They say you can’t build a brand overnight, but Swiss watch company Tudor is doing its damnedest to disprove the rule.
At this weekend’s Only Watch auction, held in Monaco in aid of research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a one-off Tudor Heritage Black Bay cast in bronze and with an unusual left-hand crown sold for CHF350,000 (£268,000/$350,000).
The high estimate had been CHF5,500 (£4,200/$5,500). So it sold for 64 times estimate, and 94 times the price of the standard collection bronze version. That’s staggering.
Most of the headlines from the auction, which featured 50 unique pieces from some of the world’s biggest watch brands, will centre on Patek Philippe, whose Ref 5208T-010 went under the hammer for an eye-watering CHF6.2m (£4.75m/$6.2m). And that’s not wrong – it’s one of the most expensive wristwatches ever sold (but not the most expensive). It’s just that because of soaring Patek values, it was expected to blow the doors off – and it was only six times estimate (ok, so when you’re dealing in seven figures, everything’s relative).
By contrast, the sum fetched against Tudor is more interesting because it demonstrates something watch aficionados have known for some time – that Tudor is once again a collectible brand.
Only a few years ago, you couldn’t buy Tudor in the UK (or the US), currently two of the four largest watch markets in the world, despite the fact the company’s ‘more affordable Rolex’ mantra-cum-strategy had been historically successful in both territories.
Founded officially in 1946 (there had been Tudor watches before), it was all but dead on its feet in the mid-2000s, a sort of bastard offspring of Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf that while still part of the Rolex empire had been left to rot. According to sources, in 2009, 95 per cent of Tudor sales were in China. Traditional markets didn’t care. But since then, a brand overhaul has rebooted its fortunes.
Successful new models such as the Heritage Black Bay, Ranger and Pelagos have been joined by high-profile ambassadors, among them Lady Gaga, the All Blacks and most evidently, David Beckham. You can’t open a newspaper or magazine these days without clocking a Tudor ad. Rolex-owned and backed, it has massive power.
But all of that means nothing without good products, and the Heritage Black Bay isn’t good, it’s great (I bought one two years ago – money where my mouth is). It’s based on a 1954 Tudor Submariner, only with the update of Tudor’s Snowflake hour hand (a late 60s development introduced for divers who wanted clearer readings) and more than 60 years’ worth of mechanical and manufacturing advances.
But given that process kicked off just seven years ago, it’s astonishing how quickly Tudor has become so desirable and able to command such prices at auction.
Incidentally, unlike the watch, this auction result isn’t a one-off. At the last Only Watch auction in 2015, a one-off Tudor Heritage Black Bay with a bog-standard third-party calibre sold for CHF375,000 (£288,000/$375,000 at today’s rates), more than 100 times the retail price of the equivalent collection model.
This latest story is just the next indication of how far the brand has come. Yes, the first Tudor watch dates to 1926, but really Tudor’s current story started this decade. It’s a story worth telling.