Rolex v Tudor: Similar, but Different

Tudor Prince Oysterdate Submariner, a stainless wrist watch with date and bracelet, circa 1975

If it looks like a Rolex and ticks like a Rolex, how can it be a Tudor? People have been comparing Tudor to Rolex since the very earliest days of the brands’ histories. Factually, the two brands are and always have been intertwined so let’s take a look back at the relationship between the “little brother” Tudor to the ‘big brother’ Rolex. Much like a car manufacturer that produces two distinct models that share the same platform, Rolex and Tudor share similarities in style, quality, metals, self-winding rotor, the differences however revolve largely around the beating heart of a watch – its movement.

As one of the world’s most identifiable brands I defy any watch to match Rolex for instant brand recognition and it is under this colossal shadow Tudor has long been regarded as a ‘poor man’s Rolex.’ This more affordable positioning of Tudor stems back to 1946 when in a conscious, strategic decision for the company founder Hans Wildorf diplomatically announced:

“For some years I have been considering the idea of making a watch that our agents could sell as a more modest price than our Rolex watches, and yet one that would attain the standards of dependability for which Rolex are famous for. I decided to form a separate company, with the object of making and marketing this new watch. It is called the Tudor Watch Company”.

A Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Submariner wristwatch

Since its inception Tudors utilised the same case, crown, crystal and bracelet design as Rolex, this is why you will find Rolex crown logos, Rolex text stamped on the back of those distinctive waterproof and durable cases such as Original Oyster Case by Rolex Geneva in our recent sale (20/3) lot 247 Tudor Prince Oysterdate Submariner – from the name through to the design everything screams “Rolex”.

So what was it that made it economically possible for Hans Wilsdorf to offer his Rolex-pedigreed Tudor watch at a more affordable price point? The difference lay in Tudor’s use of third-party movements such as ETA or Valjoux commonly found in timepieces from several other manufacturers, as opposed to the move towards in house movements for Rolex watches. Rolex has since built its reputation on the back of some of the finest mechanical and innovative movements of any manufacturer and that technology is reflected in the cost of its watches.

That was then. Today Tudor has forged its own separate identity and the gap between the two brands for some models is closing. Certainly vintage Tudor watches have seen some excellent growth within the last several years. The early Tudor Submariner Snowflake referenced earlier, is now approaching the price of its Rolex counterpart. In fact for some enthusiasts Tudor is preferred as a manufacturer of authentic, fit for purpose tool watches, without the gemstone embellishments and precious metals that are available from Rolex.

Tudor is now firmly established as an independent brand which has stepped out of the shadow of Rolex and in 2015 it launched its own very first in-house calibre replacing many of its outsourced movements. Ironically Tudor today perfectly serves the demographic Rolex served in its 1950s tool watch glory days and in its positioning in the affordable luxury segment you might think of it as the ‘new-old’ Rolex. Still similar, but different.

PATRICIA KONTOS / Senior Timepieces and Jewels Specialist

Banner Image: A Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Submariner wristwatch

September 2023