Why These Watch Hands Make the Tudor Snowflake a Prized Possession
They say that what makes a snowflake exceptional is that no two found in nature are exactly alike. That statement doesn’t apply to Tudor’s Snowflake hands, but it doesn’t make them any less desirable. In fact, its version of the snowflake is coveted precisely because it is so easily recognized by the discerning eye: an angular tip toward the end of the hour hand, a diamond shape on the seconds hand, and squares in place of the hour markers, giving it that distinct form.
Because of its resemblance to the crystalline arms of a snowflake, watch fans originally began to refer to the Tudor trademark as “snowflake hands” (plus points for their active imaginations), a nickname that has since been officially adopted and embraced by the brand. But how did this design quirk come about, and why has it experienced a resurgence as of late? Here is a chronicle of the first appearance of the Tudor Snowflake and the watch models you can spot them on today.
Tudor's and Rolex's Submariners
It’s no secret that Tudor is the sister brand of the venerable Rolex, conceived by their mutual founder Hans Wilsdorf to be Rolex’s more affordable, accessible, and democratic younger sibling. When Rolex released its ultimate dive watch, the Submariner, in 1953, Tudor followed suit a year later by coming out with its own version, the Oyster Prince Submariner. Like the Rolex edition, it was born out of a concept hatched by avid diver and Rolex board of directors member René-Paul Jeanneret: a tool watch that would look elegant enough to be worn on dry land.
In 1969, the second generation of Tudor Submariners was released, under the reference numbers 7016 and 7021. These models picked up a few design cues from the original, but with some notable departures. These were the first Tudor watches to use modified Swiss ETA movements; the first generation had used movements by Parmigiani Fleurier SA. The 7016 was also the first watch to bear Tudor’s new logo, a shield, an evolution from the rose logo that had appeared on the dials of the first gen.
This Submariner series also featured another improvement, a brand first: luminescent hands and hour markers bearing that distinct Snowflake-shaped design, an attempt to distinguish itself from the Rolex Submariners released by its parent company. The introduction of luminescence was also an indication of how the Snowflake hands first came to be.
Tudor's Military Connection
It was well-known that Tudor had been supplying watches to the Marine Nationale, a.k.a. the French Navy. It’s said that the more prominent hands and change of shape in the hour markers—from the circles used in the first generation to the Snowflake version’s squares—was done at its request, as the divers needed additional luminescence on the dial so it would be more visible in murky underwater conditions. The distinct shapes on the hands also came about so that divers would immediately be able to see the difference between the hours, minutes, and seconds at a glance, crucial for preventing any calculation errors.
Tudor also supplied watches to the navy forces of Italy, Canada, South Africa, and the U.S., so there is something to be said about the practicality of the innovation. But it was the French navy that gave the watch its official seal of approval with the release of the Marine Nationale Submariner in the ’70s, with the initials M.N. engraved on the case back.
Tudor Holy Grail Watches
Tudor ceased production of its Snowflake Submariners in the mid-1980s, turning this line into a quest item for collectors. Apart from the distinct Snowflake hands, the models in the Submariner line are known for coming in two dial colors: blue and black. Keep an eye out, as well, for one complication that appears in the 7021 and the 9411 (introduced in 1975): a date display that alternates the colors of the numbers between red and black.
Adding to its value on the collectors’ market is the fact that vintage Tudor Submariners are even harder to track down than vintage Rolex Submariners, as Tudor generally produced these in more limited quantities. Look for the ones with the M.N. letters engraved on the back if you want to truly flex your watch cred.
Tudor's Snowflake Hands Today
Those who are fans of the Snowflake hands design but aren’t interested in trawling the vintage watch market are in luck: Tudor revived the beloved brand signature by featuring it on the Pelagos and Black Bay models launched in Baselworld 2012. The release was met with great excitement, as it also preceded the reintroduction of Tudor in the U.S. market in 2013. The reappearance of the Snowflake is a nod to Tudor’s rich history and another way by which you can quickly and easily distinguish the watch from its Rolex counterparts.
The Pelagos takes up the mantle of the Submariners of old by being Tudor’s answer to the modern-day divers’ watch. Waterproof up to 500m with a unidirectional bezel and of course, luminous markers, just like its predecessors, the dials also come in both black and blue. It also retains the hour markers’ distinct square shape.
Meanwhile, the Black Bay collection has garnered its own cult following with vintage-inspired designs and a wide product range, from chronographs to GMT watches. (The hour markers for these models, however, retain the original round shape, the same as in the first-generation Submariner line.) Another thing the Black Bay has going for it is its great variety, as it comes with fabric straps, leather straps, and in two-tone steel and yellow gold, bronze, matte black, and stainless steel. David Beckham, Lady Gaga, and New Zealand’s formidable All Blacks rugby team have been spotted sporting them on their wrists, proof of their massive and far-reaching appeal.
And if you’re ever in any doubt as to what kind of watch a person is wearing, all you need to do is peer a little bit closer and look for those distinctive angled square hands, because the Tudor Snowflake is always the real giveaway.