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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's about time

I've mentioned on several occasions that I am a bit of a gadget nut.  Okay, perhaps more than just a bit.  I can't explain it... without warning I'll see or read about some new gadget that I simply can't live without, and for several days, or sometimes even weeks, I will be absolutely obsessed with it. 

The only saving grace about this sort of temporary insanity is it tends to pass almost as quickly as it arrives.  Which is a good thing, considering I have very expensive taste in gadgets and a very modest budget for such foolishness.

So what usually ends up happening is that I spend a few days (or weeks) pining for the gadget-du jour like some teen-aged boy mooning over an unattainable girl... and then just as quickly it passes, and I'm sane again.   Just like that.  Afterwards I look back and wonder what I was so jazzed about... and our bank balance remains undamaged.  As a friend of mine would say:  It's all good.

But there is one object of desire (I won't even call it a gadget) that has stood the test of time.  Years after I first started thinking about it and doing research, the wanting kept growing from a small ache into a full blown longing.  The object I have wanted since I was in university is a good mechanical (not quartz) Swiss watch. 

The only reason I mention this in the same breath as my gadget urges, is that it isn't what you would call practical.  You see, mechanical watches are a bit of an anachronism.  They don't keep time as well as their inexpensive quartz cousins, and unlike the mass-produced watches you see in the mall, fine mechanical watches are made and assembled completely by hand.  So, on the face, it doesn't seem to make sense to pay more (by an incredible factor) for something that doesn't work as well.

Now, obviously the term 'Swiss Watch' covers a lot of ground... and the modifier 'good' can mean anything from tossing away a couple of mortgage payments to investing the value of a whole house.  So I came to the conclusion that I would need to narrow my search down to more realistic parameters.

Early on I realized that I would never be able to indulge in the kind of horological excesses that some of my wealthier friends and colleagues had.  So I started making lists of features and criteria to figure out what I needed in a watch... and almost as important; what I didn't need.

The first thing I concluded was that I didn't need a lot of complications (the term used by watch-makers to describe any additional feature beyond the most basic time-keeping function).  Hour, minute and second hands were a must, but beyond that I was even willing to forgo on a date indicator or hand if necessary.

Precious metals were also out of the question, which was fine with me since my interest was more in a fine watch movement, not in a flashy case or bracelet. 

I also realized from my early perusal of the various watch outlets that I would be better off looking for a pre-owned / vintage time piece rather than a new one.  This Revelation came from a patient store clerk who saw me come into his shop nearly every day for a week without once asking to actually take out and examine a watch.  I had asked him a million questions about features and manufacturers, but each time he offered to show me something I simply said 'no thank you'. 

He must have surmised the truth; that I was not in a position to plunk down a small fortune on a piece of wrist bling.  So he took me aside and offered a bit of advice. 

He told me that people who bought fine watches were a lot like people who bought fine cars.  They tended to have several of them... and invariably they fell out of love with one or two.  As a result, a patient person could usually find good deals on pre-owned watches either through watch shops or via referrals from watch repairmen.

From that point on I continued to haunt watch stores... invariably eschewing the new stuff and straight away asking the shop owners and repairmen to see any interesting used watches they might have for sale.

However, this revealed a new wrinkle.  The first tier swiss companies, even in the used watch market, remained well out of reach.  So I received a second piece of valuable advice from a different watch dealer. 

He explained that not all of the high-end Swiss watch companies manufacture their own movements.  Most actually bought movements from other companies and assembled and/or modified them to meet their own needs.  He said that it was important to make sure the movement was from one of the good watch-making regions of Switzerland where there was a culture of good workmanship, and that it had been made (and signed) by a reputable company. 

Those two bits of advice stayed with me for many years, but I was never able to find a watch that I liked enough to bust the monthly budget.  Either they had too many complications, were too flashy or were not in good enough condition to warrant the investment.

On many of my trips to India I spent a lot of my free time bothering the owner of a very upscale watch store located in the lobby of one of the hotels where I stayed.  Most of his inventory is really high end stuff; brand new and solid gold to catch the eye of the well-heeled captains of industry and vacationing Arab despots who frequent the hotel. 

But he also keeps a small collection of used watches, and he indulges me a few hours every trip to check out anything interesting he may have acquired since my last visit.  He knows my criteria, and by process of elimination has even figured out a sense of my budget.  But because of his clientele, even his used watches tend to be both too pricey and too flashy... both deal breakers for me.

However, on my last trip to the sub-continent, as soon as I walked into his shop the owner rushed over to shake my hand.  He told me that he'd been wondering when I would be arriving to India again because he had set aside a watch almost a month ago that he had a feeling I'd like. 

Before showing it to me, he explained that it was a vintage piece from the late '40s, but that it was in like-new condition.  The only thing he had changed was the crystal since it had been scratched at some point in its life. 

the watch itself, he explained, was a large (but thin) gentlemen's timepiece with a simple, classic face, blue steel hands and a calendar hand to boot.  He told me that it had been made by a company called Mulco that had been well respected and quite prolific in its day, even making movements for many other companies, in addition to its own offerings.  But like many good Swiss watch companies, Mulco had gone out of business some time in the '60s when quartz nearly destroyed the hand-made watch industry.

He said that while the company wasn't in the same league as, say Patek Phillipe, it had been a mainstay of the La Chaux-de-Fonds area of Switzerland where some of the top Swiss brands were made, and their movements had actually been procured for the officers on both sides of the conflict in the WWII European war because of their durability and reputation for longevity. 

As he took it out of his safe he explained that this was a civilian model that was triple signed (meaning the manufacturer's name was engraved on the case, the movement and embossed on the face), and had just been cleaned and inspected by his staff.  It had 15 jewels (the ruby pivots on which the moving parts rotated)... not as desirable as 17 jewels, but still quite respectable... and most important, it kept excellent time.

It sounded too good to be true, but when he took it out of the case I swear I heard angels sing.  It was exactly the sort of watch I had been looking for.  Simple, clean lines.  Easy to read face.  A calendar hand instead of a window (which I could never read even when my eyesight was good).  A relatively slim profile but nice large masculine face.

I examined the hands and face under the offered loop and there wasn't the slightest sign of pitting or discoloration.  He opened up the case and showed me the gleaming movement and the frantically racing balance wheel.

When I could speak I asked him the obvious question:  How much?  He refused to answer.  Instead he asked how long I was going to be in Mumbai.  When I told him four day, he took off my battered diver's watch and fastened the new/old watch's leather band on my wrist.  The softly rounded back felt perfect against my skin and the size was also perfect.

He told me to wear it for a few days and get to know it.  This way, he explained, I'd also be able to see if it kept good time.  He waived away my offer of a security deposit saying that even if I hadn't been a regular face over the years, it would be enough that I was a guest at the hotel.

On the day before I was to leave Mumbai for Goa (my next stop in India), I went back into the watch store and laid the watch on the soft mat on the counter.  The owner and I exchanged pleasantries about my trip and then we finally got around to discussing the watch.  In almost four days it had gained only two seconds (I had set and checked it against the atomic clock on the Internet), and if anything I was more attached to it than I had been at first blush. 

But of course I tried not to let my enthusiasm show.  Instead I made a show of being undecided, and even used my wife and the family budget as a potential excuse for not making such a serious purchase.  When I'd finished, I looked up and he was smiling broadly at me.  All he said was, "I knew you'd like it". 

I guess there's a reason I don't play poker.

Anyway, I agreed that it was exactly what I had been looking for... but told him that I hadn't been joking about the budget thing.  He took out a small pad of paper, scribbled a number that was more area code than zip code, and we shook hands.  No haggling... no protests.  Just like that I knew that I'd found the right watch at the right price.  There was nothing else to do but say yes.

When I got home I distributed the gifts I'd bought for Zahava and the kids and then showed off my watch.  I had actually told Zahava about it on the phone from India (she doesn't like surprises), but I watched her face for any sings of annoyance.  All I saw there was the same admiration the shop-keeper had probably seen on mine.  Zahava agreed that it was perfect. 

After all these years of longing, I finally have my good (mechanical) Swiss watch.  I enjoy everything about it.  I enjoy winding it every morning.  I enjoy looking at it a hundred times a day.  I enjoy examining it while I'm engaged in conference calls or waiting for a web page to load.  And I especially enjoy the admiring glances I get from other people who, like me, have an eye for nice things.

So while you might say's it's about time I finally scratched this itch that has been with me longer than even my wife and kids, I'd put it even more simply: It's just about time.

Rotation of watch 003 

[BTW, the face is actually off white, but the flash seems to have washed out the face a bit.  And the tiny splash of color between the 3 and the 4 is a reflection of something in the crystal, not a smudge on the face.]
 

Posted by David Bogner on October 13, 2009 | Permalink

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you know... if you want to have a good time - you need a good watch.

Posted by: weese | Oct 13, 2009 4:40:47 PM

Well, congrats, Trep. All the more sweeter when you wait patiently for something great to happen. My husband happens to be a watch freak. He'd call himself a collector, if he could afford the habit. He'll appreciate this post when I send him the link.

Posted by: Baila | Oct 13, 2009 4:52:12 PM

Titchadesh!

Posted by: Mrs. S. | Oct 13, 2009 5:17:10 PM

sometimes you get lucky. enjoy!
I have my father's omega seamaster.

Posted by: dave | Oct 13, 2009 6:15:05 PM

I completely agree to weese that if you want to have a good time - you need a good watch. Would buy a good one very soon.

Posted by: Hampers | Oct 13, 2009 6:16:44 PM

Fantastic post. I have the same "thing" about watches. My dear husband has bought me two since we were married. Not expensive or gorgeous like yours, but I had the same "love" for them. Odd really, because I am not at all into "stuff" or collecting. My obsession is Roman numerals, and my eyes glaze when I see them on a watch. Recently,when I was back in the old country, my father gave me my great grandfathers wind up pocket watch, complete with Albert chain (that went into the waistcoat button hole).

Off subject, I have just bought into my first bee hive. A friend who is a beekeeper is building me a hive and I've just bought the innards and Her Majesty the Queen. Thrilled to be finally on the first step to being a beekeeper. Have to watch the insect bite allergy though. Any tips?

Posted by: Noa | Oct 13, 2009 7:31:53 PM

Wear it in good health!

Posted by: Tzvi208 | Oct 13, 2009 8:25:19 PM

Do you have to reset the watch for February and months that are only 30 days long?

oh, yeah, titchadesh!!

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Oct 13, 2009 9:21:09 PM

To much info for an email or comment. Send me your phone number and
the best time to reach you and I'll call you.

d
David Bogner
Efrat, Israel

www.treppenwitz.com

"Laying the groundwork for an insanity defense since 1961"

On Tue, Oct 13, 2009 at 7:31 PM, wrote:

Posted by: David Bogner | Oct 13, 2009 10:25:27 PM

Oooooo....nice! Of course, you already know about my passion for retro time pieces. 'Cept I'd have a hard time strapping my last purchase on my wrist. :)

A bit of advice. The guy in Mumbai was good, but the people who worked on your watch prior to the sale might not have been. Also, you can't let a mechanical watch sit without running for too long, the lubricant in the watch may congeal and there's no telling how long the watch sat in storage at the store in Mumbai. To make sure that it's not running with damaged or worn parts and that it's properly lubed, I suggest you take the watch to a reputable watchmaker to have it inspected. Find out what their recommended maintenance schedule is and follow that.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Oct 14, 2009 12:11:12 AM

Wow, it really is beautiful! Congratulations!

Posted by: zemirah | Oct 14, 2009 12:17:38 AM

Glad you were able to get it. We are in a "I want it straight away" generation.... but sometimes we have the chance to dream... and dream.... and eventually do.

Posted by: rickismom | Oct 14, 2009 12:38:49 AM

I worked in the watch industry for a bit...(met the presidents of Cartier and Breitling). Your watch reminds me a bit of the IWC look...Simple yet really classy.

Posted by: Jacob da Jew | Oct 14, 2009 12:44:55 AM

Nice looking time piece. Is that your watch band or did that come with it, too? Looks nicely worn.

Posted by: Val | Oct 14, 2009 3:14:03 AM

Titchadesh.

Beautiful timepiece. It's funny that the subject of fine mechanical watches never came up when we spent time together. I've been collecting watches for many years and the majority are antique mechanicals. Some of my favorites are the simple, elegant and durable Hamilton and Gruen watches, made in America. As gifts to my son-in-laws I got them both Cartier wrist watches. They had never heard of watches that needed winding but now they are totally with the program.

Posted by: Robert J. Avrech | Oct 14, 2009 3:43:40 AM


What is the connection between us?! I just explained to my 16-yr-old son: gorls like sparkly things that don't do anything (e.g., rings, bracelets). Guys like sparkly things that do stuff (for us, it's watches, pocket-knives, Zippo lighters and flashlights).

The missus bought me a very fine Zenith pocket-watch off of eBay about a year ago for my birthday. It ran, well, limped pathetically. This year, I saved up enough goodwill to have it repaired for our 20th anniversary.
tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick it goes, gaining maybe a few seconds in a week.

Cheers. I know how you feel.

And I'm not even mentioning the wind-up old Sears stop-watch she got for me to use at school! ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Oct 14, 2009 4:29:35 AM

Yes, I too am a watch junkie. For every day I have my automatic Seiko (the only watch I couldn't destroy when I was in the army).
For special occasions I have my grandfathers Jaeger de Coulter (also an automatic).

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Oct 14, 2009 5:04:59 AM

Congratulations and tithadesh, David. It's wonderful when our dreams come true, particularly after so long a wait! I also like the proprietor of the watch shop. It seems like he "got" you (in the sense of understanding what you wanted and why).

Posted by: Rahel | Oct 14, 2009 11:51:59 AM

This watch is BEAUTIFUL ! (And La Chaux-de-Fonds is just an 1 1/2 drive from my home...;-))

Posted by: Jany | Oct 14, 2009 2:21:51 PM

titchadesh - if you do need an excellent watchmaker - there's a great one in Jerusalem right across from cafe rimon. Very sweet guy.

Posted by: LeahGG | Oct 14, 2009 2:40:42 PM

Love it.
My father was a wholesale jeweler until he retired, so I've always been into the higher end Swiss watches.
Presently I like automatic watches with a skeleton face (ie you can see the movement through the face and the backing).
I wear an inexpensive version, but I too drool through shop windows at the finer movements.
Enjoy.

Posted by: Larry Stiefel | Oct 14, 2009 4:15:28 PM

Yup, I hear ya. I just spent $200 to have my Movado "sapphire" (the extremely thin "Museum" watch with the black bracelet band) overhauled because I was told they've stopped making it and they're in great demand because of this. But I gotta tell you, the way you described trying it on was like a woman with a pair of shoes...:-)

Posted by: Marsha in Englewood | Oct 14, 2009 5:03:52 PM

To all those wishing "titchadesh" - the phrase actually means "live long enough to wear it out and get a new one":

http://www.balashon.com/2006/10/titchadesh.html

And while I'm sure we all wish David long life, I have a feeling that's not exactly the message intended...

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Oct 14, 2009 6:37:13 PM

without warning I'll see or read about some new gadget that I simply can't live without, and for several days, or sometimes even weeks, I will be absolutely obsessed with it.
This is a perfect description of something I experience quite often, too often in fact. I can go online and check the object and its features an incredible number of times. Fortunately I sometimes lose interest also, but not always...
The last thing was the Iphone intil I finally gave in. I also obsessed over a Swiss watch - not with such a good mechanical as yours - until I got it for my birthday.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Oct 14, 2009 10:36:24 PM

I have a Vacheron Constantin (1950`s) from the estate of a great- uncle. It needs repair,last quote $150+.Keep putting off the reapir.

Posted by: Ed | Oct 15, 2009 3:42:23 PM

First off, you'll have to tell me the secret to the "getting over it" part of the gadget worship. Morey doesn't ever get to that part ;)

Secondly, mazal tov on your patience, and ability to nurture just the right kind of relationship that a shop owner would go to such lengths for you. It's beautiful, and just the simple, straightforward kind of watch I love. Wear your watch in good health, and I hope you continue to enjoy looking it at and wearing it til 120!!

Posted by: Alissa | Oct 16, 2009 5:12:48 AM

That is a beautiful watch. I've never seen a calendar hand before - I love it!

My parents bought me a mechanical Swiss watch when I was 21. Now, 21 years later, I've worn it every single day and its clean lines and gorgeous simplicity still thrill me.

Posted by: hoskas | Oct 17, 2009 12:22:37 AM

My father has an Omega watch my mother gave him on the occasion of their engagement in 1953. He still wears it daily. It has a self-winding mechanism. When you move your wrist you can barely feel a small weight moving back and forth winding it up. So as long as you wear it and move around, it's always working!

Posted by: Michael | Oct 18, 2009 3:27:59 AM

BTW Do you know my friend Stevie Epstein? He's also an amateur beekeeper in Israel. We were in highschool together in Toronto.

Posted by: Michael | Oct 18, 2009 3:30:27 AM

steve Epstein is also a watch collector.

Posted by: steve Epstein | Dec 12, 2009 8:59:50 PM

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