Timex watches are up there with the Ford Mustang and Budweiser beer as quintessentially American products. Even folks outside the watch world are familiar with the once-popular slogan “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” The company is based in Middlebury, CT, and they’ve been around the area since 1854. In a way, they’ve transcended the typical role of a watch manufacturer and become a small slice of American culture. Bill Clinton was known to wear a Timex Ironman while holding office, for example.
But they haven’t produced any watches on American soil since well before the era of the quartz crisis in the 1970s. Globalization and market forces pushed (or rather, pulled) manufacturing overseas for many companies during that time. In 2019, Timex is getting involved in domestic production once again with a model that’s assembled in the U.S. from mostly domestically-made parts. The quartz movement is the only exception, and that comes from Switzerland. This project is called the American Documents series and at launch it includes four models, all in steel, with black, white, dark grey, and midnight blue dials. Each is priced at $495.
The greatest contributions to horology from Timex, like the one-dollar Yankee pocket watch and the V-Conic, were American-made. The railroads, and then later the post-war consumer boom, created strong demand for tough and affordable watches that Timex managed to consistently provide. Mid-century executives built the company by democratizing the watch, making timepieces for the masses. And, in a way, they’ve come full circle with the new American Documents collection. The difference is in the positioning of the watch. In the past, the unique selling point of Timex was the watch’s unwillingness to die, and an entire communication strategy was based around the simple fact that these watches just didn’t break. Today, the product positioning is about tapping into the core of the American identity, and they’ve done this on a practical level and an ideological level. On the practical side, they’ve commissioned parts of the watch from industries adjacent to watchmaking, but firms that have not had any experience making parts for watches. For example, the strap supplier is S.B. Tanning out of Red Wing, Minnesota (related to the company that makes boots of the same name). There’s a very specific kind of Americana vibe associated with this watch.
As part of the launch of this watch, Timex sent documentary photographer Bryan Schutmaat all over America in order to visually get closer to the American core. Bryan traveled from Timex’s headquarters in Middlebury, CT down to Texas, then up through the American midwest documenting characters and landscapes in places no one usually looks. To him, a large part of the American identity is in how folks interact with the vast and varied landscape of America and the bootstrapping nature of people who fundamentally believe in the great possibility and opportunity in this country. This notion comes through in his photography.
When an American Documents watch is purchased, it comes with a code that allows the new watch owner to download Bryan’s catalog of photos. It’s a novel idea that feels very 2019. It’s hard to imagine Timex’s past watches that were made in America specifically calling out the fact that they were made in America. They just were, and there was little fanfare around that. The spillover benefit of this campaign is that it will make it easy for the writers at HODINKEE three generations from now to learn a little about what America was like in 2019.
The watch features alternating polished surfaces on the case and a minimalist dial. It’s directed at folks who want to mark the occasion in their life through the purchase of a watch. Perhaps a graduation or promotion. On the dial the controversy around “Made in America” is quelled by a line of text underneath it acknowledging that a Swiss movement is inside. The caseback features a brass insert depicting the continental U.S., and they didn’t forget Alaska or Hawaii, they’re stamped on the strap. The brass caseback insert is a nod to the Timex brass watches of almost a century ago. A seconds sub-register is present at six o’clock and a date window at three.
Timex brand executives said they converted some of the office space in the Middlebury office into a makeshift assembly facility. They had to do this because a proper watchmaking facility just wasn’t part of the picture in Timex’s recent history. Maybe a full-fledged production facility is the next chapter of “American made.”
Model: American Documents
Reference Number: TW2R82700, TW2R82800, TW2R82900, TW2R83000
Case Material: Stainless Steel
Dial Color: White, Black, Dark Grey, Dark Blue
Indexes: Printed batons
Water Resistance: 30 meters
Strap/Bracelet: S. B. Tanning (Red Wing) leather strap with stainless steel pin buckle
Additional Details: Each watch has an “Aged Waterbury Brass” caseback coin and crown insert; each watch is packaged in a cherry wood case
Caliber: Ronda cal. 6004.D
Functions: Hour, minute, small seconds, date
Additional Details: 40-month battery life
Pricing & Availability
Availability: Timex.com and department stores