Are Timex Watches Good? All You Need to Know About the Quintessential American Watch Brand

Are Timex Watches Good? All You Need to Know About the Quintessential American Watch Brand

For many watch enthusiasts, a Timex watch is the gateway drug for a lifetime of timepiece obsession — understated in presentation, stylish in execution, affordable in price and found just about everywhere. And what Timex may lack in prestige and collectibility, especially when stacked up industry titans from Switzerland, it makes up for in the key role it has played in "democratizing" timekeeping and for its undeniable influence on Americana and popular culture. How much do you really know about Timex? Read on for a brief but detailed historical perspective, followed by a showcase of the most noteworthy Timex watches on the market now.

Waterbury Clock Company Factory 

From its earliest days, the company now known as Timex was dedicated to making timekeepers that were both reliable and affordable to the masses. Based in Waterbury, Connecticut, and originally a division of brass manufacturer Benedict & Burnham, the Waterbury Clock Company opened its doors in 1854, specializing in the mass production of clocks with gears and wheels made of brass. By 1857, when it was incorporated as an independent business, Waterbury Clock Company was churning out millions of clocks, all priced lower than their European competitors, with parts sourced from manufacturers in Connecticut’s Naugatuck Valley region, which became known at the time as the “Switzerland of America;” Waterbury, the largest city in the region, still carries the nickname “Brass City.”

The manufacturing shift from clocks to pocket watches began in 1887, when the company produced the “Jumbo,” a pocket watch named after the famous elephant in P.T. Barnum’s touring circus. That timepiece caught the attention of American businessman Robert Hawley Ingersoll, co-owner of a mail-order business that sold rubber stamps wholesale with his brother, Charles Henry Ingersoll. The company, R.H. Ingersoll & Bro., started selling watches in 1892, with Waterbury Clock Company as the manufacturer. The first Ingersoll watch, the Universal, was really a tiny, spring-driven clock inside a pendant case, wound by a key. In 1896, in a harbinger of what was to come from Timex, Ingersoll introduced the first “dollar watch,” called the Yankee, which was mass-produced from stamped parts and minus movement jewels. These eminently affordable timekeepers were a hit with working-class Americans, and by 1910 Waterbury was producing more than three million of them annually for Ingersoll. Success led to expansion and consolidation, with Ingersoll buying up two other American firms, Trenton Watch Co. and New England Watch Company, and opening a subsidiary in England in 1904. Ingersoll marketed one of the first “night design” watches in 1916, the Radiolite pocket watch, which had one of the first dials with radium treatment for luminescence. A few years later, in response to the needs of soldiers entering the First World War, Ingersoll repurposed the Radiolite for wrist wear.

Ingersoll Radiolite wristwatch (1919). Photo: Analog:Shift

As with other watch manufacturers, however, World War I and the worldwide economic recession in its wake changed Ingersoll Watch Company’s fortunes, initially for the worse. After making some of the earliest wristwatches worn by troops on the battlefield, the company went bankrupt in 1921 but was then acquired by its erstwhile supplier, Waterbury Clock Company. Ingersoll became Ingersoll-Waterbury, and the company’s most famous product, the one that brought it back to profitability during the doldrums of the Great Depression, was the first Mickey Mouse watch introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. A second World War several years later opened up a new market for the parent company, still called Waterbury Clock, as a maker of fuse timers for the U.S. war effort. Under the direction of its new chairman, Thomas Olsen, a Norwegian shipping magnate who’d fled the Nazi invasion of Europe, the company renamed itself the U.S. Time Corporation in 1944; this was the most immediate predecessor to the Timex we know today. (The London branch of Ingersoll split off to become a fully British company, now owned by the Hong Kong-based Herald Group, with no connection to today’s Timex.)

Vintage Ingersoll-Waterbury Mickey Mouse Watch. Photo: Ashcroft & Moore

With wristwatches now more popular than pocket watches, U.S. Time used mass-production techniques it adopted during the war years — including replacing traditional movement jewels with an inexpensive, hardened alloy called armalloy, originally developed for missile bearings — to make wristwatches that would be accessible to all. The name “Timex” — a portmanteau of “time” and “excellence” — first appeared on a line of watches in 1950, and the famous slogan, “Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking” followed shortly thereafter, eventually becoming a mainstay of the company’s advertising in the ‘50s and ‘60s. U.S. Time even branched out during this period, starting in 1950, to become the sole manufacturer of Polaroid cameras in addition to watches. In 1969 came the official name change of the business, from the U.S. Time Corporation to Timex Corporation. During the 1960s, one in every three watches sold in the U.S. was a Timex, a staggering statistic when considered today.

The heady days would come to a halt, however, with the Quartz Crisis that began in the early 1970s. At the time still a maker of traditional mechanical watches, albeit some of the least expensive ones on the market, Timex was at first no match for the even cheaper electronic watches flooding in from the Far East. The expiration of the Polaroid contract in 1975, and an ill-fated foray into the nascent home computer business shortly afterward, created an even more dire financial situation. Timex needed to regroup, streamline its operations to focus entirely on watches rather than peripheral products like cameras, and embrace the new technologies to reclaim its spot in the affordable-watch arena. In contrast to many of its contemporaries in Switzerland, Timex was relatively quick to adjust to the new reality, releasing its first watches with quartz movements, the so-called “Q Timex” models, as early as 1972. Timex began sponsoring the Ironman Triathlon series of sporting events and used the partnership to help launch the Triathlon in 1984, an all-digital, sports-oriented quartz watch that became known as the Ironman two years later after Timex acquired the rights to the name. The Timex Ironman became not only the company’s best seller but also the best selling watch in the U.S. in short order. 

In 1992, Timex updated the Ironman with its proprietary dial-illumination technology, called Indiglo, which consisted of a phosphor-based luminous panel with a clear conductor, between two thin sheets of plastic or glass, linked to an electrode that lit up the panel (i.e., the dial) with a bright blue-green backlight when the wearer pressed a button. Timex has patented the Indiglo technology, which was first used on a Timex Ironman watch, and remains the only watch manufacturer that can use it, having since created a separate, fully owned Indiglo Corporation to control its licensing to outside clients and prevent copies from competing watch firms. Though Indiglo is still around, many Timex watches, especially the ones most geared toward enthusiasts and designed to evoke vintage models released before Indiglo’s debut, now use Super-LumiNova for their dial details instead. From a corporate perspective, Timex, now known as Timex Group USA and headquartered in Middlebury, CT, after moving from Waterbury in 2001, has grown only larger and more convoluted in the 21st Century. Its Dutch holding company, Timex Group B.V., not only makes Timex watches but also watches licensed from fashion brands like Nautica, Guess, Versace, and Salvatore Ferragamo, and even boasts a Swiss high-end artisanal watchmaker, Vincent Bérard, in its stable of brands.

Collections:

Even discounting all of the products from the licensed brands, and the various co-branded editions from the Timex brand itself, Timex’s collection is vast, and assembling a comprehensive list of models would be a daunting endeavor. Instead, we offer here a curated list of highlights with both the watch-history buff and the enthusiast-collector in mind. 

Waterbury

Named for the Connecticut city where Timex got its start, and introduced in celebration of the company’s 160th anniversary, the Waterbury collection encompasses a variety of styles — from three-handed day-date, to chronographs, to GMTs and divers — all united by a common aesthetic element, namely the vintage “Waterbury Watch Company” logo on the dial at 6 o’clock along with the Timex logo at 12. Several different dial executions can be found within the  “Classic” and “Traditional” branches of the Waterbury family, including Roman numerals, retro-style Arabic numerals, and — as in the Traditional Automatic version pictured here, outfitted (as are most of Timex’s mechanical watches) with a Japanese-made Miyota movement — applied baton indexes for the hours. The “W’-shaped counterweight on the central seconds hand is another common element of the now-very-diverse Waterbury line that pays homage to its maker’s American origins. Waterbury watches start at $119 ($139 for chronographs) and top out at $299 for the models with automatic movements.

Marlin

The original Timex Marlin first went on the market in 1960, during the company’s U.S. Time Corporation years, and was one of the most popular watches of its era, conjuring up images of nautical leisure and sport fishing. When Timex revived the Marlin in 2017, it was the first mechanical watch the company had made in over 30 years. Timex’s designers were obviously not shy about sticking to the original model’s modest case dimensions, just 34 mm in diameter. Under a domed acrylic crystal, the hour numerals on the glossy, sunray silver dial are charmingly retro in their curvilinear font. With its thin bezel, hand-wound mechanical movement, faux lizard-skin strap, and retro size, the Marlin could easily pass for one of those actual mid-century vintage models that are all the rage these days. Since the initial launch, the Marlin collection has grown to include larger case sizes with automatic movements, quartz chronograph versions, and many special “Peanuts” co-branded editions. A hand-wound Marlin Mechanical will run you a mere $209, while a quartz-powered Marlin Moon Phase or Marlin Chronograph can be had for even less, ranging from $169 - $179. Marlin Automatics, which have a larger 40mm case than the Hand-Winding models, start at $259. 

Q Timex

As noted above, Timex kicked off its embrace of quartz movements in 1972 with the original Q Timex models (the “Q” in this case representing, you guessed it, “quartz”). Timex began reviving the fondly remembered 1970s models in 2019 with the Q Timex Reissue SST, whose red-and-blue bezel, evocative of the red-hot Rolex GMT-Master “Pepsi,” helped it quickly sell out. Other colorways have joined the family since, and Timex even added a Q Timex with an actual GMT function in 2022. Among the elements that echo the original ‘70s models are the bicolor 12-hour rotating bezel, diver-style geometrical indexes on the dial, the woven-style, integrated stainless steel bracelet (that’s the “SST” in the name) and even the battery case cover in the back, which enables the wearer to change his own battery with the simple turn of a coin edge. Timex has expanded the Q Timex collection to include reissues of other styles and even complications like the recently released Falcon Eye Chronograph, priced at an eye-opening $239 and distinguished by a luxurious côtes de Genève motif — a finish usually reserved for high-end Swiss-made watches — on its blue dial. Entry-level to the Q Timex line is $99.

Ironman

Despite its origins as a watch for sports and fitness, the Timex Ironman is regarded as one of the top “tech geek watches” of the 1980s and ‘90s. (It was also famously spotted on the wrist of former President Bill Clinton before he began dabbling in higher-end timepieces.) The original Ironman from 1986, which doubled the water-resistance of its predecessor, the Triathlon, to 100 meters, is very similar to the model still sold today and still popular with law enforcement and military officers. The Ironman is now water-resistant to 200 meters (twice the rating of the 1980s watch) and features a large LED display for its various functions, including stopwatch with lap and split times, countdown timers, Indiglo night light, daily and weekend alarms, and training-friendly devices for runners, including a 99-lap counter and a 30-lap memory recall. More trivia: like the far more expensive and iconic Omega Speedmaster, the Timex Ironman is one of the few watches certified by NASA for use on space missions. Ironman watches range in MSRP from $53 to $119, with the massive, 48mm Ironman Adrenaline Chronograph being the outlier at $239.

Expedition North

Paying homage to the vintage military-issue field watches of yesteryear, like those made by Timex forerunner Ingersoll-Waterbury, the Expedition North collection includes a slew of options, quartz and mechanical, for outdoorsy pursuits, including quartz Field Chronographs and diver models in the Slack Tide and Freedive Ocean sub-families. The most enthusiast-friendly model is the Expedition North Field Post Mechanical, which brings together a classical field-watch dial with an inner 24-hour track; a 23-jewel, manually wound mechanical movement with hacking seconds; and an eco-friendly strap made of DriTan leather, all for an impressive sticker price under $250. The crystal is nonreflective sapphire (an upgrade over previous Expedition models, which used mineral crystal), and the stainless steel case resists water pressure down to 100 meters thanks to the screw-down crown. The hands and numerals glow brightly in the dark thanks to a coating of Super-LumiNova. Timex has since introduced a titanium-cased version of the Expedition North with an automatic movement; at $349, it’s the priciest in the Expedition North line. The entry-level models, with quartz movements, come in under $100, at an MSRP of $89 on a fabric strap.

Timex T80

 

While most of Timex’s most enthusiast-friendly timepieces are contemporary versions of analog classics, the T80 line offers an ‘80s-retro vibe that speaks to fans of multifunctional models from the likes of Casio as well as more upscale models like the Bulova Computron and Hamilton PSR. The T80 pays homage to Timex’s first digital watches from 1980, re-creating those models’ compact, beveled-rectangle cases and seven-link metal bracelets. The four small push-buttons on the case’s sides operate the expected slew of functions that can be observed on the Indiglo-enhanced LED dial: 1/1000-second chronograph, customizable alarms, and month, day, and date calendar. Like other Timex product lines, the T80 has become a canvas for special design executions borne of brand partnerships, such as the “Peanuts” editions that showcase Charles Schulz’s beloved cartoon characters. If you’re really feeling in an ‘80s mood, there are the T80 x Pac-Man editions, which pay homage to the arcade-game classic and its characters. Prices on Timex T80 watches start at a very accessible $59 and range up to $109.

Giorgio Galli

Occupying the highest echelon of watchmaking in Timex’s regular collection are the handful of timepieces that bear the name of Giorgio Galli. Formerly head of the Swatch Design Lab in his native Milan, Galli founded a design studio that worked for various clients before he sold it to Timex Group in 2007, in the process becoming the company’s creative director. While Galli is the font from which all modern Timex watch designs spring, the purest expressions of his vision are found on the Giorgio Galli collection, all of them with mechanical automatic movements and featuring cases (41mm initially, 38mm in the more recent releases) made of injection-molded stainless steel, with titanium inserts and stylish, hollowed-out lugs. The minimalist dials in the front, and the movements in the back, are both displayed beneath sapphire crystals. The high-end rubber straps attach with deployant buckles. All in all, the Giorgio Galli models are a step up in luxury and craftsmanship from other Timex models with traditional movements and are priced accordingly, from $450 to $495 for the first-generation S1 models with Miyota movements to $975 for the recently launched S2, which houses a Swiss-made Sellita SW200-1. 

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