Feature: £3,000 Tudor vs £60,000 Rolex
It’s not often it can wholeheartedly be said that something costing £3,000 can be markedly better than an equivalent worth a whopping £60,000, but in the case of the Tudor Heritage Chronograph versus the Rolex Daytona 6239, it’s a clear-cut, no-nonsense, put-your-house-on-it statement. Here are three reasons why.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the opportunity to drive a £60,000 car, but generally speaking, it’s a little bit of a nerve-wracking experience. Someone pulls out in front of you, even a decent way away, and you’re likely to take a bite out of the seat. The value can be overwhelming, the responsibility sapping away any possible chance of enjoying the thing so long as there are other drivers on the road.
Now imagine wearing that value on your wrist. How many times have you donked your watch on a doorframe? The immediate reaction is to wince, because it could have just knocked a few quid off the value. Now imagine that with a watch that costs £60,000—a donk on the doorframe could lose you the value of a small Kia …
Obviously, I get that people don’t tend to buy £60,000 Rolexes only to drive around in Kias, but the people who do buy those watches don’t really count as most people. For the rest of us, you and I, a £3,000 watch is probably plenty enough to be taking chunks out of the furniture with.
The Rolex Daytona is one of the most collectible watches in the world
Now listen; I understand why the Rolex costs what it does. It’s a watch that failed to make it to space, that failed to sell, that failed to compete with its rivals and ultimately became the kind of watch you’d get gifted rather than buy yourself—at least, that’s true in the case of Paul Newman. Facetious remarks aside, the early Cosmograph Daytona is a fascinating, rare mark on Rolex’s otherwise ground-breaking record, an oddity that has seen collector interest turn what once could barely be sold into something most people could never hope to afford. There aren’t many better examples of irony than that.
If you could only have a tiny crumb, let alone a slice, from that particular pie, however, it would still be a pretty tasty morsel, and that’s exactly what the Heritage Chronograph from Tudor is. Same great brand—ish—same great look, and more importantly, way, way more affordable. Is the real deal worth twenty times as much? That’s a hard case to argue …
Right, so there’s the minor issue of wearing a sizable house deposit on your wrist day-to-day, but let’s be serious—these aren’t watches getting worn down to the pub or at the local bowling alley. It’s a special occasion kind of watch—if that special occasion is having your Rolex Daytona 6239 reappraised for insurance purposes.
But if you were to lose your marbles and actually wear a near-irreplaceable watch outside in the real world with all the robbers and icy puddles and muggy air, you’d very quickly realise something about the 6239 that might come as a little bit of a surprise—it’s tiny! This was from back in the day when sports watches were a pretty new concept, when a 39mm Speedmaster was considered to be a hulking brute.
Rolex was founded in 1905, London, England
For a company like Rolex, buying parts rather than making them, you get what you’re given, and that’s a teensy little 36-and-a-bit-mm case. Now 36mm isn’t necessarily too small for a watch, but it’s most unexpected when it comes to a sporty chronograph. Without a doubt, in the modern world, that makes it kind difficult to wear—unless you’re incredibly handsome, of course, and then anything looks good.
Enter the Tudor. It’s no waif at 42mm, but they’re forty-two very well executed millimetres, proportioned in a way that blends the timeless balance of the Daytona into a case size that won’t get lost under my wrist hair. If the Rolex is the real memory, clear and unforgotten and tainted with failure, the Heritage Chronograph is the rose-tinted one, the one that gets the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end. It also, not being quite the old-timer, won’t leak in the swimming pool.
But wait a second, because that fancy, expensive Rolex has got a fancy expensive movement in it, hasn’t it? Not like the Tudor, which borrows its mechanism from down the road from a little conglomerate called the Swatch Group, owners of bulk movement manufacturer ETA, makers of the 2892 that powers this watch—along with a little help from a Dubois-Dépraz chronograph module.
Well, I’m afraid to say that, no, that’s not the case. The 6239 doesn’t source its drive from anything particularly fancy, rather a Valjoux 72, the go-to, hand wound chronograph movement of the era. Heuer used it, Breitling used it, Gallet used it, Universal Genève used it, Zodiac used it, Eterna used it, LeCoultre used it—in fact, there are estimated to have been some 750,000 Valjoux 72s produced in its quarter-century lifespan.
Tudor was founded in 1926 by Hans Wilsdorf
And guess who Valjoux is owned by now? The Swatch Group. I suppose history really does repeat itself, because that kind of makes the distinctly non-in–house movement in the Tudor a more historically accurate approach than fitting one of Tudor’s very own. What it certainly doesn’t do is make the 6239 a better choice.
Funny thing is that back then, the manufacturer of the movement wasn’t really much of a big deal. Rolex weren’t trying to appeal to collectors of luxury items, they wanted to sell a hard-wearing, affordable sports chronograph to the average Joe, and although that hasn’t changed of the 6239 specifically, it’s Tudor now that respects those values most between the modern brands. All you have to do is compare the watches both companies make now with the ones they made then to see how true that is.
If you’ve got the means to purchase a vintage Rolex Daytona 6239, then you’re buying into a slice of history that just can’t honestly be replicated by something made this century—but as a singular benefit of many that can be reaped in the purchase and enjoyment of a watch, it’s a hard one to justify in isolation. Unless you’re in attendance at the New York trendy expensive sweater convention and you absolutely have to have the most expensively trendy watch there is, the Tudor ticks so many more boxes such that the Rolex doesn’t even bear considering. Well, I mean, if you can afford the Daytona, you may as well just have both …
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