Anyone who even casually follows watch media probably read coverage of Tudor’s 2021 new releases. The brand released a number of unique new colors (and even materials) for existing models, as well as a whole new line of dress watches.
Unless you were really paying attention though, you might not have noticed that Tudor also quietly removed a few models from its website. The Fastrider Black Shield was suddenly absent as well as the North Flag model. To me, cancellation of the Black Shield is a shame, but is not surprising. It looked fantastic in person, but it didn’t house Tudor’s (semi) in-house chronograph movement. The brand also seems to be focused on its lines of vintage-inspired chronographs rather than something modern like the ceramic Black Shield.
I had been hearing rumors of this coming for a while, but the official cancellation of the North Flag was more surprising. That watch was the model to debut Tudor’s first manufature calibre, the MT5621. As I said in my review of the Tissot PRX, integrated bracelet steel sports watches are currently red hot. Not only was this Tudor’s only entry to this category, it also took a few styling cues from Tudor’s vintage Ranger II model. Because the current buying market seem to love integrated bracelets and vintage cues, I would have expected the North Flag to be a hot seller.
Browsing eBay, however reveals that the number of Tudor divers trading hands is significantly higher than North Flags. As of today, 643 results show up when searching eBay for Tudor Black Bay, while FOUR North Flags are listed (you can see the offerings at the time you're reading this through the included affiliate links). Unless everyone loves theirs so much that they aren’t selling them, this indicates to me that Tudor did not sell many of them. Despite a similar MSRP, our friends at WatchCharts show that a used North Flag is about 20% cheaper than a used Black Bay 58.
Perhaps Tudor put its marketing dollars into other watches, or perhaps watch collectors were turned off by some of the North Flag’s funky details. Either way, it checked a lot of boxes for my watch collection. I was looking for a field-style watch to round out my collection of divers and chronographs. I also liked the integrated bracelet look, and it seemed like it would have excellent legibility. The in-house movement with power reserve indicator was a plus to me. Finally, I really wanted to try my first Tudor, but I knew too many people with Black Bays and Pelagoses (Pelagai?). I tend to look for watches that are less common for my collection.
Once I started hearing rumors of cancellation, I became afraid of a price spike. Parent-company Rolex models tend to jump up when discontinued, so I got serious about finding one. I don’t buy watches as investments, but I also didn’t want to get priced out of affording one. Although North Flags are less common, they are still not difficult to find. Thus I purchased a pre-owned North Flag it shortly before the cancellation was official. According to the warranty card, it was originally equipped with a leather strap, but someone along the way added a bracelet too! The perfect watch to wear, and review as I could evaluate and photograph both options!
My first impression of the watch was that it feels masculine. Despite its not-huge 40mm case width, the sharp, hard edges give it a slightly brutal look. The thin, squared-off bezel also makes it wear bigger. This is matched by the sold feel of the case and bracelet. The trickle-down build quality from Rolex is apparent here.
The next unique styling detail that most people will notice is the black ceramic ring under the brushed steel bezel. At first this seems like a strange design choice by Tudor. Typically, ceramic is used in high-contact areas due to its resistance to scratching. Why would Tudor cover the ceramic with softer steel? I can think of two reasons: Number one, the steel bezel simply looks better against the steel case. Second, while ceramic is harder, it is also more brittle. Steel is more likely to pick up small scratches and dings, but it is less likely to crack or shatter after a big impact. I think that the steel was used to protect the ceramic for a watch that is intended to stand up to some abuse.
So why use the black ceramic at all? Ceramic is lighter than steel, so it helps to keep the 13.3mm thick North Flag from being top-heavy. Additionally, it visually slims the watch. The black ring combined with a chamfer on the underside (the only polished part of the entire case) work together to stop the North Flag from looking too slab-sided (I’m talking to you, Black Bay GMT). Finally, it just looks cool! Now if only someone could explain to me how the hell they assemble this thing.
After wearing my Sinn U1 S extensively last summer, I’ve become more focused on watches with great legibility. As with the Sinn, the Tudor has a matte black dial with stark white hands and indices (no polished edges here). The arrow tip on the hour hand makes it easy to differentiate from the long, thin minute hand. Instead of red, Tudor’s “splash of color” on the North Flag comes in the form of bits of yellow on the dial as well as the seconds hand.
The hour markers are also raised above the dial, giving good legibility even at oblique angles. The Sinn still gets a slight nod for legibility due to its hand design and superb AR coating (Tudor disappointingly does not apply AR to any of its watch crystals). The Tudor is a close second of the watches I’ve owned and reviewed (the night time legibility nod still goes to the Par Weber Coefficient, however, as the North Flag’s blue lume is good, but not extremely thick).
I’ve read some complaints of the power reserve indicator making the North Flag’s dial look busy. I feel like it is very well integrated, taking the place of the nine hour marker. The dial has a good symmetry, as the power reserve is offset by the white date window at three (one of the only times I will say that I don’t mind a non-matching date disc). Also, unlike other Tudor models with the in-house movement, the North Flag has minimal text on the dial. Only two lines of text sit above six (versus five lines on the current Pelagos).
Tudor’s First Manufacture Movement
Flipping the watch over reveals the Rolex family’s first and only (until the recent gold and silver Black Bay models) transparent caseback. Typically I am not a fan of windows on watches with workhorse movements, but I’m willing to give this one a pass. In the case of the COSC-certified MT5621, the finishing is not anything special, but it does have a clean sandblasted look. The caseback also makes the North Flag stand out from the lineup, and signifies that Tudor was excited to show off its new movement at the time. I also appreciate seeing the full bridge over the variable inertia balance wheel silicon hair spring.
In addition to having the smoothest winding and setting action of any watch I’ve owned, I’ve come to appreciate the movement’s 70 hour power reserve. Since I’ve owned it, there have been a number of times that I went to strap it on just as the power reserve indicator was running out. This alleviates the needs from setting the watch, and ultimately leads to me wearing it more frequently.
When you do need to adjust, and wind the watch, the crown is a pleasure to use. It is easy to grip but it’s conical shape (like a mini Reese's cup) means that it won’t dig into your wrist.
Side note: If you’ve never owned a watch with a power reserve indicator, I highly recommend trying one. It really helps to understand how much your motion during the day translates to the winding of your watch. If a North Flag is not in your budget, Orient makes a number of more affordable options such as the Triton/Neptune and Orient Star 200m divers. Seiko Spring Drive watches also typically offer this feature.
Strapping it On
Winding down this long-winded review brings us to actually fitting the watch to your wrist. The stainless steel bracelet is fairly basic, but very well-executed. Sure, it doesn’t feature the trick spring-loaded clasp of the Pelagos, but I don’t miss it. When I have watches with those, I find myself consistently fiddling with them. I prefer a more compact clasp that is designed to fit will and be comfortable when sized correctly.
The clasp does feature Tudor’s typical ceramic bearings in the latching mechanism. The result is smooth operation, and should stop the clasp wearing out and becoming loose over time.
Overall, the bracelet has a solid feel with zero noticeable play between its flexible H links. Despite having sharp edges, it is quite comfortable, and aesthetically looks great with the toolish case.
Switching to the leather strap gives the watch a totally different look. It becomes more of a flashy luxury item, especially with the contrasting yellow stitching and yellow leather underside. The leather is embossed with a textile pattern (making it look from a distance like one of our sailcloth straps).
My only complaint is the deployant clasp. The clasp hardware itself is quite nice with a safety flip lock and ceramic bearings similar to the bracelet. The concern is the loose end piece that must be worn in reverse to be comfortable. I’d greatly prefer if it would tuck inside of the strap, similar to what Omega does. This would avoid having it get caught on things, or having it pop out of the keepers.
Hidden Gem, or Flop?
So now that it has been discontinued after a 6 year run, where do I think that the North Flag lands in the history books of Tudor? I believe that the North Flag is a future classic that will be looked upon fondly by collectors in the future. Its use of the first in-house movement marks the start of Tudor’s push to move up-market (see the current all-gold Black Bay if you don’t believe me).
The North Flag’s release is when the brand started to really step out of the shadow of big brother Rolex. Additionally, unlike the Fastrider, its design is timeless. It combines a few vintage cues, but it is clearly a product that reflects the styling and technology of the time in which it was conceived. I think this, combined with its relative rarity will reflect favorably on it in the distant future, making it more collectible than other current Tudor models.
Studying the market data, it appears that the market might already be realizing this too. According to WatchCharts data, in the roughly three months since I bought mine in Feburary 2021, prices have increased by 26%. I don’t plan to sell this watch, but I’ll surely watch to see if the recent cancellation is further reflected in the value of used ones.
What are your thoughts on the Tudor North Flag? Is it a future classic, or an awkward design that time will forget? Let us know in the comments!
Name: Tudor North Flag
Reference Number: 91210N
Price: $3,550/$3,675 on Strap/Bracelet (Discontinued)
Dimensions: 40mm diameter, 50mm lug-to-lug, 13.3mm thick, 12mm lug width
Movement: Tudor Manufacture Calibre MT5621
Water Resistance: 100m
Crystal: Sapphire (Flat with no AR)
Bezel: Matte black ceramic under stainless steel
Bracelet/Strap: Stainless Steel/Leather Deployant