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Decoding the Tudor Rose

I recently had a chance to discuss many things Rolex and Tudor with a man held in high regard by collectors and the industry alike. For the sake of discretion, we'll call this man Elias. As I've told him, the opportunity to visit and converse with him was a bit of a bucket list item which helped me understand much more about two legendary watchmaking brands. Despite the fact that I spent roughly eighteen months researching and writing about Rolex marketing, I remain convinced that so much of the present and past of Rolex and Tudor remain unknown, untold, and often misunderstood.

Before my conversation with Elias, which took place in Geneva, I had a chance to preview a large number of watches that were up for sale at Sotheby's.
A Tudor Black Bay "RaSP" which sold at Sotheby's in Geneva this month.
One of those watches was the Tudor Black Bay "Platinum Jubilee RaSP" (abbeviation PJR henceforth). This watch was specially commissioned for members of the Royalty and Specialist Protection service of London's Metropolitan Police Service. Now, I'm definitely going to oversimplify here, but I tend to think of this organization as "England's Secret Service." Or, given the fact that England has a much longer history than the United States, we could say the Secret Service is the "US version of RaSP." Either way, these are organizations responsible for guarding and protecting some high profile individuals who may face significant risks. Secrecy, discretion and camouflage, of a sort, are vital tricks of their trade.

Tudor Pelgos "RaSP" which sold at Sotheby's in Geneva this month, caseback.
The Tudor Pelagos "Platinum Jubilee RaSP" sold for just over $23,500, or roughly six times the retail price of the standard reference. Many factors may have induced collectors to pay a premium for this example. Queen Elizabeth passed away this year, meaning the PJR was issued in the final full year of her reign. The Queen's emblem is engraved on the caseback along with a number of additional markers.

Tudor Pelgos "RaSP" which sold at Sotheby's in Geneva this month, dial detail.
Undoubtedly, bidders for the PJR were also motivated by a particular special emblem on the watch dial. That colorful emblem, just above a rectangular index at six o'clock, was a crown atop a Tudor Rose. In this post, I will focus upon the Tudor Rose and explore an oft-overlooked meaning to this emblem. I credit Elias for opening my eyes to a particular connotation when it comes to rose iconography.

It is well-known that Tudor, the watchmaker, printed a rose on their standard dials for many of the brand's earliest years. After 1969, the rose was largely replaced by a shield symbol. In the modern era, a rose is sometimes engraved at the end of a Tudor watch crown and it also reappeared on the dial of certain Tudor references. Many collectors pine for the return of the rose to Tudor dials. In order to keep the discussion clear, going forward, I will refer to the emblem figuring prominently in British history as the Union Rose while I will refer to the emblem on wristwatches as the Tudor Rose.

Why did Tudor choose to place a rose on its dial? I think it is fair to say that the rose is congruent with other royal iconography that Hans Wilsdorf and his team adopted for Rolex in its nascent years. There is, of course, the symbol of a crown which is core to the Rolex/Tudor identity (friendly reminder: there were Rolex crown emblems on Tudor winding crowns for many years). The Prince was an early reference for Rolex. The list goes on.

For these reasons, it would be reasonable to conclude that Wilsdorf and his team simply selected the rose as part of a larger tip-of-the-hat to royalty and royal institutions.
A 16th century Union (Tudor) Rose from Haddon Hall in England.
The Union Rose marked an important point in the history of the British monarchy. During the War of the Roses, the House of York, which employed a white rose as an emblem, and the House of Lancaster, which employed a red rose, battled for the throne. After Henry VII prevailed, he subsequently adopted the Union Rose as his emblem. That design placed the white York rose inside the red Lancaster rose, thereby indicating a union of the two houses.

Through my conversation with Elias, though, I learned that the rose, as a symbol, also has a less well-known meaning: secrecy and confidentiality.
See placard for details. Presented only as an illustration of the "rose cross," placards accuracy is not guaranteed.
One of the earliest examples of this association is religious in nature. The Rosicrucian, or "rose cross," order emerged in Germany in the opening years of the 17th century. The publisher of Tobias Churton's book on Rosicrucianism describes it as follows: "For nearly 400 years, incredible myths and stories have been woven around the 'invisible' Brothers of the Rose Cross, the Rosicrucians. It is said that they possessed the secret of man and God, that they could turn lead into gold, that they governed Europe in secret, that theirs was the true philosophy of Freemasonry, and that they could save--or destroy--the world."

A poster for the "Salon de la Ros + Croix in Paris.
Although Rosicricianism is not as well-known in the modern era, it did have extensive historical reach. According to research by Julius Sachse, Rosicrucian adherents arrived in the United States as early as 1694, settling just outside of Philadelphia. Two centuries later, during a period spanning five years in Paris, artists presented works related to Rosicricianism as part of the "Salon de la Rose+Croix."

While it may seem a stretch to conclude that the Tudor Rose icon is connected to a secret society, we should also consider that the rose is used as a symbol of secrecy in the modern era. According to an August, 2019 publication by the US Army, the rose is an "ancient symbol of secrecy." For this reason, a rose figures prominently in the US Army military intelligence branch crest.
Left: US Army Military Intelligence pin. Right: DNI award pin (rose icon is in background).
The US Director of National Intelligence also offers an award with a rose integrated into its design. The office notes, "The heraldic rose, symbol of secrecy and confidence ... has been a traditional symbol to describe something to be kept secret and not repeated anywhere."

Now, I will admit that all of this could simply be pure coincidence and unrelated to Tudor's adoption of the rose. But when we begin to consider other aspects of Rolex and Tudor, the rose as a symbol of secrecy seems to fit the brands just as well as the rose as a royal symbol. Rolex is notoriously discrete when it comes to communication and access. There is also the famous connection between Rolex and secret agent James Bond (Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, was fond of Rolex). In my own book on Rolex, I establish a clear connection between the intelligence community in World War II and Rolex marketing efforts in the 1960s. And, Rolex / Tudor's reputation for secrecy is part of a much larger tradition of secrecy in the Swiss banking industry.

I'd like to wrap up this post with a recommendation for vintage collectors who, based upon the discussion above, accept the idea that the Tudor Rose is a symbol of secrecy.
A Tudor Submariner with rose dial, photo credit Adam Golden, used with permission.
The Latin term "sub rosa" or "under the rose" serves as a discrete way of noting that certain things should be kept in confidence. According to Merriam-Webster, in churches, roses were "placed over confessionals as a symbol of the confidentiality of confession." Clerics should never repeat what they are told "sub rosa." Of course, there is a particular Tudor reference that could easily embody the practice of "sub rosa." It is the reference 7928, the sub(mariner) rose (dial).
My book on the history of Rolex marketing is now available on Amazon! It debuted as the #1 New Release in its category. You can find it here.

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  1. Thank you Brendan for the enjoyable article. I believe the tudor RaSP is a Black Bay, not a Pelagos.

  2. Thank you JM, that is correct. I have corrected the post. I really appreciate your comment and thank you for reading. 🙏🏼


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