The Shield Protects the Crown:
W.O.E. is a watch snob–or at least I was. For years, I looked down on Tudor as an inferior tool watch existing in the shadow of its big brother Rolex. I never understood why someone with a Rolex would purchase a Tudor. After all, Tudor is a poor man's Rolex, or so I thought.
Most haters are motivated by insecurity, but my views were simply shaped by ignorance. I didn’t know much about Tudor and was unaware of Tudor’s long standing relationship with the Intelligence and Special Operations communities, a personally relevant intersection.
I comfort myself by saying this ignorance was understandable as Tudor left the U.S. market in the 1990s and did not return until 2013. But this excuse is weak at best for a former CIA officer who spent years overseas window shopping for watches in boutiques around the world. Tudor still existed in some capacity or another in the most unexpected markets. For instance, it never pulled out of China, and has been selling the Prince Date and Prince Date Day for almost half a century in select Eastern markets. These watches never made it to the US, even after Tudor returned in 2013.
Retired Navy Adm. William McRaven wearing Tudor Pelagos. (Photo Credit: Mike Segar/Reuters)
To be fair, when I worked at CIA, I was far from a watch nerd. I did not read Hodinkee, watch Bark and Jack YouTube videos, or follow watch pages on Instagram. I loved watches and used them regularly, but my knowledge was entirely surface-level. My interests were driven by conversations with others, the appearance and feel of the watch on the wrist, and its practical utility. I was either the purest or most superficial watch enthusiast on the planet, you decide. There’s a purity in knowing just enough to enjoy watches for what they are rather than deliberate over them.
Navy SEAL Philip "Moki" Martin issued Tudor Submariners (7928 - left) and (7016-right) (Photo Credit Hodinkee, James Stacey)
Like many who go on to a career at the tip of the spear, growing up I devoured books on National Security and Special Operations. Prior to 9/11, much of that literature revolved around the Vietnam War and a handful of Cold War-era CIA memoirs. Frequently referenced in these books were “Rolex watches.” While some of these were undoubtedly Rolex Submariners and GMTs purchased from the PX, in reality many of these were likely issued Tudor Submariners (7928 and others), understandably mistaken as Rolex since they had “CASE BY ROLEX GENEVA ORIGINAL OYSTER” engraved on the caseback, not to mention the Rolex crown in relief on the crown of the watch, or the Rolex logos engraved on the bracelet clasp. In fact, many of these watches were nearly identical to their Rolex counterparts except for the movement and dials.
Moki Martin in Vietnam as a Navy Seal, Tudor 7928 on the wrist (Photo Credit: Moki Martin)
Today, I have multiple Rolex watches in my collection and the watch industry connections to easily buy a new Rolex at retail (flex). But I elected to go with Tudor for two out of my last three watch purchases. As discussed in “Ask W.O.E. Anything,” my ultimate grail is not a Rolex, but a military-issued Tudor Submariner.
Last week, some of the world’s largest and most important watch brands released new timepieces during a trade show dubbed “Watches and Wonders” in Geneva, Switzerland. Tudor made some significant headway including the release of Black Bay 54 and an updated Black Bay 41 with a striking red bezel, and more importantly some technological and cosmetic advancements that will permeate the entire collection in due time.
Newly released Tudor Black Bay 54 (Photo Credit: Tudor Product shot)
We’ll leave the reviews of new references to the professional watch nerds, but we want to step back and provide our understanding of Tudor’s current position in the market and, perhaps more importantly, how it relates to our community. Tudor entered 2023 as the undisputed leader in the luxury tool watch space, with luxury watches crudely defined as watches costing over $2,500. I am and always will be a Rolex man with a particular interest in pre-ceramic sports watches, but Tudor is the future for tool watch enthusiasts. This is the way.
Rolex- Jewelry or Tool Watch?
Rolex Explorer II (Photo Credit: James Rupley)
To understand this change, one must first understand how Tudor’s big brother, Rolex, has evolved over the previous two decades. The late 2000s introduction of the ceramic bezel marked a turning point for the brand. Since then, Rolex has trended towards a sleeker, more polished look. While enthusiasts will lament the good ole days and say Rolex has sold out, from a business perspective, this was clearly the right move. A recent Morgan Stanley report concluded Rolex is the largest stakeholder in the Swiss watch industry, with an estimated 29% of total sales at retail.
Over the subsequent 15 years, there has been a significant increase in demand for Rolex watches, which has resulted in models becoming near-unobtainable at retail prices. It’s simple, demand outstrips supply. Even if you are able to acquire one from an authorized dealer, the customer experience is less than satisfactory, with months of waiting on an opaque “list” kissing the ass of a sales associate. With secondary prices at times twice retail, it is hard to justify the “use your tools” mentality while wearing a new Rolex GMT, which might be worth more than your car. We won't go as far as to say that a Rolex is a piece of jewelry rather than a tool watch; however, this widely held perception is understandable.
Black Bay 58 on W.O.E. Jedburgh Strap (Photo Credit: James Rupley)
Tudor- The Shield Protects the Crown
In sharp contrast to Rolex, and by design, Tudor has returned to its roots. In 1926, Hans Wilsdorf, Rolex’s founder, created Tudor as a more affordable alternative. Many international SpecOps and maritime units–including those from Argentina, the US, Israel, France, Canada, South Africa, and even Jamaica– adopted the Tudor Submariner as their tool of choice in the second half of the 20th Century. Today, Tudor’s association with Rolex allows Tudor to embrace its tool watch heritage and compete with brands in the $3,000-$5,000 market.
One only has to look at the logos to understand the relationship between the two brands. Tudor's logo is the shield, Rolex's is the crown. The crown is worn by kings, the shield is carried by soldiers. The "shield protects the crown" and the Warrior-King reps both.
Marine Nationale issued Tudor 9401 on French diver - mid-1970s (Photo Credit: Tudor/MN)
Some say that “Tudor of today is what Rolex was in the mid-20th century,” but a more accurate statement would be that Tudor of today is what Tudor was in the mid-20th Century. While other brands have capitalized on the latest trends (Tiffany blue everything?) and moved upmarket, Tudor has stuck to its roots: premium yet relatively “affordable” tool watches. Few luxury brands are more aligned with the ethos of W.O.E. and the belief that you should use your tools. Look at Tudor's marketing materials and you will see men and women on expeditions, deep sea dives, alpine climbs, and even Special Operations maritime units (guns obviously excluded).
Dallas Alexander JTF2 Tudor Pelagos (Photo Credit: Shawn Ryan Show)
Further, Tudor appears to quietly support “unit watches” for some of the most elite SpecOps units, including one that was recently shown on the wrist of a former Canadian JTF2 sniper, Dallas Alexander, during an interview on the Shawn Ryan Show. These collaborations are even more meaningful as the predecessors of these units wore Tudor MilSubs (Tudors were issued to the Royal Canadian Navy). Many others have not been seen in the public domain, like this U.S. Secret Service Counter Assault Team (CAT) "HAWKEYE" Pelagos.
U.S. Secret Service Counter Assault Team (CAT) call sign- HAWKEYE Unit Watch -Posted with approval from owner (Anonymous)
In sharp contrast to Rolex, I recently visited the Tudor boutique in New York and they had every reference available for sale, with the two exceptions of the FXD and the relatively-new Pelagos 39. It is sad that this is notable, but that is the reality of the watch market today.
2022 marked a historic moment for Tudor and we believe that the brand has entered 2023 as the undisputed leader in the luxury tool watch category. Tudor’s 2022 releases of the Back Bay Pro and the sub-$3k Ranger with a strap was a gangster move and the encore of the near-perfect titanium Pelagos 39 was the finisher.
Black Bay 58, Pelagos FXD, Pelagos 39 (Photo Credit: you already know)
As a general practice, W.O.E. does not focus on watch reviews. Mostly this is because the traditional watch media is better suited for analyzing new releases, movements, etc. Often this is just regurgitating marketing material from the company and ultimately concluding that the watch should be “one millimeter smaller/larger” or some other minute change that would impact very few. That said, here is our analysis of what we believe are the top three “tool watches” produced by Tudor: the Pelagos 39, Pelagos (FXD/LHD), and the Black Bay 58.
Pelagos/LHD/FXD- Apex Predator:
Jason Heaton - “In a sea of dive watches, the Tudor Pelagos is an apex predator.”
Jason Heaton said it best, “the Pelagos and LHD are the apex predators of the Tudor dive watches, the best modern mechanical dive watches on the market.” Rated to 500 meters with a helium escape valve, a beefy 42mm case, a date window, a titanium bracelet with a patented extension system, and a complementary rubber strap with a wetsuit extension, the Pelagos is everything you need in a watch. The Pelagos is also offered in a left-hand configuration (LHD) and a purpose-designed FXD developed in partnership with the French SOF unit, the Commando Hubert, something we will dive into in a future Dispatch.
Complaints: There aren't many. The watch has a lot of entirely unnecessary features, but you could say the same about most tool watches and they do not take it overboard. As a periodic resort diver, W.O.E. knows enough about the helium escape valve to know I will never need one. Also, 42 mm is larger than most present-day watches but it does wear smaller than the specs suggest.
Black Bay Fifty Eight- a new classic:
Black Bay 58 in the African Bush, 2022. (Photo Credit: W.O.E.)
This is a classic legacy piece with not-so-subtle nods to Tudor's Big Crown Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner past with the lack of crown guards, red triangle on the bezel at 0/60, and gold accents, giving it an almost patinated look, but not overdone. An absolute staple in any collection whether you are a man or woman, a badass Navy SEAL Green Beret sniper, or a keyboard warrior. Something that can be worn on the beach, in a boardroom, or even the African bush.
Complaints: The faux riveted bracelet is a little much and drilled lug holes would be gangster.
Pelagos 39 - a modern Tudor Submariner:
Pelagos 39- W.O.E.'s Personal (Photo Credit: Rupley)
The P39 seemingly came out of nowhere and went on to become the undisputed 2022 dive watch champion. While dubbed a smaller version of the 42mm Pelagos, in reality, this is more of a modernized titanium Tudor Submariner than a smaller Pelagos. Titanium has a signature look and is reminiscent of tools that get used. The SR-71 Blackbird is one of them. Of the three watches I purchased over the past year, this is what has been on my wrist the most. Unfortunately, given the high demand, these are still incredibly hard to find due to limited allocations to each dealer, but we expect this to subside in the near future.
Complaints: The lume on the hands is faint; it is hard to understand how this passed the final Quality Control in Geneva and should be a simple fix. The requirement to use the titanium end links with the rubber strap results in an odd look. The 21mm lug-to-lug is completely unnecessary but hardly noticeable with a solid fabric strap (like the W.O.E.-ZA Single Pass). Would a date option be nice? Yes. Would a GMT hand be cool? For sure, but for the Pelagos 39, the functionality is in the simplicity.
20mm W.O.E.-ZA Strap on the 21mm Pelagos 39 (James Rupley)
There are plenty of other great Tudors in the lineup, including the Black Bay Pro and the GMT which are both popular in the W.O.E. community and we encourage you to check them out. While smaller than we generally prefer, the newly released Black Bay 54 is intriguing in its nod to the vintage 7922 and improvements from the BB58.
Use this list as a starting point, but don’t let us influence your opinions. Visit a nearby boutique and you can pretty much guarantee that they will have at least some models to try and take home that day if you so choose. Sadly, in-store availability isn’t guaranteed, but that is the harsh reality of buying watches in 2023.
Regardless of what you decide, get out there and use your tools.
This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.