The Origins of TUDOR watches by Ross Povey
Montres Tudor SA was founded by one of the most important figures in horology’s history, Mr Hans Wilsdorf; the gentleman who was also responsible for founding another goliath of the watch-making world: Rolex.
Tudor is considered one of the most innovative of all modern wristwatch brands with new uses of materials (the all ceramic Black Shield) and interesting movement complications (the Heritage Advisor). As the backdrop to all of this is a rich history of which Tudor is rightly proud, celebrated through the hugely successful Heritage watches. The Tudor Heritage releases have been an annual highlight at Baselworld since the Heritage Chronograph (based on the legendary Tudor ‘Homeplate’ Chronograph from 1971) was launched in 2010.
The name The Tudor was registered for Hans Wildorf in 1926 and the first Tudors started to appear in 1932, as rectangular and ‘cushion’ shaped watches. These early watches featured the distinctive ‘Long T’ logo and were very typical art deco in their styling.
All these pieces housed Tudor marked movements and dials, but were housed in casings from various makers including the Rolex Watch Company (RWC) and Hadley. These watches enjoyed particular success in Australia, where they were retailed by Catanachs, the country’s oldest family run jewellery business. In fact, many of the watches retailed featured ‘double named’ dials (where both Tudor and the retailer’s name are painted on the dial).
In 1946 Hans Wilsdorf formally created Montres Tudor S.A. He was clear that these watches would be of the same very high quality, have the same reliability and integrity of the watches being produced under the Rolex moniker. So convinced was he that these watches were to be made to the very highest standards and would be a commercial success, that he bestowed two unique elements that he would not give to any other brand – the Oyster case and the auto wind movement. They would also benefit from being granted the full Rolex guarantee – which still stands today!
Iconic Oyster case and Submariners
The infamous Oyster watches started to appear in 1946 and in 1952 the ‘Oyster Prince’ was introduced (Prince signifying the automatic movement – Tudor’s version of ‘Perpetual’). The Oyster case is iconic and is, in my opinion, one of the most pleasing aesthetic designs of the 20th Century. The shape of the case is so well balanced and represents the perfect combination of form and function. It has been interpreted in many different ways from its purest form in the 50’s Oyster watches, through the various shapes of the submariners and chronograph watches. It’s a shape that is still as relevant today as it was on the day of its introduction. When you compare the style and form of an early 1950’s Tudor Big Crown Submariner against a Heritage Black Bay, the DNA running through both pieces is so obvious and they share a timelessness that makes Tudor the important force that they are.
Tudor is perhaps best known for two models – the Submariners and the chronographs. The Submariner falls into the bracket of what we call a tool watch, due to its professional application for divers...a tool of their trade. Tudor was and continues to be a brand that strives to innovate where possible.
An early example of this was the fact that Tudor had the first Submariner (ahead of Rolex) that was water resistant to 200m. Again this was a sign of Hans Wilsdorf’s commitment to position Tudor as an innovator.
Tudor worked with the French Navy (the Marine Nationale) when developing their submariner models. In the mid 1950’s the Marine Nationale was sent a small batch of 7922 (big crown) watches for testing. These pieces were problematic, however, as during diving operations the crowns had a tendency to get knocked, which compromised the waterproofness of the Oyster case. In addition to reporting the issues with the exposed winding crown, the MN requested a more robust case and so Tudor’s response was the reference 7928. The 7928 featured newly introduced crown guards which were positioned either side of the winding crown to offer protection to the crown when divers were carrying out their work. The 7928 Submariner had a near-decade long production runs and underwent four stages of evolution in regard to the shape of its crown guards.
The Tudor Submariner underwent its biggest transformation when Tudor introduced the snowflake dial. This infamous dial and hand style was actually a result of requests from divers to have watches with a more legible layout when underwater.
Early versions of the watch delivered to the MN had black dials, which were prone to rotting as seen on some of the very early MN watches. At this stage the blue dials were introduced. The blue snowflake Submariner, worn on a grey nato strap is arguably the most iconic representation Tudor submariner – totally unlike anything else that came out of the Wilsdorf Foundation.
Another Tudor range that is unique and instantly recognisable is the chronographs, especially the 7000 series watches. Like the Blue snowflake, the chronos have cult status as a watch that is an iconic representation of Tudor’s innovative and experimental legacy. The first chronographs from Tudor were the 7031/2 watches; referred to by collectors as the ‘Homeplate Chronos’, due to the shape of the hour markers which are reminiscent of the homeplate on a baseball field.
The 7031 & 7032 were introduced in 1970 and were big watches for the time at 39 mm. The biggest risk was the dial, however, with its bold styling and use of colour. It was, however, a commercial success and continues to be a ‘grail’ watch for collectors today. The success of this watch was celebrated in 2010 when it was re-launched as the Heritage Chrono, when Tudor debuted its new line at Baselworld – to worldwide critical acclaim.
The second series of chronographs, the 7100 series (nick named Monte Carlo’s by collectors – due to the dial layout being reminiscent of roulette tables) were introduced in 1971 and continued to be striking in their design – in terms of both layout and use of colour on the dials. The 7100 series watches also saw the introduction of the third bezel type (the 12 hour rotatable bezel) that hadn’t got past prototype stage in the earlier Home Plate series. The use of Blue was introduced, alongside the established Grey and Black, and proved to be another very popular variation. I find it entirely plausible that the popularity of the Blue Chronos was one of the reasons, commercially, why Blue was introduced to the submariner range.
Tudor’s innovative approach again came to the fore in the launch of the third series of Tudor Chronos, the ‘Big Block’. The watch got this name due to the deep size of the case necessitated by the introduction of an automatic movement; Tudor’s first self-winding chronograph. In fact, it was the first auto chrono to come out of the Wilsdorf stable in 1976 – 12 years ahead of the Zenith powered Rolex Daytona in 1988.
Innovative and relevant brand
Tudor has always had its own unique character, a style like no other Swiss watch brand, and it is testament to this enduring style that their watches are as relevant and innovative today as they were in the 1950s. There is one thing for sure, Tudor is here to stay and will continue to innovate and delight watch collectors around the world for many years to come.
TUDOR : THE STORY OF A VISION