Tudor: Weaving Excellence
We get to the source and see how the French made fabric straps of Tudor differ from the cheaper products.
Tudor has been playing hard and fast since their game-changing move in 2010. Guided by the simple (and most sensible) mission to deliver the best possible quality at the best possible price, the company prides itself on being able to bring well made and durable watches to the market. For example, despite being a little late to join the bronze watch trend, they were perfecting a formula of alloys to ensure the absence of the unsightly green colouration that often forms on the characteristic patina of bronze.
As a manufacturer, Tudor readily partners with industry specialists to realise the highest quality for their customers. Informed watch buyers are already aware of the collaboration where Tudor supplies their three-hander movement to Breitling; in return, the Grenchen company sends a particular chronograph movement to Geneva for the Tudor Black Bay Chronograph watches. Less well documented, the collaboration with Julien Faure, whose speciality is the weaving of textile ribbons, resulted in the superb NATO-style fabric strap for Tudor’s Heritage watches.
World of Watches Thailand joined a few other Southeast Asian journalists and retailers for the 3-hour bus ride from Geneva to Julien Faure in Saint-Étienne, near Lyon in eastern France. Today, fifth generation family members manage the 154-year-old company. They cater mostly to haute couture brands that require sophisticated ribbons, not the cheaply printed kind, for their products and packaging. The Vatican is reportedly a client as well, and that should not come as a surprise once you see the archive of samples and orders. The latter goes back at least to the peak of the region’s textile industry.
Tudor approached Julien Faure around 2009 to discuss the design and composition of the fabric watch strap they had in mind. This is a rather new and but not a foreign area for the passementerie. After all, the NATO-style watch straps that Tudor needs are even less ornamented than what Julien Faure does on a regular basis. When we were there, we saw some very elaborated ribbons coming off the looms. One lady among the group quickly identified the products, exclaiming, “Oh, this is so very [Italian brand name omitted],” and the ribbon bearing fanciful flowers was confirmed as being produced for the said brand.
Durability, on the other hand, should be the focus in the case of Tudor, as the straps are meant for sportive and outdoorsy watches. The teams at Tudor and Julien Faure worked together to arrive at an optimal design structure, perfectly fusing strength and comfort. Prototypes were initially tested at Tudor for wear and resistance against the elements, including water and ultraviolet rays.
Each Tudor fabric strap made by Julien Faure comprises interwoven yarns in four layers. There are 500 warp yarns along the length, and there are 90 weft yarns across for each centimetre sector of the strap. Thin yarns in a larger quantity are the key factor distinguishing the nylon straps of Tudor from the generic products with thicker yarns in a smaller quantity. It is also why the Julien Faure straps made for Tudor offer much better on-wrist comfort than cheap nylon straps.
Quite interestingly, the mechanical technology that made this all possible is two centuries old – and kept alive at Julien Faure. The Jacquard looms used here descended from the 1804 invention of Joseph Marie Jacquard. The Frenchman, born to a weaver family of Lyon, was looking to develop a loom that could generate complex patterns in a semi-automatic manner. Programming was done by way of punched cards with holes corresponding to the positions to raise or not raise the threads.
The desired pattern is thus achieved without manual determination at each and every line of the fabric. Perhaps, the camouflage straps as offered with the Heritage Black Bay 36 and the Heritage Ranger watches are the ones that benefit the most from this semi-automated weaving technique.
Weaving with a Jacquard loom remains a relatively slow process. For the kind of strapwork required by Tudor, one loom can produce six metres of strap each day, and one metre equals three straps. However, the number of looms assigned to Tudor production varies through the year so it is not possible to guesstimate the production output of Tudor Heritage watches if that was what you were trying to do a few seconds ago!
As a watch title, we are not an expert in textile matters and may not describe such details very accurately. But as far as we understand, the way the warp and weft yarns are intertwined also determine the texture when you touch the strap with your fingertips. This is most discernible when you have the strap of the Heritage Chronograph next to that of the Heritage Black Bay Bronze, which feels a bit more quilted (for lack of a better word). Once again, the camouflage strap marks the most distinctive of all with the darker patches feeling raised from the lighter canvas almost in the same fashion as a dimensional topographic map.
Did we learn a lot from the Tudor-sponsored visit to Julien Fauer? Yes, we sure did. What is more impressionable though is the level of commitment as demonstrated by the people of both companies. In a world of disposable consumerism, it is a joy to see the work of purveyors who take the time to arrive at excellence even when they can very easily cut corners.
One note before closing: Tudor’s one-piece fabric straps are affixed to the case by spring bars. The configuration means the watch does not slide up and down along the length of the strap as is the case with regular NATO straps. And there is a tang buckle to secure the strap to your wrist in the same way as a regular leather strap. If you did not like NATO straps as they were in the past, give these ones a chance to see if they make a difference for you.