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A Week On The Wrist The Tudor Pelagos

One of the most-asked-about watches in history, the Pelagos is a titanium dive watch that tells the story of Tudor and wears like a dream.

The Tudor Pelagos. This is a watch I’ve been dying to get my hands-on for an extended period of time since I first saw it at Basel World in March of last year. And, despite the fact that Tudor isn’t even sold in the country in which I reside, I still felt strongly that we needed to review this watch in detail, for your sake. You see, there seems to be an almost preternatural desire to learn more about Tudor from HODINKEE readers. We’ve received countless emails, tweets, and message about both the Pelagos and the vintage inspired Black Bay, so we did everything we could to get our hands on one. So, without further ado, here is your Week On The Wrist review of the Replica Tudor Pelagos.

What Is Tudor, Anyway?
Before we talk about Tudor of today, let’s talk about Tudor of the 20th century. Montres Tudor, SA is indeed owned, in its entirety, by Rolex. It’s been that way since day one, too. But that doesn’t mean Rolex and Tudor are same company (well, legally, it might), but when Hans Wildorf founded Tudor back on March 6th, 1946, he knew even then that to create a compelling product, it needed be not only robust and interesting, but also have its own identity. The earliest Tudor models were sold under the “Oyster” moniker, adopting the already famous water-proof case from Rolex. In 1952, Tudor unveiled the “Oyster Prince” line, which would become the foundation of the collection for generations.

For some years now I have been considering the idea of making a watch that our agents could sell at a different price level than our Rolex watches, and yet one that would attain the standards of dependability for which Rolex is famous.

Wilsdorf began a dedicated marketing push behind Tudor with the launch of the Oyster Prince line, and though Tudor at the time was indeed designated as a watch that “our (Rolex) agents could sell at a different price level than our Rolex watches,” Tudor has its own set of technical firsts for which it can be proud, its own history of scientific exploration (in 1952, 30 Tudor watches joined the Royal Navy on a historic scientific journey to Greenland), and its own set of dedicated collectors. Still, it was important that, even in advertising, Tudor appear more approachable than Rolex. So, while an advertisement for a Rolex might show a well-to-do man playing golf or riding a horse, a Tudor advertisement might show a man working on a road, or in a mine.

Thinking about a man working in a mine wearing a Tudor now might seem a little silly, but one must remember that in the 1950s and 60s, every man wore a mechanical watch, and Tudor represented a very real, very attainable option.

So what was the difference between Tudor and Rolex watches back then? The cases and bracelets of Tudor wristwatches were all but identical to those of a Rolex. In fact, it could be argued that the only real difference, especially in the early days, was the use of movements provided by ETA opposed to Rolex-crafted movements. Tudor watches carried Rolex-signed cases, bracelets, and crowns all the way up until the 1990s.

But, because Tudor and Rolex shared so much – including several model names even – it was hard for Tudor to be considered anything but a less expensive alternative to a Rolex. They were sold exclusively through Rolex dealers and had little identity of their own – though they were the first to sign Tiger Woods as an ambassador, before leaving for TAG Heuer, only to return to Rolex last year.

Around 2000, Rolex decided to pull Tudor from the United States. They purchased all unsold inventory back from their dealer network, and since then, the US market has been completely void of all things Tudor.

The (Old) Watches To Know
But, just because Tudor shared so much of its past with Rolex doesn’t mean there aren’t some incredibly cool and collectible models in its history – many of which have stories entirely their own. The selection below is simply my personal take on the vintage Tudors that I find to be the most appealing. I should also say that there are several rules for collectability that translate perfectly from the world of vintage Rolex to the world of vintage Tudor. For example, gilt dials and pointed crown guards Tudor subs are considerably more valuable than those without. Big Crown Tudor Subs, while not in the same price range as Big Crown Rolex Subs, should be treated as exceptionally rare watches. Tropical dial Tudors are also quite popular at the moment, and prices can jump quickly there. I won’t get into the dial minutae here, but this should get you started in the world of vintage Tudor, or at least give you some talking points should historical Tudor references come up in your next job interview.

  1. The Ranger: Consider this Tudor’s Explorer. It shares the same 3, 6, 9, dial configuration as the Explorer I and wears very much the same, at about half the price of a decent matte-dial 1016. The snake-head hands give it a different look, though.
  2. The Advisor: Launched in 1957, the Advisor was (and still is) the only watch to come from the Rolex family with an alarm function – one of my favorite complications. The Advisor was re-launched in 2011 with the Heritage Advisor and original examples can be had for little.
  3. The Snowflake Submariner: A watch-nerd might knock the Tudor Submariner for it’s off-the-shelf heartbeat, but anyone with an eye for design could say “so what, look at that awesome hour hand!”. For a lengthy period of time – the 1970s through early 80s – Tudor Submariners came with “Snowflake” hands. This particular look has elevated the Snowflake Submariner to a cult classic, and most serious vintage Rolex collectors own at least one Snowflake – because, well, they’re just cool. Also, they’re cheap(ish) compared to your standard 5513 / 1680. The no-date Snowflakes are rather rare compared to those with date, and prices for these are starting to climb. Still, this is just a super cool watch, and it was so cool that both the Pelagos (which we’re reviewing here – though it may not seem like it at this point, but I’ll get there, I promise) and the Black Bay now have Snowflake hands.
  4. All Military-Issued Submariners: Most HODINKEE readers are likely familiar with the mega MilSub from Rolex. These watches were ordered by the British MOD and modified every so slightly (sword hands, fully graduated bezel, fixed lugs, circled T dial, etc) to meet mil-specs. Because they were never commercially available, those that have seeped into the collector’s world are massively valuable. Tudor Submariners were also used by a few of the world’s militaries, including the US Navy from approximately 1964 through 1966, the Argentine Airforce, and perhaps most famously, the French Navy, or Marine Nationale. The MN purchased Tudor Subs in bulk from the late 60s through the early 1980s. They bought them without bracelets and these watches were identical to the commercially sold pieces. Once issued, they would be engraved with “MN” followed by the year. We showed you one here. The MN had its own watchmakers so many dials, hands, and bezels were replaced along the way creating a bevy of “Franken-Subs” that actually be completely legitimate. That said, MN Subs are notorious for being faked because the only thing that differentiates them from standard Tudor Subs in the engraving. So, should you want to buy one, buy one with verified “decomission” papers.
  5. All Manually-Wound Chronographs: Ask me who was making the coolest looking chronographs in the 1970s and I would answer Tudor, without a second’s hesitation (behind them would be Heuer and Rolex). The manually wound Tudor chronographs of the 1970s were just plain awesome looking – with liberal use of bright colors that you simply would never see on a Rolex (save the 1655 “Orange Hand”). All used Valjoux 7734 movements with two registers and date window at 6pm. You must remember that back then Rolex was using modified Val 72’s in its Daytona so while the 72 was indeed a step-up from the 7734, the difference in movements between Rolex and Tudor may have been less in chronographs than anywhere else. The most desirable Tudor Chrono is the reference 7031 “home plate” which was the inspiration for the incredible 2010 release – the Heritage Chronograph. I once owned a Tudor Reference 7159 “Monte Carlo,” and it is the only watch i regret selling.

And speaking of the Tudor Heritage Chrono….

I’ve been covering watches professionally for a while now. Never in my life as a watch consumer or career as a watch journalist has there been a release more unexpected, welcomed, or buzzed about than that of 2010’s Tudor Heritage Chrono – at least from a consumer standpoint. From a technical standpoint, the watch was nothing exceptional – inside is an ETA 2892 with a dubois depraz chronograph module placed on top. But what made this watch so great is that nobody saw it coming – frankly nobody saw ANYTHING coming from Tudor at that point – and it represented what Tudor does best – incredible, forward thinking design with well-made basics at a reasonable price.

Forty years after the unveiling of the reference 7031 “home plate,” the Heritage Chrono payed homage to one of the great chronograph designs of the 20th century by borrowing many of its design cues, including the bright orange chronograph hand and shield hour markers. It too featured a black rotating bezel, and date window at 6pm (though now without cyclops).

What was even more, was it came (and still does come) with a multi-colored nylon strap. One might think that including a strap like this isn’t a big deal – after all you can buy NATOs online for under $10 – but what this strap represented was the first time that it was abundantly clear that a major watch company was paying attention to what real collectors were doing, and what they really wanted. And to include this little piece of nylon in with the awesome Oyster bracelet was pushing something that was something of a cult item (I’d venture to say 90% of people you meet on the street have never seen a watch on a NATO strap before) to the masses, but in their own way – the Tudor nylon strap is not a NATO at all, it’s a single piece that is not meant to be folded over with two sewn in spring bar loops, made at a legendary mill in France that also produces straps and ribbons for everyone from Chanel to the Vatican.

The Heritage Chrono’s announcement electrified the world’s watch forums, and all of a sudden, the most seasoned watch collectors in the world were dying to own a $4000 eta-based Tudor – a testament to what great vision and great design can do for a brand that up until that point was, in my own very humble opinion, a truly secondary player in the consumer watch market. I do credit two men – Tudor managing director Philippe Peverelli – on board since 2009 – and creative director Davide Cerrato – since 2007 – with this marked change in direction for Tudor world-wide, and having gotten to know them both a little bit over the past two years, I can say they are two who really “get it”. They listen, they pay attention, and they build watches that are respectful of the amazing history Rolex and Tudor share, while pushing things forward.

Which brings us to 2012, and the announcement of both the Heritage Black Bay, and the Pelagos 500m dive watch.

2012 was the year of the diver for Tudor. They announced a totally revamped line-up, with a vintage inspired Heritage Black Bay model and this watch, the Pelagos. I love Rolex dive watches. I own three of them – a 1972 Rolex 5512, a 1962 Rolex 5508, and a 1974 Tudor Snowflake. I’ve worn just about every Rolex and Tudor dive watch ever made, at some point or another, so it is a category with which I am familiar. But, my proclivities tend to trend towards the vintage pieces, so while I knew the Pelagos would be a well-made product, I was thinking it was the Black Bay that would be the Tudor diver for me. That all changed within the week’s time I had the Pelagos, because it may not have the warm hue of creamy patina or colorful bezel, but what it does have is an incredibly well made frame, a handful of “niceties” and an undeniably truthful purpose – this is a tool watch.

Let’s talk case first. This watch is 42mm in diameter and made of titanium. Yes, titanium. This is the very first watch to come from the Rolex family built out of this incredibly lightweight and durable material. It makes sense that it would be a Tudor and an entirely new reference, as opposed to creating a titanium Submariner or turning one of Tudor’s existing models to titanium.

The case has a really nice matte, satin finish to it, and, almost unexpectedly, it has gorgeous beveled edges. They are, most certainly, machine beveled, but who cares? You so rarely see case finishing like this on tool watches today, at any price point, so to see it on a watch that sells for under $5000 is wonderful.

The Tudor crown is protected by pointed crown guard, and the matte finish seems to work at hiding scratches really well. I will say that while I believe 42mm to be the perfect size for this watch, it is a little bit thicker than Submariners I am used to wearing. I thought it might be detrimental to the wearability of the Pelagos, but it really wasn’t. In fact, I could even fit it under my cuff with great ease, and compared to divers in the range from Omega, IWC, and TAG Heuer, it is more than acceptable – and rated to 500 meters to boot.

On the left-hand side of the case, there is a helium release valve. Which, in spite of what Mr. Heaton may feel on the matter, makes perfect sense for this watch. You must remember that Rolex played an instrumental role in the development of the HEV, and if the Pelagos is to be Tudor’s serious dive watch, it should have one, as a simple matter of historical credit.

The Pelagos features applied square hour markers, with a triangle at 12 o’clock and longer rectangles at 6 and 9. At three o’clock there is a date window without cyclops magnifier. Based on this and the fact that the Heritage Chrono doesn’t use the trademark cyclops over the date window either, I will venture to say Tudor has decided to leave that design trait to its big brother exclusively.

You will notice that nowhere on the dial does it read “Pelagos”. The same is true of the Heritage Black Bay and Chrono, though the Advisor does indeed read “Advisor” at 6 o’clock. It is commonplace for all Rolexes to read the model name right on the dial, but the lack of text here is welcomed. In its place we do see the words “Rotor Self-Winding”. It might seem a little superfluous, until you realize it’s a nod to the dial markings of the earliest Tudor dive watches.

One of the nicest traits of this Tudor’s dial is its integration with the flange. Not only are the minute markers indicated here, instead of on the dial itself, but each hour marker is enveloped by it, offering some slick three dimensionality to the face of the watch.

The hands on the Pelagos (and the Heritage Black Bay) are now luminous snowflake hands, a welcomed tribute to the snowflakes of yesteryear. The lume on the dial of the Pelagos is incredibly strong, and tinted blue.

The bezel of the Pelagos is pretty interesting itself. Like the modern-day Submariner’s bezel, it is made of ceramic. But in the case of the Tudor, it is injected, matte ceramic, so you would almost never know it. Luminous material is injected directly into the ceramic for hashing. What resides at 12 o’clock is perhaps my nerdiest object of criticism on the Pelagos. At 12 o’clock sits a triangle with a cut-out circle, or faux pearl. The first time I saw it, it really bothered me. I thought, you either do a pearl or you don’t, but a faux pearl is lame (sidenote: at some point I will write a story about my matching pearl obsession, but I’m afraid our traffic would take an immediate and immeasurable nosedive following).

I asked Davide about the faux pearl idea at Basel World and his response was reasonable: a real pearl will fall out (which I can confirm, certainly) but it was important to have a focal point within the triangle for quick legibility – after all, the Pelago was meant to be a true tool watch for real divers. I couldn’t argue with the reasoning, but aesthetically it didn’t work for me. But, after a week with the Pelagos, I got over it very, very quickly and now it doesn’t bother me nearly as much.

The bezel rotates beautifully with loud, crisp clicks, with absolutely zero wiggle.

The bracelet that comes with the Pelagos is, as one would expect it to be, supremely well made, easy to wear, and comfortable. It looks a lot like the Rolex Oyster bracelets, but is completely matte finished. It is, as you are likely aware, the innovative clasp on this bracelet that makes it something special, though.

This new “floating” clasp allows the bracelet to adjust with the wearer’s motion. In theory, this was designed for diver whose wrists expand and contract based on the pressure in the water around them. In practice, it makes day to day wearability just downright great – especially when flexing your wrist, like you would, say, writing a watch review on a computer for 12 hours. Be sure to check out the video up top to see exactly what i mean here.

In addition to the steel and titanium bracelet, the Pelagos also comes with two rubber straps – one of standard length and one of extended length to wear on the outside of a dive suit. A nice touch, and again proving that the folks at Tudor “get it.” Most divers prefer to wear their watches on rubber, so why not include it in the package?

The Pelagos has a real and noticeable, but not overwhelming, presence on the wrist. Again, most of my watches, even my dive watches, are 39 or 40mm. So while 42mm isn’t a huge stretch for me, the first day or so I looked at my wrist and thought “ok, this is kind of big.” That soon faded once I realized I had completely forgotten I was wearing a 500 meter diver.

What I really mean is, being made of titanium, the watch is light enough and the case thin enough that I hardly noticed it (unlike, say, an IWC Aquatimer Chrono, which is just gigantic and impossible to forget you’re wearing – I know because I own one). The Pelagos was sliding under my cuff easily – something I simply did not expect. This is a watch you can put on and forget about, the sign of any great tool watch.

The Tudor Pelagos is a superb tool watch. Perhaps one of the best in its price bracket. In fact, I’m not sure I could name a better made 500m diver that comes in under $5000 – the Pelagos has a Swiss retail price of 4100 CHF. Yes, it is powered by an ETA self-winding movement, but so are many great dive watches, including the Tudor Subs of the 1960s and 70s.

I can hear the naysayers already, complaining that you can get ETA powered divers for much less. And you can, but with this Tudor you are getting so much more than just an ETA diver. You are getting an exceptionally well designed, thoroughly functional tool watch in an entirely Swiss-made package (not many competitors in this range can say that) that is a breeze to wear and can handle anything you throw at it. If you’re looking for a more stylized diver, perhaps the Black Bay is the Tudor for you, but if you want a watch you can throw on, enjoy, wear every single day of your life, and not worry about, the Tudor Pelagos is it.

In my opinion, the Pelagos is the watch that will get real divers and real tool watch enthusiasts excited about Tudor again. I think it will appeal to a totally different set of buyers than the Black Bay, and that is what is so great about Tudor’s 2012 dive watch offerings – there is something for everyone. Also, Tudor has taken on the position of almost the “anti-Rolex,” in that it give you much of the same appeal, including history and aesthetics, without actually wearing a Rolex. To some people, that’s a good thing.

And now for the bad news. The Pelagos, and in fact the entire Tudor line is not currently sold in the United States. As I mentioned above, it has been this way since the early 2000s when the brand was not nearly as strong as it is now. I personally believe this is ripe to change, but there is little word on when that might happen. So if you want one of these watches, you’re going to have to work for it (unless you’re based outside of the US, in which case you can just walk down to your local authorized dealer). Should any of that change, you can guarantee we’ll be the first to let you know.

In summary, I loved the Tudor Pelagos. I also love the Black Bay and hope to review it soon. I think these two watches, plus the Heritage Chrono, are exceptionally cool watches for guys that have any appreciation for the great sport watches of the 20th century – especially these prices. I will, after reviewing the Black Bay, probably buy a Tudor dive watch as my summer watch. I will be sure to chime back in when I make that decision to let you know.

You can learn more about the Tudor Pelagos right here.

We would also like to thank our friends at Watchonista for providing the sample Pelagos. You can read our review, as well as a few others right here on their special dedicated page.

Also, be sure to watch our video review of the Pelagos at the top of the page.