Timex through time

With our Christmas shopping fair coming up on 29th November, our minds are turning to special vintage present ideas, and is there anything more timeless than a watch?

Watches have always been passed down from generation to generation and in a modern world where watches are less essential, it’s only served to make them more special and charming. If there’s one classic watch brand that we always see coming through the doors of our fair, it’s Timex. So, we thought it was time to dig a little deeper into the story behind the brand.

The 161 year old business behind the brand, who started as The Waterbury Clock Company in 1854 and later became U.S. Time, have a story so long it would be hard to put it all in one blog but we decided to focus on the element of their story that makes them such a popular choice.

Timex are not famous for being the flashiest, most luxurious watches around but instead represent heritage and quality for everyday people. As such, they’ve introduced some interesting, and many highly collectable products over the years. In 1933, under The Waterbury Clock Company’s Ingersoll brand, the first Mickey Mouse watch was launched at the Chicago World’s Fair. The collaboration continued – adding many more Disney characters including Goofy, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland – until 1968, by which time the company was known as U.S. Time and were releasing Disney watches under the Timex brand. It’s hard to imagine such a whimsical timepiece coming from Patek Philippe!

Other collaborations include the Ben Hogan watch, named after the American pro golfer, who helped promote the watch brand’s infamous hard-wearing quality with the catch phrase ‘born out of 100,000 golf swings!’

They were also pioneers in popularising digital watches. The Ironman (which is still in production today), launched in 1986, and was the Timex brand’s most desirable digital watch. It certainly raised eyebrows when President Bill Clinton wore one with his tuxedo to his first inaugural ball.

So why did Timex become the watch everyone had to have? In the late 1950s, 1 in 3 watches sold in the US was a Timex. The answer is largely about longevity and marketing.

When we say longevity, we don’t mean the brand – although that does play a part – we mean the watches themselves. Affordability has certainly not meant low quality for Timex. The Timex range of watches, launched in 1950, were the first timepieces produced by U.S. Time to include engineering that rivalled the luxury Swiss watches. This is something they had been working on since WWII and were now ready to bring it to the market along with their trusted heritage and fair prices to create an alluring combination.

In 1952, U.S. Time launched a print ad campaign for their Timex watches with the slogan ‘Can take a licking… yet keep on ticking.’ This slogan has made Timex watches synonymous with being waterproof, shockproof and dustproof.

This message was backed up by images of quirky quality control checks including strapping the watches around Turtles while they swam, around Mickey Mantle’s baseball bat during a game and around the leg of a horse at the Belmont racetrack.

In 1957, television advertising arrived in the US and in 1959, U.S Time spent $2.1 million on TV adverts for the Timex. In 1960 they increased spend again to $3.4 million, more than the total advertising budget of the entire watch industry.

The moving image was even more powerful than the print ads, and gave them even more creative ways to show the strength of a Timex watch, many involving high profile sports personalities in the process. The live filmed ‘torture test’ ads were hugely popular and by 1963, 1,000 Timex fans a year were writing to the company to suggest ways to destroy their watches for their TV ads.

The ad hype continued through the 1960s and 1970s; a 21-Jewel watch for $19.95? “Timex did it!” A watch brand that’s affordable enough to have one for every occasion? “At these prices you can have a whole wardrobe of watches!” They build glamour around the product too by placing ads during the commercial breaks of The Oscars and The Grammys.

They were not just masters of horology, but masters of marketing and it resonated and connected with their audience around the world. What’s more, they delivered on their results. Letters to the brand confirming that the watches lasted under extreme circumstances were also regularly sent to the company including a man whose dog had to be operated on after swallowing his watch (both the dog and the watch were fine) and another whose wife put it through the washer and dryer to no distress to the watch.

That’s what made Timex such a loved brand throughout the 20th century and also why you can guarantee a vintage Timex watch will last today.

Not the flashiest, or the most luxurious, but an All-American attitude that won the hearts and wrists of everyday watch wearers.

Find a selection of vintage Times watches at Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair’s Christmas fair on Sunday 29th November from 11am until 5pm at The Old Finsbury Town Hall, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4RP. Entry fee is £4 or £2 for students. Join our Facebook event

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