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Worthy prince to the king

Tudor’s Lebanese launch stakes a claim beyond its parent Rolex

by Michael Karam

Last month saw the launch of the Tudor “Ducati” Fastrider chronograph in Lebanon. Tudor has a standard Fastrider, but as the brand is Ducati’s global timing partner, a special edition watch was created. The event was a building block in the positioning of Tudor in the Lebanese market and an opportunity to acquaint consumers with some of the most exciting sports watches to emerge in recent years.

That said, Tudor is not yet a permanent dot on Lebanon’s consumer radar. The nation’s watch aficionados are, by and large, swayed by the more obvious brands — Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Panerai and Cartier to name a few — and many models, no matter how prestigious, are bought more for what they stand for rather than discernment. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, Tudor’s build quality and mechanism would leave at least two of the previously mentioned brands in the dust.

Ziad Annan, exclusive Lebanese agent for Tudor, and its more exalted parent company Rolex, would like to see a shift in how we choose our watches. “We have to reach a point where people are buying watches for quality rather than on reputation,” he sighs. He is passionate about craftsmanship and wants to convince consumers that it’s okay to say, “I like it. It’s a brilliant watch. I like it for what it is and I don’t care what people think.” Tudor is arguably the brand to start this switch in mindset. It used to be, rather unfairly, perceived as the poor man’s Rolex by those who did not know what they were talking about. But if we bought watches like we bought our cars, the Lebanese would already covet Tudor. Take the Volkswagen Touareg and the Porsche Cayenne. Both built on the same platform, but the Touareg is the more affordable. Few are the people who will avoid buying one because it is perceived as a more affordable Porsche. Yet there are many who will buy it precisely for that reason.

Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf, who created the Tudor brand in 1946, had the same idea. He wanted to make an affordable and functional watch that was underpinned with the same standards of reliability set by Rolex. It was a savvy move in a post-war Europe that was defined in part by austerity — just the right market for a no-nonsense, dependable watch. 

The positioning was subtle but it spoke volumes. Rolex may have made iconic sports watches, but the brand was undeniably associated with luxury at a time when Europe was rebuilding. Tudor owners saw themselves as practical, understated people who nonetheless appreciated     quality. Tudor fitted their profile perfectly.

From Basel to Beirut

The current excitement surrounding Tudor stems from the brand’s decision to mine its vast sports legacy and alloy it with modern styling. The result is that Tudor has broken away from being a Rolex sub-brand. “The people at Rolex asked what the Tudor brand was all about,” explains Annan. “They opened the archives and they realized there was this enormous heritage.”

Indeed, the release of the Tudor Heritage Chrono at the annual Basel watch fair in 2010 was arguably the most significant milestone in the Tudor renaissance. Based on the 1970 Oysterdate Chronograph, and sold with a second strap made of tough seatbelt fabric, it sent a ripple of excitement through the watch world. Almost overnight, Oysterdates doubled in value, and the word on the street was that Tudor was taking chances that Rolex could not. The result was a brand that added a new and exhilarating dimension to the Rolex portfolio. Everyone was a winner.

So will the Lebanese consumer embrace Tudor? Well, it’s going up against the likes of Omega and Breitling, and some models will set the heart racing more than others. While the Pelagos still looks too much like a Rolex Submariner and the Advisor is a bit lost in terms of styling, I predict two models will lead the charge for Tudor this summer (Say you read it here first). The Heritage Chrono with its early 70s styling and the Black Bay Diver with a glorious garnet red bezel are surely contenders for retro design classics. Even the Fastrider, which is not my favorite, might become something of a must have for bikers.

Whatever happens, Tudor has moved out of the shadows and is a thrilling addition to the luxury watch constellation.


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Michael Karam

Michael Karam is the author of Wines of Lebanon.

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