Forgotten Heroes — The Tudor North FlagBy Felix Scholz
In 2015, Tudor, who were already riding high off the success of the Black Bay, surprised many with the release of the North Flag. This watch stood out not just because of its sleek aesthetic and integrated design, but also for the fact that it was the first Tudor (alongside the Pelagos) to boast an in-house movement, the caliber MT5621. Today, the watch is gone from the collection. What happened to the North Flag?
What we said about it
Shortly after the initial launch of the North Flag at Baselworld 2015, we were confident in calling it early: “The watch is as solid a piece of no-nonsense watchmaking as you could want — at about 40mm in diameter, it’s eminently wearable, with a yellow and black dial color scheme that we’re sure offers great all-conditions visibility, and a bezel with a ceramic middle for better scratch resistance … It’s exactly what Tudor has always stood for; the watch as an ultra reliable daily companion, through thick and thin, that offers — with a seemly degree of unpretentious confidence — some of the best bang for the buck in the business.”
Why did it stand out
Tudor’s North Flag stood out for several reasons. The in-house caliber was a surprise to many and impressed, especially at the price point. But the movement, which stood out at the time with its silicon balance spring and 70 hours of power reserve, wasn’t the only standout. The design was remarkable too. This watch came out at a time when heritage reissues reigned supreme, and while the North Flag was inspired by the historic Ranger II models, it felt contemporary — perhaps even a little ahead of its time, what with its integrated bracelet and sleek lines. And finally, it stood out thanks to the bold use of color. Yellow highlights on the dial and the strap (if you went with that option) ensured this was a watch that literally stood out from the crowd.
What happened since then
In short, not much. The North Flag never got any variations, line extensions or limited editions. This is in marked contrast to the omnipresent Black Bay, and even the Pelagos has seen design evolutions and a few new models since launch. But while other lines thrived, the North Flag languished. You could get a bracelet or a strap. That was it. Until earlier this year, the watch was officially discontinued. While Tudor hasn’t commented on this, the rationale is likely quite obvious. The North Flag didn’t sell. Anecdotally at least, this watch was a slow mover, especially when it was going head-to-head with the Black Bay, which kept moving from strength to strength. So, the North Flag was fated to slowly fade away.
Why it doesn’t get the love it deserves
So, we can slice this two ways: why didn’t consumers like the North Flag, and why didn’t Tudor support the model more? The latter is a fairly simple answer. Tudor got great results from the Black Bay, and promoting the North Flag would only complicate the brand’s offering, which, for a watch that (from all accounts) wasn’t a wild commercial success out of the gate, would have represented something of a risk.
This brings us to the other half of the question. Why didn’t consumers love the North Flag? In 2015, I think it’s fair to say Tudor had three core “sporty” products — the Black Bay, the Pelagos and the North Flag. And of these three, the North Flag was the most adventurous design-wise. The dial was blocky and modern, with a polarizing yellow power reserve indicator. While the silhouette is very cool for 2021, back when it was released, we weren’t quite so comfortable with the integrated look at this price point. I suspect that part of that would be down to the fact that the users couldn’t change the strap, thanks to the non-standard lugs. Again, this might fly today, but not in 2015. Finally, I think the major reason that this watch didn’t immediately pick up commercial traction was because it looked too new, too distinct. The rebirth of Tudor was predicated on heritage, and while the North Flag certainly had its roots in the past, it didn’t look like it did.
What we’d change
The fundamentals of the North Flag are strong, and if, for some reason, I was put in charge of the design team tasked with reviving the watch, the way forward would be pretty straightforward. The movement is still good, but I don’t think we need an open caseback anymore. It made sense given that Tudor wanted to show it off, but we’re pretty used to that these days. Next, the bezel — it doesn’t need that odd ceramic insert. On to the dial. It could use a bit of a refresh. I think the power reserve is a sticking point for many, so safer to get rid of it. Replace it with an Arabic numeral at nine o’clock and really play to those “Explorer” vibes. The rehaut could be finessed a little, but besides that, the dial is solid. Finally, the straps. Include a quick-change system and ship it with fabric, bracelet and rubber, and I think you’re on to a winner.