A History of Harrods & The Tudor Black Bay Special Edition
Simon Schneider16 March 2021 | 6 min read
The experience of buying a luxury product is one that is determined in its quality not only by the good itself, but also by where and how you got your hands on it. A great example of this is how watch manufacturers in the transition from tool timepieces to luxury ones decided to pay significantly more attention to upscaling the boxes their products were sold in. I mean just take a look at everything you get beyond the actual watch when buying a new Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch.
This peak of such kinds of experience can be found when one wanders into one of the world’s many wonderful department stores, like the KaDeWe in Berlin, Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and the most legendary of them all, Harrods in London. Few stores are steeped deeper in lore than the iconic green building with the dazzling 12,000 light bulbs that bathe it in a magical glow every single night of the year.
The history of Harrods
Things started much smaller back when the bright mind of 25 year old Charles Henry Harrod established his first shop in 1824 listed as “Harrod and Wicking, Linen Drapers, Retail”. While this initial linen business was short-lived, and eventually closed in the early 1830s, it would form the beginning of a story involving yachts, lions, and a drive to deliver any product, to any person, at any time.
The linen shop, however, would prove to not be the final stint in Harrod’s efforts in the retail business. Soon after the closure of his first shop he decided to open a wholesale grocery store in 1834 in London’s East End. In a move to escape the inner city and profit of “The Great Exhibition” coming two years later Harrods decided to relocate to Brompton, also known today as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in 1849. It is at this very location that the store has maintained its position to this day, a location that would soon be synonymous with the finest department store the world has ever seen.
Harrods stood to benefit greatly from the growing popularity of Knightsbridge in the 1850s and steadily grew in tandem with the neighbourhood. The pace of acceleration increased rapidly when in 1860 Henry decided to sell his business to his son Charles Digby Harrod. Digby managed to utilize his youth in the form of taking risks to help expand the business. While under his leadership Harrods still did not represent the level of luxury it is synonymous with now, he did manage to grow the business closer to the physical size we know it has today. Buying up neighbouring shops and growing his store in the process he managed to build a platform that allowed for increased revenue.
Things weren’t all rosy, as the family business experienced a major drawback running up to the Christmas of 1883. Tested by a force majeure the entire establishment burned down on December 6th. The most amazing part of this story is not the downfall though, but the recovery. Like a phoenix out of the ashes Digby managed to not only recover from this disaster, but also fulfil every single Christmas order he had received.
The dynamic Digby saw, in a situation that would drive many into bankruptcy, an opportunity to completely rebuild the store according to his own vision. Only a year after the fire, in 1884, the new building opened to the public and boasted modernity’s like a dedicated area for women allowing them to do their shopping without requiring a male companion, or in November 16th 1898 the introduction of England’s first escalator.
Moving to Kensington
Having set the foundation for a fantastic store with a stellar reputation it proved to have been a savvy business decision to move into Kensington. It developed into one of the wealthiest areas of the world, also referred to as the Tiara triangle, and makes up 60% of their customers today.
The extravagant nature of the things to come would be headlined by a bet between the Harrods store and the, at the time, relatively new Selfridge store. The wager was made by Mr. Selfridge with the then managing director of Harrods, Sir Woodman Burdrige, in 1917 on who would make more revenue in ten years’ time. Suffice to say that Harrods won and a silver miniature version of their store was presented to them by Mr. Selfridge in recognition of their victory.
Harrods had become more than just a store. It had become part of the city that was an essential stop on any London trip. A great example of its influence and how it transcended into public life surrounds the origin of Winnie the Pooh. Author A.A. Milne bought the very teddy bear that inspired his works in, you guessed it, Harrods back in 1921!
Extravagance can take many forms. The most famous form it took for Harrods out of the many options available was animals. Exotic animals to be exact. Things started relatively calm in 1917 with the opening of the Zoo area in which it mainly sold animals local to England like chickens or goats. Soon their scope expanded to exotic animals which were very much in vogue as extravagant pets for the rich.
In 1951, actress Beatrice Lillie bought an alligator for her friend Noël Coward as a Christmas gift. In 1967 the governor of California, and later president of the USA, Ronald Reagan called Harrods asking if he could purchase an elephant. The only question he received on the telephone was whether he wanted an African or an Asian one. The last headline grabbing purchase of this type came in 1969 when two Australian backpackers spontaneously bought a lion, later christened Christopher, for around 250 pounds.
Shortly after these events Britain introduced the Endangered Species Act of 1976 prohibiting the sale of these exotic animals which, truth be told, is probably for the best. Nevertheless, extravagance was an element that seemed tethered to the department store. Examples of goods you could buy in the years to come included a 165 million dollar Yacht or a pair of diamond encrusted slippers worth £62,000. Since that wasn’t enough for a gimmick already the decision was made to guard these slippers with a live Cobra in a move that was probably inspired more by the potential media attention than actual security concerns.
Harrods serves an average of 100,000 visitors on a daily basis who choose to adhere to the dress code just for a chance to wander through the many floors filled with goodies that can awaken the child in anyone. The store truly lives up to its motto: Omnia Omnibus Ubique. All things, for all people, everywhere.
Watches at Harrods
In the many years that Harrods has been open, their assortment of products has undergone several changes. A product that continues to be an evergreen are watches, and none more so than Rolex. The right to sell their watches, and by proxy also those of Tudor, is a privilege since Rolex is known to be a stickler with their authorized dealers. Many regulations and specific instructions go into being able to sell these watches that your average customer does not know about.
This concept of only using a select network of sellers inevitably fosters the building of relationships between the watchmaker and their retailer. The culmination of these relationships can be found when Rolex makes custom models only available at specific locations, as is the case for Harrods since 2016.
True to the concept of “real recognize real” Rolex decided to demonstrate their respect by creating a special edition for them. Technically speaking we do not have a Rolex here, but instead the closest thing to it: a Tudor. Specifically, the classic timepiece that launched the brands most successful product line that would bring new life to the brand, the Black Bay.
Tudor Black Bay Harrods Edition
The Tudor Black Bay Harrods Edition on paper is anything but special, very much in line with all special watches made by them. The reason for their significance lies in the amount of self-respect that both Tudor and Rolex have for their own work. It is for this same reason that you will always see their brand name come first, that Rolex cancelled their relationship with Tiffany, and why you will never see them do a Bamford collaboration. Therefore, it is unsurprising that this collaboration can only clearly be identified through an engraving of the logo and production number on the caseback. A less clear hint is a dark forest green aluminium bezel that perfectly complements the golden elements on the textured black dial and matches the company colours.
This watch is not only significant by virtue of its aesthetics and association to the legendary retail store, but also because of its connection within the Rolex family. It shares the same design template with the historic Submariner Kermit, and the now controversial Ceramic Kermit released in 2020. Beyond just its strength in association this colour also gains power by being reserved as a sign of recognition for special anniversary models. That is why, while not an official statement, I still believe that the Tudor Black Bay Harrods edition was much more than an act of respect for Harrods, but also for the Black Bay.