Tudor: The History, the Watches and More

Originally positioned as an affordable alternative to Rolex, Tudor is now a force to be reckoned with in its own right

September 27, 2022 7:12 am
Tudor Black Bay Pro, Tudor Heritage Chrono Blue and Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight Bronze watches, on a light blue background
The Tudor Black Bay Pro, Tudor Heritage Chrono Blue and Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight Bronze
Tudor/Getty Images

By the time it exited the U.S. market in 1996, Tudor had been producing reliable, relatively affordable tool watches for 50 years. However, the company’s wares were sold alongside those of its sister company, Rolex, and the price difference between the two may well have created confusion for the North American buyer.

The truth was that this price gulf was completely intentional: Hans Wilsdorf, the Bavarian businessman who founded Rolex in 1905, established Tudor in 1946 to produce timepieces featuring Rolex qualities but at lower costs. How did Wilsdorf aim to do this? Using off-the-shelf Swiss movements, rather than the in-house calibers being developed by Rolex itself. (The name Tudor was actually registered in 1926 on Wilsdorf’s behalf, but it wasn’t until just after the Second World War that he saw fit to begin operations.)

A Tudor watch — such as the famed Submariner provided to the French Navy for several decades — was, for all intents and purposes, a Rolex with a different movement inside, and a slightly different dial. Same water-resistant Oyster case; same bracelets; same dimensions; etc. (The 34mm Oyster Prince models provided to the British North Greenland Expedition in 1952, for example, were largely Tudor-branded Oyster Perpetuals.) The company’s products were just as reliable, hardy, and handsome as those from Rolex.

Still, in 2007, the firm took the initiative to rehash its product line, taking inspiration from its vintage wares as it launched several new throwback models such as the Heritage Chrono Blue. At the same time, it ventured into futuristic territory with the high-end Pelagos, a diver built for professionals that even featured a Helium Escape Valve like on the Rolex Sea-Dweller — but at a fraction of the price, and in titanium.

In 2013, Tudor finally reentered the U.S. market, confident in its new products and its new approach. With most of its offerings placed in the $3,000-$5,000 price range, it quickly established itself alongside the rise of HODINKEE and other watch-centric publications, riding the wave of horological excitement that’s swept the U.S. — and indeed, the world — during the past decade.

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The most exciting developments, however, have been the most recent: In 2010, Tudor began a journey to develop its own mechanical movement, which culminated in the debut of the Calibre MT5621 in the North Flag watch at Baselworld in 2015. In 2016, the brand founded Kenissi, a movement manufacture, to develop and produce these movements. A partnership with Breitling followed, while an alliance at Kenissi with Chanel began in 2018.

And thus what was once a lower-cost alternative to Rolex has become, in the span of roughly 75 years, a famed and well regarded manufacture that designs and features its own mechanical calibers, and whose wares are sought out by customers the world over on their own merit. 

A Brief Tudor Timeline

1926: The “Tudor” name is registered by Veuve de Philippe Hüther, a Swiss watchmaker, on behalf of Hans Wilsdorf. 

1932: The first watches signed “Tudor” are delivered for sale to Australia.

1936: The “Tudor” name is transferred to Wilsdorf’s control. 

1946: Hans Wilsdorf founds Montres Tudor SA.

1952: Tudor supplies the British North Greenland Expedition with 26 automatic Prince models housed in water-resistant Oyster cases. The watches perform well under adverse conditions.

1954: Tudor launches its Oyster Prince Submariner reference 7922, waterproof to 100m.

1957: Tudor launches the Advisor, a watch with an alarm complication.

1958: Tudor increases the water resistance on the Submariner to 200 with the introduction of the reference 7924.

1964: Tudor produces a reference 7928 Submariner specifically for the U.S. Navy.

1969: Tudor launches the Oyster Prince Ranger; the old “rose” logo is replaced by that of the “shield.” Tudor introduces the Submariner references 7016 and 7021, the first “Snowflake” Subs.

1970: Tudor launches its first Oysterdate chronograph, which is powered by a manually wound Valjoux 7734 movement.

1971: Tudor launches the “Monte Carlo” Oysterdate chronograph.

1976: Tudor introduces its third-series Oysterdate, the “Big Block.”

1989: Tudor introduced the Submariner reference 79090.

1991: Tudor launches the Monarch collection.

1996: Tudor pulls out of the North American market.

1999: Tudor launches its Hydronaut line.

2007: Tudor begins launching new model lines based upon its vintage designs that continues to this day.

2013: Tudor re-enters the U.S. market.

Notable Tudor Watches

Today, Tudor’s lineup is divided into different categories, largely along the lines of sporty and classic models. Ladies’ watches are thoroughly represented, and there’s a healthy dose of newly developed models made for professionals — though vintage-inspired designs certainly predominate. What follows are what we feel are some of the best contemporary Tudors on offer.

Dive Watches

Tudor’s dive watches are split between the classically styled Black Bay line and the more modern Pelagos line. Both product families offer tremendous value, however — the timepiece you choose for yourself is really more a question of aesthetics and materials.

Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight watch
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight Bronze

Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight

Released in 2018, the “BB58” took the watch world by storm, offering Submariner-esque looks and proportions in a modern watch with a vintage, rivet-style bracelet (or your choice of strap). Powered by Tudor’s COSC-certified MT5402 automatic manufacture movement and housed in a 39mm case, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight was originally offered in a “gilt”-style black dial, but now also comes in a blue dial, and in bronze, gold, and silver variants. 

Diameter: 39mm
Case Material: Stainless steel; broze; sterling silver; 18K yellow gold
Movement: Tudor calibre MT5402 automatic
Water Resistance: 200m
Price: $3,475-$16,825

Tudor Pelagos 39

Tudor Pelagos 39

All the hullabaloo in 2022 has been about the new Pelagos 39 — and rightly so: Many fans have long craved a smaller-cased version of the 42mm titanium diver made for professionals. However, where the original sported an “HEV” (helium escape valve), a matte ceramic bezel insert, and a special expanding diver’s clasp, the new version does away with these features in favor of a slimmer profile. Truthfully, any Pelagos is a great Pelagos. (Check out the cool LHD model if you’re a southpaw.)

Diameter: 39mm
Case Material: Grade 2 titanium
Movement: Tudor calibre MT5400 automatic
Water Resistance: 200m
Price: $4,400

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Three-Handed Watches

Tudor makes both sporty field watches and dress watches that feature little more than the time or the time and date. Spread out across multiple product families, they have different aesthetics but all boast the typical Tudor robustness, wearability and good looks.  

Tudor Ranger
Tudor Ranger

Tudor Ranger

The Ranger — a watch that existed in the catalog in the 1960s and 1970s before making a brief return as the Heritage Ranger between 2014 and 2020 — was reintroduced in 2022 as a contemporary take on the vintage models. With their stark black, Explorer-like dials, simple cases with fixed, polished bezels, and ample lume, they’re perfect field watches. They’re also very well priced, with the bracelet model selling for just a hair over $3,000 despite the inclusion of a manufacture movement. 

Diameter: 39mm
Case Material: Stainless steel 
Movement: Tudor calibre MT5402 automatic
Water Resistance: 100m
Price: $2,725-$3,050

Tudor Style 38 (M12510-0013) watch
Tudor Style 38 (M12510-0013)

Tudor Style 38 (ref. M12510-0013)

A slightly overlooked family within the Tudor catalog is the dressy Style. Offered in multiple sizes, colors, and looks, the reference M12510-0013 in particular has the sleek look of a classic Rolex Datejust, but with an upsized 38mm case and a steel fluted bezel. A subtle date window, a matching steel bracelet, and an automatic movement — not an in-house caliber, but rather an ETA or Sellita base — round out the package. If you’re looking for a dressier watch but don’t want to compromise on water resistance or toughness, we’d suggest looking here.

Diameter: 39mm
Case Material: Stainless steel 
Movement: Tudor calibre MT5402 automatic (ETA/Sellita base)
Water Resistance: 100m
Price: $2,575

Complicated Watches

Tudor has long offered chronographs within its product family, but more recently, has expanded into GMTs, including the new Black Bay Pro. It’s easy enough to discern the Rolex design DNA in these watches, but even so, they tend to stand on their own.

Tudor Heritage Chrono watch
Tudor Heritage Chrono Blue
Tudor Heritage Chrono

Tudor Heritage Chrono

Based on models from the 1970s, including the beloved “home plate” and “Monte Carlo” Oysterdate Chronographs, the Heritage Chrono watches are hands-down some of the coolest offerings in the contemporary Tudor catalog. Though they’re among the brand’s more expensive watches — and they don’t sport in-house calibers — they’re colorful and unique, packing dual-register chronographs, 12-hour bezels, date windows and optional matching steel bracelets. What’s more, they come in three different colors — and you can’t go wrong with any of ‘em.

Diameter: 42mm
Case Material: Stainless steel 
Movement: Tudor calibre T401 automatic (ETA base)
Water Resistance: 150m
Price: $4,200-$4,525

Tudor Black Bay Pro watch
Tudor Black Bay Pro

Tudor Black Bay Pro

Yup, there’s definitely some Rolex Explorer II influence here. But beyond the obvious shared DNA, the BB Pro is simply a value-packed, ultimate travel watch: Water resistant to 200m and available on a killer steel “rivet” bracelet, it features a manufacture caliber that allows you to track a second time zone via an independently adjustable local hour hand. At 39mm, it wears like a dream, and it doesn’t hurt that it has the industrial good looks of an old-school tool watch.

Diameter: 39mm
Case Material: Stainless steel 
Movement: Tudor calibre MT5652 automatic 
Water Resistance: 200m
Price: $3,675-$4,000

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