Nigel Cabourn x Timex

Watches I Can’t Resist

Collecting watches is relentless. There is always one you want. The more you look , the more you find. Depending on your current situation, you let some get away and you bite on others. Your tastes are always evolving as you get exposed to new watch types. As your tastes change, you let go of of some (at some point) to make room for new ones.

Some brands or lines seem to always get to you — they hit the right buttons, or the same buttons with a twist. The Nigel Cabourn xTimex designs do it for me. You are getting more than a watch.

The size, the designs, the historical inspiration, the cost, the military (or soccer) themes, the presentation, all hit me just right. After finding a used Nam, and a used Referee, I did get a new Naval Officer right before initial stock ran out. When the latest Desert watch was released last year, I did not hesitate. This is not something I usually do. Most of my collection is preowned or new old stock.

One could argue that the watches are just variations of the same watch, and you’d be almost right. Four are 36mm and one 40mm. Still, they each have their own personality and were each released a year or so apart. I count five releases to date:

2018 – Nam watch

2019 – Soccer Referee watch

2020 – Survival watch

2021 – Naval Officer watch

2022 – Desert watch

I first stumbled onto these watches in 2020 during the long days of pandemic-time research when I was trying to get my arms around all the Timex Archive watches. At the time the one I had to get first was the Nam watch, I being a student of military history and a U.S. Army retiree. I have also been a soccer fanatic most of my life, so the Soccer Referee’s watch was inevitable. Then, the yellow Survival watch was current, but I could not go for the bright yellow dial. The yellow, of course, is the whole point of the watch. Over time I have come to appreciate it, but now it will cost me if I can find one.

The Pheon

I have to talk about the Pheon, the arrow head, a broad arrow, the mark representing, most recently, the British Ministry of Defense, MOD. I will not attempt to go into the centuries-long use of it here. It represents government-supplied items. It is a signature detail of the Cabourn watches, right there at 12 o’clock. I love it, though it’s use is controversial. Cabourn’s apparel and accessory designs find much inspiration in military history, but I am not familiar with how it is used on his apparel designs.

Interestingly, Todd Snyder uses it, too, on his military x Timex watch designs, but above the 6. It seems more appropriate coming from an English designer rather than from an American one, but its fun on both collections. Snyder may have been first to use it on a Timex in 2017 before the Cabourn; Nam watch was released in 2018?

MTMC patch

The symbol also reminds me of something else. For a while in my Army career, I wore a patch with a more elongated broad arrow. I was assigned to the Military Traffic Management Command, MTMC, back in the mid 1980s. It has since evolved into the (Military)Surface Deployment Distribution Command, SDDC, I think.

Anyway, its the type of thing I like as a detail on a watch. Cabourn is well known for his apparel designs evoking military, utilitarian, work wear aesthetic. There is historical events and products behind each watch’s story. Besides the military historical nostalgia there is the physical objects — the fabrics, the straps, and flaps and seams the graphics. The buttons,the zippers, the simple, functional, the feeling of sturdy construction of the military products he transfers to his modern designs.

As I stated at the top, these watches are of perfect examples of military-influenced fashion, MILFASH, that I discuss in many of my posts, so I am attracted to them like insects to porch lights. Firstly, they are nice design packages — the colors, the graphics, the materials end in products that would not happen at watch producers checking spec boxes to fit into a standard category. Without Cabourn (or Snyder) I don’t think you would get these watches even with G. Galli and company in Italy alone. The background stories, the price, the packaging result in a fun collectible. They fit a niche that, I think, only Timex owns.

They are not tool watches, really, not field watches, really. The EDC crowd may cringe. One could use them heavily and thrash them for a while, but they are not made for that and will not survive long. Every day, light use/wear. Not while hiking, fishing, yard work, swimming. Not for chores where they will get knocked around, muddy, or painted. I baby them a bit. These are not Expedition Scouts. Original price was three or four times that of a Scout and resale is seven or eight times as much. Call the EDF, Every Day Fashion. That said, if you love a watch, wear it out.

Each release includes the watch, two straps and either a themed fabric storage pouch or metal box. The watch back of each release is different, including som mysterious numbers. All are quartz, three-hand watches.

The Nam

Or should it be called the Sean Flynn watch? The TWG01850070, the first of the bunch, there’s a lot to unpack here:

Before this release in 2018, Timex did a stainless steel version (TW2R58300) of the classic 36mm plastic Camper for Japan market in 2016. It’s this brushed stainless case with no spring bars, that the Cabourn watch used. The box crystal is mineral glass.

2018 Nam, TWG01850070

Details and restraint; black dial, white sans Arabic numbers, white broad arrow in place of 12, 24 hr track a’ la classic field watch, along the lines of MIL-W-3818B , olive minute marks and small hour triangles. Timex small in olive, too. Polished hour and minute hands in a syringe shape painted mostly white, dull red second sweep. That’s it.

The use of olive on black for the outer minute/hour marks track sets this design off from most field watches.

Again, restraint on the back; with a military issue feel layout: WRIST WATCH GENERAL PURPOSE, CABOURN -TIMEX,SERIAL NO. 68-18, UK, 50.

The “serial number” is the years from design school, 1968 to the release of the watch in 2018, 50 years. 50 is also the Timex date code for 2018.

This release may be the most popular of the bunch?

This watch was part of a bigger Cabourn collection release entitled Whatever Happened to Sean Flynn, celebrating Cabourn’s 50 years since starting design school in 1967. He was leaving design school about the time photo journalist Sean Flynn went missing in April 1970. I’m not sure of Cabourn’s connection to Flynn, but like many, he was influenced by current events in Vietnam. Flynn was the son of actor Errol Flynn, an actor himself before becoming a photo journalist. He disappeared along the Vietnam-Cambodia border, along with many journalists around this time. It is believed he and CBS journalist Dana Stone were captured together at a Viet Cong checkpoint and turned over to the Khmer Rouge. Their remains have not been recovered.

Sean Flynn in 1968. photo Tim Page, yes, that Tim Page

One of the 18mm NATO straps that comes with the watch is a black distressed leather. This is a strap used with several Timex Archive watches. The other is a Cabourn signature olive drab cotton ventile with green leather back. These are some of my all-time favorite straps! I love the tight, fine weave of the ventile. They can be a bit stiff at first for this small watch, but they are unique. Again, I have a thin wrist, and the extra bit of the strap is just long enough that I want to tuck it, but the strap stiff enough, so I let it fly. It seems some more stock of this watch is appearing for sale with no pouch and one strap of a fabric type used on other MK1 models.

Soccer Referee

Changing to a sports theme, we have the 2019 Referee’s watch, TWG020600XV. Besides the soccer theme, its also a 40mm while the four others use the same 36mm case. There is a pop of color, too: In the dial and the fabric strap if you choose to use it.

2019 Referee watch, TWG020600XV

This 40mm brushed stainless steel case resembles the MK1 cases. The vintage details continue with the onion crown and dial sectors and divisions of space. This release is probably the most esoteric of the bunch and therefore the demand for it is not as strong as the military themed ones. A quick search of preowned N. Cabourn watches shows that this is probably the easiest to find.

I think its great with the history, the details ans the link to my favorite sport. The copy in the pouch (tiny and hard to read) speaks of Cabourn’s childhood and the aura of the soccer heroes in his home town of Scunthorpe, England in the 1950s. The main design is taken form a type of referees watch of the time, a 1954 Ingersoll pocket/stop watch.

1954 Ingersoll FA Ce8

The main feature taken from this dial is the red sector of 45 minutes which is the length of a half of a soccer game. The elegant shape of the hands were copied, too. The “dots” on the Cabourn second hand echo the balance dot on the Ingersoll’s small seconds hand. With the 1950s timer, the second hand can be stopped and started and the minute hand can be moved around so the referee could keep track of added time. The Cabourn watch has no stop watch features. It just takes the look of the old stop watches and makes a dial for the three hand time only quartz. I love it.

Another detail mimicked from the Ingersoll is the the way the CABOURN TIMEX italic type cuts into the red of the pie shape like the REFEREE does on the vintage piece. The broad arrow is there at 12, too. To add more richness to the vintage design, the outer railroad track with 25 increments marked between hours like vintage timers.

The colors of the pouch and strap, maroon and sky (claret and blue), represent Cabourn’s hometown team Scunthorpe United. In 1954 it would have been Scunthorpe and Lindsey United playing in the Third Division North of the Football League. This was the heart of England steel production and their nickname was The Iron.The “54” on the watch back may be for the year of the Ingersoll copied or for the 1954 season when Cabourn would have been 5 or 6 yrs old?

Scunthorpe United’s Merfyn Jones (not pictured) scores past Portsmouth goalkeeper Mervyn Gill during the 1953-54 FA Cup-tie reply at Fratton Park. Looking on is James Whitfield (Scunthorpe), Leo Phillips and Jack Mansell (both Portsmouth)
1953-54 Kit

Now, Scunthorpe did challenge for the 1953-54 FA Cup, getting to the 4th round, playing three games against Portsmouth — 1:1, 2:2, then falling 0:4! Merfyn Jones got all three of Scunthorpe andLindsey goals.

The case back, again like issue-speak has etched “WRIST WATCH GENERAL PURPOSE, CABOURN – TIMEX, SERIAL No. 54-19 UK”. The 54 is for 1954 and the 19 for 2019 issue date.

The two straps that come with the Referee watch are 20mm NATOs. The first a black leather with broad arrow on tip and brushed hardware. The second is the team colors stripe. Both have silver hardware that is not polished, but treated with a matte finish that I really like.

Sea Survival Yellow

The 2020 release, The Sea Survival watch, TWG022000XV, was really a variation on the 2018 Nam version. This time, the dial color was a yellow with a bit of orange (school bus yellow) to mimic the survival gear supplied to WWII RAF personnel for use when then had to go down in the sea. It took me longer to come to like this one. Then it took a while to find one for sale.

The snap-on backs can be quite tight and not easy to pop off for battery change. Like all the Cabourn watches, it’s simple, but unique. The restrained design gives you just the right amount of detail, and it grows on you. I have many watches, but none this color. As much as I love the straps that come with these watches, I still sometimes like to put it on a simple single-pass(one layer) navy nylon strap to get it a bit flatter. Since these watches are so small and light, it seems to work. Also, I fear wearing out the original straps that cannot be replace. This watch might be fun on a simple two-piece canvas strap for a vintage feel?

On single-pass nylon

They have taken the Nam dial and gone high-contrast with the black(or very dark navy) on yellow. The red second sweep remains. The hands , numbers and marking are all black. The high-vis means business. Though hopefully your business does not need more the 30m WR to survive! This is an easy to read dial.

I read that Cabourn owns a RAF “survival” suit and is one item among others that inspired the yellow watch. Here are some items that might fit the bill:

Suit designed to attach to dingy.
Type C dingy
US B3 vest

The Survival watch case back, again, is unique among the group. It says: WRISTWATCH SURVIVAL/RESCUE GOVERNMENT PROP, CABOURN-TIMEX, SERIAL NO. 11 5-20. Not sure if it is 11 5 or 115, or what it represents? the 20 should be for 2020 release year.

Like I said, the yellow is growing on me. Its a nice change of pace. Another unique touch is the ventile strap color. In this release, it appears to be dyed very dark navy blue with black leather underside. It seems to be black until closer examination. The pouch is cotton twill in a color matching the dial.

Pouch copy

Again, two 18mm straps to choose from; Black leather or dark navy ventile with black leather underside. Bothe have the broad arrow stamped into underside tip.

Black leather NATO style strap
Dark Navy Ventile NATO style strap with leather underside

Naval Officer

Now we join the North Sea arctic convoys of WW2 to get inspiration for the Cabourn Naval Officers watch. This 2021 release may be my favorite of the bunch? The faux aged case finish, the very pale grey dial (or is it off-white), the more vintage dial and onion crown again are irresistible. The same box crystal. The syringe hands this time are not painted. The chromed finish changes from white to black depending on light angle and reflections.

Naval Officers Watch. TWG025100O6

Cabourn is a watch guy, so he looked at vintage Royal Navy Captain Deck pocket watches to see what he could put into this release like this Zenith HS3.

1940s Zenith Navy Deck Watch

The Cabourn Naval Officer’s watch stays at 36mm like the Nam and Survival, but changes up the dial. The center 24 hr track and red and simple, bold black Arabic numbers do a good job of taking that deck watch character to your wrist. The onion crown is like the one on the Referee watch with a different finish. Speaking of finish, the coolest thing about this watch to me is the attempt to add some flavor by replicating the “sea air corrosion”, tarnished look of chrome like the back of this Zenith below.

The Timex finish is a speckled grey. Probably some kind of PVD? So much more interesting than the standard brushed stainless. This is similar to some of the finishes on the Metropolis line within the Timex Archive collection. On this type of watch, why not do it more often. It is a fine balance between retro inspired and replica. On top of that there is the degree of faux patina application to either.

Tarnished 1940s chrome finish

The arctic convoys were the Royal Navy and Merchant Service monumental effort to supply Russia with war material to fight the Germans on the Eastern Front. The ships went around Norway to the ports of Murmansk and Archangel. Due to enemy attacks and weather the loss rate for allied ships was higher than on any other allied convoy series

Arctic convoy
Ice bound ship

The case back of the Naval Officer watch changed yet again from the previous release. It gets the faux tarnish, too! A broad arrow was added with the simpler type: W.W., CABOURN-TIMEX, SERIAL NO. 68-19, U.K. What is the W.W? What is the 68-19?

Back gets “aged” finish too

Again there are two 18mm NATO straps. One black leather, basically an 18mm version of the Referees leather strap. The second is something new. Instead of the ventile and leather, it is only black fabric. It is a heavier weave and looks like a nylon blend? Maybe reminiscent of a strap used on equipment or apparel? I haven’t read any details on the material, but it has a shiny finish and almost a dark navy blue? I quite like it It has the broad arrow melted into the tip and the loops and buckle get the flat silver PVD or blasted finish.

The fabric strap’s material is unlike any watch strap I have seen. I prefer it to the leather. I think this watch could look good on a grey or dark brown leather or textured strap, too?

The box. Another change in this release was a switching the fabric pouch for a not small metal box. The design is black with faux grey weathering and the same type on the cover as on back of watch. Maybe the box evokes a vessel, a ship in the north sea that fabric cannot? Graphically, its a cool box, but I don’t tend to keep my watches and straps in the presentation box they come in. I’m not that tidy and if you have a lot of watches the boxes take all your space.

Desert

I will finish this up with the 2022 Desert watch. Model TWG029700OE. I jumped on this a soon as it was released. However, at first I was not as enthusiastic about it as I was the Naval watch. Not as much thought went into watch itself on this one. The colors and fabrics are the stars here.

It is again the 36mm brushed stainless case! This would have been a great opportunity for another aged/tarnished case treatment in a bronze or brown!

Desert cream, tan and green

This watch is about the colors rather than the watch design. It is derivative of the Nam and the Naval. Actually, it borrows from all the previous 36mm releases — ties them all together, intended or not. Cabourn and Timex have taken the plain case, put the Naval dial layout in it and changed the colors. The colors are great and the bit of red in the second sweep pops. Its a cream dial with all the printing and the hour and minute hands in olive. In a way it feels like the black on yellow of the Survival dial? Very utilitarian and subdued. Attractive, and unique. Cabourn restraint.

The Desert Rat (my appellation) inspiration is dubious? There is some vague copy in the pouch about the successful campaigns of Field Marshall Montgomery in WW2. Maybe there was a bigger apparel collection released at the time emphasizing the browns ans tans that generally existed in the desert operations?

Tea with Monty
51st Highlander Inf. Div.

This release made me think that the Cabourn xTimex watches are not so much about the watches themselves, but the watch as an accessory integrated into a broader collection of objects and materials. Especially this release, where, to me, the watch case and watch itself is secondary to the colors and fabrics around it. The watch case disappears because it is so plain. The watch tells time, but is secondary to the environment it is in. Its sort of the opposite approach to a watch company putting the emphasis on the watch then adding the graphics, straps and packaging.

The straps are great with the dial! With the striped one, the dial and strap become one because they use the same subdued cream and olive colors. The light tan strip give an underling tone. With the tan ventile/leather one, you get a bit of contrast, but just enough because the tan is darker than the tan on the striped one, with a bit off yellow. It ties into the olive green. Still the combination is subdued, utilitarian, camouflaged.

The watch looked horrible on a black strap. Maybe a toned-down olive would work? As with all Cabourn x Timex releases, the straps are superb. Details, details.

The fabric pouch is back, but improved! This time the pouch was done in the same golden tan dyed ventil (L34 maybe?) used in the strap. Its awesome! Even if the case is a let down, so many other things make up for it in this release.


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