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01/11/2024
 5 minutes

Cracking the Code: Why Pre-Owned Tudor Submariners Command Higher Prices than Rolexes

By Jorg Weppelink
2-1

Have you ever thought about buying a Submariner? If you’re a watch enthusiast, you probably have at one point or another. But that Submariner was probably from Rolex, right? What about a Tudor Submariner? Between 1954 and 1999, Tudor produced its own Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner, which has become a much sought-after collector’s piece. Your first thought might be that the Tudor’s popularity is based on its more affordable prices. But that would be selling Tudor short: the brand’s Submariner has an interesting history that’s worth checking out.

The Rolex Submariner and Tudor Black Bay in Popular Culture

The Rolex Submariner is the ultimate dive watch and the most popular luxury watch out there. It set the standard for how we look at dive watches today. A big part of the Submariner’s success is its long evolution, as today’s Sub is still connected with its 1953 ancestor.

The ultimate dive watch: Rolex Submariner
The ultimate dive watch: Rolex Submariner

When Tudor stopped production on its Submariner in 1999, people wanted to know why. Tudor ended its US activities in 1996, so a lack of commercial success might have played a big role. Luckily for watch fans, the current Black Bay divers take inspiration from the classic Tudor Submariners. Plus, they also sparked an interest in the brand’s vintage Submariners. As a result of these developments, both the Rolex Submariner and the Tudor Black Bay are popular dive watches in two notably different price categories.

Similarities and Differences

As some of you know, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf created Tudor to protect Rolex. He wanted to offer more affordable watches to a wider audience without damaging the quality and reputation of Rolex. One of the biggest differences lies in their movements – watch enthusiasts will know that Tudor used standard off-the-shelf ETA movements, while Rolex used chronometer-certified in-house movements for most of its Submariners.

That’s the main reason Tudor’s diver was more affordable. But Tudor Submariners always came with a Rolex case, crown, and bracelet, making them perfectly capable dive watches with Rolex parts. During their production period, however, they were never considered a replacement for Rolex, just a more affordable alternative.

Read more: Tudor: The Poor Man’s Rolex or a Respected Watch Brand?

Price Developments in the Current Pre-Owned Market

In today’s pre-owned landscape, it’s no longer a given that a pre-owned Tudor Submariner is more affordable than its Rolex counterpart. With the incredible rise in popularity of Tudor over the last decade, the demand for vintage Tudor Submariners has soared. As a result, prices for vintage Tudor Subs have also gone up. And in a remarkable twist, when prices for most pre-owned watches came down halfway during the course of 2022, prices for several vintage Tudor Submariner references did not. Prices either remained stable or kept increasing slowly. With prices for Rolex Submariners coming down, some vintage Tudor Submariners are now more expensive than some Rolex Submariners. But why?

The assumption that Tudor’s pre-owned Submariner is still more affordable is incorrect.
The assumption that Tudor’s pre-owned Submariner is still more affordable is incorrect.

Comparing Prices for Some Similar Submariner References

If you compare apples and apples, vintage Rolex prices for early models from the 1950s are much higher than those of their Tudor counterparts. The price range for vintage Rolex Submariners is often much broader, resulting in higher prices at the top end. But there is an overlap, and, in some cases, a Tudor Submariner can be more expensive.

I’ll give you an example. Prices for the Rolex Submariner ref. 16800 start at roughly $7,500 on Chrono24, and you’ll be able to get one in good condition from the 1980s for between $8,000 and $9,700. The Tudor equivalent from that era is the Submariner ref. 94010. Prices for that model start at roughly $11,000 and go up quickly to $16-22,000.

Earlier references start at the same level. Prices for the Rolex Submariner ref. 1680 start at roughly $11,000 and move up gradually to four times that for the so-called “Red Sub.” If you find a Tudor Submariner ref. 7016 from the same era, prices start at $9,700, but the pieces are in better condition and, with the different dials, easily fetch between $11-16,000.

Tudor Submariner ref. 7016
Tudor Submariner ref. 7016

That also goes for the Tudor Submariner ref. 7928 and Rolex Submariner ref. 5512/3 from the same era. While prices for the Rolex is much broader, ranging from $11,000 to $92,000, the prices for the Tudor overlap, and range from between $9,000 and roughly $43-49,000. So, while the Tudor Submariner isn’t necessarily more expensive, prices are in the same ballpark, which is remarkable for a watch that was always considered the more affordable option.

Why is the Tudor Submariner so popular?

Why are some of these Tudor references just as or even more expensive than their Rolex counterparts? Objectively speaking, the Rolex Submariner has always been the better watch. The Rolex name would also generally ensure higher prices. But there are some very simple reasons why some Tudor Submariners are giving Rolex a run for their money.
First, if you scroll through available Tudor Submariners on Chrono24, you’ll quickly find that there aren’t many on offer. So scarcity plays a big part in higher prices, along with the increased popularity of Tudor as a brand. It’s a fun realization, because Tudor’s Submariner wasn’t nearly as popular as the Rolex Submariner while in production. Older watch fans will remember that, at the time, a Tudor Submariner was never considered a replacement for a Rolex Submariner. But lower sales numbers back in the day play a big part in today’s higher prices.
A second important factor is the variety of designs that Tudor produced. Whereas Rolex evolved its Submariner design gradually without changing much, Tudor created different versions of its diver. The divers of the French Navy played a pivotal role in that development. For one, the Submariners with a Marine Nationale blue dial and bezel from the 1970s and 1980s are very popular among Tudor fans. But they’re also scarce, so getting your hands on one is a costly expedition, especially if you want one worn by one of the Marine Nationale divers.

Tudor Submariner Snowflake 7016 France Marine Nationale with a blue dial from the 1971’s.
Tudor Submariner Snowflake 7016 France Marine Nationale with a blue dial from the 1971s.

Second, the divers asked Tudor for design improvements that resulted in different dial designs and the introduction of snowflake hands. That’s why you’ll see Tudor Submariner dials combining square and rectangular hour markers and dial designs with trusted dot markers.

Furthermore, Tudor Subs came with both Mercedes hands and snowflake hands. That means there are many variations of the same watch that differ in color, handset, and hour markers. And we’re not even talking about more specific details like printing “meters” or “feet” first on the lower part of the dial.

Would you choose a Tudor Submariner over a Rolex Submariner?

All that makes the hunt for a Tudor Submariner very specific and fun. But combine those design variations with low availability and a massive increase in the popularity of the Tudor brand, and you will understand why some Tudor Subs are as expensive as some Rolex Subs. In today’s world, their prices are closer than ever on the pre-owned market. That’s something Hans Wilsdorf probably never would have predicted when he started Tudor. Which begs the question: Would you choose a Tudor Submariner over a Rolex Submariner?


About the Author

Jorg Weppelink

Hi, I'm Jorg, and I've been writing articles for Chrono24 since 2016. However, my relationship with Chrono24 goes back a bit longer, as my love for watches began …

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