Diving Deep: The 50 Year History Of Tudor’s Snowflake Hands

Diving Deep: The 50 Year History Of Tudor’s Snowflake Hands

The distinctive dial design served as a functional upgrade for Tudor's naval clientele and represented the brand's first significant steps outside of Rolex's shadow.

By Thomas Hendricks

1969 was a big year for watches. The year brought the lunar landing that cemented the Speedmaster as an icon, ushered in the first automatic chronographs, and was the year that Tudor introduced its now-famous snowflake hands.

Although a somewhat divisive design among watch enthusiasts, Tudor’s snowflake hands have become a signature trait of the brand’s sports watches and have developed die-hard fans throughout their five-decade-long history. To mark the 50th anniversary, let's take a look at the design's origins, military collaboration, and its formative impact on the brand.

The Origin Story

The first generation of the Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner was unveiled in 1954, one year after the release of its parent company’s Rolex Submariner. The initial Tudor Submariner, ref. 7922, differed from the Rolex model by using an ETA movement, but it carried many genetic similarities to its older brother including the case design, screw-down crown, black diver bezel, and the Mercedes-style hands. 

The design took a historic turn in 1969 with the second generation of Tudor Submariners featuring the off-beat snowflake hands and square hour markers. This generation offered consumers two models, the time-only 7016 and the 7021 with a date complication. It was the first step towards a new design.

Murky Water and Military Influence

The new dial design not only differentiated the Tudor models from their parent company but also served as a functional upgrade for their diver audience. Although Tudor officially claims that its largest client, France's Navy was known as the Marine Nationale, simply picked existing references from the catalog, many collectors speculate that the Marine Nationale developed a close collaboration with Tudor to help develop the distinctive dial design.

The resulting angular hands and square hour markers not only helped divers quickly differentiate the hands from one another, the increased surface area on the hands and markers allowed for a greater amount of luminescence application, thus resulting in better visibility in murky conditions. 

Tudor Submariners were found extensively on divers of the French Navy up to the mid-2000s and were also used by divers from the American, Canadian, and Italian navies, among others.

Snowflake Staying Power

The quirky shape of the hands earned the moniker “snowflake hands” by collectors in the 1990s due to their appearance as partial snowflakes. The name was later officially adopted by Tudor and is still used by the brand today. 

The inaugural "Snowflake" Submariners represented a major step for Tudor as a brand. Not only were they the first appearance of the original hand and hour marker designs, but they were also the first unveiling of Tudor's new shield logo, replacing the rose logo of earlier models. Together, these design differences ushered in a new identity for Tudor and marked its most significant departure from Rolex to date.

A Legacy Continued

Just as the Mercedes-style hands are a signature for Rolex dive watches, the snowflake hands are Tudor’s most recognizable design feature. Today, the original Tudor “Snowflake” Submariners are beloved by collectors and the hand and hour markers live on in the brand’s Pelagos and Black Bay lines.

Video: Check Out The Pelagos Snowflake Lume by Watchonista

The signature snowflake hands began as a functional improvement for naval divers but ultimately helped to establish the Tudor as a popular alternative to its parent brand instead of a mere, budget-friendly subsidiary.

(Images provided by TUDOR)

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