Adapt, or die.
Such was the choice facing the watchmakers of the 1970s. Quartz technology — the regulation of a wristwatch via quartz crystal and a battery, rather than a hand-wound or automatically wound spring, had arrived, and it wasn't going anywhere. The future of the mechanical wristwatch looked grim, and those who weren't prepared to hop on the technological bandwagon faced extinction. Many firms indeed went extinct.
Of course, the mechanical watch never really went away. Now, we live in a world in which hand-wound and automatic timepieces are once again appreciated, to the point where now-vintage examples of classic references can command prices in the seven or eight figures at auction. And with an incredible variety of quartz watches (and now, smartwatches) available, both the watch enthusiast and casual consumer have never been more spoiled for choice.
But back to quartz for a moment. So many adherents of mechanical watchmaking today deride the humble quartz movement. "It's soulless," they say. "It's mass-produced," they complain. But what of the technology itself? It's worlds more accurate than its mechanical counterpart. It's cheaper. It's easier to service (most of the time, it's in fact easier to simply replace a dud quartz movement.) And because it's so affordable, you can collect quartz watches in a way that simply isn't feasible with mechanical watches.
This is where Timex fits in. Long champions of affordable watchmaking, the American firm has been in business since 1854, first producing mechanical timepieces, and then, in the 1970s, quartz. Most of their production is still quartz-based, though they've been introducing more and more mechanical wristwatches lately.
Timex's affordable wares are many a young person's first watch. Think of the Weekender — the horological patron saint of collegiate life. These affordable quartz watches were the gateway for many people now firmly ensconced in the watch world.
But things changed further with 2019's introduction of the wildly popular Q Timex. Based on a model dating to the 1970s and featuring a blue dial with day-date display, a colorful, Rolex-inspired 12-hour bezel and a fun, lightweight mesh bracelet, the Q was an instant smash hit, and sold out several times over. Its easily accessible battery hatch celebrated rather than derided quartz, and people loved it.
So much so, in fact, that Timex continued to riff on the design and release numerous Qs throughout 2020: the original in myriad bezel and dial colors; the 1978-inspired Falcon Eye; and an outlier, the automatic M79, which retained the Q's looks but added a mechanical movement. People were hooked, it would seem, and Timex was happy to oblige its fan base.
So where does Timex go from here? Despite its forays back into mechanical watchmaking with models like the M79, fun, affordable quartz watches have clearly been embraced by the public at large, and continue to earn Timex a seat at the cultural table. The company is embracing this reality, and has continually added Q models to the collection. With a seemingly endless supply of vintage models in its archive, the American-founded horological powerhouse can afford to reissue them ad infinitum. (Or at least for now — it'll be an interesting day indeed when the vintage well does in fact run dry.)
We had the chance to speak with Timex Group's Chief Design Director, Giorgio Galli, once again to discuss the Q line, the new model, and what the future holds for this wildly successful model that's popular with newbies, aficionados, and everyone in between.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Many watch companies focus their heritage releases on mechanical products. Can you explain the original inspiration to look specifically into Timex’s quartz archives?
Our recent reissues celebrate a major defining moment in Timex history — the Quartz Crisis, or better known as the “Quartz Revolution” at Timex. The 1970s brought our first range of quartz watches out of necessity, but it also changed the way we designed watches forever. That '70s look and its appeal is just as strong today as it was more than 40 years ago. Mechanical watches and reissues are also part of our brand strategy today, and in addition to the extensive line of Q releases we have done to date. There is also the MK1 and the Marlin hand-wound and mechanicals that riff on this heritage. For now, though, we see the most strength in our Q collection reissues.
Are each of the models fairly faithful to their inspiration, or have you upgraded or improved the designs to suit the modern wearer?
We have tried to replicate the aesthetic values of the original watches as closely as possible. The case designs and measurements are per the original watches and the movements have been selected to replicate the original functions (or recreated in the case of the Q Timex Reissue Digital LCA). However, we have upgraded the case materials to stainless steel and in the case of some functions, such as the lighting system on the LCA, we have replicated the look of the single bulb to the side of the display as used decades ago, only this time using a single LED bulb.
The first Q reissue was an instant hit, selling out multiple times. Were you at all surprised by its incredible success, or did you anticipate its resonance with the Timex audience?
At the start, we chose styles for Q reissues that we thought would resonate most with watch collectors and Timex enthusiasts, so we were not surprised at how excited they were about the first Q Timex 1979 Reissue. We also choose reissue styles where the design aesthetic and functionality have a story to be told. We lean into classic ‘70s design elements such as the band style, unique colorways on the watch face and the recent gold and rose gold colors we launched. As you know, the Q story is one of our favorites and we are glad to see it resonate so well with fans, too.
The M79 is an interesting outlier in that it’s mechanical, but seems to fit within the “Q” collection. Did you sense a hunger for a mechanical version of the Q aesthetic after the original “Pepsi” model was released?
The M79 was born out of consumer demand for great styling but with an automatic movement. The M79's origin goes back to traditional mechanical watchmaking, while maintaining a close tie to the design language of the modern Q Timex collection, which we’ve seen much success with and (for which) demand has been high. We just recently launched an all-black M79, which in this same vain is sleek and has been popular.
Tell me a bit about the Marmont and its gold-colored case. Were you inspired by Hollywood, given its name and opulence?
The Marmont has a very unique case design with a reverse and concave curvature on its top profile. And yes, it is Hollywood-inspired. You can think of old Hollywood — the Chateau Marmont or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — when looking at this watch. The design has that kind of flavor that takes you back to that Hollywood/movie star era. It makes you dream, and it gives you a glamorous and chic look to go along with it.
Where does this new model fit into the collection — do you imagine customers owning both the Marmont and something in steel, more for everyday wear?
The Marmont is special in its uniqueness and allure – you can tell just by the design that it is different from all other Qs before it. Some people will put it on to add glamour to their everyday look and for others, it may not be a watch for everyday use, but for special occasions. True fans will love it, appreciate its story, design, and know how to wear it.
There are now myriad iterations of the bi-color bezel Q. But are there many more available distinct quartz models within the archives to reimagine within this heritage collection? What’s the future of the Q line?
There has been a desire recently from consumers for automatic and mechanical (hand-wound) watches. The “Q,” instead, is a tribute to the quartz era and technology of Timex that deserves respect and appreciation. It is a celebration from a Timex period that was highly creative and dominant in the US market. The “Q” is becoming a permanent Timex collection, offering a category within a category, now inspired, and taken directly from the past but with an evolution for the future.