In Perfect Patrimony
The secret to Tudor’s success lies in how the brand has mastered the fine balance of paying tribute to the mythology of its past while still breaking new ground and paving its future. By Wei Koh
Pelagos timepiece in titanium case and black rubber strap, Tudor. Blue and white breton striped cotton sweater, A.P.C.; blue cotton-denim tailored trousers, Thom Sweeney; black, white and gold silk pocket square, Mariano Rubinacci; woven leather bracelets, Tod’s; coffee-brown leather tassel loafers, Pal Zileri. Deep-blue wool-fresco double-breasted blazer, Chester Barrie; blue and white check cotton floral boutonnière (both property of The Rake).
What is extraordinary about Tudor is that it’s one of the few luxury brands that completely transcends its price category: whenever any one of their now-iconic Heritage-themed watches is unveiled, people who collect tourbillon repeaters want one as much as the guy who is investing in his first serious timepiece. Furthermore, while some watch brands smack of a certain bourgeoisness, there is a buoyant optimism in the appeal of Tudor that just makes everyone look at it and smile. For many people, Tudor’s renewal has been absolutely thrilling; it has transformed itself from a ‘me-too’ yet inferior clone of its more famous sibling, Rolex, to the hottest watch brand on the planet. At the same time, Tudor has, to a large extent, democratised the Swiss luxury sports watch — especially with their latest offering, the Tudor Heritage Ranger. At a shade under CHF3,000, the Heritage Ranger is the type of watch, based purely on its appeal coupled with Tudor’s legendary reputation for quality, that makes a man, regardless of demographic and age, want to own it.
This democratisation is an important statement that heralds a new age of profound creativity for watches at more accessible prices, and which will become one of the most important themes of the future, with Tudor leading the way. As such, one could make an argument for the profound morality of Tudor. The second aspect of Tudor that is so exciting is that it has demonstrated better than any other brand the incredible empowerment of embracing one’s own history. Which is not to say that Tudor relies on repeating its past — it doesn’t. It creates watches that are completely contemporary, utilising codes, design touches and, most importantly, the mythology of its past, all of which, when woven together, become the blueprint to the Tudor brand identity. What CEO Philippe Peverelli and Creative Director Davide Cerrato have done with the watches collectively known as the Heritage collection, is the creation of an unbroken chain that reaches back into Tudor’s past to wonderfully and saliently articulate the brand’s future. As a success story in the watch industry, this work has been nothing less than revolutionary and makes Tudor’s latest creation, the Ranger, one of the most significant watches of the year. Before examining this watch in detail, however, it is worthwhile to look at the entire Heritage collection to understand the cultural phenomenon it represents.
Tudor was created in 1946 by Hans Wilsdorf, the same individual who founded Rolex and who had cagily combined Rolex cases with non-Rolex calibres to create watches that were approximately two-thirds of what a Rolex would cost. It is interesting to consider what Wilsdorf would think of Tudor in its modern incarnation. Because, while Tudor continues to feature the combination of Rolex-manufactured cases with good, reliable outsourced-yet-heavily-internally-modified movements, it has become something of a global luxury behemoth unto itself, based on the uniqueness of its designs and their profound value proposition.
Tudor Heritage Chrono
In 1970, Tudor launched a chronograph that would become one of the most iconic sports watches ever created: the ref. 7031. This chronograph featured a case similar to their Rolex counterparts, the ref. 6263 and ref. 6265, but with slightly thicker dimensions thanks to the sturdy manual-winding Valjoux cal. 7734 inside. The dial of the ref. 7031 was wildly iconoclastic, breaking with the traditional design of two circular subdials and stick markers. It’s fair to say that this exciting new dial was charged with the graphic energy of the late-’60s pop-art explosion, resulting in a watch that could be recognised from across the room.
The dial was black in its centre, with a grey ring at the outer perimeter bearing bold orange minute markers. The large tritium markers were five-sided and shaped not unlike the home plate in a baseball diamond, resulting in the sobriquet ‘Home Plate’ being bestowed upon these watches. In addition, both the subdials for the continuous seconds and the minute counter were housed inside trapezoidal grey surrounds that added to the watch’s unique appearance. The first model, the ref. 7031, was produced until 1972 and featured a Bakelite bezel with a tachymetric scale in a style similar to that of the Rolex ref. 6263, or a metal bezel also with a tachymetric scale not unlike that found in the Rolex ref. 6265. These chronographs were made until 1973, when a new chronograph without home-plate-shaped markers were introduced: the now-legendary ref. 7169, or the ‘Montecarlo’.
Heritage Chrono Blue timepiece in steel case and blue, white and orange fabric strap, and 1973 Oysterdate ‘Montecarlo’ ref. 7169/0 timepiece, in steel case and bracelet, both Tudor. Black metal-frame aviators, Ray-Ban; Classic Fedora Safari Edition panama hat with black grosgrain ribbon, Brent Black (all property of The Rake).
The energy at the 2010 BaselWorld fair was electric, with journalists and collectors alike buzzing around the Tudor booth as word about an absolutely stunning new chronograph with home-plate-shaped markers exploded through the internet. The year 2010 was a seminal one in the watch industry, as the world had undergone a major transition as a result of the change in watch buyers’ mentality following the global financial crisis of 2008. No longer did watch consumers want wildly extroverted, crazily modernist timepieces. What buyers sought above all else was a sense of perenniality — the understanding that the watch they invested in at the time would be as relevant today as it would be in 10, or even 50, years. Accordingly, many younger consumers turned to vintage watches — because, what better reassurance of everlasting relevance than a watch that was already decades old, but still looked as compelling as ever?
Understanding this, Cerrato and Peverelli embarked on using the codes of their past to construct a watch that would become an instant classic. That watch was the Heritage Chrono, and upon its launch, it became one of the greatest commercial successes the world had ever witnessed. Says Cerrato, “It would have been easy to make a clone of the early ‘Home Plate’ chronographs, but that was not what we wanted to do. We wanted to make a thoroughly modern watch using the codes of the past to give the watch an instant sense of timelessness.” Hence, the size of the case was a wholly contemporary 42mm in diameter. The watch came with both a steel bracelet as well as a beautifully made black, grey and orange NATO-style strap. The legendary Rolex case construction, combined with the reliable ETA cal. 2892 with a Dubois Dépraz chronograph module, allowed the Heritage Chrono to be very well priced at CHF4,200. Says Peverelli, “The Heritage Chrono was a great demonstration that the Swiss watch industry can be highly innovative and can create a thrilling, iconic sports chronograph at a price that most people can afford.”
The Heritage Chrono was a watch that all timepiece collectors, new or seasoned, loved and coveted. Says the Editor-in-Chief of Revolution USA, Jack Forster, “It was a watch that you could put on the wrist of even the most sophisticated collector — the guy who collects Patek repeaters or Richard Milles — and he would smile.” Says the Editor-in-Chief of Revolution Asia, Suzanne Wong, “It became the watch everyone had to have. It didn’t matter if you were a young guy buying your first watch or if you were the CEO of a huge company — you wanted that watch.” Says the Editor-in-Chief of Revolution Switzerland, Sophie Furley, “Moreover, because of how timeless it is, four years later, the watch still looks as fresh and relevant as ever.”
In 2013, channelling a sense of the spirit of the Riviera, Peverelli and Cerrato unveiled the Heritage Chrono Blue, inspired by the colourway of the Tudor ref. 7169, the ‘Montecarlo’ model. This new watch featured a light-grey dial with blue and orange accents, as well as a rotating bezel with a blue and grey GMT 12-hour scale; regular applied indices were used on the watch instead of ‘home plate’ markers.
Heritage Chrono timepiece in steel case and black, grey and orange fabric strap, and 1970 Oysterdate ref. 7032/0 timepiece in steel case and bracelet, both Tudor.
Heritage Advisor timepiece in titanium and steel case and black alligator leather strap, and 1957 Advisor ref. 7926 timepiece in steel case and bracelet, both Tudor; tobacco calfskin-leather wallet, Tod’s.
While people traditionally think of Tudor as the producer of robustly engineered tool watches, there is also a more elegant side to the brand’s personality. This is most saliently embodied in the 42mm alarm watch, the Heritage Advisor. Look at the timepiece and you’ll instantly understand that it channels the design cool of the 1950s — an era of Eames chairs, three-piece suits and three-martini lunches, which is popularly revisited by television series such as Mad Men. Indeed, the 2011 Advisor was inspired by an emblematic alarm watch of the same name from that era — 1957, to be specific.
In creating a modern version of this timepiece, however, Tudor brought the case size up from 34mm to 42mm in diameter, and turned to a very unique material known as titanium. Titanium is extremely strong, hypoallergenic, highly resistant to corrosion and far lighter than steel — it is for all of these reasons that Tudor manufactured their groundbreaking dive watch, the Pelagos, from this material. But there is one other reason for Tudor’s choice of material: titanium is one of the best conductors of sound. When the alarm function on the Advisor is selected and the time comes to trigger this mechanism, the part of the case crafted from titanium amplifies the sound produced. The alarm mechanism inside the Advisor was developed exclusively for Tudor on a reliable ETA cal. 2892 movement beating at 4Hz (28,800vph) with a power reserve of 42 hours. The mainspring that powers the alarm mechanism is wound and set with the crown at two o’clock, which is totally independent from the time-setting crown at four o’clock for extreme ease of use.
The watch’s case-middle, lugs, bezel, as well as the dauphine hands and stylised red alarm hand were directly inspired by the vintage timepiece. The contemporary watch, however, has a large steel on/off pusher integrated into the left side of the watch. An on/off display is integrated into the aperture at nine o’clock, while the power-reserve indicator for the alarm is shown in a small but highly legible subdial at three o’clock. The watch, a perfect marriage of form and function, is available with either an alligator strap or a brushed-steel bracelet.
Tudor Black Bay
From left: Heritage Black Bay timepiece in polished satin-finish steel case and black fabric strap, Heritage Black Bay timepiece in polished satin-finish steel case with navy aged leather strap, 1969 Oyster Prince Submariner ref. 9401 timepiece in steel case and bracelet, 1954 Tudor Oyster Submariner ref. 7923 timepiece in steel case and bracelet, and 1975 Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner ‘Marine Nationale’ ref. 9401 timepiece in steel case and artisanal strap from French military parachute belt, all Tudor
Following the massive success of the Heritage Chrono, it seemed natural enough for Peverelli and Cerrato to, once again, turn to their history to consider what timepieces could provide the inspiration for yet another contemporary icon. They found that inspiration in their own long and guards was the ref. 7928, and early examples of these featured square crown guards and gilt dials. However, the most famous of all Tudor dive watches was introduced in 1968 and was offered in two versions: one with date (ref. 7021) and one without (ref. 7016). These were the first to feature Tudor’s famous square markers and ‘snowflake’ rich gold gilt print found both in the ref. 7922 as well as the first-generation ref. 7928. To further enhance this sense of richly patinated warmth, a reddish-brown aluminium bezel insert and crown insert were added for an extra punctuation of colour. The watch, when combined with the aged-leather strap, became the single most eloquent glorious dive-watch history. While the very first Rolex dive watches, the ref. 6204 and ref. 6205, date back to a launch at the 1954 Basel watch fair, it wasn’t until 1956 that Rolex launched the ref. 6538, the first truly legendary Submariner that featured the ‘big crown’, a watch that was later worn by the world’s most famous silver-screen British spy, James Bond. This watch and its successor, the ref. 5510, were so associated with 007 that they were awarded the sobriquet, ‘James Bond Submariner’. But, in 1956, Tudor — the brand created by Hans Wilsdorf to be the ultimate example of pragmatic hard-use tool watches, wherein form and function were perfectly aligned — also launched its first ‘big crown’ Submariner: the ref. 7922. The case of the ref. 7922 was identical to that of the ref. 6538: it used the same screw-down 8mm-diameter crown printed with the word ‘BREVET’ (French for ‘Patent’) in reference to Rolex’s ownership of the screw-down-crown patent. Today, these watches are some of the most collectible dive watches in history.
As the Tudor dive watch transitioned into a model with crown guards to offer greater protection to this vulnerable element, Tudors also began to gain in use by various military organisations. While Rolex dive watches were used specifically by British military units, it is believed that the relatively lower price of Tudor watches, combined with their incredibly robust Rolex-produced cases, made them the ideal watch for numerous naval units around the world. They were adopted by not only the French Marine Nationale, but also a host of other military and law enforcement agencies including the Argentine Federal Police. The first Tudor dive watch to feature crown hour hand — design elements that were a radical departure from the design iconography of any other dive watch of the era. The use of these thick, square luminous indices and the highly stylised hour hand was both arrestingly beautiful and highly pragmatic: the shape of the hour hand allowed it to be distinguished from the minute hand even when they overlapped.
In 2012, Tudor launched a timepiece called the Heritage Black Bay that powerfully channelled its own dive-watch history into a single timepiece. It is important to understand that while the resulting watch featured numerous design flourishes gleaned from its own vintage watches, the overall result was a timepiece that was fresh, energetic and highly contemporary in its appeal. The Black Bay was a modern 41mm in size, featuring a brushed-steel case with the lovely bevelled lugs seen in the ref. 7922. Another element inspired by the ref. 7922 was the large 8mm ‘big crown’. Interestingly, the square markers and ‘snowflake’ hour hand on the watch dial took inspiration from another era, using the iconography of the ref. 7016 and ref. 7021. Because Cerrato had become fascinated by a phenomenon that results in ‘tropical dials’ — a black dial that fades to a brown colour because of exposure to UV light — he selected a deep-brown colour for his dial and combined it with the expression of vintage cool in modern watchmaking.
New for 2014 is another version of the Black Bay, perhaps more aptly described as a ‘Midnight Blue Bay’, thanks to its seductively hued bezel. But this timepiece features far more than a change of bezel colour. This time, Tudor was inspired by the military-issue watches used by the French Marine Nationale, the majority of which featured blue dials and bezels; moreover, the prevailing design brief was to create a highly contemporary version of the Black Bay. Accordingly, rather than the original aged brown, the colour of this dial is pure, matte black. Gone are the warmth of the rose-gold hands and rose-gold index surrounds: they are now replaced by the cool freshness of white gold. Even the colour of the luminous material in the indices and hands has been changed: while the earlier Black Bay featured indices reminiscent of aged tritium, here the indices and hands are in a pure, clean white. Finally, the distressed-leather strap has been replaced by a dramatic midnight-blue textile strap, though, as with the original watch, you can also select a steel bracelet. What is so powerfully expressed by the Black Bay in midnight blue is that, while the brand had initially looked to its past to create its iconic dive watch, this iteration clearly embraces a more modern approach.
Heritage Ranger timepiece in steel case and tobacco-brown leather bund strap.
One of the great powers of Tudor watches is their capacity to transport you. And when you look at the brand’s latest offering on your wrist, you will feel as if you are climbing up Mt. Kilimanjaro, struggling past the height normally achieved by commercial airplanes, braving subzero temperatures and deathly headwinds to ascend to greatness. Or, you might be an intrepid explorer tied upside down to a pole, who has cunningly extracted his boot knife to liberate yourself and your stunning female companion before you are chucked by headhunters into the bouillon. The point is, it is impossible to look at the Ranger and not feel a strong sense of emotion. You immediately see the watch within scenarios and contexts; it becomes the starting point to boundless, limitless, endless adventure.
It is amazing how much of this emotion resonates from just the dial of the new Ranger. Yes, with its 3-6-9-12 Arabic hour markers, it does recall the legendary Rolex Explorer ref. 6350 worn by Tenzing Norgay on his ascent to Mt. Everest, or the Explorer ref. 1016, which is so collectible that it is essentially the focus of a cult all on its own. And, if there are some similarities to the ref. 1016, this can hardly be considered a bad thing, since this watch is collected and worn by legions of collectors, including actor Matt Damon and the often clothesless, ravishing Victoria’s Secret Brazilian supermodel Izabel Goulart. But what might surprise you to learn is that the inspiration for the Ranger is, in fact, a Tudor timepiece of the same name that dates back to 1967. The specific watch that was the catalyst to this current design exists in the brand’s permanent collection, and was lovingly displayed along with the modern watch during the 2014 Basel watch fair. It differs from the Rolex Explorer by eschewing Mercedes hands for a broad arrow-shaped hour hand and a sword-shaped minute hand. In the new watch, the seconds hand is painted red and bears a slightly longer and shaped luminous marker than that of the original watch. Yet the dial somehow expresses wonderfully old-world charisma.
“Most modern watch dials are printed, which results in a different sort of feel,” says Davide Cerrato. “With these dials, first of all, we did not use any surrounds for any of the indices, but more importantly, we had these dials painted rather than printed.” This charmingly old-world technique is also used for the brand logo and rose symbol, as well as the wonderfully retro ‘two-liner’ proclamation, ‘ROTOR SELF-WINDING’, resulting in a dial that feels exquisitely timeless. The colour of the Super-LumiNova has been carefully selected to give just a hint of the hue of aged tritium, but without crossing the line into kitsch. The watchcase is, expectedly, brushed steel, evoking the sense of a hard-use tool watch, while the elegant thin bezel retains the domed sapphire crystal that is reminiscent of period domed acrylic crystals. The purity of the watchcase is retained by not adding guards to the robustly oversized crown. While it evinces a multitude of perfectly executed vintage design flourishes, the case of the Ranger is a decidedly contemporary 41mm, sharing the same lug width (22mm) as the Black Bay and the Chrono — and one must wonder if this wasn’t done to encourage a certain amusing interchangeability of the accompanying watch straps… A Black Bay on a bund strap, anyone? The lugs of the watch are pierced, so that a simple push of a strap-changing tool will free the spring bar that retains the strap.
But it is the straps of the new Ranger that unexpectedly surprise and delight you. Tudor refers to the first strap the watch comes on — and the one that is absolutely imperative you choose — as a ‘bund strap’, though it is also known in horological vernacular as a ‘fat strap’. I love this strap so much that I am actually going to refuse to discuss any other permutations and simply insist that you buy it. It is a thick tobacco-coloured leather strap with white top stitching where the lugs of the watch are attached to two additional leather loops sewn to the top of the strap, creating a rugged, aggressive, highly alpha-male appearance, though you could argue its very machismo makes it apt to be co-opted by the more daring women out there.
Says Cerrato, “We took a very long time to design exactly the right type of military strap — there are so many permutations to this, and some are too rugged, others not rugged enough. In the end, I think we got the balance just right.” Amusingly, I recall spending an afternoon in New York City’s Greenwich Village, in a vintage-themed store with Cerrato as he examined countless examples of watches fitted to these types of straps, and so, I can personally attest to his profound attention to detail. Each Tudor Heritage Ranger is also accompanied by a second strap — specifically, a woven camouflage textile strap. Here, the camouflage pattern is not printed on, as it is with inferior fashion-accessory straps, but actually woven out of multicoloured thread by an artisanal company that apparently embroiders the Pope’s pajamas. The fact that a brand owned by Rolex is so perfectly in touch with the tastes of the contemporary consumer is absolutely fantastic and demonstrates another one of Tudor’s great strengths: it knows its consumer. Regardless of which strap is attached, the Ranger sits perfectly on the wrist and the Swiss ETA movement inside keeps faithful duty as the timepiece commands you to get out, leave the house, jump on a plane with little more than a backpack and start the adventure that your life should be.
Created by The Rake for Tudor