Hans Wilsdorf may seem a quandary to the ordinary man. After successfully establishing Rolex in England in 1905 he apparently felt there was something missing after moving the company to Geneva around 1920. The official story is that he wanted to create a watch that was high in quality yet not as difficult to obtain as his first venture had become. In keeping to the English heritage he created Tudor in tribute to the English period bearing the same name.
1926: Trademarking of "The Tudor" by Wilsdorf.
The first glimpse of a Tudor labeled dial came in 1932 when models were made for the Australian market and were provided to the Willis & Sons in Australia for distribution to fine jewelers. This includes dials featuring Catanach Jewelers as a cobranded dial (commonly seen during the 30's-60's). Initially they were very utilitarian in appearance but reliable mechanically with the intention of being a modest everyday timepiece. (Note: These early models were in partnership with a company named Veuve de Philippe Hüther who supplied components to Rolex as well as manufacturing brands under other labels in Europe.) In 1936 Wilsdorf took full control of the Tudor label.
The timing seems at odds with making the brand available to buyers who could not afford a Rolex as at this time timepieces in general were a luxury not a necessity during the Great Depression. With unemployment at its highest of about 30%, Australia seems an unlikely market to have introduced the new brand. However by gaining a foothold during this period they became entrenched in the Australian jewelry market during the post WWII economic boom when watches became a must have accessory.
1946: Creation of Montres Tudor SA.
At the end of the war Tudor became focused on expanding the brand not only by increasing sales but also tying into its roots as "Rolex quality." In 1952 with the release of the Oyster Prince Tudor model one could see the difference in price. For a manual wind Ebauches SA (ETA) Tudor labeled movement prices started at £27 while upgrading to a Rolex made movement would go from £42 and up. (A difference of about £400, £700 compared to £1,100, in today's value)
60-70's: Submariner & Chronographs.
Following the success of the Oyster Prince were the release of other iconic models including the Oyster Prince Submariner in 1954, which later included the famous snowflake hands in 1969. Expanding their model range in the 70's saw the inclusion of the first Tudor chronograph's (the Oysterdate, Montecarlo, Big Block and Big Block Exotic) as well as unmodified military equipment Submariners for the U.S. and French navies. Bold colors and clean lines kept these models current through the 70's. The original chronograph's are among the hardest to find for collectors but have been reissued similar to the Heuer Monaco.
80-90's: The mechanical dark ages.
No Swiss mechanical watch manufacturer was immune to the Quartz crisis and during this period Tudor saw little innovation beyond their core of the Oyster Prince, Submariner (and mini-sub), Big Block chrono and Ranger lines. Classic style stayed fairly consistent with subtle changes.
2000-Now: Brand realignment towards younger market.
In the early 2000's Tudor took a step back from a number of markets including the U.S. and only within the last two years began marketing to a younger crowd again. They've introduced a larger number of models with more contemporary sizing such as the Pelagos, Aeronaut, Hydronaut, Fastrider and Grantour. From these we can see an attempt at a break from past reliance on Rolex procured parts and style.
This isn't to say that you can get one cheaply as new Tudor models will set you back about $2,200-6,000 but if you're looking for an alternative to spending over $10,000 for a new watch but want the "Rolex promise" of quality then this may be the next best thing.
Today Tudor is the Mini Cooper to the Rolex BMW, same car different engine and marketing.