This is the most controversial watch I have owned for three reasons:
1) it is mid-size;
2) it is two-tone;
3) it is often dismissed as a ‘poor man’s Rolex’.
Tudor launched the Prince Oyster – the company’s longest-running collection – in 1952 with a watch that combined a Rolex Oyster case with an automatic 390 caliber movement (based on the Fleurier FEF 350). In 1950s advertising material, Tudor emphasised the range’s resilience and elegance. To reinforce the former marketing message, 30 Prince Oysters 7809s were presented to members of the Royal Navy’s 1952-54 North Greenland Expedition. By 1990, when the 72033 model first appeared, Tudor had developed the Prince Submariner and also experimented with the Prince Ranger models. In consequence, the Prince Oysterdate was presented as a dress watch without designation – a timepiece an arctic explorer might slip wear with a dinner jacket in a trip to the casino after returning to civilisation. By the time this example was manufactured (the serial number, B400675, suggests a date of 1992/3) the model’s elegance had been accentuated by a shift from a rounded to a fluted bezel.
Tudor produced 32mm cases quite early in the series. The ‘Oyster Prince Junior’, for example, dates from c.1957. Models in the 34-36mm range, however, have always been more popular. Mid-size watches (32-34mm) are regularly misclassified as boys’/cadet or unisex. For much of the second half of the 20th century, however, men’s watches were commonly produced in sizes of between 30 and 32mm, with true boys’ size being around 28mm. The fashion for large watches (40mm plus) developed only from the late 1990s onwards and is associated with a certain machismo. For someone with a slender wrist, 32mm (35mm including crown) is extremely comfortable. Only the ‘cocktail’ or ‘ladies’ watches of 28mm or below (some a mere 12mm!) are truly small watches: pieces that have become increasingly rare sights on the wrists of either sex.
The fashion for larger cases means that mid-size offers high-specification at a comparatively modest price. Points to note include the following:
i. 316L stainless steel (SS) case with polished sides and brushed top with drilled lugs, pressure-tested to 100 metres (10 ATM, swimming and snorkelling depth) .
ii. Brushed finished solid SS caseback with serrations engraved ‘original oyster case by Rolex Geneva’ and the Rolex logo.
iii. Screw-down twin-lock gold crown signed with Rolex logo.
iv. 18 carat gold fluted fixed bezel.
iv. Champagne mosaic dial with applied tritium-tipped gold hour baton markers and Tudor shield logo at 12.
v. Gold sweep second hand and matching gold baton minute and hour hands with tritium inlays. Residual energy generated by the tritium is minimal owing to tritium’s half-life of 12.32 years. Most of the luminosity is an after-glow effect lasting only a few minutes, created by sunlight activating the phosphorescence in the zink sulphide pigment.
The watch came with a SS and gold-plated bracelet (reference 6248-17) stamped ‘Tudor Watch Co. Geneva Switzerland’ with two-tone hollow end links (reference 601) and folding buckle. While the two-tone decoration is ideal for formal wear, care is needed to preserve the gold plating which (sadly) is not the real thing. For a while, I was rather self-conscious about this piece and wore it on a black leather strap with a 14mm SS butterfly deployment clasp. This was not ideal, however, because the gap between the lugs is noticeable and sourcing a curved end 17mm strap proved difficult. A thicker (3mm) NATO strap would camouflage the lug problem but looks odd on a dress watch. I considered switching to a Tudor strap and gold buckle – but a price quote of £200 gave me pause for thought. My next experiment consisted of good-quality 316L SS aftermarket Jubilee watch band with SEL. Although the results were acceptable not everyone agrees with matching a SS band with a SS case and gold bezel. In the end, I returned to the Tudor bracelet. Although the look has an element of ‘bling’, the style is true to the spirit of the watch.
The Oyster Prince has an ETA 2824-2 movement, demonstrating this ébauche’s ability to fit a wide range of case sizes. The Tudor elaboration is assembled and finished to a high specification. Top (A+) is functionally equivalent to Chronometer standard except that the movement is not officially certified as such. All 2824-2 A+ grades are regulated in five positions, have balance wheels made from Glucydur (rather than nickel) and a hairspring and mainspring made from Niravox. Glucydur is an alloy of beryllium, copper, and iron; Niravox is an anti-magnetic alloy (for details, see above). The low thermal expansion of the former material and low thermal coefficient of elasticity of the latter cancel each other out, enabling temperature changes to be compensated for. In addition, the movement incorporates incabloc shock absorbant springs to protect delicate pivots and jewel bearings against impact damage. It has a Triovis fine-adjustment regulator on the balance cock.
Despite the ETA 2824-2’s high quality, the differences between this movement and the caliber 3130 used in an Oyster Perpetual (the Rolex equivalent model) are significant. The 3130 has a crescent-shaped balance bridge, rather than a balance cock. This is more effective in preventing the rotor’s edge from hitting the balance wheel’s rim in the event of a perpendicular impact. Kif or Paraflex shock absorbers also provide greater protection than incabloc systems. However, Rolex’s preference for an oscillating axle (to boost winding efficient) over ball bearing races requires these additions since the oscillating weight tends to collide with the movement bridges as a result of shocks. Older Rolex models feature a Breguet overcoil hairspring made from Nivarox. Newer ones employ an in-house Parachrom Blu hairspring. Both combat the tendency for a watch to speed up when the mainspring winds down, owing to reduced pull on the hairspring. The 3130 is regulated in the same number of positions as the 2824-2. In the case of the ETA movement, however, regulation is achieved using a sliding spring inhibitor that adjusts the balance spring. The Rolex movement, in contrast, leaves the balance wheel free sprung and utilises weighted, rotatable Microstella screws mounted on pins at the junction of the balance arms and rim. Regulation is achieved by turning the mass of the weight towards the inside or outside of the balance. The absence of protruding screws on the rim permits the balance wheel to be larger and more aerodynamic. Oyster Perpetual’s also have a longer main spring, increasing the power reserve. Other elaborations include a more sophisticated date change mechanism. Consequently, a caliber 3130 is a more accurate and refined movement than a 2824-2. In this respect, therefore, a Tudor can be considered a poor man’s Oyster Perpetual. The ETA, however, can be serviced independently of Rolex’s Service Centres, keeping maintenance costs low. Currently, the only difficult part to source is the Acrylic crystal which has to be obtained from authorised workshops (sapphire aftermarket alternatives with gaskets pose waterproofing issues). The Cyclops 141 provides two-tone 2½ magnification of the quick-set date window at 3pm.
I liked to slip the 72033 on during the evening after work: reducing weight on the wrist helped take weight off the mind. As with the Omega 1030, however, I found a gold watch difficult to keep long-term and eventually decided to make a similar part-exchange which will be described in a future blog.
As with all posts on this site, please do use the comment form if you spot any errors in my discussion of the model or would like to make additional comments.