When you read about the history of dive watches, you’ll probably hear something about their “superior legibility”. Divers have large, luminous indices for telling time in the dark ocean. When you read about pilot’s watches, you’ll hear something similar: high contrast hands, large Arabic numerals, and a massive triangle at 12 o’clock. These features helped early-20th Century pilots tell the time on the fly. Field watches are no different – you guessed it – legibility. Spoiler alert: watches are made to tell time. The foundation of modern watch design is built on hyper-legible tool watches. Some modern examples stray from this foundation; Jacob & Co’s Bugatti watch comes to mind. It’s a marvel of engineering, but it sacrifices legibility for styling. As it turns out, no sacrifice is necessary. The Tudor Ranger proves that simple, legible watches can also look outstanding.
Hilarious History of the Tudor Ranger
In typical Rolex/Tudor fashion, the Ranger obtains historical significance from a particular event: in this case, the British North Greenland expedition. In the early 1950’s, a team of 30 men traveled to Northeast Greenland to study meteorology and glaciers in the area. The team was made up of highly-ranked military officials and scientists. Tudor jumped on the opportunity by asking these men – and I’m paraphrasing – “do you guys want some free watches?”. They said yes, and the rest is history (for Tudor’s marketing department). In reality, Tudor gave these men the Oyster-Prince Ref 7809. . . not a Ranger. At this time, the ‘Ranger’ name was printed on numerous models. 'Ranger' simply indicated the sporty, “adventure-oriented” nature of a watch. But again, Tudor didn’t send Ranger models on this expedition.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Tudor solidified the Ranger's design language. The Oyster Prince Ref. 7995 (pictured above on the left) was the first to feature Arabic numerals at the 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock positions. These numerals, the surrounding baton indices, and the hands are all coated in lume. A long second hand stretches nearly to the edge of the dial, where we see no-frills, high-contrast minute markers. These aspects are identical to what we see on the 2022 Ref. 79950 (pictured above on the right).
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to focus on the Ranger Ref. 79950. However, the first modern Ranger, the Heritage Ranger, was released in 2014. This quirky watch shared a lot of similarities with the Ref. 79950, but was discontinued in 2020. I can't talk about this watch without mentioning its straight end links. In my opinion, this was a strange move by Tudor; I don’t know many fans of this look. You’re better off putting your Heritage Ranger on an Everest Universal rubber or leather strap, but I digress. Two years after the Heritage Ranger’s discontinuation, Tudor came out with the Ref. 79950.
The Tudor Ranger Ref. 79950 is, as Tudor puts it, “the spirit of a tool watch”. While its history is incredibly confusing, its design is anything but. This is perhaps the second most legible watch of all time, behind the Timex Easy-Reader – a watch named after its legibility. The Ranger’s signature Arabic numerals are large, bold, and perfectly sandwiched between its baton indices. Minute markers hug the edge of the dial, providing accurate second/minute keeping. A common complaint of the new Ranger is its printed indices. However, I think they add to the utilitarian look of this watch and stay true to their 1960's ancestor. The Ranger is unapologetically no-nonsense. While designing this watch, Tudor said – and I’m paraphrasing – “The dial needs numbers? Just put ‘em on there”. And that they did.
With this new model, Tudor brought the Ranger down to 39mm. This bridges the wearability gap for a lot of people, while bringing the Ranger closer to its historical 34mm diameter. At just 12mm thick, this watch will be comfortable for most people. The Ranger's modest dimensions encase a beautiful movement. Unlike the Heritage Ranger’s ETA 2824, the 2022 Ranger features a COSC-certified in-house caliber MT5402. The ETA 2824 is one of the greatest movements of all time, and just about anybody can service it. However, the MT5402 is COSC-certified, beautifully finished, and features a 70 hour power reserve. The Ranger’s utilitarian looks are backed up by its rock-solid movement.
The Tudor Ranger is the poster boy of legibility. While some may see it as boring, I see it as intentional. In my opinion, too many brands over-engineer and under-deliver. For everyday wear, I appreciate a simple, functional watch. In the words of Steve Jobs, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. When I look at a Tudor Ranger, I see everything I need to see: nothing more, nothing less. I’m not bogged down by minutiae – I’m reading the time. The Ranger is a quintessential callback to the foundation of watchmaking: functionality and legibility.