I bought a lot of 30 broken watches for about 50 bucks off eBay because one of them looked like something I could use for parts.

When I got the box home and started digging through it, I found this guy. It’s a Timex Southampton, reportedly one of the rarest Timex watches ever made.

Granted, that’s like saying it’s one of the rarest Chevy Chevettes ever made–even once I get it working well it won’t be worth more than about $100. But it’s still neat.

A little lever above the winding crown turns the second hand into a stopwatch. Push it up and the second hand stops, push it down and the second hand returns to 12. Leave it in the center, and the second hand runs like any other watch. It came in both cream and black-dialed versions, so I may be trying to find the black match for this one sometime down the road.

For anyone who ever wondered why Timex watches don’t have a lot of collector value, all you have to do is take off the back. The movements were rugged as anything and could survive incredible abuse, but they look more like wind-up toys than watch movements.

The origin of the Timex movements came when they were originally called the Waterbury Clock Company, which in addition to making clocks and watches also made mechanical fuses for bombs during World War II. As you can imagine, those fuses had to be durable, accurate, and cheap to produce. Once they didn’t need to sell as many fuses anymore, they also became the perfect basis for inexpensive wrist watches that could “take a licking and keep on ticking,” as the old slogan used to say.

A couple other quick notes on the watch. It’s from 1958, the only year they made the model. And the lume on the hands and numbers is apparently radium. I don’t have a Geiger counter, so I can’t check for sure, but the dial has a very faint shadow of one of the hands burned into it, which is typical of radium watches with the hands left in one position for years.

I’m not overly worried about the radiation from the watch as it’s minimal, but I have read recently that having more than a few radium-lume watches in a small room can bring radon levels higher than acceptable. I may need to invest in a radon detector if I get more watches like these.

Also, if you’re want to read more about the history of radium lume in watches and clocks and the horrific impact it had on the people, in particular the dial painters, who worked with it, read Radium Girls:The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women

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