You may not have recognized the name Giorgio Galli when you saw the Timex watch named after him, but you probably liked it all the same. There’s a good chance you saw it online after it was released to great acclaim in 2019 — or perhaps you noticed it on someone’s wrist, a silvery burst of sunlight with a single red ruby speckling the lower part of its dial.
If you are a watch nerd, though, you know Galli as the designer who has since 2007 transformed Timex, already a beloved watchmaking name, into something more…interesting. Galli hasn’t changed Timex at its core. They’re still making affordable quartz (and more recently, mechanical) watches, mostly for less than $200. But he has added a dash of high-end panache to a stream of Timex watch releases so steady in 2019 that it threatened to become a deluge:
Take the American Documents line, made in America except for its Swiss movement; the Giorgio Galli S1; and the Q Timex reissue, probably Timex’s biggest hit in the past decade, which matched a red-blue “Pepsi” bezel with a delicate linked bracelet. It retailed for just $179, and sold out multiple times. At a watch meetup I visited in January, one owner showed me his Q before his Rolexes.
“I always loved Timex because of its history,” Galli told me recently. “It is a true brand that has always had great potential. In a way, it was a little bit dusty. It needed some polishing to shine again.”
Galli has done just that. Last week, he called me from Milan, where he has been sheltering in place with his family during the COVID-19 outbreak. He was worried about his country, just like all Italians. He was also stoic, providing advice for a worried American journalist expecting the worst in the US. (“Wash your hands, stay away from crowds, and give up your social life for now,” he said. “It’s simple, but it works.”) In the meantime, he was still at work on several exciting Timex projects. We chatted about his time there, and what the future holds for the all-time-great watchmaking brand.
Q: What was the first watch you ever owned?
A: Italians love watches, and we buy watches for our kids early on. The typical Italian gets a watch for their first communion, if they’re religious. A typical watch was an Omega, or Rolex. My first first watch was a Seiko, though I can’t remember which. Then I got a Rolex. But the first watch I bought myself was actually a Timex. That was in the 80s, in the States. Then I started to buy watches more and more.
Q: When did you really fall in love with watches?
A: I always loved watches. But I really started to love watch designing, and to appreciate that more in watches, at Swatch. I was the Creative Director there for two years (1991-1992). It was a deep immersion into watches in general. I was visiting factories, getting more and more interested. And I started to understand what was behind making these watches, and what was behind making them really interesting.
Q: Do you remember a specific moment when you realized you were going to love designing watches?
A: It’s a long process to understand and learn how to design a watch, to understand the watch itself — understand what is good, what is not good. The details that strike you. To realize that the watch could transmit an emotion that is created out of elements of its watch design. How the light reflects, how certain things in the watch grab your attention. I don’t remember exactly which element was the first in a watch that impressed me most, but I remember that when I was working on those projects, realizing how big a difference it would make to change slight little things — the edges of the case, the hands. I was so impressed by how many details could change the entire project.
Q: You’ve said in past interviews that Gerald Genta, who designed the Patek Philippe Nautilus, was a big influence.
A: The Nautilus was the first watch that I truly loved, in terms of the beauty, the concept, the aesthetics of the design. It took a few years to be able to afford one. Genta was someone that I looked up to, and I also met him a couple of times. He mentioned to me that he designed at Timex once. I was trying to hire him to design a watch, but we couldn’t find the time, and then he passed away. I definitely look up to him and his work as an inspiration for my career.
Q: What you’re doing at Timex is so impressive to me and other watch geeks because you’re making beautiful watches on a budget that are a sliver of the cost of a Patek Philippe or a Rolex.
A: The challenge with a less expensive watch is you have to make something that still gives emotion. You don’t have as many tools to do that. So you have to really go back to the basics and try also to create stories around the watches, not just the design itself. A lot of the exercise is what you put together to make the watch meaningful. Once you create that, then you start to build on it. Technically speaking, that’s when you use all the little tricks you can find to make the watch design better while also not making it more expensive. That’s part of the background experience you get doing this.
Q: You’ve done that in recent years with the Timex Q and the American Documents Series, which is Made in America with Swiss movements.
A: Honestly speaking, the Timex Q is really a reissue, and we tried to speak to that original design. Keeping as much as possible the same finish as it had back in those days. We didn’t reinvent anything. What we saw in it was potential as a modern watch.
The American Documents line has been particularly challenging for me. Not just the design — we kept that as simple as possible. It’s that there isn’t much watchmaking industry left in the States. So we had to teach them. The engineer that I work with in Connecticut did a fantastic job searching for all the suppliers. The biggest nightmare has been the last few months. We’re making progress though. The coronavirus may delay it, but we’re coming out again this year with something that’s made in America, with a completely different approach. We’ll announce that soon.
Q: The Giorgio Galli S1 is really beautiful. How did you design that watch?
A: There are many ingredients in that watch. I’ve designed many watches for many different brands. I never thought to make something that would carry my name.
I had been thinking about making something that is Timex, but that has a lot of my background design in it — things that were not technically linked to Timex, the Timex of the future. Then the CEO of the company started a conversation about a new product. He asked, why don’t you design the most advanced Timex we’ve ever made? I caught the bug, basically. I said, OK, I like the challenge, but it’s gotta carry my name.
The watch was a combination that came from two different directions. Why not take some things from the past, like the case, which I first did in a watch I made for Nautica in 1996. It was a big invention, aesthetically. So I said, I’d like to take some of the elements that I invented, and use them in a much more subtle way. And I also wanted to take things that are coming from the DNA of Timex, for instance the classic dial. I won’t say it’s retro, but it has some retro feeling. But the indices are slightly modernized.
I didn’t want too much embellishment. It had to be balanced. It has a lot of details you have to discover once you’re wearing it. I’m very much in love with the lights, the way things are reflecting. That watch has a lot of angles, reflecting light in a certain way, but not too much. Subtle. Usually I get bored in a few weeks or months. I used to change watches every two hours, almost. This is the first watch that…I still wear it. I take mine off only when I wear my Patek Philippe and my Breguet. These are the only watches I alternate. I’m working on a new version of my watch that is coming out this year. It’s slightly smaller than the current one. But I’ll keep the same spirit.
Q: I’ve always thought that Timex made a “people’s watch” — something everyone can afford, something everyone can appreciate. What’s it like to design a watch for everybody?
A: It’s a really democratic watch, a Timex is. It’s part of the history of America. So many people tell me stories, that their first watch was a Timex. I’m designing something that’s for everyone, but it keeps the dignity of a good product with a great product. That’s really rewarding. It’s difficult, but it’s also rewarding. It’s nice to make a watch for everyone.