TIMEX Camper キャンパー
Mechanical watch, early 1980s - mid 1990s.
Hi, this is Alan (email). On this page, you will find a review of the mechanical TIMEX watch sold to civilians early 1980s to mid 1990s, model name "Camper." I have three working versions of the Camper, which differ only by the color of the seconds hand. I will scatter photos of the different watches through this review. I will also describe what I know about the provenance and the history of the Camper, as well as authenticity of colored seconds hand models (they are confirmed). This review written April 2018.
While all watches are the sum of their parts, it is often the dial that dominates the appearance, and directs the appeal of a watch. But with the Camper, the one-piece plastic case, with solid lugs and no removable caseback, is no less an iconic element as the dial and hands.
With a plastic / resin case, the watch is quite light on the wrist. Case diameter is 36 mm. Lacking a caseback, as it is all one solid piece of injection-molded plastic, if the movement needs to be reached, the crystal must be removed, and then the crown disengaged so that the movement/dial assembly can pop out the front. The power reserve on these were surprisingly excellent. One, made in March 1991, ran on a single wind for 49 hours and 53 minutes! The other two ran for 47-48 hours. It also lost just 1 second after 31 hours. For a 27 yr old watch which probably has had no service over its lifetime, both of these data points, to me, are kind of amazing.
The dial features are mostly self-evident, but I'll describe them briefly. Over a black background, the 1-12, and 13-24 hour chapters, along with the hash marks are painted. At each 5 min/sec, there are white triangles, which have been covered with luminescent material. Straight hour and minute hands in white, and second hand with a circle near the end. All hands have luminous material.
Dial is signed TIMEX, and in addition to WATER RESISTANT, has the TIMEX Wave symbol. The WATER RESISTANT signage on all TIMEX would later eventually disappear completely, but all of the mechanical Campers that I have seen seemed to have both. The crystal is acrylic, minimally domed.
Have a look at the above watch. It is not a TIMEX, but it is without any doubt the MOTHER OF ALL CAMPERS.
[New info: there appears to have been a metal case version of the military contract TIMEX! See waaay below.] Much has been written about the US government's MIL-W-46374 specification of October 1964, a specification designed to define the requirements of a simple, inexpensive, and disposable field watch, for soliders. The "Belforte" watch above is from August 1965, written about at this site where the above photo is from. The MIL-W-46374 spec went through numerous revisions over its long existence. TIMEX manufactured a watch under the "B" revision of the spec, in 1982, complete with all the requisite military-issue caseback markings, lack of TIMEX on the dial, having the rad haz symbol on the dial, and everything else up to the B spec. But this watch now is exceedingly rare, as it appears that only a very small number of watches were actually made. There has been a lot of speculation, intrigue, and mystery about this watch. Most questions seem to revolve around 1) was this TIMEX (which clearly exists) ever issued to actual soldiers, and if so 2) why is it so exceedingly rare, and seemingly made in such small numbers.
Well, in 2002, I emailed Mr Carl Rosa, TIMEX historian and archivist, and asked him about this. Below is his reply, from March 2002:
Mr Rosa confirms that "a certain number" of these spec watches were made as a "trial run," but that the contract was never pursued. He mentions tight spec requirements, and cost. It's only my speculation here, but you could interpret this as the US government having come back to TIMEX after evaluating some of the pieces and indicating perhaps that certain features of the watch needed modification, "tweaking," or improvement, or something, and that such further modifications would be too costly for TIMEX to consider further pursuit of the contract. Anyway, this is a pretty cool insight from Mr Rosa about the truth behind these rare TIMEX watches.
Above is my TIMEX that I emailed Mr Rosa wondering about. You can see the crystal has been removed, as has the crown, in preparation for removing the movement. The watch was working fine, I just needed to see the movement! Dial is matte black, lacking TIMEX signature, with yellow triangle markers at the 5 markers. Radiation hazard symbol to the right. The H3 indicates tritium a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, which was used on the dial and hands to provide for luminescence, as per the contract requirements. Below, the case after the movement has been removed. Just like the later civilian Campers, all one piece of plastic, solid lugs, no caseback. [New info added: appears to have been a metal case version of this mil. contract TIMEX! Scroll way far down for info...]
Back to the Campers! Here is an oblique view of the dial. It really is, to me, the perfect watch dial. I used to say that about the Rolex Explorer ref. 1016. Which I still believe has a superb dial. But ask me if I derive greater satisfaction from wearing the Explorer, vs one of these TIMEX Campers, and I will honestly tell you that I really don't. The casebacks on all my Campers has ASSEMBLED IN PHILIPPINES, and WATER RESISTANT. Some of the earliest Campers have ASSEMBLED IN TAIWAN. Note, also, the 75 on the back This indicates date of manufacture March 1991, according to this chart of production dates. This is my white hand Camper. The red one is from 1991, and the yellow one is from 1989.
So, what about the different colored seconds hands? I've shown white, red, and yellow hands. By far, most of what you will find are Campers with all white hands. However, I have confirmed that TIMEX did make Campers with red and yellow seconds hands for a couple of years or so in the late 1980s and early1990s, for TIMEX Japan only. I did get the red and the yellow ones from Japan. However, I have no way of knowing for certain that the colored hands on mine are factory-authentic! Nothing would stop someone with moderate skill from removing the crystal, and carefully painting the hand with bright, glossy model airplane paint, right? I only say this because when something is rare, often people will try to modify the standard model to try to resemble the rare model. Either way, I'm not really bothered! I love the look of the colored hands, and knowing that TIMEX did create and sell such models is enough for me.
Wait, what is this green one? It really is a striking look. But I think this is a fake! I believe someone has painted it on. But it's really beautiful! This watch is not mine, but I saw on a sales site in Japan. I almost got it, because it looks so nice. I say I think this is a fake only because I have confirmation of red and yellow hands, but not of a green hand. Nevermind, It's lovely, and I'd wear it if I owned it!
Above is a drawing from the "F" specification for the watch.
Above, white hand Camper side view, case, crystal and crown.
Below is the yellow hand Camper. Look at all the corrosion of the crown! I believe this is oxidation of the copper component of what I presume must be a brass crown, with chrome plate. The copper, oxidizing in that green sort of way copper does. I was going to see if I could clean it off, then thought I really should leave it, and now I really like it.
A view of the back case and lugs. As part of the "simple" requirement of the military specification, solid construction, fixed lugs with no need for springbars (and no risk of springbar failure and losing the watch.) There is simple installation of a band, by threading a one-piece nylon strap through the lug openings. As far as the strap, the original Camper strap in the 1980s - 1990s seems to have been an olive color nylon grosgrain strap with a black colored metal buckle. I believe the strap which came with my 1989 yellow hand Camper is original.
I've experimented with a few straps, including a bright orange strap on the white Camper, which admittedly is unconventional, but to me has a combination of "military green," and "safety orange" that I kind of like, and have seen in color combinations with winter parkas and other garments:
I also tried on a strap made from a fabric called ventile, borrowed from a really great TIMEX Camper variant, by UK designer Nigel Cabourn, made in collaboration with TIMEX. Here is link to that watch, if interested. Two pics, above and below, as well as the very first pic at top of this review. It's a "NATO" style strap, and I think it looks really good on the Camper.
Above is the red hand Camper on what i believe is the original nylon strap (came with my yellow hand Camper.) The red hand one actually came with the below strap, which I likely won't use. The weave is coarse, and the green is kind of green like the dye they put in hot dog relish. I don't know. Maybe I'll use it. It's not that bad. The coarse weave though makes it prone to catching on things.
Above is the nylon grosgrain strap that came with the 1991 yellow hand Camper I received. I'm almost certain this is the original. It's a green color. The buckle is black, and in good shape, has HONG KONG on back. I'm not sure what kind of coating creates this black appearance, but none of it has worn off. Below is the same strap, side-by-side with the strap from a much more recent Camper, a black case Camper from March 2018. Here is that watch. You can see the buckle is identical from the one from 1991.
It's been hard to find much about the Camper 1980s-1990s. Above is an ad from an Italian magazine, 1983. It shows the exact classic Camper, but also a smaller version with a striped strap! Wow, now I also want that mini-Camper!
Compared to today when the watch size chosen to be worn by men, women, boys and girls is quite variable, the way watches were marketed back then was really quite formalized, if you look at ads and catalogs. Without any doubt, the smaller Camper would have been marketed either to women or to children.
Note the strong American tone to the ad. MARINES in bold font, and having the US flag motif. Featured is a soldier, presumably a Marine, and another solider behind him. The sentiment at the time of the ad, in Italy, must have been favorable towards the US and/or the US military. However this is no explanation as to how the Camper is a "Marines wrist watch." As we understand, there never were watches officially issued to soldiers. But TIMEX, once they started making the civilian Camper, probably also sold them through the PX at military installations. So this ad may mean, more or less, "The wrist watch worn by a lot of Marines."
Retailed for 29,500 lira. The caption says, essentially: "The kind of watch equipment used by the American Marines. Water resistant, corrosion resistant. Washable strap."
From what I understand, after the 1982 "military issue" TIMEX that never really materialized as large-scale production, TIMEX created the Camper. It was a mechanical watch, using I'm pretty sure the workhorse #24 un-jeweled, unadjusted movement, having water resistance. The Camper continued to be manufactured (with a mechanical movement) until sometime in the 1990, I will say "1994," though this is also a guess. I believe it was then continued for a while with a quartz movement, but then at some point (late 1990s? early 2000s?) Camper production appeared to have ceased, altogether.
Then, in Nov. 2015 TIMEX Japan brought back the Camper, with once again a quartz movement. They called it "Original Camper." By this time, all the drawings and technical details of the Camper were lost at TIMEX! So, TIMEX Japan had to physically scan a vintage Camper in order to recreate the identical case! This, I find to be really awesome that they did this. This case, as we know, is the same as the infamous 1982 "military contract" TIMEX. Amazingly, the legacy of the exact same case of mechanical Camper has made its way into the current 36 mm plastic and steel case quartz "Original Camper" watches being made today.
There have been quite a number of Camper variants since the model was brought back in 2015. RS (New York) has created a really wonderful page full of photos and lovely collages, along with descriptions of probably every modern Camper there ever has been. Please see his page at this link. Above collage photo is also by RS, showing Daiki Suzuki, with four Campers in the series of the triple collaboration of TIMEX x Engineered Garments and BEAMS / BEAMS BOY.
In addition to the above three reviewed mechanical 1980s-1990s Campers, I have seven modern Campers with quartz movements, 2016-2018. Links to these are below:
Thanks for your interest, and for reading this review. I hope you will like it. If you have any more information about the Camper," the mechanical TIMEX Campers from circa 1980s and 1990s, especially if you have ads, catalog information, other emphemera, kindly let me know. Thanks, Alan
This is the index watch that began the Camper revival. Released initially in Japan, November 2015, it began as a project by TIMEX Japan to re-issue the classic Camper. It is the basic boilerplate watch that set the template for all the other Campers since then. In its own right, it is a wonderful classic.