After almost one hundred and seventy years in business, Timex is still chasing the clock.
Timex is the second-largest watch company in the United States, overtaken some years ago by Fossil. The company employs two thousand at its facilities, but its parent company Timex B.V. (also called the Timex Group) has more than five thousand worldwide employees. This larger holding company is still privately held and is currently run by Fred Olsen, the son of founder Tim Olsen. The Norwegian/Dutch company is notoriously quiet about both its earnings and its production numbers.
Sometimes a company has to have a near-death experience in order to stride on into the future. Timex started out as the Waterbury Clock Company in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1854. The company managed to make it through the Civil War and World War I, ninety years in business before it started down the path towards insolvency. By 1944, it looked like Waterbury was breathing its last breath. At the time, the company was focused on making fuses for British bombs during the Second World War.
It wasn’t time yet for the clockmaker to go under, and the company remarkably found its salvation in the reformation by changing its name to the Timex Corporation.
The name Timex is the oddly inspired combination of Time, as in Time magazine, and Kleenex. Tom Olsen, who had bought the company in 1941 when it was still Waterbury, is famed for his status as an eccentric billionaire.
Olsen is part of a branching Norwegian business family that has been making its name all over the world since 1848. The odd inspiration for the Timex name actually came from Tom’s love of Time magazine and his love of Kleenex. That the company manufactured timepieces probably had something to do with the name choice as well.
Fred Olsen, son of founder Time Olsen, runs the company with his daughter Annette. Fred is known to be an eccentric, to the point that he’s widely known as “the Norwegian Howard Hughes”. His father was a major patron of edgy artist Edvard Munch, who’s famous painting “The Scream” is his most recognizable work. Fred sold most of the collection save two pieces in 2006 after a dispute with his younger brother Peter, who owns “The Scream.”
Fred Olsen has gone on to pour his energy into renewable energy, in addition to his work with Timex.
Taking a Licking
It’s true that Timex products are tough, something that started with its military involvement during World War II. The company continued to partner with the United States government to make a huge variety of components for missiles, including gyros, fuses, and miniature precision products. That partnership remains a big part of the company’s bottom line, though it’s more widely known for its watches.
Timex was for many years the number one watch brand in the world. This status came following World War II and led it to its slogan “World’s largest manufacturer of watches and mechanical time fuses.” That’s quite a mouthful for a marketing slogan.
In a transformative move, the company changed its slogan to “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” That slogan became a huge marketing success for the company, which promoted it with commercials that included jackhammers, deep-sea divers, a dolphin, water skiers, and more as torture devices for the company’s watches.
At its height, one out of every three watches sold in America was a Timex. The company still enjoys a considerable market share, thanks to its reputation for quality. Even with the move towards smartwatches, which Timex has developed as well, the company still feels timeless.