Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Timex Mechanical Watch

Timex is one of those watch companies that has been around seemingly forever (they started back in the 1870s as the Waterbury Clock Company). Despite this enviable pedigree, most watch collector types typically ignore the brand as they have traditionally catered to regular folks, not the high end of the market. I think that's a shame but it does allow for some amazing bargain hunting. 

I started down this train of thought when my wife and her sister bought a pair of new Timex Expedition models. Her sister wanted a rugged watch for a  safari (as in a real African safari) that she was taking and didn't want to bring her fancy IWC. My wife liked her sister's model so much that she got her own.  I took a good look at my wife's example, a nifty blue field watch with a leather and nylon band and Timex's Indiglo lume system, and was frankly impressed. This was a lot of watch for the $40 it cost her. Good water resistance, mineral glass crystal, solid watch case, great lume, etc. It really checked all the boxes for a watch that should last for years and years.

That's when I remembered that I had an old Timex. A 1978 vintage hand wound model that had been sitting at the bottom of my dresser drawer for decades. (You can tell the year of manufacture and the movement model on old Timex watches from the last four digits of the number at the base of the dial btw. 24 78 on mine means a model 24 movement built in 1978) I picked it up used at a flea market in Greenwich Village back in the mid-eighties, wore it for a good ten years and then moved on to newer watches. So, I dug the watch you see out of that drawer, set it and wound it up, and it's been keeping time perfectly for the last two weeks. 

Old mechanical Timex watches like this (Their Marlin is most well known) are pretty small by today's standards. This one is all of 36mm wide with the crown. The tall domed crystal does give it a bit more presence but a small watch with an 18mm band is definitely not the style these days. It does make a perfectly good business/dress watch though which is how I've been wearing it. 

Just out of curiosity, I took a peek at the world wide tag sale and saw not only this model but many others for very reasonable prices. Some of the new old stock examples were running at over $100 but there were plenty of clean looking used ones for $20-$30. (One of which is on the way to me. Couldn't resist...) That's hard to argue with price wise for a well made, durable mechanical watch. 

The Timex mechanical movement is an interesting little engine. Unfinished metal and usually with no jewels, the movement is the picture of utilitarian. Despite this, there is some pretty fancy engineering in there. To make up for the lack of jewels, Timex used a very hard alloy (Called Armalloy, it is mentioned in this old ad) on it's pivot points to keep the moving parts from wearing out. They also cleverly substituted a part called a pin pallet (also referred to as a pin lever) in place of a typical and expensive jeweled pallet fork (the part that regulates the ticking in a mechanical watch). The result is an inexpensive, rugged movement that still keeps excellent time. The old "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking" ad line was pretty true. 

Interestingly, it looks like Timex itself is dipping it's foot back into the mechanical watch world. They recently released a re-issue of their old classy Marlin model. This one uses a more sophisticated jeweled movement but at about $200, it's hard to argue with the price. I think it looks terrific. Here's hoping for more of these revivals. 

The bottom line here is that if you want to take a crack at owning a vintage mechanical watch, and don't have a pile of cash to spend, give Timex a look. It's hard to go very wrong at the prices out there now and the payoff is a good looking mechanical watch with a lot of history behind it. 

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