Conversations about Watches

My father used to buy gifts at Charles Grieg. Wedding gifts for the children of close friends. Other gifts for special occasion, retirement or silver wedding anniversaries. He never bought anything for himself. He never wore gold chains or fancy watches.

When my brother and I matriculated he bought us a Rolex wrist watch each. The power of marketing even before the internet. Why a Rolex? I am not sure. I think the Omega had more American exposure, what with time keeping on the moon.  Rolex sponsored Wimbledon and kept time there. We used to love watching the tennis, seeing that golden crown adorn the green livery of the hallowed central court. Those were the days of Bjorn Borg and Abba. Time magazine ran the adverts for watches, Rolex in front and Omega at the back.

My father received a gift from someone, a Swiss mantelpiece clock, with an atmospheric mechanism. The four gold plated counterweight balls rotated slowly near the base, first clockwise, then counter clockwise. A large silver loosely wound spring sat vertically above that, with a spindle reaching through the clock face where the minute and shorter hour hand showed the time. It was all enclosed in a simple glass dome, not a Plexiglas, but glass with some texture in it. Between the counterweights and vertical spring was a squat horizontal cylinder that housed some form of diaphragm. The changes in atmospheric pressure were harnessed as energy to drive the effortless pendulum. Not quite perpetual motion, but close.

My father himself wore a simple Citizen watch. It was silver in colour and in the end the edges were worn and the nickel showed through. It was a thin wristwatch with an elasticised metal band. It sat small on his big wrist. He was a punctual man. I remember he told me for a business meeting one could allow 15 minutes for delays, but after that if there was no show, it was a sign of disrespect.

One day he was in Charles Grieg with my cousin Peter. I am not sure what he was buying. One of Charles Grieg’s great-grandsons was assisting them. After the purchase my father asked if he had any spare watch straps. He slid the worn Citizen watch off his wrist.

“Something to fit this.”

Grieg Junior, with a pearl tipped tie pin through his silk tie, reached down and pulled out a dark wood drawer lined with velvet. Lined up in smart transparent boxes were luxurious watch straps.

“I am sorry, Mr Peter, but these are worth far more than your watch. What about a new watch?”

My father was insulted. “What time is it on your gold watch?”

“Ten thirty five.”

“And mine?”

“Ten thirty five.”

“Just give me a strap for my watch, please. It keeps time as well as yours.”

I seem to remember one of his favourite sayings: ‘Time stands still for no one”. He must have raised his bushy eyebrows at the young Grieg.

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