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The modern reinvention of the Tudor brand is a runaway success story. 2018 has proven another strong year, with multiple well received new models and in-house calibres introduced. On the 1st of November, Winsor Bishop Norwich celebrated this success, hosting a special event showcasing the new Tudor collection introduced at Baselworld. (Including the acclaimed Black Bay GMT.) In light of the celebrations, it seems fitting to reflect on the brand’s insurgent comeback since it’s relaunch.
To put things in perspective, at the end of October, Tudor officially entered the Japanese market. (After entering the Korean domestic market earlier this year.) This cements their presence across the top ten markets for Swiss watches, including the US, UK and China. Represented in close to 100 countries worldwide, Tudor is now truly global and a competitive player among the big names.
Iconic models, in-house movements, a reputation for quality, and major-personality ambassadors (like David Beckham and Lady Gaga). Tudor’s market presence seems on par with other Maisons who have been ticking over for decades (if not longer). While Tudor does have a history reaching back to the first half of last century, the brand in its current form has only been around for just over ten years. Harder to believe is prior, Tudor had experienced a decade of virtual non-existence, following an extended period of decreasing sales.
Tudor was the brainchild of parent company founder Hans Wilsdorf. He recognised early on that a second brand was needed to market Rolex’s reputation for quality at a more accessible price. (Protecting the elevated status of Rolex, while reaching a larger share of the market.) In 1926, the house of “Veuve de Philippe Hüther” registered “The Tudor” as a trademark on Wilsdorf’s behalf. Tudor’s beginning were humble, with the first models finding a place in the Australian market. But in 1936, Wilsdorf took over the brand and in 1946, he created the “Montres TUDOR S.A.” company. From then on, he began to aggressively market Tudor, giving it a proper identity.
The concept of Tudor was always to source movements from a third-party specialist, to reduce manufacturing costs. Rolex would guarantee the technical and aesthetic integrity. Along with distribution and after-sales service. (Early models carried the Rolex name as a quality assurer.) Tudor moved forward keeping step with Rolex advancements - often sharing model names, such as Oyster, Prince, and Submariner. In 1952, 26 Tudor watches accompanied the celebrated British scientific expedition to Greenland. Organised by the Royal Navy, the exposure led to military models developed for the US and French navies.
Advertising campaigns underscored Tudor watches’ resistance, reliability and precision. And through their depictions of use, formed an identity associated with modernity. For several decades, Tudor’s position soared, producing notable models now considered collectable. But by the turn of the century, the concept of mimicking Rolex had lost its appeal. Sales fell. And Tudor gained a stigma of being the ‘poor man’s Rolex’. All seemed lost, and in 2004 Tudor watches were taken off shelves all over the world. Back in Switzerland, however, plans were underway to revive the brand.
In 2007, Tudor underwent a company rebranding. Scrapping the visible ties to Rolex and running with new models with their own names. The goal was to distinguish the brand as a more distinct maker of wristwatches, aimed at a younger demographic. Part of the strategy was to position Tudor as a complimentary, rather than cheaper but still good quality, alternative to Rolex. This meant the two brands were no longer mutually exclusive. A person could enjoy both Rolex and Tudor watches in their collection, without any associated stigma.
Forward thinking with a rich history
Intelligently, Tudor split their catalogue between contemporary and “Heritage” collections. Fresh designs, such as the North Flag, Ranger and Pelagos all enjoyed critical success. But Tudor was not so blind as to forget their rich past. Alongside the new models came vintage-inspired pieces. One in particular being the Heritage Black Bay (first released in 2012). A diver’s watch drawing on a series of iconic Tudor Submariners spanning the 1950s to 1970s for its design cues. Its masterstroke was being able to borrow from archive pieces while formulating a contemporary design. (Equipped with 21st century manufacturing.) Models like the Heritage Black Bay and Heritage Chrono Blue have already become collector favourites.
Slowly, Tudor began to retrace their distribution routes. (Riding on Rolex’s already in place sales and service infrastructure.) They re-entered the US market in 2013, followed by the UK in 2014 (after a 10-year absence), usurping the competition. Initially, Tudor stuck to sourcing Swiss-made mechanical movements (from the ETA company). But behind the scenes it was setting up its own atelier alongside Rolex in Bienne, Switzerland. At the 2015 Baselworld, the first (ever) Tudor Manufacture Calibre - MT5621 - was introduced in the North Flag. Finally allowing the ‘Shield’, like the ‘Crown’ to stand as its own entity, from the inside out.
Since then several more Manufacture movements have joined the MT5621. (All COSC-certified and boasting 70-hour power reserves.) In 2017, Tudor also formed a mutual partnership with Breitling to develop its own dedicated chronograph movement. A calibre swap sees the MT5612 provided for Breitling use. In exchange, Tudor have been able to adopt the coveted Breitling Calibre B01 as the base for their Calibre MT5813. (Debuted in the Neo-vintage Black Bay Chrono.) The column-wheel with vertical clutch movement gives Tudor buyers great value for price. Overall, having its own Manufacture movements completes the Tudor story for the discerning customer.
The new luxury watch aficionados
Due to its 10-year hiatus, Tudor faced being an unknown to the new consumer meeting the brand for the first time. Older watch fans may have remembered Tudor from their original heyday. But younger would-be watch connoisseurs had no reference to the rich history. Tudor capitalised on the dilemma well by doing a good job to educate newer generations on their past. In doing so, watch aficionados have found a brand linked to a (well documented) bigger story that they can become intrigued with.
Tudor have also re-positioned themselves as a progressive brand, seen as a trend-setter. Through big-name ambassadors. As well as instigating styles, like the NATO-inspired fabric straps they’ve become known for.
At the end of the day, Tudor’s biggest drawcard is their attractive designs and top-notch quality. From the very beginning, Tudor watches were built to be rugged, functional, stylish and reliable (as well as economically viable). Those principals are still preserved in their modern-era DNA. Hence, success has followed from a well-planned and well-executed strategy to repackage what the brand was always known for in the first place.
To explore the Tudor range - please come into our Winsor Bishop Norwich boutique.