Of course, just a few days after I write about my favorite “made in America” watches, everyone’s favorite American-based brand releases its own Made in American collection. But that’s what Timex has done with its new American Documents collection.
Timex was founded as the Waterbury Clock Company in 1854 in Waterbury, CT, and has called that area of Connecticut home ever since. Today, even though Timex USA is a subsidiary of Dutch-based Timex Group, there is still a strong corporate presence in Middlebury, CT, the home of its US headquarters.
As I wrote in that article about my favorite American-made pieces, the bar to call a product “made in America” is a high one (and companies like Shinola have gotten in trouble for not being entirely transparent with consumers). To legally bear a “made in the USA” label, “all or virtually all” of a product must have been made in America.
So, for Timex to release a collection of watches that proudly declares they are “Made in America,” right at the 12 o’clock, is no small feat. Even with a pesky modifier below, “Swiss Mov’t”, it’s still something worth talking about. The Timex American Documents collection is a series of four watches, all in steel, with four different dial options — white, grey, midnight blue, and black (the black dial version comes with a steel or gunmetal-style case). All come with a Swiss-made (Ronda) quartz movement and are priced at $495.
Timex released a couple promotional videos coinciding with the release, but none focus on the watch itself, instead trying to tell a story invoking that certain sense of Americana that only a few products can. The best video came from aBlogtoWatch (who was no doubt paid handsomely for such a finely produced sales piece). Nevertheless, it tells the story of the lengthy effort of Timex to produce a watch that, for all but the movement, is made in America.
Look, I think they’d get in trouble calling this “Made in America” without that “Swiss Mov’t” below it (god that apostrophe is ugly), but that’s not to sell short what Timex did in finding American manufacturers for the case, crystal, hands, dial, and strap, and assembling the watch at Timex headquarters. The strap comes from S.B. Foot Tanning in Red Wing, MN, and the sapphire is Gorilla Glass 3 crystal — the only American-made option that came in at Timex’s price point. And Timex seems to have insinuated that this is the first step in reclaiming its American roots, which perhaps means an American movement, or at least a mechanical one, in the future. Off the success of its low-priced Marlin mechanical line, it makes sense they’d slap a mechanical movement in these in the future to really throw enthusiasts into a tizzy. Anecdotally, if this thing had an ETA 2824 or Miyota 9015 movement in it, I’d probably drop $1,000 on it. But I don’t think I’ll spend $495 on this.
The American Documents collection is Timex’s most expensive offering, so is a clear effort to move a bit up market (as we continually report, the low-end, of the Swiss market at least, is not growing). The up-market move is something we’re also seeing from Seiko/Grand Seiko. It’s an attempt to get a new generation interested in the finer points of watchmaking; and if consumers are comfortable shelling out $400 or $500 for an Apple Watch (or a Louis bag, or Gucci loafers, or whatever — we live in a treat yourself culture), perhaps they’ll put $500 down on a product that makes them feel good because it’s made in America. On the downside, if Timex is moving up market, what will be left of the $200-and-under market? A lot of people live in the affordables category, and I hope Timex still sees serving them as a core part of its future business. Then again, if you can get a Fitbit for well under $100, then maybe there’s just not much of a market there. Sure, I love my $65 Seiko 5 and $10 Ironman digital watch, but those are a volume play, being produced on razor-thin margins; and if there’s no volume selling through, well…
Meanwhile, if you can tell a great made-in-America origin story and then throw in a pretty cheap Swiss quartz movement, your margins suddenly expand and you can invest in further building out a supply chain to tell even better stories about even better products. When we talk about “brand equity” what we’re really talking about is margin; it’s how much a brand can mark up its product just because of the name on the dial. For so long, to so many people, Timex has meant the once-ubiquitous “takes a licking, keeps on ticking” slogan. Now, they’re taking steps to reclaim their American past to build an American-centric future. And hey, if it helped Shinola sell over-priced timepieces that weren’t even made in America, why wouldn’t it worked for America’s actually-oldest watch company?
The design of the American Documents collection is obviously designed for the mass market: Calatrava inspired, with a simple dial, dauphine hands, and an everyday-wearable 41mm size. Timex has long taken this tactic, with designs like the Weekender and Waterbury becoming fan favorites. It’s a fine first made-in-America effort, and it will be interesting to see where Timex takes its American Documents collection in the future. And if it gets a few more people interested in watchmaking as a craft, that’s a win. Timex may be one of the brands best positioned to introduce consumers to analog watches as an alternative to the increasingly ubiquitous Apple Watch, so other brands should be rooting for Timex’s success here as well.
Size: 41mm x 10mm; 20mm lug width
Water resistance: 30m
Movement: Ronda 6004.D
Exclusively on Timex.com