A MAN AND HIS WATCH
IN REMEMBRANCE OF TIME PAST
Perhaps because I did so drunk, and therefore in true Hemingway fashion found that one true sentence easier that ever to put on the page. but this is the best thing I've written yet:
There’s a wonderful, oft-shared, article by Jessi Klein for GQ magazine that says that the male equivalent of an engagement ring — truly the summit of female jewellery — is a wrist watch. In Klein’s article the male inverse leads to a Rolex Submariner. I'm totally in agreement with the depth of her argument too — I after all wear a piece of Swiss jewellery on my wrist every day.
In 1997 on my 18th birthday my parents knowing, even then, that they had raised me well enough to know my own mind, gave me some money to attend a local antiques fair. There I came across a watch-broker selling several vintage Swiss watches — including a beautiful Omega 30T2 with blue gun-metal hands and a face patinated by time itself. James Bond, who has himself sold more wristwatches than any broker, had of course worn the aforementioned Rolex Submariner in his first outings on screen. By the time of my 18th birthday however he’d switched to wearing an Omega for the film GoldenEye. As a fan who’d grown up watching Bond whilst sprawled on the sofa opposite my Father on a Sunday afternoon (and who for the last decade at least has gone to the cinema with the same man upon any new Bond release) how could I, in my 18 year old immaturity, resist buying a watch from a marque that Bond himself sported. Upon the Blofeld-esque admittance of my whole plan to purchase the watch, purely because of the James Bond affiliation the broker didn’t of course give me a discount. He did however give me Q-like briefing informing me that the watch was a WW2-era model given to pilots of the RAF (unbeknownst to him a service in which my own grandfather had served as Air Crew during WW2 too). In typical Bond to Q-Branch fashion I dismissed the broker's remarks as an almost laughable proclamation — especially given, that, contemporary Seamasters, even the Quartz model Brosnan himself wore in the Bond film, sold for for much, much more than the surprisingly cheap price tag. I bought the watch, as an Omega at least, and went home happily regardless. In a later, typical middle of a spy movie scene, whilst likely drinking neat Scotch, and undertaking research in the dark, I found a fledgling Omega website on the internet. There I was able to e-mail Omega directly to verify or disprove the watchbroker's suggestion. After several weeks (remember that in 1997 the internet, and e-mail, wasn’t like the Swiss clockwork it is now) an e-mail response come back. Omega confirmed the broker's claim to my astonishment. More than this, in a case of extreme serendipity, according to their archives, the last mention of my watch was upon signed delivery to RAF headquarters — an event that occurred on exactly my birthdate during the darkest days of WW2. A time when the British RAF were the front line of resistance for the free world. Understandably I was thrown to the ground happily on the news like Bond at the hands of Pussy Galore.
I wore the watch everyday thereafter. I was even wearing the watch when I met my wife many years later. Unfortunately at some point however the crown began to come loose . The time came therefore that I lived in fear that it would fall out and be lost forever so I took to wearing the watch infrequently and only on special occasions befitting. As Best Man at my best friends wedding, another gentleman respectful of the past, and indeed at my own wedding shortly thereafter. After that occasion I took the watch off and, for safe-keeping put it in the Godfather-esque bag of cash and store-giftcard envelopes that we received from well-wishers. My wife, later carrying out first child (a honeymoon baby born 9 months after our wedding), clearly in nesting spirit, and completely unaware, later emptied that bag of the expected valuables and deposited it— watch included — into the recycling. You can imagine how I felt upon learning that my watch, that had potentially survived bombing missions over Nazi-occupied territory, had someone fell at the hands of a newlywed wife in the midst of a cleaning frenzy. Fortunately however our fledgling marriage survived, more that this too, as newlyweds like Redford and Fonda in the opening scenes of Barefoot in the Park we were besotted and not as efficient or organised in our tidying as we are now. Apparently our recycling waste during the week of my wife’s nesting must have included too many bags to fit in our outside bin because, eventually, I much later found a lone recycling bag that I had clearly stashed behind the shed out of view. Remembering the then lost watch in ultimate hope I searched that bag thoroughly. Inside to my surprise I found my Omega unharmed after at least six months cold storage reminiscent. After that point I committed to getting the watch repaired so it could be safely stored on my wrist. Fortunately at the time, a friend of my wife’s family had been an employee of Marcus Margulies — the friend had a colleague who repaired the watch for free, something which given Omega charge understandably highly for vintage antique movements was an act of extreme generosity. I then committed to never removing the watch, except of course when swimming, or showering — the watch unlike a Submariner or Seamaster was built for mid-wartime high altitude and isn’t waterproof. This however would prove to be it’s undoing. Several years later, whilst accompanying my first-born baby daughter to her swimming lesson, the watch fell on the floor and the mainspring locked. By that point, our family friend had unfortunately passed away and, then renting a home as we sought to struggle the financing that comes with being a proper adult in charge of another human being, a vintage watch repair simply wasn’t on the cards. Instead however in remembrance of the near loss at the hands of my wife, and more seriously the loss of life that the watch had seen in its early lifetime I wanted to wear the watch regardless. After a few years of doing so, and likely around this time of year, I even took to wearing the watch set at 11 o’clock — the traditional time of remembrance.
Over the many years since people have often noted that my watch has stopped. From experience as many mention this than might note that your wearing an expensive Swiss watch on your wrist. It’s a chance for a retelling when the situation is right — as you’ll have learnt if you’ve made it this far too — I love a retelling! The say a stopped clock is right twice a day. Well sometimes, if it’s the right watch, on the arm of such a man, a stopped watch is right at any time of day. A watch, any watch, is capable of telling the time accurately in today’s day and age. Indeed who needs a watch when you can read the time at hand - even on the device you’re reading this article on. A watch now therefore may have become male jewellery but sometimes a watch can also mean more than this - as Jessi Klein realised too. A glance at my own watch doesn’t merely remind me of the position of the rotation of the planet on its axis around the sun — instead it reminds me of all those people who died so that I could do what I’m doing right now. Try wearing a watch that reminds you of that every day and have a go at telling me that story yourself in time. I’d love to hear it too. Honestly try it and message me about it next Remembrance Day.
As a footnote, coincidentally, only this weekend a Patek Philippe was sold at auction for $31 million. As a romantic who loves Patek Phillipe and thinks that, like the RAF in WW2, Patek are the vanguard of the Swiss watch tradition — their museum in Geneva which houses a history of Swiss watch-making, from all brands, is testament to this and their similar respect for their own forefathers. If this didn’t draw me to them then my romantic disposition, desire to be a thoughtful parent and, so intertwined, their poignant byline: “you never really own a Patek Philippe you merely look after it for the next generation” would. That byline understandably speaks to me and my watch as deeply as the Marinas Trench. At some point, maybe only at the end of my life, one of my now five children will have to take my Omega on. How, whilst cognant, will I single out an offspring to own something I hold so dear. King Lear had it easy. When my daughter was first born I dreamt of giving it to her so it might her adorn her wrist whilst she out drank her husband over a bottle of Lagavulin — father’s dream of strong-willed daughters. Since that dream however other children have arrived, including sons — a father’s real Achilles in such a predicament — what’s a man to do? Who doesn’t want any of their heirs to experience the quiet sense of meaning one feels when wearing the legacy of a whole generation on their arm. The only honourable thing to do would be to sell it out of the family in true “you never actually own it” fashion. The only thing is if it’s sold in my lifetime any less than $35M won’t do. $31M doesn’t cut nearly neatly enough five ways, or more importantly pay a price high enough for what the watch has come to represent.
This re-telling was requested on my Instagram after posting one of the images above.
Check out Jessi Klein's great article. It's a much better, more concise, piece of writing than the above:
I owe the title of this article to Matt Hranek who produced a book recounting many such similar tales about men and the watches they hold similarly dear:
Anyway, as Johnny Baker the landlord, would say in my favourite English pub (where I have worn the watch often) - "Time Gentlemen Please!"