With New Year’s upon us, we reminisce by reviewing the news of the last 12 months and singing “Auld Lang Syne.”
But we also look to the future, as in resolutions going forward to better our lives.
Which renders New Year’s Eve a marker of time, a divider between yesterday and tomorrow; time that we measure month-to-month with a calendar and hour-to-hour with a clock or a wristwatch. The instrument we use for the latter can be almost as precious as time itself, which is not only shorter than we think but passes faster and faster the older we get.
How is that possible?
Because time is relative.
The year between ages 4 and 5 is one-fifth of your life.
But the year between age 49 and 50 is one-fiftieth of your life.
One year measured against 49 years goes a lot faster than one measured against four years.
That is why time during childhood seems to have taken so much longer than, say, during our 50s.
I’ve got some fancy wristwatches, but the only one that consistently tells me the truth is a Benrus Citation my father bought in 1948 and impulsively handed to me on my 24th birthday in 1978 when he was 54. By then he had worn it for 30 years. He died precisely 30 years later just 12 days shy of my turning 54.
I’ve always had a thing for watches. Sometimes I think if my parents had only bought me the simple Timex I’d wanted from J.J. Newberry when I was 7 years-old my enthusiasm and love for horology would have been satiated.
Instead, come Christmas, Santa Claus brought me a wristwatch from Akron, a cheap import shop that existed in the 1960s; a watch that probably cost more than the Timex but stopped ticking after a few hours. My uncle, visiting on Christmas day, removed and disassembled the movement with a view toward reassembly — and I never saw it again.
When I first started making some money in 1974, my high school buddy from Sweden turned up in London with a new Omega wrapped around his wrist. I coveted this battery-powered and humming futuristic adornment and saved up my money for such a purchase, around 65 British pounds ($130), no small sum then, especially for me, struggling on a shoestring to run Tricky Dick’s Coffee House (my own creation, a spinoff of the family business). For maybe 20 pounds more I could have purchased — and almost did — a Rolex Submariner.
Stupidly, I opted for the Omega’s novel hum. Little did I know about the art of movements and complications vs. quartz and battery imposters, not to mention blue chip purveyors and future investment.
The Rolex Submariner has since appreciated a hundred times its 1974 price-tag.
The Omega? A few years later I traded it to a Vietnamese ex-paratrooper for the camouflage pullover he wore while battling Viet Cong.
Eventually needing a new watch, the best I could afford was a stainless-steel blue-faced number with a steel bracelet from Tudor, a company owned by Rolex and known as its poor little sister. I wore it (and still have it) till the day, on my 24th birthday, my father handed me his Benrus, which for me was the grand prize.
FRANCK & LOUIS
Thirteen years later I became a regular visitor to Geneva — the watch-making capital of the world — due to my work for a private-sector intelligence client who lived in the town I dubbed “Serene City” and whose billboards and shop fronts were (presumably still are) full of horological masterpieces, driving me nuts and impelling me to believe that though my father’s watch was my most treasured possession, I still needed to choose my own, as if to branch out and establish independence, my own identity.
And though I was drawn to the simple but elegant and very thin classic Cartier Tank, I opted for a Cintree Curvex timepiece (two, the smaller version for my wife) by newcomer Franck Muller, the self-proclaimed “Master of Complications.” This I wore proudly for several years but after living in the Principality of Monaco (the second of three Monaco incarnations) and tiring of all things glamorous, I returned my father’s old Benrus to my wrist.
Then came Christmas 1995 in Washington D.C. and the grand opening of a Cartier Boutique just minutes by foot from my new home in Chevy Chase Village.
My wife gifted me with the Tank, which was conceived during World War I by Louis Cartier for warriors (especially tank commanders) who had neither time nor a third hand to pluck a watch from their pocket. The French Renault FT-17 tank was Louis’s design inspiration.
The classic beauty and lightness of this timepiece, coupled with a green crocodile strap, captured my gaze and wouldn’t let go whenever I consulted it for the time.
A few years after that while in London’s Burlington Arcade, I happened upon a Rolex Prince, the precious “doctor’s watch” (with separate seconds dial) acclaimed by some as the most beautiful timepiece ever created. Rolex produced these gems in the late 1920s through the early 1930s in steel, silver or gold. Their top-of-the-line was a “tiger-stripe” of yellow and white gold. (I’d first seen one at the flagship Ralph Lauren Polo on Madison Avenue in New York City.)
My search took a while but in June 2002 at a shop specializing in high-end vintage watches on London’s Portobello Road I purchased — for a king’s ransom — a tiger-striped Rolex Prince, circa 1930, a gift to myself after a) landing a job as intelligence adviser to Prince Albert of Monaco and b) profiting on the newly-launched euro’s exchange rate against the dollar.
Most sane people keep valuable possessions like this in a vault. But I didn’t buy this timepiece to lock away; I wore it throughout my five-and-a-year tenure as the Prince’s spymaster. And when the messenger (me) got shot down while flying too close to the sun, both the real prince and the timepiece lost their luster and I returned, as I always do, to my father’s Benrus.
For years I’d dabbled with the idea of purchasing a timepiece produced by Patek Philippe, the world’s premier watchmaker. Four decades ago, after my grandmother passed, I almost used the five grand she left me to purchase (in her memory), at Tiffany in New York, the classic Patek Calatrava, a straightforward model known as their “banker’s watch.” It thereafter had been my Patek of choice. But when the time came to take the plunge, the more I researched new and pre-owned Patek timepieces, the loftier my sights became, ultimately jumping to their “Grand Complications,” namely, their Perpetual Calendar and more particularly a discontinued model called Retrograde, which after some due diligence I purchased for a good price.
Rather than hoarding cold cash as numbers on a financial statement, I’d rather enjoy money in the form of a spectacular work of art. Not to lock in a safe. But to carry on my wrist and admire the craftsmanship that went into its creation — and, more important, to remind myself that time is short. And precious.
There is no finer family heirloom for handing down to children or grandchildren than an elegant gold mechanical watch.
“You never actually own a Patek,” goes their trademark mantra, “you merely look after it for the next generation.”
And with two grandsons, it is simply a matter for impermanent me to match personality with style so that, eventually, each may celebrate, with a fine timepiece, the passage of minutes and hours on this earthly plane while coming to understand that time is the most valuable thing they will ever have.
(Sad to say, we must provide this caveat: U.S. cities have become dangerous due to red state big city D.A. disinterest in prosecuting crimes and removing criminals from society. Consequently, if you own precious wristwatches, lock them away in safe deposit boxes when not in use. Furthermore, do not wear high-end wristwatches when out and about in large cities anywhere in the world as they have become a major target among criminal gangs who engage in muggings and restaurant raids. If you choose to wear a precious timepiece in large cities, conceal it beneath your sleeve.)Robert Eringer is a longtime Montecito author with vast experience in investigative journalism. He welcomes questions or comments at email@example.com.