Richard goes 'full circle' to land a 1968 Timex Mercury and now advocates an alternative approach to finding a birth year watch!
It was a sobering moment when I realised that I could not justify the money required to purchase my grail watch – a 1968 Rolex Explorer ref: 1016. A fine example costs well over £10,000 and, frankly, this is just too much of an extravagance. The loss of the dream struck hard, and I immediately went to find solace in a conversation with a WatchGecko colleague, Tim Vaux.
During the conversation Tim came up with a novel idea which resonated with me. If you cannot justify the expense of the “year of your birth” Rolex, he said, then why not try to find a perfect example of your very first watch, but also from the year of your birth. It was a lightbulb moment, and I am sure this criterion will soon become a must-have item for all non-millionaire watch enthusiasts.
Thankfully for me, my first watch “real” was not a 1968 “Ed White” Speedmaster, but a much more affordable Timex Mercury which my parents bought for me as a child. I understand from my father that he thought the Mercury name was a nice nod to the space program which even at an early age fascinated me. Bear in mind that when this watch was named, Apollo astronauts had not yet walked on the moon, so the Mercury program was still a powerful influence.
The Timex Mercury was part of a simple range of hand wound mechanical watches which were popular throughout the 60s. They were often compared to the Timex Marlin as the two watches were from the same family. There is a lot of parallel design between the models, but the general rule is that the Marlin was the waterproof variant, and the Mercury was the shock resistant alternative.
The Marlin was no dive watch however, instead it was designed to handle the splashes and brief immersion in water you might encounter in daily life. Priced at $10 when released it was perfect for everyday use and looked smart enough to be your only watch. Note: Timex re-released this a 34mm version of the watch in 2017 to huge success. It retailed at $200. Interested in hearing more about this 2017 re-issue? Then Check out our hands on look at the piece.
The Mercury was my model and whilst it was not water resistant it was shockproof (it said so on the dial), and I recall thinking how wonderful this was. To the best of my recollection my original watch had a white dial, a date, was in a 32mm case and had the futuristic sounding V-Conic Escapement movement. As a youngster I had no idea what this meant, however current research from the original Timex advert has told me that: “The V-Conic is the greatest advance in over 200 years of watchmaking. A unique cone shaped balance staff turns on enduring Armalloy bearings. V-Conic is strong where conventional watches are generally weakest”.
To prove this point Timex strapped a V-conic equipped watch onto the baseball bat of Mickey Mantle, the famed 1960s slugger from the New York Yankees while he hit 50 balls at full strength. Afterwards Timex examined the watch and (allegedly) it was still ticking and on time. As a child in Glasgow of course I had no idea who Mickey Mantle was but now as a 53-year-old watch collector my excitement was building!
Historical documents also informed me that Timex’s were predominantly made in the USA, but a small number were manufactured in the UK. The brand established a service centre in Dundee in the 1960s to satisfy the European market and permitted the facility to make a limited number of ‘Great Britain’ marked watches.
There is much information online to suggest that Dundee models were by far the best constructed Timex’s, however the factory became infamous during the 1973 Timex Strike which ultimately resulted in its closure. Given the relative rarity of these watches I set out to acquire a Great Britain embossed 1968 Timex Mercury in as good condition as I could find.
Late 2020 the quest began in earnest and initially I was dismayed at the condition of some models. Price was never a worry as they were all relatively low, and I was confident I could get a mint condition watch for less than the $200 Timex wanted for the 2017 re-issue Marlin.
During the height of Lockdown II, I found a perfect example from a dealer on eBay. It was newly serviced and refurbished and his communication was good. I could see no negatives and bought what can now be described as one of the gems of my watch collection.
My 1968 Mercury has a silver sunburst dial with gold indices alternating between numerals and batons. The hands are also gold and unblemished and the sweep hand is remarkably smooth. The age of a vintage Timex is easy to verify as the last two digits of the serial number, at the base of the dial, are the year of manufacture.
The watch has been professionally serviced and the exterior case and acrylic lens are in mint condition. Of course, at 32mm it is small, but I have since found great pleasure in its lightness and size when compared to the 40mm+ models I normally wear. When the watch was new the M25 dual plate movement boasted a power reserve of around 40 hours and my 1968 vintage model is certainly delivering close to this.
The Mercury is on my wrist now as I write, and I am so proud of it. Had I spent £10,000 on the Rolex Explorer I honestly could not have been any happier. When I gaze at the immaculate sunburst dial it is like looking back at my earliest watch memories. This is (almost) the model which started me on a lifelong fascination for all things horological, and I am absolutely thrilled to have found such a good example. Oh, did I mention the price? This wonderful little watch cost me the grand total of £45.
The moral of this tale? Grail watches do not have to cost enormous amounts. It is not always about the complication of the calibre or the precious metal. Sometimes it is about what a watch means to you and how it speaks to you. This little Timex was made in the same year as me. It was our destiny, over 53 years, to be united and now we will never be parted.
The new Marlin
If you like Richard's Mercury but aren't so lucky in finding one as Richard, then why not head on over to our article on the Timex re-issue of its brother, the Marlin. It might just tick all of the boxes for you and we also give lots of strap recommendations!