but looks like a much-more expensive Rolex Explorer from a distance. (The author owns and loves this watch.)
I had been working at Self Edge, a high end clothing store for a few years and had gotten really interested in watches. It didn’t help that my customers had incredible watches themselves and I couldn’t help but feel jealous. I began setting money aside before the pandemic and in September of last year, bought this piece.
I couldn’t justify buying anything vintage that might need additional expensive services and I wanted something with a black dial, stainless steel case and bracelet, that wasn’t too big. This Tudor checked all the boxes and I was especially impressed with the whimsy of the snowflake hands and its obvious allusions to the Rolex Explorer. It’s nice enough that people who like watches compliment it and subtle enough that those who don’t don’t even notice it. The perfect “if you know you know” piece.
I wear it almost every day and have been letting it get dinged and scratched the way a good tool watch should. It’s the nicest thing I’ve ever owned and I treasure it like nothing else.
Marine Nationale Submariner
The well-worn and weathered military Submariners worn by the Marine Nationale are particularly lusted after. The faded blue dial and bezel, the fabric strap, the snowflake hands; all these details add up to a downright gorgeous piece. Manufactured in various styles from the 1950s-80s, be prepared to pay a premium for these, they go for around $30,000.
Heritage Chrono Blue
Chronograph watches are incredible feats of engineering. They’re complicated and romantic, given their ties to things like racing and space exploration. The Tudor Heritage Chrono is a new addition to the lineup, heavily inspired by racing watches made by the brand in the 1970s. Retailing for $4,525, they will run you less than a fifth of the cost of the Daytona, Rolex’s premier chronograph model.
The Tudor Ranger is the brand’s answer to the Rolex Explorer and a beautiful one at that. Made in several different references, some with a date window, others without, the Ranger was made from 1969-1987. The Black Bay line did a reproduction of this watch, but it featured a hulking 41mm case instead of the sleeker vintage one. Vintage pieces go for between $3,000 and $12,000, but beware, these are some of the most counterfeited Tudor pieces ever made.