For many youngsters, Timex is synonymous with accessible, fashion-oriented quartz watches. However, if we look back in time, Timex actually played a major role in the history of the American mechanical watch. Timex was one of the most, if not the most prominent US-based manufacture, until the early 1980s when the company made a drastic strategic move. However, times are changing, and without saying that Timex is about to go back to its glorious past position, it is to be noted that the brand has returned to mechanical, with the Timex Vintage Marlin, a hand-wound watch priced under $200. A lot to love, and also not to love… You’ll see!
Timex, the mechanical watch, and 35 years of absence…
Timex, also known as Timex Group USA, Inc. (or formerly known as Timex Corporation), is an American watch brand located in Middlebury, Connecticut. The company, which started activities in 1854, is the property of Timex Group, a Dutch holding company headquartered in Hoofddorp, the Netherlands. Today’s production of watches is entirely focused on affordable pieces (everything is under USD200), mostly fashion-oriented watches, powered by quartz movements or computers – for their “smartwatches” collection. Yet, this situation is pretty recent, as the brand had a former glory…
At a certain time in history (during the 1950s and 1960s), Timex was the number 1 watch-producer in America, with close to half of the mechanical watches sold in the U.S. manufactured by them. Some old advertisings even claimed that “more people buy Timex than any other watch in the world“. While it remains difficult to prove, Timex, at that time, could well have been the most important watch manufacture in the world – and of course, only with mechanical watches. In the 1960s, the company promoted its product under the claim of being the “world’s largest manufacturer of watches and mechanical time fuses.” So what happened? Why Timex today is not Timex anymore?
A Vintage mecahnical and waterproof Timex Marlin – most probably from the 1960s – source: web
In the early 1950s, the United States Time Corporation (what would later become Timex) was facing diminishing orders, due to the end of the Korean War – at that time, Time Corporation was providing watches to military forces. Its President, Joakim Lehmkuhl, had the idea to refocus the production around an inexpensive watch that was both accurate and durable. By using automation, precision tooling techniques, a movement design much simpler than the ones used by Swiss manufactures and a new hard alloy, Armalloy (used to produce long wearing bearings, replacing the jewels traditionally used in watches), he created a watch affordable enough so most Americans could afford it. This led to the eventual public debut of the Timex brand in 1950.
For the 20 years to come, success was immense. By 1962, the Timex brand held the number one market share position in the United States, where one out of every three watches sold was a Timex. But this situation would change dramatically in the 1970s and early 1980s, as the American watch industry was devastated by the Quartz crisis. Battery-powered watches coming from Japan and Hong-Kong essentially killed the market as they were cheaper, more precise and mainly, they represented the future of watchmaking. Timex closed and consolidated worldwide operations, cutting the 30,000 employee workforce to 6,000. The year 1982 sounded like the end of an era, as Timex manufactured its last mechanical movement. For the 35 years since, the brand will only produce fashionable design pieces, without a single incursion in the mechanical world.
The American mechanical Timex watch is back… sort of!
As said, Timex was out of the mechanical-watch game since 1982. And while the American mechanical watch is not entirely dead – actually strongly alive with a brand like RGM (however in a completely different price range) – nothing can compete with the old-Timex. However, a recent news dropped on our desks and immediately tickled our interest. Timex was back in the game with a hand-wound watch, priced under $200, with a vintage look recalling the 1960s Marlin – we can even claim “copy-paste” here. So the big question was: is the American-produced mechanical watch really back?
Considering the current trend of Made-in-America, this would have been great news for a certain Donald! Yet, we’ll have to feel sorry for him (for once… probably the only reason why we’d feel sorry for him here, at the very European Monochrome redaction). Indeed, if the mechanical Timex watch is back, it is far from being American. Design-wise, marketing-wise or commercial-wise, it is, certainly. But in terms of production, let’s say that it feels more like a bowl of rice rather than a classic Connecticut-style steamed cheeseburger. Why that? As reported by our colleagues of wornandwound.com – who have seen an early prototype of the watch – the back was showing a “sticker that reads MOVT CHINA“. This immediately refers to some of the large Chinese movement producers such as Seagull or others, meaning that no American workforces have been involved in creating this movement.
Yet, on a consumer basis, there’s a lot to love here. Indeed, Timex has a new offer, with hand-wound mechanical movement, priced at $199. This and a nice vintage-inspired design, a 34mm x 10mm case in stainless steel, a retro-looking acrylic domed crystal and a sunburst dial with indexes that recall the old Marlin watches. A very 1960s watch overall, for a decent price, from a renowned brand. In short, a good alternative to many affordable/Kickstarter brands we’ve seen recently.
Images: Mr. Porter
However, business-wise, there’s not much be happy for. This is clearly not the comeback of the mass-produced and affordable American watch some are waiting for. Does it “make America great again“? Certainly not, but it will make China greater than ever before… Sorry Donald, not this time. More details on Timex.com.