Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Movement of an Old Watch

In this world of gadgets and gizmos, one expects stuff to work; if not it gets thrown out or if the effort is worth it, gets fixed.

When it comes to antique or vintage mechanical timepieces, the younger generation may view Grandma's watch as an old broken thing that does not run on batteries. The watch may be a truly exceptional masterpiece from a great company like Vacheron Constantin or Patek Phillipe, but to the young recipient, the watch simply does not work.
He may be thinking: "Is the battery dead or something?" or "Out of all the cool things Grandma had, why did she leave me with this?"

One such story occurred to my neighbor and it took an aged indignant watchmaker to change her view on old watches:

My neighbor received a package from her mother. She opened it and gazed at a rose gold watch delicately wrapped in tissue paper. A faint whiff of mothballs tickled her nose.

“It was Grandma’s” she whispered gently closing the clasp around her wrist.

She admired the delicate Roman Numerals and studied the blue stone on the dial. Her grandmother had died a month before and her mother had only just found the watch among her things. The watch was not working and she decided to take it to an old watchmaker to see if she could get a battery for this watch. Wearing the watch would remind her of her grandmother and that was good.

The very next day she set out to the watchmaker. She had seen his store from the city bus. An old faded yellow sign hung above a tiny dusty store front. She entered the store and as she did a gentle chiming brought an elderly gentleman from behind a beaded curtain.

“Can I help you, mam?” he said looking at her over the tops of his glasses.

“I was wondering if you can make this watch workable …,” she said trailing off.

“It was my grandmothers…”

The watchmaker took the watch and held it close.

“It is a beauty,” he said and gently wound the watch.

He smiled and said reassuringly , “It can use a new mainspring, possibly another part or two; a good cleaning and oiling and it will be as good as new.”

“No! You don’t understand,” she said, “Can you take out all the old stuff and put in a battery or something like a regular watch?"

The elderly watchmaker grew visibly distressed, his nose turned slightly red and he leaned across the counter. My friend had no idea what she had said wrong, but owing to the watchmaker’s reaction it must have been quite awful.

“You want to remove the intricate mechanical craftsmanship and replace it with a battery? A Quartz Movement?”, he said.

“Yes! I think so.” my friend said now a trifle uncertain about her request.

“I will do no such thing, ” the watchmaker said. “To do this would be tearing the heart and soul out of your grandmother’s watch.”

My friend took the watch, puzzled, and went home. She did not attempt to visit another watchmaker.

Her grandmother’s watch survived its “quartz scare” and I filled my friend in on the marvel of a mechanical watch.

 The watch is her treasure now.