Tudor Pelagos vs. Longines Hydroconquest

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Longine Hydroconquest splash!

Two dive watches. One made by the Swatch Group under its Longines brand. One made by the Rolex group under its Tudor brand. Is the $4575 Tudor Pelagos worth almost three times as much as the $1600 Longines Hydroconquest? Why do they cost what they cost? After reading Franz Rivoira’s excellent esssay, here’s my take . . .

Tudor Pelagos – Why It Costs $4575

Tudor Pelagos zipper up

At the turn of the 20th century, Rolex registered a flotilla of watch brands: Rolex-Marconi, Unicorn Lever, RolCo, Omigra, Rolwatco, Elvira (never produced), Falcon, Genex, Lonex, Rolexis, Lexis, Hofex and Wintex. The idea: offer watches at all price points, with Rolex at the top.

This “ownership ladder” strategy worked for General Motors. It failed for Hans Wilsdorf, leaving top-of-the-line Rolex unloved and unsold. In 1952, Wilsdorf settled on a two-tier system: Rolex for wealthy customers, Tudor for people who couldn’t afford a Rolex, sold side-by-side.

Tudor advertisement 1953

Wilsdorf justified/promoted Rolex’s star status by fitting them with their own movements and aggressively marketing Rolex accuracy and dependability (especially the world’s first waterproof and dustproof derivatives).

Tudor combined Rolex materials (cases, bracelets, crystals, etc.) with off-the-shelf, industry-standard movements. Wilsdorf’s marketing mavens emphasized Tudors’ strength and durability – with a distinctly blue collar spin.

Over the decades, Rolex slowly raised the bar for its name-brand products. With excellent quality control, evolutionary engineering and clever advertising, it increased prices year after year, until its former “tool watches” entered the realm of luxury timepieces.

A rising tide lifts all boats. As Rolex moved further and further upmarket, Tudor prices also ascended. We’re now at the point where Tudor occupies the pricing territory previously occupied by Rolex.

Tudor branding Lady Gaga

To solidify its market position, Tudor has been working on establishing its own identity, trying to differentiate itself from Rolex in the same way that Lexus differentiates itself from Toyota (only the other way around).  A strategy it recently abandoned with the Rolex Oyster knock-off known as the Tudor Royal. Anyway . . .

Tudor fans can point to the Pelagos’ manufacture caliber MT5612, ceramic bezel and titanium bracelet as the reason it’s “worth” $4750. In reality, the Pelagos is priced as Tudors have always been priced: as the most expensive possible poor man’s Rolex.

If Tudor wanted to compete with the Longines Hydroconquest on price, it could, and still make a profit. That would be ridiculous. As always, Tudor has only one real competitor: Rolex. A competitor it must approach but never surpass.

Longines Hydroconquest – Why It Costs $1600

Longines Hydroconquest full on

The Swatch Group’s portfolio reminds me of Rolex’s foundational flailing. There’s a brand at every price point, from high horology (Blancpain, Jaquet Droz, Harry Winston) to Rolexian tool watches (OMEGA), to cheap fashion forward timepieces (Swatch).

Unlike the Tudor – Rolex relationship, there’s no obvious connection between Longines and any of its 17 stablemates.

Well, there’s one: they’re all owned by the Swatch Group (Longines was assimilated by the Borg in 1983). Longines’ pricing structure must serve the Group’s greater good, rather than explore its own potential.

Longines can’t go too far upmarket, lest it steal OMEGA’s thunder. It can’t go too far downmarket, lest it compete with Tissot. And it can’t out-retro Hamilton (although it’s moving in that direction).

Longines has to make a living smack dab in the middle of the Swatch Group portfolio. It produces no less than 717 models, most of which live in the $1k to $3k price range. That’s before an easily obtained discount. No surprise there. Longines’ success within the Swatch Group, its very survival as a brand, depends on volume sales.

So even though the Longines Hydroconquest is an excellent dive watch, it can never be an expensive dive watch. Which brings us, finally, to our head-to-head.

Tudor Pelagos vs. Longines Hydroconquest

Tudor Pealgos bright

The 40mm Longines Hydroconquest is water resistant to 300m. The 42mm Tudor Pelagos can dive to 500m. The Longines has a 64 hour power reserve. The Tudor has 70 hour power reserve. The Tudor has a titanium bracelet and a helium escape valve. The Longines has a steel bracelet and doesn’t dive deeply enough to need a helium escape valve.

The Pelagos runs off the aforementioned in-house MT5612 caliber (developed in conjunction with Breitling). The COSC-certified engine’s accurate to -4/+6 seconds per day, tested to withstand various environmental challenges. The Hydroconquest is powered by Longines’ in-house L888.3 caliber (base ETA A31.L02), good for +/- 10 seconds per day. Engineered to take a licking and keep on keeping on.

Are technical capabilities that don’t make a practical difference for the average non-diving dive watch wearer (e.g., greater water resistance, power reserve and accuracy) worth a $3k premium over the Longines?

What about the lighter weight afforded by the Pelagos’ titanium bracelet? And what of beauty? The Hydroconquest’s dial is Royal blue, compared to the Pelagos’ Paul Newman blue eyes blue. For some, Longine’s illustrious history is a big pull. For others, Tudor’s association with Rolex is more compelling.

It all comes down to personal preference, influenced by China-centric and bare-chested soccer star marketing, limited by price. Actually, defined by price.

Would you be more attracted to the Longines if it cost $4750? Would you be less likely to buy the Tudor if it cost $1k? Could either company – I mean either corporate overlord – make money at those prices?

Dunno. But I do know this: if you buy the Longines you won’t be wishing you’d spent more on the Tudor, or saved-up for a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. But if you bought the Tudor you’d still be lusting after a Rolex Submariner. Mission accomplished.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I’d only get the Pelagos because they make it in LHD and I’m left handed, so I’m a sucker for left hand watches (hello Panerai, these will be my next purchases). I wouldn’t buy the Longines one because they (well Hamilton/Swatch) tried to take out Vortic. Maybe an Oris? I think the real difference is the COSC cert right (mechanically speaking)?

    • I’m glad Swatch Group lost to Vortic, but all of the large watch groups are heavy-handed with Trademarks. For example, Tudor parent Rolex took out La Californienne right before it came out with its own line of colorful dial Oyster Perpetuals. If anything Swatch Group has a fiduciary duty to shareholders to aggressively enforce trademarks while Rolex chooses to be a jerk.

      • Fair point, but Vortic was repurposing older, owned items and trading more on their services rather than Californienne, was trading on Rolex itself.

  2. “Unlike the Tudor – Rolex relationship, there’s no obvious connection between Longines and any of its 17 stablemates.”

    Swatch Group has too many brands, but the lack of connection is a benefit. A Longines (a much larger brand globally than Tudor) is a Longines. A Tudor is a watch for a person that desperately wishes they could afford a Rolex, but cannot.

    What is really embarrassing for Tudor is how the Pelagos compares to the Tissot Seastar 1000 Silicium, which, like the Tudor, has a silicon balance spring.

    • I said “obvious” connection. I also said the unseen connection is group ownership, which doesn’t work in Longines’ favor IMHO.

      • Last year Longines did more revenue than every watch brand except Apple, Rolex, Omega, and Cartier. Some years it beats Cartier. For a brand lucky to have survived the quartz crisis that’s not too shabby. I would say Swatch Group has been pretty good to Longines. Longines just dropped a solid gold version of the Legend Diver, and has other solid gold watches. Tudor does not get to do solid gold.

        Longines does deserve to be better differentiated from the lower cost Swatch Group brands. It already gets the column wheel version of the 7753 chronograph movement instead of the cam actuated version, and it gets the 28% thinner 2892 based three-hand + date movements instead of the 2824 based movements. But COSC and silicon balance springs across the board would be a good addition. Some sub-$1,000 Tissots get COSC, so every Longines should get COSC.

        Interestingly the 2892 base movement this Longines uses is the same movement the original Pelagos used.

  3. Can we color the vocabulary lessons differently from the watch lessons? This blog becomes an exercise in frustration as I mouse over “flailing”, hoping it’s a link to some astute anatomization of Rolex’s constitutional disshevelment, but find no such thing. I recognize that watch blog readers are fed on a diet of pseudointellectual drivel, and that you’re scratching their collective itch for esoteric edification with something of actual substance, so please don’t stop, but please do differentiate.

    • The links are for our many readers who don’t speak English as their first language. It also allows me to use my vocabulary without worrying about dumbing down the content. I don’t know if I can use a different color for those links but I’ll look into it. Thanks for the idea!

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