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
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.
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.
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
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
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.