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Review: Tudor Royal

There’s that one thing in every industry that if a company doesn’t make it they’re just leaving money on the table. For car companies it’s the SUV, for speaker companies it’s headphones—and for watch companies, it’s a watch inspired by the seventies. Tudor is no exception—only here, it’s their entry level watch and somehow it’s managed to fly under the radar. Welcome to the Tudor Quarter Pounder.

History

Oh great, just what the world needs. Another Audemars Piguet Royal Oak rip-off. In the same way our great sportscar makers crumbled in the wake of pressure to build big, lumbering SUVs, Tudor has fallen for watchmaking’s hottest property. It’s no coincidence that 2020 was the time it chose to take that leap, what with every other watch even vaguely this shape flying off shelves like Paranormal Activity—even Casio’s G-Shock wasn’t immune to the thirst for angular cases and integrated bracelets.

But here’s the thing: those sportscar SUVs are actually pretty damn good. The Macan is basically a hot hatch, the Cayenne Turbo GT is an absolute nutter and the Urus is a Lamborghini you don’t have to leave your family behind with. Turns out that, in the real world, sports utility vehicles are actually pretty fantastic, fun—and here’s the real kicker—you actually get the opportunity to drive and enjoy them.

So, before going too hard and heavy on Tudor for following suit with this seemingly thoughtless trend, it’s worth remembering that if people buy it and enjoy it, that’s all the reason it needs to exist. A watch manufacturer doesn’t need our permission to make watches it wants to—it just needs to make a profit.

If you needed any more justification as to why this watch exists in Tudor’s line-up, let’s take a look back to the original era of this watch’s design, to the incredibly rare 1970 Rolex 5100. Yes, that’s 1970 as in before the 1972 AP Royal Oak and before the 1976 Patek Philippe Nautilus. The 5100 contained the Beta 21 quartz movement, a collaboration of twenty different Swiss watch manufacturers in a bid to fend off quartz technology coming from Japan.

As the name suggests, the Beta 21 was an early and unfinished movement, draining quickly and not particularly compact. So, Rolex set about making its own quartz movement instead, the calibre 5035, to fit inside a watch that blended the integrated design of the 5100 and its most popular model, the Rolex Datejust. What resulted was the 1977 Oysterquartz.

How does this relate to Tudor? Because as with many Rolex models of the time, an affordable version with an ETA movement was offered alongside it with the Tudor name. That watch, the Tudor Oysterquartz, bore all the hallmarks of its more expensive sibling, and that watch is the direct originator of the Tudor Royal we see today.

Quality

But is it any good? Of course it is, it’s a Tudor. If there’s one thing the Rolex sub-brand knows how to do, it’s build solid luxury watches. This is a watch that’s had great care and attention put into the details, things most would ordinarily miss. Each link on the tapered bracelet is profiled rather than flat, for example, joined with skinny polished links and held together with a chunky flip-lock clasp. The blend between it and the steel case, here in 41mm, is rounded rather than straight, adding some definition and individuality. The coin edge bezel skips between polished squares and knurled creases that pop with contrast.

The dial is one of the nicest you can get on a Tudor, available in black, blue, silver, gold or mother-of-pearl, and is replete with a bright sunburst effect that gives name “Royal” some justification. It’s not the first time that name has found its way into the Tudor line-up, but it might be the best. For added regal flair, the dial can even be specified with diamonds in place of the standard watch’s Roman numerals.

But the big surprise on this watch is not that it exists, but that it exists with a complication reserved for a model Rolex only makes in precious metal: the day-date. Rolex describes its own Day-Date as “The ultimate watch of prestige” and yet here is the same functionality inside Tudor’s lowliest entrant. You even get—and I’ve not seen this on any other modern Tudor—a crown that most closely resembles an original Rolex one, emblazoned with the Tudor shield and perhaps a nod back to the close pairing of the two brands’ Oysterquartz watches.

As you’d expect with a Rolex-brand product, you can rest easy knowing that every detail has been considered to the finest degree. If there’s one thing Tudor does extremely well, it’s undercut all its competitors on build quality, and the Royal is absolutely no exception. By this point, it’s almost expected for it to blow its rivals out the water on this front. I’m convinced Rolex is running skinnier margins than it would ordinarily do to backfill the gap it left behind with its ever-more expensive halo brand in a bid to crush similarly priced watches. I suppose we will have to wait and see.

But until we do, the Royal is here now, and it’s demanding your attention. It’s pitched squarely at the graduate, the first-time bonus—anyone, to be honest, with an aspiration, because if Rolex is the brand people buy when they’ve made it, Tudor has become they brand they wear when they’re on their way.

Price

So, exactly just how much does this Tudor Royal cost? We know Tudor already pitches the majority of its watches at entry-level prices, and this is the entry-level watch of this entry-level brand—but even then a starting price for the 34mm version of £1,660 seems a lot less than expected. If you spent as much as you could on a 41mm version that was blessed with genuine yellow gold on the bezel, crown and bracelet centre-links, with genuine diamonds on the dial, you’d still only be spending £3,000.

And if neither of those combinations appeal to you, believe me, there are plenty to pick and choose from. Cases start at 28mm and go through 34, 38 and 41mm—but bear in mind it’s only the 41mm version that gets the day complication as well. You have a choice of steel or steel and gold for the case and bracelet and dial. I’ve already mentioned the diamonds and the dial colours. What this all amounts to is fifty-two different permutations for the Royal, with the one you see here asking £1,730.

I know the thick end of two grand isn’t peanuts, but I almost wonder if this watch’s under-the-radar persona has been earned partly because it’s almost … too cheap? For the same price you’d be comparing against a Longines or an Oris, brands that both try and fail to carry the same cachet Tudor has managed to drum up in the last decade. Nothing wrong with either of those brands, both are extremely good—but I already know without asking which the average person on the street would take.

Part of the value comes from Tudor’s use of Sellita movements rather than its own in-house movements, harking back to the origins of Tudor when Rolex peddled them with ETA movements instead. Due to various legal blah blah, Sellita has effectively replaced ETA outside of the Swatch Group brands, making ETA movements whose designs have since fallen into the public domain.

I would say that makes the value about right, but my barometer for value these days seems to be massively out of whack. In isolation perhaps that’s true, until it becomes apparent that watches like the Breitling Navitimer 41 Automatic are powered by similar movements for twice the price.

So, Tudor has done the inevitable—something parent brand Rolex would never do—and has gone back in time to revive its 70s back catalogue in order to appease a trend—and that’s fine. After all, look how originality worked out for the ill-fated North Flag. Rolex may or may not be trying to flatten its entry-level competition with this watch, but for right now, that means we get a good watch with hot styling for a great price, ticking all the emotional and practical boxes in one. And that’s why people buy SUVs.

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