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Feature: Rolex Vs Tudor

Since its launch in 1946 Tudor has had to bear the inevitable comparisons with its famous older sibling. Conceived as a more affordable alternative to Rolex, it was very much the spare to the heir until its 2007 reboot when it began to forge its own distinct—and edgier—identity. So how do these two legendary brands measure up today?



Rolex is Tudor’s elder sibling by 38 years, born in 1908 at a time when the wristwatch—then called a wristlet—was still viewed as a feminine accessory. Pocket watches remained de rigueur for men until the beginning of World War One six years later when soldiers began to wear the more convenient wristwatch in battle.

Fortunately, Rolex co-founder Hans Wilsdorf had a strong hunch regarding the future of personal timekeeping and was an early advocate of the wristwatch, allowing Rolex to steal a march on its competitors.

A mere two decades after launching, Rolex was already outsmarting its competitors, both in its pioneering technology and ingenious marketing campaigns. Its first water-resistant wristwatch, the Oyster, was worn by the endurance swimmer Mercedes Gleitze, the first woman to swim the English Channel. Rolex promptly took out a full-page, front-cover newspaper advert to broadcast the feat and promote its new product—setting the tone for future advertising campaigns which have relied heavily on high-profile ambassadors from the worlds of sport, culture and beyond.

Throughout the 20th century Rolex was renowned for its relentless innovation, but the years between 1945 and 1956—when Tudor was still in its infancy—were particularly fruitful. Almost all the models launched during this time—from the Datejust to the Submariner dive watch—still form the core of Rolex’s catalogue.

Rolex made a huge statement of intent in the late 1990s when it began its journey to full integration, buying up its long-time parts suppliers such as the dial manufacturer, Beyeler, case maker, Genex, as well as Gay Frères, the famed high-end bracelet producer. The biggest of these acquisitions, though, was the 2004 purchase of the Aegler factory, which had exclusively supplied the majority of Rolex’s movements.

Cool factor

There are few brands that rival Rolex when it comes to cool factor, partly due to the roll-call of influential people that have worn its watches over the decades.

We’re talking actors like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman (who wore a Daytona), musicians like Rihanna, Eric Clapton and Ed Sheeran, as well as sporting deities, from Bjorn Borg to Magic Johnson, Seve Ballesteros to David Beckham, who is now fronting Rolex’s sister company Tudor.

Whether they are official ambassadors or wear a Rolex of their own free will, they have reinforced the aura of cool that surrounds the brand.

Icon status

The brand’s crown logo is as iconic as they come, and the watches themselves more than live up to this regal symbol. Rolex’s back catalogue boasts a plethora of iconic models that have been worn by global leaders, the Hollywood A-list and even fictional characters.

But it’s not just about the people who wear them. It’s about the build quality and dependability that has seen Rolex watches accompany explorers, mountain climbers and deep-sea divers to some of the planet’s most hostile terrains.

Also bolstering its icon status is the fact that the fictional spy James Bond wore a Rolex in Ian Fleming’s novels and many of the subsequent film adaptions. Omega may have bought its way into the Bond franchise in the 1990s but to many people, especially the older generation, James Bond is as inseparable from his Submariner as from his Walter PPK handgun.

Image courtesy of Bonhams

Image courtesy of Bonhams


The fact that Rolex makes everything in-house is no mean feat. Before a watch can be called “Swiss-made”, at least 60 per cent of it needs to be made in Switzerland. Every part of a Rolex, however, is not only Swiss-made but made in one of several Rolex production facilities in and around Geneva and Bienne. This ensures every single watch that leaves its factories meets the company’s stringent demands on quality.

Much to the envy of other brands, Rolex has its own foundry in order to produce its own 18k gold and platinum alloys from the raw materials. Even its proprietary steel—known as 904L—is tougher than the industry-standard 316L steel used by most other watch companies, including Tudor.

As for its movements, all contemporary Rolex models bear the words “Superlative Chronometer” on the dial. This means they are certified for accuracy first by the external company COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètre) and then by Rolex itself, the end result being that the watches are accurate to -2/+2 seconds a day—that’s at least twice as accurate as a standard COSC-certified chronometer.


For anyone buying a luxury watch, Rolex ticks most of the necessary boxes, but whether they offer good value is debatable. After all, a mechanical watch can only ever achieve a certain level of accuracy, and for all Rolex’s boasts about using a superior steel, is it really necessary?

Is it justified in charging several thousand pounds more for a time-only watch than a similar model from Omega, Breitling or, indeed, Tudor? As with so many luxury brands, you’re paying a premium for one of the hottest names in the industry—although let’s not forget that a Rolex is likely to hold its value better than the majority of its rivals.



Hans Wilsdorf considered several weird and wonderful names for his secondary watch brand before settling on Tudor, which appealed to his Anglophile tendencies. Unfortunately, the name had already been claimed and it wasn’t until the late 1930s that he obtained the rights to it, officially launching the brand in 1946.

Other names in the frame included Hofex, Rolwatco and the significantly less laughable Falcon—which at least sounds like a brand of private jet as opposed to a German construction company.

In its early days, Tudor was very much the kid who has to wear his older sibling’s hand-me-downs. Indeed, the first Tudor watches were often equipped with Rolex parts, such as crowns, cases and bracelets. They weren’t, however, equipped with Rolex movements, relying on external suppliers like ETA, which is why Tudor watches have always been more competitively priced.

The brand has sometimes been an outlet through which the more conservative-minded Rolex can test the water. For example, it launched an automatic chronograph model—the Auto Chrono Time—several years before the Rolex Daytona swapped its manual-wind movement for a Zenith-made automatic movement. And in more recent years it launched its first titanium watch, the Pelagos, only for Rolex to follow it a few years later with its own inaugural titanium watch, the Yacht-Master 42.

The 1950s to 1970s conjured up a few interesting models for Tudor, such as the Advisor alarm watch with its in-house complication, their own Submariner featuring the distinctive “snowflake” hour hand—now a signature feature of the Tudor Black Bay and Pelagos lines—and the “Monte Carlo” chronograph with its flamboyant dial.

Despite these stirrings of an independent identity, it was short-lived. By the 1980s, the quartz revolution appears to have deterred Rolex from investing serious time and money in its sister brand, and Tudor became an afterthought.

At one stage, the UK and US markets were abandoned entirely and it was selling most of its watches in Asia, leading some people in the West to think Tudor was dormant. Things weren’t quite that bad, but its modus operandi in the 1980s and 1990s was to simply continue making the same watches it had in the previous decades.

Fast forward to the new millennium, when mechanical watches returned with a vengeance, and it’s clear that Tudor has masterminded one of the greatest comebacks since… well, A. Lange & Sohne’s comeback the decade before.

Overseen by the Midas-touched design director Davide Cerrato, now with Bremont, Tudor underwent a monumental shake-up, delving into its substantial back catalogue for inspiration while ushering in a sharper, fresher design ethos.

While the decision to reboot Tudor was taken as far back as 2007, it wasn’t until 2011 that the industry got wind of the brand’s new direction with the release of the Heritage Chrono, an updated version of the aforementioned Monte Carlo model. This was followed by the first Black Bay dive watch, now a wide-ranging line that both defines and dominates modern Tudor.

Cool factor

The hackneyed phrase “poor man’s Rolex” has for decades followed Tudor around like some malodorous ghost. And yes, there was a time when Tudor probably deserved the label. But those days are long gone.

Since its reboot, Tudor has blossomed into one of the most exciting and visible brands around, with dynamic marketing campaigns, young and relevant brand ambassadors and quality watches at attractive prices.

Despite relying a little too much on its Black Bay models, bringing out endless variations of what is essentially the same watch, it has expressed itself in ways Rolex never could.

It has revived old models, used previously unused materials and even raided its elder sibling’s back catalogue for inspiration—such as the Black Bay Pro, which resembles a straight-up homage to the first-generation vintage Rolex Explorer II.

Its recent “#BornToDare” advertising campaign underlines all the above, and having a style icon like David Beckham front it has ensured an endless stream of media coverage.

Better still, vintage Tudor is becoming extremely collectible, especially 70s-era Submariners and chronographs, which are among the coolest watches around and increasing in value.

Image courtesy of Bonhams

Image courtesy of Bonhams

Icon status

We’ve trawled our Tudor library looking for its ambassadorial equivalent to a Paul Newman or a Steve McQueen, a legendary, uber-cool Tudor wearer from the past who has championed a particular timepiece and helped imbue it with icon status. Yet the best we can come up with are a few motorsports B-listers who have faded into obscurity.

Tudor did, however, provide watches to a large number of military units around the world, most notably the French Navy in the 1970s—and there is little that tool-watch fans revere more than a timepiece that has been put through its paces by military types.

While it’s a little too early for any new-generation Tudors to be considered iconic—icon status isn’t achieved overnight, after all—we wouldn’t argue with anyone referring to models from its early 1970s heyday as “iconic”. However, Rolex remains in pole position here, and probably always will.


To be more affordable than Rolex, Tudor has always had to cut a few corners. In the past, this has involved using external suppliers for movements and “borrowing” surplus bits and pieces from its older sibling. These days, the differences are, well, different.

Tudor uses 316L steel as opposed to Rolex’s superior 904L, which it began using in the 1980s. It also uses aluminium (or sometimes titanium) bezel inserts as opposed to the scratch-proof ceramic ones used by Rolex, which has also upped its bracelet game since it began making them in-house, ensuring a slightly more refined product and better comfort and fit.

Speaking of in-house, Tudor no longer relies solely on ETA for its movements, manufacturing them itself and, with certain calibres, in a unique partnership with its Swiss rival Breitling.


Giving customers good value was one of the reasons Hans Wilsdorf launched Tudor and you could say that in this respect it has never been stronger. Prices are highly competitive compared to its rivals, with very few brand-new models in excess of $10k, and most models falling within the $2k to $5k category, which includes most of its highly regarded Black Bay collection. For this, you get a brand with solid horological pedigree, one whose close association with its mother company does it no harm.

Admittedly the resale value can’t compete with Rolex—few brands can—but Tudors are relatively steady, with many current pre-owned models in top condition selling for around two thirds of their RRP.

Within the top ten Swiss watch brands today, Tudor is tough to beat on value, something of which Hans Wilsdorf would surely approve.

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