As one of the most popular watch brands in the world, Timex has produced timepieces for every occasion and budget since 1854. Today, the Connecticut-based watchmaker offers a wide variety of modern timepieces. But for watch collectors, vintage Timex watches from the mid-20th century are the most coveted.
Timex may not be the icon of luxury, but for many Americans, it’s the watch they grew up with. If you’re also a fan or want to reminisce about your childhood, here’s a guide on how to identify and value a vintage Timex watch. We’ll talk about the most collectible Timex watches, what makes them valuable, and what you should look for when assessing a vintage Timex watch.
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History of Timex – The Watch For Everyone
The Timex brand has a long and interesting history, dating all the way back to 1854. Timex was originally founded as the Waterbury Clock Company in Waterbury, Connecticut. They started off by making pocket watches marketed toward the middle class who couldn’t afford imported European brands.
By 1877, Waterbury Clock was producing over a million pocket watches per year, and the demand continued to grow. They hired hundreds of new workers to keep up with the demand, and by 1888, Waterbury Clock Company was the largest clock manufacturer in America.
The next decade wasn’t as kind to Waterbury Clock. In 1898 they liquidated some of their assets to stay afloat and renamed themselves the New England Watch Company. The Waterbury Clock, owned by Ingroll managed to stay afloat through World War I and the Great Depression by making timepieces for the US military and their first million-dollar product, the Micky Mouse watch.
Under the next owner, Olsen and Lehmkuhl, the company expanded its operations and renamed itself United State Time Cooperation. This time they decided to venture into automation and produced the first batch of nurses’ watches in 1945, under the brand name “Timex.”
Times didn’t take long to become a household name in America. To further exploit the opportunity, Timex released its iconic campaign with the slogan “Timex – Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” The commercials featured a series of torture tests.
Timex watches were put through various extreme conditions, such as being frozen, dropped from a building, and strapped to the bumper of a car. The message was clear – Timex watches were tough and could withstand anything.
Timex went through many changes over the next few decades, but it always managed to stay relevant. In the 1970s, they introduced the Ironman triathlon; a sports watch designed for athletes. Then in the 1994s, they released one of the first smartwatches – Timex Data Link. The brand is still around today and continues to innovate with new technologies.
Vintage Timex Watch Identification
Timex produced hundreds of different watch models over the years. They have mechanical watches, digital watches, watches for women, special additions, and more. So, it’s pretty hard to identify a vintage Timex watch without knowing the model name or number.
Fortunately, Timex has always used some kind of serial number on their watches. However, the problem is that the serial number system was changed several times over the years, so it’s not always easy to figure out which one is which. And some earlier models may not have serial numbers at all.
So let’s try to break it down.
1- Decipher the Serial Number
Since Timex has used different serial number systems over the years, the best way to identify a vintage Timex watch is by decoding the serial number. Here’s a timeline of the different serial number systems used by Timex:
1949 – 1963: Timex started to ink stamp numbers on the inner side of the case back starting in 1949. The number could be the year and month of manufacture, just the year or last two digits of the year.
For example, a watch with the number “463” would be from March 1946. However, since the system was not very consistent, it’s hard to use this method to identify the exact year and model of the watch. Plus, the ink may fade or erase over time, so 1950’s vintage Timex watch identification is mostly difficult.
1959 – 1967: The Great Britain side of Timex made a different system for their watches. Their watches have a two-letter code. First, a letter for the moment and then a number assigned to a specific year.
Here’s a chart of the code:
- 1959 – 8
- 1960 – 7
- 1961 – 6
- 1962 – 5
- 1963 – 4
- 1964 – 3
- 1965 – 2
- 1966 – 1
- 1967 – 9
1963 – 1970: Timex started using well-defined serial numbers on their watches in 1963. The code is printed on the face of the dial but is not visible when the case is removed. It consists of a total of 8- digits. The first 4 digits are the catalog number, the next 2 are the movement, and the last 2 are the year of manufacture.
For example, a watch with the serial number “12345678” would be a watch from catalog no 1234, 56th model, made in 1978.
1971 – 1973: The system was changed a bit in 1971. Timex watches from this time have a 9-digit code. The placement was also changed, the code was still printed on the face of the dial, but it’s split into two parts. The first 5 digits are on the left, and the next 4 on the right of the six o’clock position.
On the left side, the first 4 digits are the catalog numbers, and the next 1 denotes the type and color of the strap. While on the right side, the first 2 digits are movement, and the next 2 are years of manufacture.
For example, a watch with the serial number “12345 6789” would be a watch from catalog no 1234, made with a black leather strap, 67th model, made in 1989.
1974 – 1984: In 1974, Timex’s number of movements entered into 3 digits so the serial number system increased to 11 digits. The right side code now also totals 5 digits. The rest of the code is the same as explained above.
For example, a watch with the serial number “12345 67890” would be a watch from catalog no 1234, made with a black leather strap, 678th model, made in 1990.
This absolutely beautiful piece is from the 1970s and it has a 10-digit code printed on the dial.
1985 – 1992: In 1985, Timex switched to a 2-digit serial number system and started printing it on the case back instead of the dial. The full serial number represents the number of months since the first time this system was used. For example, a watch with the serial number “01” would be from January 1985 and a watch with the serial number “10” would be from October 1985, and the one with serial number “25” would be from January 1987.
1993-present: The last and current system was introduced in 1993. It’s also a 2-digit serial number system but with one letter followed by one digit printed on the back case.
The letter denotes the year of manufacture, with ‘A’ standing for 1993 and each subsequent letter denoting the next year. The digit denotes the month of manufacture, with ‘1’ standing for January and ‘2’ standing for February, and so on. So, a watch with the code “G8” would be from August 1999.
2- Breakdown the Catalog number
As we mentioned in the previous section, a lot of watches have catalog numbers printed on them. A full catalog number consists of 5 digits, and it can help you further narrow down the watch to its specific model and features of the particular original watch. Here’s how:
- The first 2 digits of the catalog number tell you the model of the watch. The famous Timex Merlin is model number 20, the Viscount is model number 40, and the sports star is 25. But these are just a few examples.
- The 3rd digit of the catalog number denotes the bezel color. It was used to differentiate between different chrome and yellow plating. The number 1,3,7,9 means chrome plating, while the number 2,4,6,8 means yellow plating.
- The 4th digit tells you about the dial. The combination of sweep and nonsweep with plain and radiolite dials results in 4 combinations. Each combination is given a unique number.
- Non-sweep with plain dial is 0
- Sweep with plain dial is 4
- Non-sweep with radiolite dial is 3
- Sweep with radiolite dial is 7
- The 5th digit denotes the type of band or strap. But one digit can be used for multiple strap types. For example, the number 1 can be used for leather, suede, or cloth.
- When you put all this information together, you can clearly understand what the watch would look like. And it can be very helpful if a watch has been repaired or has replaced parts.
3- Determine the Type of Movement
The watch’s movement refers to the mechanism inside the watch that keeps time. Every small change in the assembly means there is a new movement, but generally, you can divide them into 3 main types: mechanical, electronic, and quartz.
A mechanical movement uses a spring that must be wound periodically to keep the watch ticking. An electronic movement uses an electromagnet to move the gears inside the watch. It’s powered by a battery and is generally considered to be more accurate than a mechanical movement.
A quartz movement uses a quartz crystal and battery to keep time. It’s the most accurate type of movement, and Timex made its first-quart watch in 1970.
A non-professional may not be able to differentiate between these types of movements just by looking at the watch assembly, so you may need help from an expert in this case.
4- Look for a Waterproof Marking
Timex has always maintained that its watches are resistant to water and can be worn while swimming or doing other water activities. And they labeled most of their watches with a “waterproof” marking until 1960. In 1960, the Federal Trade Commission banned the use of the word “waterproof” on watches, so Timex and many other brands started to use “water resistant” or “moisture proof” instead.
So, if you see a watch with a “waterproof” marking, it could have been manufactured before 1960. This is an easy way to date vintage Timex watches 1960s models.
5- Check for Special Features
Timex produced several hugely successful models over the years, and some of them stand out because of their special features. Some particular bracelet styles and colors, day/date markings, 24-hour time, and even an alarm were introduced in select models.
Besides that, collaborative ventures with brands like Disney also resulted in some interesting watches. All these special features can be used to date and identify vintage Timex watches.
This beautiful men’s mechanical watch from the 1970s is distinguishable because of its maroon double dial and day/date feature.
How to Value Your Vintage Timex Watch?
Now that you know how to identify a vintage Timex watch, it’s time to learn if your old Timex watch is worth money. And if yes, then how much?
But before that, let’s be clear that Timex is not a luxury brand. They are known for making quality watches that are affordable and last long. So, don’t expect your vintage Timex watch to be worth thousands of dollars just because it’s old.
Most of the Timex watches from the 1950s and 1960s can be bought for less than $100 or even less. That’s because most people collect Timex watches for their sentimental value, and there is no big market for them. Now let’s see the different factors that will affect the value of your vintage Timex watch.
Most Collectable Timex Watches
Certain models of Timex watches are more collectible than others and generally worth more money. These include special editions Timex has released over the years to celebrate a milestone or an event. Or some super successful models that have become iconic over the years.
Some of the most collectible and valuable Timex watches include:
Timex Ufo – Discovolante: An extremely unique design that was ahead of its time when it was released in 1975. This one is listed for $234 at chrono24:
Timex Dyneabeat: A very successful model from the 1970s. It has 24 hours rotating double bezel and black dial making it a great design even by today’s standards. This one was sold for around $80 on eBay:
The Timex Merlin: Merlin doesn’t need an introduction; this series is probably the most iconic and successful from Timex. Here is a pre-1960s model with the “waterproof” label, and it was sold for around $56 on eBay:
These are just a few, you can find a lot of valuable models by researching the demand in the vintage watch market.
Timex’s collaboration with different brands or celebrities to produce theme watches has been extremely successful over the years. Some of these theme watches are sought after by collectors. But the market is narrow than the other types of Timex watches, and to get a real value, you’d have to find the right buyer. Timex’s most successful collaborations have been with Disney. Here are some examples of valuable Timex Disney watches:
This one is a 1960s battery-powered Mickey Mouse watch, and it’s listed for $65:
This snow white-themed watch from the 1980s is listed for $80; the seller has this in original packing and Timex box:
Working Condition of Watch
This is probably the most important factor in determining the value of your vintage Timex watch. Timex was and is known for the durability and longevity of its watches. But despite that, a 30, 40 years old watch will need some servicing to keep it running properly.
The accuracy of vintage watches is also not as good as modern watches, so you may need to make periodic adjustments to the movement too. And this maintenance increase the value of your watch.
But the catch is that the cost of repair sometimes exceeds the original value of the watch, so not many watchmakers are willing to take on the task. You may have to balance the sentimental value with the monetary value to make your decision. That’s why you’ll see lots of sellers on eBay and other places advertising ” AS-IS, for parts or repair”.
This 1970s silver diver watch is in pretty bad condition and is listed for parts for just $24.99.
Cosmetic Condition of Watch
Most people won’t mind a few scratches on the case or bracelet of their vintage watch. It’s what makes the watch unique and gives it character. But if the dial or the crystal is in bad condition, it can significantly affect the value. That’s why it’s best to clean and polish your watch before putting it up for sale. Present it in the best light possible but also explain the condition honestly to the buyer.
Like this well-used but also well-maintained Timex from the 1970s, it’s listed for $17.55.
Buying and Selling Vintage Timex Watches
You probably already know that eBay is the place to go for buying or selling vintage watches. But unfortunately, in the case of watches, you’d need to do a lot of navigation to find the right piece from the right seller. Watches are complex machines, and a lot can go wrong with them.
So it’s important to buy from a reputable seller who knows what they’re doing. So if you’re confident in your knowledge, go ahead and search for that special watch on eBay. If not, then there are other options too.
Chrono24 is a website and app dedicated to watches only. You can find vintage Timex watches here, but the prices are usually on the higher side.
LiveAuctioneers is an auction site where you can find vintage watches from different brands being auctioned off by reputable sellers.
Other than that, there are many watch forums and Facebook groups where you can find vintage Timex watches for sale. And also learn a lot about watches in general from other enthusiasts.
Vintage Timex watches are great pieces to add to any collection. They are relatively affordable, and there is a wide range of styles to choose from. But as with any vintage item, it’s important to do your research before making a purchase. This guide is a good starting point; here are the takeaways:
- Timex has a long history, dating back to the 1850s. And it has used a variety of serial number systems over the years, making it difficult to date a vintage Timex without knowing the system used for a particular watch.
- The serial number can provide useful information about the watch, such as the bezel color, dial type, band type, and movement.
- Vintage Timex watches may be labeled “waterproof” if they were manufactured before 1960.
- The value of a vintage Timex watch depends on several factors, including the model, condition, and provenance. The most collectible and valuable Timex watches include special editions like the Timex Ufo – Discovolante and the Timex Dyneabeat.
- The look and working condition of the watch are important factors in determining value. A watch that is in good condition and runs well will be more valuable than one that is in poor condition or does not work.
- If you’re interested in buying or selling a vintage Timex watch, eBay is a good place to start. But there are other options, too, such as Chrono24 and LiveAuctioneers.