Timepiece Has Folks All Aglow

TIMES FASHION EDITOR

Every now and then, a product defies the distinctions of status that so often rule the world of fashion and achieves success simply because it works. Such is the case of the Indiglo watch by Timex.

Introduced at the end of 1992, the watch features a dial that glows blue-green in the dark with the push of a button. Six styles were offered that first Christmas. Now, more than 100 versions are available from Timex and under the Guess and Nautica nameplates, which Timex manufactures. Most are priced under $50.

Even in the status-obsessed '80s, car buyers who had long lusted after sexy Porsches and showy BMW sedans found a growing attraction to the clunky Ford Explorer hard to deny. In a similar triumph of function over price tag, people who believed wearing a sleek Ebel or Bulgari watch would signal success have been scuttling their watch snobbery and succumbing to the novelty and practicality of the Indiglo.

The digital Ironman model--whose bells and whistles go beyond the illuminated dial to include a second time zone with date, a countdown timer and alarm and a lap counter--is the country's best-selling watch. President Clinton wore this SUV of timepieces with his tuxedo to last winter's inaugural balls.

Indiglo watches have been around long enough for stories and urban myths about them to begin circulating. For example, after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, an investment analyst from Tempe, Ariz., used the night light on his Ironman watch to lead a group of people down 40 flights of dark, smoky stairs.

Spelunkers depend on Indiglo lights in dark caves, and mothers check on sleeping babies using the soft glow of the watch's light. Indiglos have become such indispensable tools for moviegoers that they've spawned their own ratings system. Three checks of the illuminated watch dial are the experiential equivalent of a thumbs down.

For others, the Indiglo glow has become part of the "You go for popcorn while I get seats" strategy at the movies. If the food gatherer returns from the refreshment stand after the houselights have been killed, his partner signals her whereabouts by lighting up the Indiglo dial and hoisting it like Miss Liberty's torch.

The patented technology responsible for the watch's light was developed for industrial applications such as cockpit lights in fighter jets, then miniaturized to produce a gleam that is nontoxic and will never wear out.

As demand for the Indiglo dial on both digital and analog models has increased, Timex found that retailers who once wouldn't carry the venerable brand were suddenly requesting stock. A number of dressy styles with metal bracelets for women have been added to the line. In combinations of silver- and gold-colored metal, a gamut of styles reminiscent of those popularized by Tag-Heuer, Bertolucci, Cartier and even Rolex are now available. But the lightweight, trim women's watch pictured above, with its white face and stainless steel band, doesn't look like an imitation of anything.

The paradox of the Indiglo watch is that although sporty models that deliver a sense of adventure have been sold to millions of athletes, including runners who exercise after sundown, it's the ideal watch for a couch potato too lazy to get up and flip a light switch.

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