A close look into the human touch behind Tudor‘s innovative creations.
Back in 2010, during Baselworld, Swiss watch brand Tudor started to offer fabric straps—or more popularly known as NATO straps—to go with its Heritage Chrono timepieces. What seemed like a rather minor and inconsequential addition caused quite a stir in an industry that, at that point, did not consider fabric straps to be sophisticated enough to be used on high end watches. What’s most important to note in this part of Tudor’s success story is that the NATO straps in question are anything but unsophisticated.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
Fabric straps have actually been rather popular among collectors, especially those who favor sporty matches or have a penchant for mix-and-match styling. Tudor, realizing the potential of this particular accessory, looked to have its own straps created to match the brand’s bold aesthetics. This search led Tudor to Julien Faure.
Based in Saint-Étienne, in eastern France, Julien Faure is a traditional passementerie company with a history reaching back 250 years. Its clientele currently includes high fashion brands such as Lanvin, Hermès, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and many more. It even creates ecclesiastical designs for the Vatican. And then in 2009, Julien Faure met Tudor.
Nobody has ever created fabric straps for wristwatches at the level of Tudor expected to do, so Julien Faure had to stretch its manufacturing capabilities to meet the challenge. The result is an approach that harmoniously marries traditional know-how and contemporary tech in a medley of creation. It all starts, however, in a modern office with a computer running a proprietary design program. Which makes perfect sense once you consider the complexity of a Tudor NATO strap.
A perfect example would be the camo straps that come with the Heritage Black Bay 36 and Heritage Ranger. These straps benefit the most from the four layer construction employed by Julien Faure for the straps it creates for Tudor, as it adds a tangible sense of depth to the design. What also separates these NATO straps from more commonly used types is the use of thin yarns in massive quantities: Every square centimeter of a Tudor fabric strap contains 500 threads in length and 90 threads across. The result is akin to a high-resolution digital image, where an increased number of picture elements create a much sharper image.
From here on, however, the overall tech level drops significantly, while the aesthetic and emotional qualities of the straps increase.
WEAVING THE BANDS OF TIME
One of the most notable aspects of Julien Faure, and the primary cause of it being sought after by so many famous maisons, is that the company still uses old Jacquard looms. And here we mean “old” as in “more than 150 years old and practically found nowhere else but at Julien Faure.” Unsurprisingly, production is quite slow. For the four-layer strap used by Tudor, a single loom can produce six meters per day, with each meter yielding three straps. That being said, this is only a baseline number. The amount of looms assigned to create watch straps for Tudor varies from time to time, so the actual production rate is easily kept secret.
And then there’s the human touch. While most of these ancient contraptions are coupled with retro-fitted computers to ensure that the complex patterns are employed accurately, they are also closely watched by human eyes. Human hands also still play a huge role. For instance, thread tension, a critical factor in Jacquard weaving, is still hand-controlled as it is “like playing the harp.” Furthermore, at the end of each strap or ribbon, each loose thread are knotted by hand. It was definitely awe-inspiring to watch a lady working at the factory floor with her hands dancing across the loom creating one knot every two seconds.
At a glance, a Tudor fabric strap might look just like any other on the market. But feel it wrapped around your wrist, and you can easily tell the difference.
INSIDE THE ATELIER
The human factor further extends to the faces of Tudor. The brand’s current ambassadors are also much more relatable than the average campaign star, with some of them being fans long before they were approached for actual collaborations. A Tudor watch essentially speaks for itself. Finally, the human touch is also present in the manufacturing of the actual watches. Tudor’s workshop in Geneva has all the bells and whistles of a modern atelier: Climate-controlled environment, positive air pressure coupled with a gentle downward flow to keep dust away from the delicate insides of the movements being worked on, and so on.
Yet, the most vivid memory of anybody walking through the space would be that of watchmakers bending over their desks, delicately affixing hands to dials, checking for minute specks of dust, attaching bracelets to finished cases and so on. Again, it’s a harmonious medley of high-tech standards and age-old traditional workmanship. Or, in other words, innovation and heritage. And that is Tudor in a nutshell.