The Tudor Oyster is the genetic heart of the brand’s watches. Tudor watches first started to appear in 1946 and were housed in 34mm steel Oyster cases. One of the most exciting elements of these watches, from a collector’s viewpoint, is the vast array of dial variations that were produced. These watches feature movements that were modified by Tudor, but based on the Fleurier calibers. They were, and are, among the most robust movements one could imagine; bulletproof almost! From the very outset, Hans Wilsdorf was clear that these watches would be of the same impeccable quality and reliability as Rolex watches. He had two key innovations that he’d pioneered with Rolex — the Oyster case and the improved automatic-winding movement. His decision to bestow these two unique innovations on the Tudor watches was key to making them live up to his high expectations and promise. They would also benefit from being granted the full Rolex guarantee — which still stands today!
So what exactly is an Oyster? Like the exoskeleton that protects the underwater shellfish whose name it takes, the Wilsdorf-designed system would hermetically seal the movement inside the case. This was achieved by two main principles — screws and seals. He developed a winding and setting crown that screwed down against the side of the case, making the traditionally vulnerable stem hole impervious to moisture and dust. The same principle was applied to the caseback, which screwed down to the mid-case and was additionally sealed with a rubber gasket. The crystal was sealed too — in the early years via a pressure-fit system and later via a crystal-retaining ring. In fact, this system is still in use today and continues to make modern Rolex and Tudor watches waterproof.
The plethora of dial variations is worthy of an entire book on the subject. These include gilt dials with radium numerals, dials with applied “3-6-9” numerals, and of particular note are the guilloché textured dials, known by collectors as “waffle” dials. Whether in black or gently patinated ivory, the “waffle” dials lift a watch to new heights. I am personally fascinated by the printing quality on these guilloché dials. The detail of the dial construction is fantastic and the printing of crisp text onto the dial would have been quite an undertaking in the 1950s.
Other interesting models among the vintage Tudor Oysters are the large pieces that collectors refer to as the “oversize” Oysters. Measuring across at 36mm these watches have a lug width of 20mm, much like the Rolex Datejust. These Oysterdates often feature roulette or all-red date wheels and a tropic acrylic crystal without date cyclops, which gives the watches a very sleek look. The larger size also gives the watches a more contemporary presence on the wrist, but they are rare and very difficult to locate in their original configuration.
A truly versatile watch in endless variations — whatever you fancy, there’s a vintage Tudor Oyster for you!