Monday, May 10, 2010

Timex Watches no longer take a licking and keep on ticking

In my early life watches and Timex in particular are associated with freedom. My mother taught me to tell the time, bought me a watch and the only restriction to my wide ranging travels was “be back before five”. The watch itself was a small mechanical, hand-wound piece made by Timex. White face, black numbers, good value, it reflected a vision of putting cheap reliable time-pieces on everyone’s wrist. I never managed to break or drown that watch in seven young years. It was the sort of watch that probably underpinned the famous “takes a licking but keeps on ticking” line. These experiences are I suspect what created in me at least, significant faith in the brand; a faith that was rewarded when I bought my first Timex Ironman sports-watch some twenty years later. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that those simple plastic watches seemed little short of indestructible too. I got bored with mine and wanted more features, so I gave my first Ironman watch away after getting something more flash. I now recognise this as my first mistake. Since buying that first Timex Ironman it appears that those running Timex have changed from people who wanted to make watches and a good living, to people who plainly just want to make money. How do I surmise this ? Six years, five watches, around $2000NZD later and I have a drawer full of broken or dysfunctional Timex Ironman branded watches. Welcome to my hall of shame.

Exhibit A:

My first Timex Speed-Distance watch - second generation with the nice little Navman GPS unit. I even bought the data recorder. Bought in 2005 the unit was not used on a day to day basis so I was little surprised when moisture condensed on the inside of the facia on a cold morning. Look closely and you can see a drop of water beneath the watch glass on the left. Later the watch had the misfortune of being dropped on the garage floor which resulted in a cracked bezel with a large chunk missing (on the right). The moisture problem has persisted after a few battery changes and the backlight now is so poor it is useless. Can’t swim in it or use the watch in the dark. I still use it on the bike at the moment though. I don’t mind so much about the backlight, that’s old age. The moisture problem annoys me most, largely because it happened before the bezel cracked, which you might describe as accidental damage. But heck the thing fell less than a metre. Nb. The GPS unit, heart rate strap and data unit have performed faultlessly, which leaves me to wonder if Timex had anything at all to do with their manufacture.

Exhibit B:

This one was bought in 2007/8 as a replacement for the above. It is currently not in use as I cannot afford to replace the battery every 2/3 months. The watch is just plain too expensive to run and I suspect its battery problems are some form of fault.

Exhibit C:

This wonder of our disposable age was purchased as a day to day watch. After 18 months the rubber (?) cover on the buttons disintegrated (see arrows). Then just on two years the strap disintegrated in spectacular fashion. This went from a useful tool to a piece of s**t in next to no time. Purchased in Feb 2007 it lasted until Dec 2008. This disaster forced the hurried purchase of exhibit E. Preoccupied with Ironman training I missed the warranty window for this one.

Exhibit D:

Yeah well there’s no fool like an old fool – during the lifetime of exhibit C I bought this one for my wife at an auction. Guess what ? the frikkin strap broke after 6 months. Two watches break in the same way on different people in less than a year starts to sound like a design fault rather than user problems.

Exhibit E:

I am gonna get this one fixed under warranty if I can. It drowned during an open water session in less than 5m of water I didn’t even touch a button. The facia says WR100M do you figure that means water resistant or water retaining up to 100m ? The damn thing lasted 14 months, a new record for shoddy Timex manufacture.

For the longest time I kept buying these watches because they had killer features that I really wanted and I just could not believe that they could be so consistently awful that no-one had noticed.

GMB Services, the New Zealand service centre and distributors are decent people. They sent two strap loops to my wife for free after a conversation at IMNZ in Taupo – to fix the current Ironman Flix unit that I (probably unwisely) bought her for her birthday last year. They must find it quite tough fronting up to this kind of workmanship. You have got to imagine this though; I get woken at 2am (or thereabouts) in arbitrary nights as my wife tries to shake the backlight of her watch on. Someone in the design shop at Timex has a real sense of humour.

I note that Timex no longer uses the phrase “takes a licking but keeps on ticking” on their website – probably just as well. I just wish now, that they were not allowed to use the Ironman brand either. Not that I am in love with IM branded stuff, but you would think that something branded so would be fit for purpose. I have raced and completed four ironman races and several half Ironman races. One might think that an Ironman branded watch would be suited to my needs - this is clearly not the case, features great, durability not so good.

This leads me to a minor, but nonetheless important point; Timex have just started marketing what they describe as expedition watches. Given my knowledge of mountaineering and Ironman branded stuff I won’t be buying one. Indeed someone had better hope that expedition watches are up to scratch – shoddy gear gets people killed in tough conditions.

By all means add your own Timex experiences below.

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