Everybody and his grandmother knows who Rolex is. They’ve done such a wonderful job marketing their brand that even folks who couldn’t care one whit about watches will swear up and down that Rolex is not just the best watch made, it’s the only watch worth considering. Period. Well, as connoisseurs of the craft, we know that there are, in fact, other watches out there, many from brands that can objectively be considered “better”, but ultimately who’s keeping score? We sure aren’t, which is why we can say that we love Rolex, too; and despite the baggage that comes with their unprecedented success in the watch world, they remain at their core highly reliable, accurate and rugged watches. However, there’s more to Rolex than meets the eye, and what many of their unwitting boosters don’t realize is that Rolex also produces another storied brand, Tudor.

Continues after the jump.

Tudor, which was named in honor of England’s House of Tudor, was first conceived by Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf as far back as the 1920s, but wasn’t officially launched until 1946. At the time, Mr. Wilsdorf is quoted as saying:

“For some years now I have been considering the idea of making a watch that our agents could sell at a more modest price than our Rolex watches, and yet one that would attain the standards of dependability for which Rolex is famous. I decided to form a separate company, with the object of making and marketing this new watch. It is called the Tudor Watch Company”.

One way to view the relationship between the two brands would be that of Rolls-Royce and Bentley, with the latter being marketed as a less pricey, less ostentatious version of the former. Indeed, as with certain Rolls-Royce models from back in the day, it would be hard for the untrained eye to separate say, a Rolex Submariner from a Tudor Submariner, never mind that the differences are there if you know what to look for. The cases and bracelets of these early Tudors were manufactured by Rolex, and indeed, for a time bore the trademark Rolex crown, while their movements were sourced first from Fleurier, and later from Ebauches, SA, which is more commonly known today as ETA. It’s this latter bit that has some Rolex snobs looking down their noses at Tudor, since they swear up and down by Rolex’s in-house manufactured movements, but fortunately we suffer from no such elitist afflictions. Tudors rock, plain and simple.

As with Rolex, some of the most iconic watches in Tudor’s portfolio are their diving watches, which were also named Submariners. The earliest variants of these watches fetch eye-popping prices on the used market these days, and deservedly so. Like the Rolex Submariners that they resemble, these watches are classically proportioned and reliable tool watches that have stood the test of time admirably. The first Tudor Submariner was the ref. 7922 “big crown” (so nicknamed for its 8mm diameter crown), which was analogous to Rolex Submariner ref. 6200. Like all Tudors from this time period, the logo was a rose, which was chosen in deference to the brand’s namesake. The 7922 was followed by the 7928, which featured a smaller Rolex-signed crown, and for the first time, crown guards. Both references used the Fleurier-sourced cal. 390 movement. The 7928 was also the first Tudor Submariner that saw duty in the military as an issued piece to French naval divers as well as US Navy SEALs and UDT teams.

One way to view the relationship between the two brands would be that of Rolls-Royce and Bentley, with the latter being marketed as a less pricey, less ostentatious version of the former.

Of course, no one can discuss vintage Tudor Submariners without bringing up the now legendary Snowflake. First introduced in 1966 as the ref. 7016, it replaced the cal. 390 in favor of an ETA movement, dumped the rose logo in favor of the current shield logo, and most famously, replaced the round minute indexes and iconic “Mercedes” handset with its signature block indexes and diamond-shaped “snowflake” handset. Later versions added blue dials and bezels to the mix. These models, which also encompass the later ref. 9411/0 models, have been steadily gaining in value with collectors who cite the unique dial and handset as a motivating factor in their purchase.

So, where is Tudor today? Alive and well, thank you very much, though if you have a yen for one of their contemporary pieces and you live in the good ol’ USA you’re out of luck. Tudor, which is now a separate company from Rolex, left the American market after 2000, but they’re still sold in Canada, Europe, Asia and Latin America. Mind you, given the current buzz around the brand thanks to their exceptionally strong showing in recent years, who knows, perhaps they’ll consider returning to these shores. In particular, their new Heritage Black Bay Diver and Pelagos, which were announced at this year’s Baselworld, have aficionados of the brand reaching for their credit cards. Both of these watches borrow heavily from the past, with the Black Bay folding design cues from the 7922, 7928 and Snowflake models into a single watch. These new pieces come hot on the heels of the previous year’s revised Advisor series and the lauded Heritage Chronograph from 2010, so it’s pretty clear that this is no fluke — Tudor means business.

If ever there was a time for Tudor make a triumphant return to the American marketplace, it’s now.

Hey, Tudor, are you listening?