Which watch brand won 2022? D.C. picks Tudor and here’s why…D.C. Hannay
All kidding aside, it was an easy choice for me, given my proclivity for all things vintage tool watch. In fact, it wasn’t even close. Last year saw Tudor going hard into the ’70s with their new releases at the start of the year, with models that added some funk to their classic aesthetic. Then in the heat of July, Tudor dropped what might be viewed as an ideal summer watch. And in a final surprise, they caught everyone off-guard by unleashing a near-perfect diver during a watch fair that they didn’t even attend. But really, the reason Tudor won 2022 for me was the fact that they just continued to keep on keeping on, making the watches that I would actually buy with my own hard-earned ducats. They didn’t focus on fripperies like double tourbillons, liquid-filled displays, or manufactured sapphire cases. Not that all those things aren’t cool as hell, but c’mon, I’m not wearing any of that.
Tudor has done a pretty great job of knowing their audience, i.e., people like me that appreciate classic, understated design, in a contemporary package that emphasises ongoing technical upgrades. And they accomplish that while being mostly available (compared to their corporate sibling, Rolex), all at reasonable prices. As Rolex continues to climb further upmarket with their blingier aesthetic and higher retail (never mind the hype train that doesn’t stop for normies like us), Tudor has scratched the itch for fans of classic Swiss tool watches.
Storming out of the gate with guns blazing at Watches and Wonders, the Black Bay Pro stunned with its vintage look, recalling nothing more than the classic Rolex Explorer II 1655, the “McQueen” watch that Steve McQueen never wore. The steel 24-hour bezel, cream-coloured lume, and 39mm case diameter all screamed “vintage Rolex”, and fans of the look ate it up. The Kenissi-based GMT movement and ceramic lume plots are welcome updates to the classic models, and apart from some grumblings about the 14.6mm case height, the reception has been enthusiastic.
Another GMT, the 41mm Black Bay GMT Steel & Gold couldn’t be more ’70s if it tried, with its “Root Beer” two-tone vibe that would look note-perfect on Clint Eastwood’s wrist. It features a black and brown 24-hour bezel marked in gold, and would be right at home behind the wheel of a 1974 Coupe DeVille with Isaac Hayes blasting out of the 8-track. Essentially an update of the Pepsi-bezelled Tudor GMT, the S & G version has a warmer feel, and frankly, I prefer it to the Pepsi’s cooler tones.
Probably my favourite Tudor release of the show, the Black Bay Chrono Steel & Gold features a new champagne and black panda dial, and gets my vote in the “Best Daytona Alternative” category. The John Player Special magic is real with this one, and on the factory bund strap, it’s an unstoppable retro monster. Tudor is making the watches that I wish Rolex still made, and I think a lot of enthusiasts agree.
Apart from these tool watches and wonders, Tudor quietly brought two-tone and a 39mm case to the vast assortment of Black Bay sizes and models, with variants that span the range of 31 all the way to 41mm. More than one person has made the case for the standard Black Bay as an alternative to Rolex’s entry-level (but near-unobtainable) Oyster Perpetual line, and I’m inclined to concur. The fair also served as a reminder (in the form of four new additions) that Tudor’s got their own integrated bracelet sports model, the Royal, that has seemingly gone unnoticed amid the hype for such watches. Maybe it’s time to give these another look, as they’ve got a lot to like at a far more palatable price than many of the usual suspects.
Released in July to mark the 70th anniversary of the British North Greenland Expedition, the new Ranger is a welcome update from the discontinued 41mm model from 2014. Now with a versatile 39mm case and a COSC-certified manufacture movement, the Ranger is a pretty strong value play hovering at around US$3,000. Much like the vintage Ranger (and the original Rolex Explorer that provided much of its DNA), it’s a fantastic daily driver, with a fully satin brushed finish and 100 metres of water resistance. And if you crave a more authentic tool watch flavour than the luxe Explorer of today, it’s a no-brainer.
All this would have been enough for me to crown Tudor as my winner of 2022, but they weren’t done yet. Stealing some of the thunder from Geneva Watch Days at the end of August, Tudor’s new titanium Pelagos 39 was one that none of us saw coming. The new downsized diver was right in the 39mm ballpark of the Goldilocks Black Bay 58, but rendered in lightweight titanium like its bigger Pelagos siblings. The black sunray-finished dial and ceramic bezel added a bit of flash to a proper 200 metre diver, but the omission of a date window and the sly addition of a red line of dial text made fans of vintage dive watches nearly keel over. With an included Ti bracelet and additional rubber strap, the US$4,400 list price proved irresistible.
Taken as a whole, Tudor is the brand producing more watches that live rent-free in my head than any other. Yes, much of their inspiration is rooted firmly in the past, and for that I love them. But they’ve also bothered to continually improve their product line, introducing more models with chronometer-certified manufacture movements, as well as experimenting with new case materials. Haute horology be damned, Tudor is right in my wheelhouse, and for me, they’re providing the best fan service out there.