Hands-on with the Timex S1 Automatic by Giorgio Galli
My eyes opened wide when I counted all the features and emotions designer Giorgio Galli wrapped into the skeleton case of the Timex S1 Automatic.
When I got a text from fellow editor Mike asking me if I’d seen the new Timex S1, I happily responded that I’d already asked for a press sample. Both Mike and I were pretty amused to see the skeleton case, an automatic movement, a unique crown, and the innovative strap all for just a few hundred euros. Sadly, Timex was unable to send in a sample for review. And so, with no other option, I did what I had to do to get my hands on it and bought it.
Timex S1 skeletonized case
When I spoke to Yvan Arpa from ArtyA watches recently, he said he was always fascinated by the fact that many watchmakers often forget about the case or ignore it completely. Yvan says the case is not only a structural piece to keep the movement safe, but also a key component in highlighting the character of the watch. To sideline such an essential element of the overall package is an opportunity too often missed. Seeing cases like this one, remind me of this fact. In the past, I simply analyzed cases for what they were, rather than what they could be. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how similar the majority of watch cases are in terms of their basic execution. Having had my eyes opened to the possibilities, this thought is never far from my mind. And so you can imagine what an unexpected treat it was to see the new skeletonized Timex S1 for the first time.
“The tough challenge was the precision of the skeletonized case and the finishes between the brushed and polished areas, which are quite complex considering the price point.” Giorgio Galli
This is one of those watches with a multi-aspect appeal. Observing it at an angle, it’s as cool as a Nike Air Max. Your eyes expect to see a solid wall of brushed metal, but they stumble across a perfectly airy steel sandwich that looks as soft as your pillow instead. The side case and especially the lug apertures are so generous that you literally want to put your eyes through them so that they might better glide over the perfectly round case middle.
Designed from the ground up
The Timex S1 isn’t trying to fool anybody. This engaging visual is not an optical illusion born of lofty design ambitions and manufacturing shortcuts. No, this watch has been designed from the ground up to do more than entertain your eyes. Rather, it has been designed to satisfy the engineer in you. Although the Timex S1 immediately appears to be a smartly scalloped block structure, it is far more complex. Four case components slot together neatly, resulting in a form that could not be achieved any other way.
I was intrigued by the creative approach of Timex Creative Director Giorgio Galli, so I got in touch with him to better understand the origins of this design. “The skeleton is a design that I’ve had in my portfolio since 1996 when it was made on a Nautica watch. I think that I am the first one that ever designed such a skeletonized case. It’s a kind of signature statement.”
“I had the entire dial redone just a month before the launch of the watch due to incorrect proportions between the jewel and the dial. The very small difference between this and the original design, but very big for me,” Galli reveals his obsession with detail and balance.
Brushed and polished
The biggest challenge Galli encountered during the manufacturing process was making the most of one of those frequently-missed opportunities I mentioned earlier. Watch case finishing is too often taken for granted. It is one of the details that can make or break a design, either elevating it from the ordinary or consigning it to the ranks of forgettable follies. In this competitive price bracket, details really matter. All the finely-worded press material in the world cannot hold a candle to a job well done. Galli recognized this and took pains to makes the case finishing of the Timex S1 stand out.
“The tough challenge was the precision of the skeletonized case and the finishes between the brushed and polished areas, which are quite complex considering the price point.” And it is noticeable. Even before I had spoken to the man himself, it is something I’d spotted and identified as the type of detail you usually expect from big-budget timepieces. It was also a solid justification for having made the purchase (these are the kind of things that are hard to appreciate in anything but the metal).
The contrast is best appreciated by peering through the skeletonized lugs. The polished surface of the inside container peeks out through the flanking apertures like a diamond in the dirt. Furthermore, it is decorated with a screw thread pattern, which is mirrored by the thoughtfully-designed crown. A standard stock design would definitely have killed the mood, but could so easily have been the option chosen had the question of cost trumped that of creative congruity. Thankfully, Galli and his team plumped for a unique screw head-like shape, which is not only true to form but pleasingly functional as well. It is big enough to be comfortably operated but set into the case in a way that doesn’t disturb the overall design one bit.
As a vintage guy, the case diameter initially troubled me. Just recently, I expressed concern over the Marlin DNA being tampered with and the watch being reinterpreted as a 41mm model. But today I fully feel Galli’s idea, again surprising myself for using the very same words as Galli. “The S1 is a bridge between classic watchmaking and industrial design.”
At 41mm, the Timex S1 wears exceptionally well. I was afraid I would end up with a generic watch without a distinct personality, but the opposite is true. Had the watch been sized at 38mm it would look a bit silly. That little extra heft adds to its contemporary character in spades, which manages to retain the slightest retro charm thanks to the pared-back dial.
Jewel on the dial
If you turn the watch face up, besides three hands and the twelve markers, you can see an unusual shiny purple dot above six. It’s a jewel. It doesn’t have any special function as the similarly located flashing red dot we saw on the Mondia Top Second. But at least it stands for something: “The jewel on the dial represents the automatic movement inside the watch,” Galli explains. Unsurprisingly, for a man of Galli’s exacting standards, the placement of the jewel caused some consternation: “I had the entire dial redone just a month before the launch of the watch due to incorrect proportions between the jewel and the dial. The very small difference between this and the original design, but very big for me.” And, as Galli and Timex know, very big for a discerning client base also.
Looking at the caseback has a soothing effect. The screw-thread pattern is continued here, with the text one might expect to find encircling a display window hidden beneath the glass. A wise move to pad-out a smallish movement so that it fits a modern case diameter, the steel ring surrounding the Miyota caliber records the designer’s name and the jewel count. There is not too much to write home about behind the glass, but the skeletonized rotor with Timex branding is a nice touch. At this price point, the level of decoration is, however, a huge positive.
The sound is extraordinarily jingly and metallic. It feels like I have the bearings of my 1984 Volkswagen Golf II rattling around my wrist whenever I’m wearing the S1.
Industrial at its best
Okay, so rotor noise may not be at the top of your wish list, but it isn’t always a bad thing. The sound is extraordinarily jingly and metallic. It feels like I have the bearings of my 1984 Volkswagen Golf II rattling around my wrist whenever I’m wearing the S1. Not to mention the fact that the rotor swing seems infinite. It’s hard to say whether anyone else would be bothered/charmed by this quirk, but I found myself in the latter camp. Aside from the industrial imagery the whirring device strapped to the end of my arm conjured in my mind, I kind of liked the regular reminder I was wearing a mechanical machine.
Twelve years of cooperation
Are you wondering who Giorgio Galli is? His Milan based Design Lab was bought by Timex Group twelve years ago. Despite that, the Timex S1 is the first Timex watch to officially bear his name. So what took so long? Galli was, as ever, very diplomatic. “We needed to build the correct design path for Timex first in order to start to conceptualize other opportunities, included a product bearing my name. Timex needed to be mature both in design/idea and in the contest.”
There is yet more proof of the individual approach taken by Galli in the innovative strap of the Timex S1. I was surprised to learn it is the result of years of frustration. “It is an original idea, exclusively designed for the S1. It all started because I don’t like keepers on the straps. I decided to replace it with something much cleaner, that doesn’t move around all the time.” The synthetic rubber strap is thin with a shallow slot on the sides. The strap has no structure on the top, just a smooth matt surface. To keep the watch securely on the wrist, all the wearer must do is pop the mushroom-shaped pin, which is affixed to the tail-end of the strap, into the shouldered slot on the head of the strap and voila! It holds well. It looks good. Approved.
Subtle and monotone tones spread all over the Timex S1 dial switching between a smoky pearl and a sharp sunburst effect when under direct light. You can see the skeleton idea also reflected in the heightened hour markers and perfectly shaped hands with their fingertips filled with good quality luminant. Minute track markers seem to be etched into the dial, strengthening the minimalistic industrial look and feel. Somewhat surprisingly, the Timex S1 offers just 50 meters of water resistance, but given the smart rather than sporty design, it is unlikely to be tested to its limit. And for those looking to dress-up this delightfully accommodating canvas, new strap colors shall come to the store in 2020.
I was wondering how long it takes to bring such a watch to the market. “Prototyping usually takes between 4 and 6 weeks. From the first sketch to serial production, it took us one year,” Galli reveals. A few minutes ago I checked the availability and, as Giorgio remarked in our discussion towards the end of 2019, the Timex S1 is already gone. I am not surprised to be honest, which is why I wasn’t afraid of grabbing one. It continuously kept me engaged with a lot of details to be explored. After two weeks of casually getting to know one another, it seems I have found myself in (another) long-term relationship. If you happen to spot one, I highly encourage getting your hands on it. It’s a rare beast and will surely not disappoint.