Timex Watch History: The Dynamic Evolution Of A Timeless, All-American Classic

Timex Watch History: The Dynamic Evolution Of A Timeless, All-American Classic 2017-10-24T13:49:01+00:00

Timex Indiglo Illuminated Watch Dial

Ever since its creation in 1854, classic American watch company Timex offered high-quality watches at prices accessible to virtually everyone.

Timex’s sterling dedication to consumer needs and razor-sharp marketing sense saw it through the most challenging periods in watchmaking history. Today, it’s among the largest watchmakers in the world.

In addition to manufacturing watches for its own iconic Timex brand collections, Timex supplies timepieces for many other famous brands.

These run the range from the young French watch firm Opex to established luxury designer labels like Versace.

It’s not hard to see why Timex remains so popular. The firm sticks to its original focus – unbeatable value – while also keeping up with the latest trends and technology.

The brand’s best-known innovation is its signature Indiglo back light feature.

Timex truly has a knack for dynamically responding to and even anticipating consumer values, needs, and desires. Currently,  the company is revolutionizing the budget watch industry with trailblazing strides into heavy customization and smart technology.

The Origins Of Timex

Timex Waterbury Clock Company Connecticut HeadquartersThe company we know today as Timex was originally founded as a clock company in Waterbury, Connecticut.

It all started when Benedict & Burnham, a major brass manufacturer, decided to branch out into clock-making.

The firm was already hugely successful. It had gone from making brass buttons for soldiers to becoming USA’s largest manufacturer of brass fixtures, appliances, and hardware.

Yet, headquartered in Connecticut’s Naugatuck River Valley, B&B couldn’t help but notice the impressive growth of the American clock industry.

The dedicated clock manufacturers of Naugatuck Valley, steadily producing millions of clocks, inspired admiration nationwide as well as abroad. The region was rapidly gaining a reputation for exceptional watchmaking, dubbed by some as the “Switzerland of America.”

So, in 1854, Benedict & Burnham established the “Waterbury Clock Company” and began production of clocks with brass movements.

What Made Timex Tick From Day One

Waterbury Clock Company’s main aim was to offer clocks of outstanding quality, like European-crafted timepieces, but at more affordable prices. As we’ll see, this consumer-friendly company philosophy has persisted all the way through to Timex’s current-day operations.

Early Timex Watch Factory

Early Timex Factory. Images courtesy of Timex & Timex Group

WCC was able to offer its clocks at a lower price point due to its innovative mass production methods. Paramount to the firm’s unique manufacturing approach were movements built using parts machine-stamped from sheets of brass.

The manufacture also made history by employing a high number of female employees. Women, WCC reasoned, having smaller hands and slender fingers, could readily handle delicate operations crucial to watch assembly and finishing. By the 1880s, up to 40% of WCC’s workforce was female.

As WCC matured, it also established an efficient yet far-reaching distribution network, employing warehouses across the U.S. and the U.K.

Supplier To The Ingersoll Brothers

In 1887, WCC started  doing intensive research and development in order to expand its product range. One offering in particular – the “Jumbo” pocket watch – was a huge hit, right from its New York City test debut.

The watch was named after the much-loved elephant from P.T. Barnum’s famous traveling circus (“The Greatest Show On Earth“). This brilliant use of licencing was a strategy WCC / Timex would successfully employ through many turning points in its history.

The “Jumbo” impressed Robert H. Ingersoll, a famous entrepreneur who would become a key partner of Waterbury Clock Company.

Ingersoll, who began his career producing rubber stamps for his family’s business, had managed to establish his own stamp wholesaler. But the success of the Jumbo inspired him to completely shift gears. Shortly after seeing it, Ingersoll partnered up with his brother Charles to break into the pocket watch market.

Soon, Waterbury Clock Co. was producing millions of pocket watches for marketing under the Ingersoll name.

Famous Yankee “Dollar Watch”

The biggest Ingersoll breakthrough came in 1896 – the Ingersoll Yankee. Priced at just $1, the Yankee was the cheapest pocket watch on the market .

Timex Ingersoll Yankee Pocketwatch Mark TwainBut inexpensive didn’t mean shoddy. WCC proudly guaranteed customers that Yankee watches would stand the test of time by selling them with a one-year warranty.

$1 around the time of the Yankee’s debut was equivalent to about $30 today, according to the Bureau Of Labor Statistics. At the time, it was an unbeatable price for a must-have item.

The Ingersoll Yankee achieved enormous success, going down in history as “the watch that made the dollar famous.” By 1900, over 6 million Yankee watches had been sold.

Even prominent figures of the day, such as celebrated author Mark Twain, praised the Yankee.

Soon, other manufacturers rode the trend, introducing dollar watches of their own. But few could beat the solid craftsmanship of the iconic Yankee.

First Timex Wristwatches Designed For WWI Forces

In the early 1900s, wristwatches were far from a new invention. In fact, among the first recorded wristwatches was a prized “armlet” timepiece worn by Queen Elizabeth I in the 1500s.

However, at the turn of the century, wristwatches were largely seen as a type of specialty jewelry for women. Men almost exclusively carried pocket watches.

Timex Vintage Military Watch

Early Timex Military-Issue Watch

But watch trends rapidly changed during World War I. For soldiers, wristwatches were clearly safer and more utilitarian than pocket watches.

During combat, keeping hands free for handling weaponry and equipment is crucial. Any extra time and fuss spent retrieving a pocket watch could mean the difference between life and death.

To accommodate the sudden, overwhelming demand for men’s wristwatches that arose in WWI, Waterbury Clock Co. cleverly improvised.

The company took a small Ingersoll “Midget” ladies’ pocket watch, moved its crown, and added lugs for hardy canvas straps.

The result was an easy-to-use, durable military watch that was eagerly embraced by soldiers and civilians alike.

Mickey Mouse Watch Saves Timex

One of Timex’s biggest licensing breakthroughs of all time was its Mickey Mouse character watch. Launched during the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, the iconic watch became Waterbury Clock Company’s first multi-million-dollar product line.

The original dial featured an adorable color image of Mickey Mouse. Most remarkably, the actual watch hands comprised the character’s arms and hands, so that Mickey literally pointed out the time! Children nationwide absolutely loved this cute and quirky design, which WCC later patented.

Timex Vintage Mickey Mouse Character WatchWalt Disney had only just introduced Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts and comic strips a few years before. But the character was already sensationally popular, as the sky-high Mickey Mouse watch sales figures showed.

Produced on a miniature assembly line at the World’s Fair, 11,000 Mickey Mouse watches sold on the very first day. They were also a best-selling item from the 1933 Sears Christmas catalog.

Thus, despite debuting during the Great Depression and selling at just $1.50 apiece, the line made millions within 2 years.

Overall, the exclusive licence to market Mickey Mouse watches proved to be extremely lucrative. Profits from the licensed goods enabled WCC to avoid bankruptcy during the Depression.

Quality Timing Equipment Bolsters WWII Efforts

In 1941, Thomas Olsen and Joakim Lehmkuhl, industrialists who’d fled Norway after the Nazi invasion, acquired Waterbury Clock Company. Determined to support USA’s WWII efforts, they redirected WCC’s facilities and assets to produce defense-related timing devices.

Appointed WCC’s President, Lehmkuhl made good use of his expertise as a trained engineer as well as a businessman. He led WCC to become the country’s largest producer of timing fuses and other essential timing equipment for the military.

It was during this time that WCC/Timex established its current-day headquarters in Middlebury, Connecticut. Driven by the dire need for a factory dedicated exclusively to precision timers, the Middlebury plant was built in just 88 days.

Waterbury Clock Company’s top-quality timing fuses earned it the “Army-Navy E Award” from the U.S. Under-Secretary of War in 1943. In recognition of this national honor, WCC shareholders voted to change the company name to “United States Time Corporation.”

Birth Of The Timex Brand

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the company continued to provide vital support to the U.S. Armed Forces. However, after the Korean War ended in 1953, defense needs declined sharply, and watchmakers started targeting the consumer market again.

To re-establish the company as the go-to for budget watch enthusiasts, Lehmkuhl lowered costs through technology adapted from wartime R&D. For example, to make movements inexpensively without sacrificing durability, Lehmkuhl crafted watch bearings with Armalloy, an ultra-hard alloy steel.

By Swiss tradition, watch bearings were made with fine jewels to minimize wear as well as beautify the movement itself. You can learn more about watch movements on our Watch Movement Types page.

Armalloy, used in armor plates protecting military vehicles and buildings from gunfire, was much cheaper to produce than jeweled bearings.

This, along with other ingenious cost-saving alternatives to traditional watchmaking methods, ultimately gave rise to the Timex brand in 1950. The “X” at the end of the catchy new brand name stood for the company’s first-rate “technological expertise and innovation.”

Vietnam-Era Missilery & Ammunitions Specialist

Even as it achieved more commercial success, Timex also remained prominent in defense, even into the 1960s and 1970s.

Through producing sophisticated mechanical components, it became firmly established as a global leader in missile and ammunition technology.

In particular, expertise in time fuse development and production continued to represent a significant part of Timex’s company identity. During this period, it proudly advertised itself as the “world’s largest manufacturer of watches and mechanical time fuses.”

Timex also aided the U.S. military extensively in establishing, revamping, and transporting governmental facilities for defense production.

Timex’s Winning Marketing Strategies

Lehmkuhl’s innovative manufacturing led to a 20th-century version of the company’s historic dollar watch – a solid, reasonably-priced everyday watch. But creating an appealing product of genuine value doesn’t always guarantee market success. How did Timex manage to become a household name?

The Indestructible Timex Achieves TV Stardom

Timex Spokesperson John Cameron Swayze

John Cameron Swayze in Timex commercial

A key advertising channel Lehmkuhl pursued after launching the Timex brand was television.

To demonstrate Timex’s incredible durability, he launched the famous “Timex Takes A Licking and Keeps on Ticking” TV commercials.

One of the best-known ad campaigns in television history, the commercials were filmed as mock newscast skits. Charismatic TV anchorman John Cameron Swayze was chosen as the spokesperson.

These avant-garde skits centered on Swayze challenging guests to attempt to destroy a Timex watch.

For example, during these sensational “torture tests,” Timex watches were:

  • Jack-hammered
  • Thrown into a dishwater
  • Dropped into a paint mixer
  • Tossed at a motorboat propeller

Many of these tests were actually exaggerated versions of demos regularly performed by the company’s salesmen. The ad campaign was a fresh, fun way to highlight Timex’s value, and the public clearly loved it.

New Retail Outlets & Expansion

At first, the Timex brand suffered because jewelry stores, the traditional go-to watch distribution outlet, refused to sell Timex. This was due to a core cost-cutting initiative that limited retail markups to 30% whereas jewelers typically demanded over 50%.

However, Timex ultimately thrived, taking advantage of the growing prominence of mass market retailers. These outlets – department stores, drugstores, cigar stands, and warehouse chains – could accept lower markups due to high sales volumes.

By 1962, Timex was the country’s leading watch manufacturer. One of out of every three watches sold in the USA was a Timex! The company began expanding globally, widening its international distribution channels and building factories across North America, Europe and Asia.

Laser-Focusing On Watches

The 80s brought enormous upheavals for Timex. For one, classic American clock-making companies in general were suffering. Fierce competition was emerging from Asia, with the introduction of Japanese quartz technology and mass-produced mechanical watches from Hong Kong. American brands from other industries, like Gilette and Texas Instruments, were also breaking into the market, choking out already-established watchmakers.

Also, just as it always had, Timex heavily invested in other industries apart from watchmaking. Some of these pursuits, like its longstanding military defense efforts and its 20-year stint handling manufacturing for Polaroid, were undeniable successes. But others, most notably its rather underwhelming foray into producing personal computers, didn’t pan out.

Timex faced personal challenges as well, such as the expiration of its high-income Disney and Polaroid partnerships.

Finally, in the mid-1980s, Timex decided that in order to remain competitive, it needed to focus exclusively on watchmaking. With so many other inexpensive offerings on the market, it was crucial to develop distinctive product designs and superior quality.

To improve product quality while also lowering prices, Timex:

  • Adopted quartz analog movements for higher accuracy & reduced production costs
  • Developed methods of extending battery life
  • Experimented with new materials for durability
  • Introduced water resistant models

Timex Ironman Lights Up Lives With Indiglo

To jump-start its product design goals, Timex brought in elite athletes to help develop an iconic sports watch collection. The resulting Ironman Triathalon became the USA’s best-selling watch in less than a year after its 1986 launch.

Named after a famous Timex-sponsored triathlon, the Ironman remained the highest-selling sports watch well into the 1990s and is still popular today.

Timex Vintage Indiglo WatchTimex’s most famous contribution to watch history – its signature Indiglo night light – was introduced through the Ironman line in 1992.

At the touch of a button, this revolutionary back light system lights up watch dials with an enchanting blue-green glow. Even, reliable illumination of the dial is achieved via a patented electroluminescent panel.

The Indiglo feature, now used in over 70% of Timex watches, offered unprecedented convenience, enabling users to easily read the time in the dark.

However, the Indiglo’s immediate popularity stemmed from its potential emergency applications, lucidly demonstrated during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Some of the crisis victims managed to escape thanks to an Indiglo-equipped watch.

According to a headlining new story, one brave investment analyst used his Ironman watch to lead fellow victims to safety. The group descended 40 flights of stairs in the dark, smoldering building, guided by the light of Indiglo.

Multi-Brand Global Giant

Today, the Timex brand belongs to a parent holding company, Timex Group B.V., which practices a fruitful multi-brand strategy.

Timex Group B.V.’s massive range of daughter companies and exclusive licenses enabled Timex to steadily grow as a global contender.

Following its Ironman success, Timex launched and acquired numerous new watch brands and struck up fresh licencing deals. Some particularly lucrative partnership projects for Timex include its Nautica-licensed designer watches and its “Disney Classics Collection” character watches.

How Does Timex Stay Timeless?

As we have seen, the watch industry can be extremely volatile, vulnerable to economic upheavals and changing trends.

How does Timex, a brand born before the turn of the century, manage to stay relevant in an ever-shifting market?

Hip Brand Ambassadors

Fittingly for a such a widely-loved brand, Timex has a host of famous fans hailing from diverse industries, including:

Nick Waterhouse. Contemporary LA-based singer-songwriter and producer. He’s known for his signature sound, a unique 21st century melding of classic R&B, jazz, and soul influences. Waterhouse is the current spokesman for Timex’s Easy Reader collection.

Musician Nick Waterhouse For Timex

Go Takamine.  Japanese custom motorcycle mogul. Obsessed with motorcycles since childhood, Takamine is renowned for his hard-hitting, vintage-inspired “Brat Style” motorcycle designs. He is Timex’s Waterbury Worldtime collection ambassador.

Motorcycle Designer Go Takemine For Timex
Daniele Scatizzi. Italian professional MMA fighter. Daniele “Scat” Scatizzi is a up-and-coming MMA fighter based in Rome. He competes under the “welterweight” class and has a current pro record of 9 wins. Scatizzi promotes Timex’s Allied Three GMT watch.

MMA Fighter Daniele Scatizzi For Timex

Embracing Customization

Though Timex offers an eclectic range of time-tested watch collections, the company recognizes the singular appeal of customization. Customers can choose from a wide array of dials, cases, and straps to design their own Timex watch.

My Timex Customization Feature

The easy-to-use customization feature on the Timex website helpfully lists all the essential specs to aid in selection. You can even add an engraving of up to 3 lines for a truly personalized touch . “My Timex” orders have a typical turnaround time of only 2 weeks.

Serious About Sustainability

As a highly-influential global corporation, Timex is firmly dedicated to upholding its responsibilities to preserve and protect the planet.

Timex has long implemented environmentally-friendly manufacturing practices, from reducing wasteful product packaging to building record-breaking solar panel installations. The firm’s cutting-edge headquarters also contains many energy-saving features.

Timex Middlebury Headquarters Rain Ladders

Even the offices there were built with sustainability in mind. They’re equipped with windows designed to maximize natural light to save on electricity, water-purifying “rain ladders,” and raised floors that make heating and cooling more efficient.

Celebrating Its History

Timex Timexpo MuseumAs we’ve seen, Timex played a pivotal role in watchmaking as well as U.S. history in general.

Proud of its legacy, the company carefully kept and preserved its historic timepieces and other important assets.

This valuable collection was showcased in the “Timexpo Museum,” located in Waterbury, CT – Timex’s birthplace.

Founded in 2001, the museum was built in a historic brass mill to honor Timex’s early brass-making ties.

Though Timexpo closed its doors in 2015, as reported by the New York Times, its rich host of Timex antiques continues to tell Timex’s story. The collection was distributed to Timex’s headquarters as well as local and national museums after Timexpo’s closing.

Timex’s Top Men’s Watch Collections

Timex currently sells a varied selection of timeless watch collections for men, women, and children. Here are four of its best-selling men’s watch collections:

Ironman

The legendary Ironman remains Timex’s premier digital sports watch collection. Today, Ironman watches are offered with a host of high-tech functions, from touch-screens to GPS connectivity.

Timex Ironman Sleek 150 Sports Watch

Naturally, this collection is also noted for its durability. All Ironman models are highly water-resistant, reliable, and ergonomically designed.Style-wise, Ironman typically features sleek, comfortable rubber straps (in classic colors and neon-brights) and easy-to-read digital faces in powerful, sporty molded cases.

Expedition

The Expedition is Timex’s rugged-yet-stylish field watch. Expedition watches, developed to be especially impact and weather resistant, are perfect for hikers, skiers, and other outdoor adventurers.

Timex Expedition Field Watch

Both analog and digital models are available, as well as useful features such as chronographs, date functions, and luminescent hands.

Timex Expedition Analog Chronograph

Whether analog or digital, Expedition watch faces are big, bold, and easy-to-read even in the harshest conditions. The cases are either molded from hardened engineered resin or cast from high-quality steel. Standard Expedition watch straps tend to be made either from fabric or leather, but rubber is available as well.

Weekender

Nothing embodies effortless style like Timex’s “Weekender” analog leisure watch. The collection is known for amazing versatility and timeless style. In particular, it features “slip-through” lugs that make it easy to quickly swap out the NATO straps. In this way, the Weekender can be readily customized to fit any occasion!

Timex Weekender Brown Leather Straps

The clean numbering on the black-and-white Weekender dials lend the collection a truly classic feel. Replacement straps are made from leather dyed in classic colors, as shown, or comfy nylon (solid colored, striped, or patterned).

Timex Genuine Leather Strap

Allied

A no-nonsense, strikingly masculine military watch collection, Allied seamlessly combines classic and modern must-have features.

One of the most popular trending models is the Allied Three GMT. It’s powered by Timex’s impressive “Intelligent Quartz” technology that enables Timex watches to house a number of advanced functions. On-board sensors and microprocessors ensure extreme accuracy for the sophisticated analog quartz movement.

Timex Allied Three GMT Intelligent Quartz Watch

The tech-savvy watch clearly takes design and functionality cues from Rolex’s pioneering GMT classic, the “GMT-Master.” You can see the Rolex “GMT-Master II” in one of our comprehensive reviews.

The Allied Three also features a patented GMT design that enables the wearer to track two additional time zones.

Can’t Get Enough Timex?

We hope you found this guide to Timex history, brand identity, and current collections useful.

For more on Timex’s historical timeline, latest models, and customization process, visit the official website.

Timew Watches
Reviewed by Paul Anthony, on .
"American Innovation at an affordable price range. Timex continues to innovate whilst embodying its original heritage in providing durable quality at exceedingly affordable prices."
Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★