There are some design signatures in watchmaking that are distinct and become synonymous with certain brands. Rolex has a few design quirks like the cyclops lens or fluted bezels. And while we are on bezels, there is none more distinct that the octagonal shape of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak timepieces. Breguet has its fluted caseband, its eccentric slim “moon” tip watch hands and a calligraphy style for its numerals that’s so distinct that it is referred to as Breguet numerals.

Ref. 7021 with the snowflake hands released in 1969

A much-loved brand signature turns 50 this year. We are referring to Tudor’s snowflake hands – the diamond shaped edges seen on the hour and seconds hands — that first appeared in 1969 on the Submariner references 7016 and 7021. The diamond-tipped edges reminded enthusiasts of a partial snowflake, these hands were set on a dial with the now characteristic square hour markers.

The Tudor catalog from 1969 featuring the two models

This wasn’t just a design quirk, it provided more surface area for luminescent material to sit on the dial and thus improve visibility underwater. Apart from Ref. 7016 and 7021 these “Snowflake” Submariners — as they were referred to by collectors — were further seen on Ref. 9104, 9411 up until 1975 before they were seen on a few models in the 80s.  

Tudor debuted its first diving watch in 1954 with the Oyster Prince Submariner Ref. 7922, following close on the heels of its big brother, the Rolex Submariner that was released a year earlier. Incidentally these first models carried the “Mercedes” hour hands that are synonymous with Rolex sports watches. It was only with the second generation Tudor Submariners that design changes were made to put some distance between the two brands.

Square hour markers and snowflake hands meant good visibility

The early Tudor divers caught the attention of the French Navy who trialed these divers in 1956. The tool watches Tudor made for the Marine Nationale (MN) Tudor watches would become a collecting phenomenon in later years, just like the MilSpec Rolex Submariners made for the British Navy. Tudor’s relationship with the Marine Nationale lasted more than 30 years right up until the mid-2000s. A popular example from the 1970s is the Ref 9401/0 Tudor Submariner complete with snowflake hands and square hour markers. Tudor made the Submariner models right up to 1999 before discontinuing them.

The snowflake returned in 2012 with the Black Bay and Pelagos models

“Snowflake” hands were spotted on diving watches until the mid-eighties before reappearing the Tudor catalogue in 2012 with the neo-vintage Black Bay and the Pelagos models.  The “snowflake” configuration was now an homage element in the vintage revival era. And as the popularity of the Black Bay models grows unabated, the snowflake has become the single most proprietary and recognized Tudor design element today.