Ask people what they think are the most popular watch brands, and you’ll likely hear Rolex, Omega, Audemars Piguet, and Patek Philippe. But there’s also a high chance that people will say Tudor. The brand, which is mostly known as Rolex’s sibling, has been working on getting its name out there as the dominant force in the $2,000 to $5,000 price segment. This is the price bracket that a lot of watch enthusiasts define as the affordable luxury segment. But how has Tudor become the dominant brand in that segment? That is, how did a brand that was conceived as an affordable alternative to Rolex become a force of its own and use the connection to its advantage instead of being hindered by it? Time to dive into Tudor‘s secrets of success.
How the Tudor Brand Started
Before we talk about modern-day Tudor, we have to look back to the brand’s beginnings. The Tudor name was first registered in 1926, but it would take a couple of decades for the outline of the brand we know today to take hold. In 1952, Tudor introduced the Oyster Prince. Tudor and Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf used the famous Rolex Oyster case and Rolex’s self-winding perpetual rotor mechanism for the model. It was a way of creating value for the affordable Tudor watches, thereby instilling trust in the brand. This trust was deepened when 26 Tudor Oyster Prince watches were used on the British scientific expedition to Greenland in 1952.
In 1954, Tudor introduced the Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner, and soon after the brand established a collaboration with the French Navy. The collaboration lasted well into the 1980s with a lot of well-known French Navy Submariner models. During that time, Tudor also changed the design of its dials, introducing the famous snowflake hands and large crown to its line of diving watches. In the 1970s, Tudor added its first chronographs to the lineup, watches that are now favorites among vintage Tudor fans. This is a very condensed overview of the brand’s history. If it’s sparked your interest, I suggest you check out some vintage Tudor models – some amazing timepieces await you.
The Historical Issue With Tudor
You’ll find that a lot of Tudor watches look like Rolex watches. Obviously, the cases are Rolex cases, and a lot of the designs were direct copies of iconic models from The Crown. But inside the cases are more affordable off-the-rack ETA movements that would be found in a lot of other watches from other brands. This didn’t exactly give the brand a great reputation. Most watch fans were not impressed by Tudor in the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s, mostly because of their reputation as a cheaper alternative to Rolex that lacked the charisma and technical excellence of its sibling. By the early 2000s, the brand went unnoticed in most markets.
The Introduction of the Black Bay Line
Everything changed when Tudor relaunched the brand in 2009 with the introduction of the Tudor Grantour Chronograph and Tudor Glamour collection. The Heritage Chrono followed a year later, which was inspired by the now iconic Tudor Montecarlo from the 70s. It was also the first relaunch of a model inspired by a watch from the brand’s vaults. After getting favorable reviews, the brand unveiled the Tudor Heritage Black Bay in 2012. The watch was inspired by the Tudor Submariner divers and combined a vintage-inspired look with modern-day execution. This combination turned out to be the recipe for success for the brand in the decade that followed.
The focus on creating watches inspired by the rich history of Tudor and Rolex turned out to be a golden approach. Rolex applies the strategy of improving its icons by integrating new materials and movements and updating the designs with clever modern adjustments. But this also leaves a wide gap open for Tudor to cherry pick from its own archive as well as that of Rolex. This last part in particular doesn’t always sit well with older watch fans. Since Hans Wilsdorf made Tudor an affordable alternative to Rolex that simply borrowed designs from its better half and combined them with technically indistinct movements, it was often perceived as a passive brand that had nothing special to offer besides affordable and less refined Rolex copycat models.
The Current Collection
But with new positioning, a new approach to watchmaking, and a new target audience, the brand found its way into the hearts of many watch enthusiasts. What’s more, Tudor showed that it was not just about watches inspired by the past. In 2012, they introduced the Pelagos, a modern titanium diver that many purists have deemed the most distinct Tudor watch. Three years later, they unveiled the North Flag, another great timepiece with its own unique design. It was these two models that also came equipped with Tudor in-house movements in 2015. The move to in-house movements was another clever step, lending even more watchmaking credibility to the brand.
Over time, Tudor expanded its collection with a variety of different models. If you want that vintage-inspired charm, there is the Black Bay line with models like the Black Bay Fifty-Eight, the Black Bay GMT, the Black Bay Chrono, and the new Black Bay Pro. If you want the true Tudor spirit and look, there is the Pelagos collection with its Pelagos, Pelagos FXD, and recently introduced Pelagos 39. On top of that, we have the Heritage Chrono and Ranger collections. If you want something a bit dressier, there is the Tudor Royal and the classically styled 1926 and Style collections. This mix of styles and influences makes Tudor a versatile brand with something for everyone.
What makes the brand so attractive?
However, more important than everything we’ve discussed above is that Tudor has been able to monumentally shift its brand image. Whereas its link to Rolex used to be a passive and mostly negative one, the brand has managed to turn that around and make it an asset. Part of this comes from Rolex’s huge increase in popularity, but a large part also comes from the fact that Tudor has adopted a very successful strategy. The younger crowd is not familiar with Tudor’s history and loves the connection to Rolex. Tudor offers watches that are more affordable than Rolexes, but still have a connection to the watchmaking giant. Additionally, its lower prices make Tudor a great gateway into the world of Rolex, and the brand has also managed to find a young voice in its campaigns and brand ambassadors. Tudor positions itself as relevant to young people and distinguishes itself from the often very classical image of many of the other luxury watch brands.
In addition, many older watch enthusiasts have also grown to love what the brand has pulled off. With its diverse designs, in-house movements, and affordable prices, Tudor has managed to win people over who previously viewed them as nothing more than a business mechanism to protect Rolex in the lower end of the market. Today, Tudor is the dominating force in the world of watches up to $5,000.
Where does it stop?
So where does the rise of Tudor stop? That’s a question that for now has no answer. The brand has had a fantastic year with the introduction of the Black Bay Pro, Ranger, and Pelagos 39. Bot only that, but the brand extended the Black Bay GMT, Black Bay Chrono, and regular Black Bay collections with a series of Steel & Gold models. On the pre-owned market, we have also seen a rise in popularity and prices for classic models like the Montecarlo and the Submariner. The latter has become a much sought-after affordable alternative for the Rolex Submariner. If Tudor continues to release amazing timepieces and keeps them affordable, I have no doubt that they will have many great years to come. After an incredible 2022, I can’t wait to see what 2023 has in store!