BUYING 3 DAYS! For Immediate Cash. The full-page ad screamed at me from our local newspaper. I scanned the page until my eyes fell on a section offering a “Fortune in Cash,” ranging from $1,000 to $80,000, for “Rare Watches.” I happen to own a classic mechanical watch, a simple, elegant Girard-Perregaux, the product of a Swiss company whose history stretches back to 1791. The watch had been my father’s, a gift to him from my mother in the 1950s. He died suddenly in 1959, when I was eight, and my mother gave me the watch in 1976 as a law school graduation and wedding present. Since then I’ve probably spent enough on repairs and replacement leather bands to provide at least a healthy down payment on a Rolex or TAG Heuer. The owner of a watch shop once suggested I have the timepiece appraised, but nothing short of starvation or eviction could induce me to part with it.
That’s because someday I hope to pass this watch on to my son. Perhaps that seems silly at a time when few people under the age of 35 or so are wearing them and when product life cycles are measured in months, not decades. And, like a cellphone that only makes and receives calls, what could be less practical than a watch that only tells time? Whether or not Apple’s promised “wearables” catch on, eventually we’ll all probably be sporting devices like the äppärät of Gary Shteyngart’s dystopian novel Super Sad True Love Story that will allow us to do everything from constantly monitoring our blood pressure and cholesterol to determining our ranking in the social pecking order at a crowded party. But when I’m running late or glance at the watch in the middle of a tedious meeting I think about all the times my father must have done that, wondering when he’d be finished and on the way home to his wife and three young sons. Somehow, those fleeting moments offer a substitute of sorts for the dearth of memories. Now after years of wearing the watch daily, and in the hope of preserving it, I’ve taken to wearing it less often, replacing it with another my children purchased for me a few years ago, a sleek Skagen that’s drawn more than a few compliments. I can’t say whether my son will invest the money I have to keep wearing my father’s watch for another generation and perhaps someday hand it down to a son or grandson. It’s much more than an assembly of gears and a balance wheel. I’m certain of that. // Harvey Freedenberg