Timex "Sprite" mechanical watch, 1971-1973
The "bullseye," version, a collectors' classic. By: Alan
This page is dedicated to a particular Timex mechanical watch model, listed in a range or series of watches named Sprite. People have called it the "bullseye," "target," or "roulette wheel" Sprite.
The model number is 23170. Timex watch names are a little confusing, in that there were many watches having the same series name, but distinguished by model numbers. There were several Sprite watches, this one being model 23170. Below is from the Timex 1971 catalog, and here is a page showing all three pages of Sprites from that catalog. From those pages you can see that the Sprite began over 50 years ago, in 1964.
Because model numbers are not very exciting or memorable, collectors have distinguished this particular Sprite with various names, including "bullseye," "target," "roulette wheel," "military," and others. From what I can tell, it was first produced in 1971, and had production into 1973, based on the tiny code below 6 o'clock, which provide model/movement number and date, found on almost all Timexes, beginning sometime in the early sixties.
There are differences in the appearance of the dials, which will be shown below. The original 1971 version had a better quality dial. The dial paint job, crispness of the fonts, and crispness of the dial was superior to the 1972 and 1973 versions; furthermore, these later year models seem to lose the paint of the red ring over time. (Below, 1973).
It's fair to say that this Sprite has achieved "iconic" status among Timex collectors, and probably among vintage watch collectors in general. There have been a least two homage watches made during the 21st century (both quartz,) trying to capture the essence of what makes this watch so appealing. One of these, from July 2016, is pictured below next to a 1973 Sprite for comparison. More on this and the other homage watch, further down on this page. (Note how much greater in diameter and in thickness is the homage watch.)
The 1970s Sprite was a mechanical watch powered by a daily winding. It used the Timex movement 24, a "workhorse" movement used in millions of Timex watches over many years. The horizontal diameter of the case, not including the crown, is 30.5 mm. Like most of these Timexes, it had a stainless steel caseback, and chrome plating over a base metal case, and a typical acrylic crystal.
The dial, like most watches, is clearly what makes this watch what it is. The Sprite has what many have called a "technical" appearance, with numerous markings. Beginning peripherally there are 0-60 markings for seconds and/or minutes. Each second is marked by a hash, and each second alternates between white and black bars at the outer edge of the dial. More centrally, a red ring counts the hours 13-24 of the 24 hour day, with the hours in white. Central to this, a black ring is present with hours1-12. These hours are painted using greenish luminous material.
At the very center is a white field with TIMEX and WATER RESISTANT. A sweep seconds hand in red. Luminous material fills the minute and hour hands. You could say it has a kind of "crazy" appearance.
(** The above image is confusing and misleading. Timex never made a watch like this, but several years ago I did a movement/dial swap of the Sprite into another Timex case. This case was much larger, and had a more robust look and feel. Because the movement of the recipient case was also a Timex 24, it fit perfectly, and the swap was very easy. But I'm still not sure how I feel about it; many had mentioned that they love the look of the Sprite, but felt it was "too small," and I was probably playing around with that concept.)
Well, back to the dial. What's so appealing? I'm sure there are many reasons, and different for different people. For me, I think it's a combination of high contrast, and concentricity. The sharply defined white/red/black/white from inner to outer draws you in to the center of the dial. The outer hash-marks and the white/black ring contains the madness all in one place. Again, people have called it "technical," "nerdy," "wild," and even "military" (this probably because of the 24-hour hour markings, and "military time," and/or the seconds markings.)
(Above, 1971) What is kind of crazy is how the concentric numbers switch orientation! It tries at a "radial" design to the hours and seconds, like this, but the concentricity is somewhat broken, like between 3 and 4, and between 20 and 21 o'clock, etc. Looks a bit funny, though that is not unusual, see this watch. This pic above also shows very well the luminous material painted for the 1-12 hours, in green paint. It does not really glow much anymore, but you can demonstrate it by taking the watch into a dark closet, shining a bright light onto the dial for a minute or so, turning off the light and immediately taking a picture (see below). But the effect only lasts a few seconds.
The luminous material in the hands is quite nice, when intact. Here, from a 1973 Sprite. The tiny dust on the dial is likely from tiny bits of the luminous on the dial coming loose over the years, but you can really only see it in these mag pictures. Notice the very slight fading at the periphery of the red, like at 23 hours.
Now, see the watch below. This is a Sprite from 1972. Notice how much deterioration there is involving the red part of the dial, the loss of the color Also,the luminous material in the hands has partially fallen out.
Above is the full dial of the Sprite from 1972. In spite of the wear, this would be an easily wearable watch.
Now, to the production history of this watch, and the apparent differences. Three Sprite watches I've owned are from 1971, 1972 and 1973, as indicated by the 71, 72, and 73 as the last digits of the code below 6 o'clock.
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This Timex catalog from 1971 does not show any dates listed prior to 1971, so this appears to be its debut. I've not heard or seen this Sprite from ant other years, and it appears to have had an approximately 3 year production run. This suggests the "Bullseye" Sprite had sales sufficient to re-issue the watch for a few years. It also explains why this watch is not *impossible* to find on eBay; many were sold, and over time are making their way into the various internet markets.
Now, take a look again at those dials. Pictures showing a greater area of the dial are below, the first from 1971, the next from 1973. Notice how the earliest iteration of this dial had a much more "crisp" appearance, the numbers were printed more sharply and slightly more thickly, and the paint seems to be better. The font for the numbers are also not the same. Other differences are clear, as you look back and forth between the two. Why is this? Was the original dial design discarded or lost, thinking that this watch was only going to last a year or so, and then hastily re-done for the next year's re-issue when it was decided to continue making it? Or was it re-done because the production methods of the 1971 dial were too expensive? (this is Timex after all.) This will probably remain a mystery, but without any question, the 1971 dial differs from the 1972 and 1973 dials.
As mentioned, "Sprite" is a line of small, round, non-date mechanical watches using Timex 24 movement. I've had a few other models of Sprite, including the two below.
The first is this black dial "military" style Sprite, with black dial, luminous "cathedral" hands and hour markers, from 1968. The dial also has 1-12 and 13-24 hour markings, but the 13-24 marks are toward the center, not the periphery. Notice that it's marked WATERPROOF, instead of WATER RESISTANT like the Bullseye Sprite, reflecting Timex's earlier terminology. This watch had catalog no. 1158, and was also made during three years, 1966-1968.
The Timex pictured above, from 1971, appears to be very rare, and frankly is pretty mysterious. I've only seen it once. I think I bought it from someone in the UK, and it may be one of several interesting Timexes which seem to have been sold in the UK but not in the US. I'm pretty sure this would fall into the Sprite series; it has the same small case size and case design at the Bullseye Sprite, and has the 24 movement. It has a dial that is equally "technical/nerdy" and crazy as the Bullseye, or perhaps more so. The blue quadrants and the red seconds marks help make this watch striking and at least to me very appealing. Notice that the minute hand has lost much of its luminous material. Like the Bullseye Sprite, this Timex has bold, high-contrast markings, and a "technical," or "pseudo-technical" appearance. (More on this watch, at this link.)
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The above photo is of a 1971 Sprite. It was taken with a traditional film camera, probably a Nikon N70, around 1999. It is the first of a few Sprites I've owned, and is pictured on my "hobbyist" website on vintage watches I started around that time. Somewhere I must have seen that it sold for $10.95 in 1971, as that's what I listed on the website. Not a great photo, partially blurry, etc, but I'm still fond of it.
This particular Timex has without any doubt become "iconic" among enthusiasts of vintage Timex watches. Almost more than any of my watches, a fair number of people have asked if they could buy this watch form me. I have helped two people find and buy this watch on eBay auctions; one, a woman in Spain who remembered wearing this watch as a child, and man in the US who wore this as a child and wanted his daughter to have an identical watch to wear. This is not surprising; although nothing suggests that this was marketed as a child's watch (and Timex did have watches clearly for made kids in the Sixties and Seventies,) given the relatively smaller size of the watch and the colorful, "fun" appearance to the dial, it's not surprising that it was worn by children.
It is also not surprising, given it's "iconic" status, that the watch has been (partially) recreated as a homage to the original, at least twice. The first was called the "Timex Expedition Military Classic, Ref. T49821H," from around 2013. I only discovered this watch in doing some research for this page. I dislike it so much, I won't even picture it on this page, but if you wish to have a look, click this link to get to another page.
The second homage to the Bullseye was from very recently, July 2016, below:
This is a much larger and thicker watch than the 1970s original, in a robust steel case, powered by with quartz movement. It was made in collaboration between Timex and New York designer, Todd Snyder. For more information and many more photos of this watch, go to this page. I really enjoy the 1970s Bullseye Timex Sprite. I guess it can be whatever you want it to be. I won't argue with you. Even if you want to call it "military." Or a kid's watch. Or scouting. Or mad scientist. It is a Timex classic which will surely generate continued enthusiasm over the years. Thanks for reading. Feel free to contact me with any more information, thanks. [Wait, I just added a gorgeous pic of two sibling watches, don't miss it scroll down!]
Above: from the Timex 1973 catalog. $10.95
Finally, for fun, here's an absolutely gorgeous picture taken by Nick, a designer in the UK. Nick also has the ultra-rare blue sprite, and he's pictured it on his Instagram. He's graciously allowed me to reproduce it here. Pictured next to its "bullseye" sibling, this pic looks like a 1970s advertisement!