September 15, 2009

Time will tell

I USED TO HAVE TO WIND my Rolex manually every day. It was supposed to be self-winding, but, like me, it was showing the scars of life. I realized that having to wind a watch for a few seconds every day wasn’t a big deal compared with some people’s problems, but Rolexes aren’t supposed to break down.

To tell the truth, my Rolex doesn’t actually look like a Rolex. No gold. No jewels. Nobody has ever admired it. No thug has tried to rip it off my arm. It’s a strictly utilitarian stainless-steel model that my wife generously bought for me when I needed a chronometer to navigate a yacht from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro. It has logged thousands of miles under sail since.

It hasn’t taken a day off since 1970, but the self-winder stopped working a year or two ago, and I had to wind it by hand every damn day. Sigh.

Then the stem went wrong, and I could only turn the hands backward. And then it needed new gaskets and a crystal. So I sought out the official Rolex agents in my home town, a large chain of posh jewelers, knowing full well what to expect. And yes, I was right.

“It will take six weeks to get a quote,” the bejeweled lady behind the counter sniffed, holding it at arm’s length. She had no idea what the price of repairs might be. “But whatever you do, don’t let anyone but our people service it,” she warned.

I snorted indignantly. “The last person to service it was my barber,” I said, “and it’s lasted 20 years since.” (It’s true. He was an amateur horologist.) So I walked out, determined never to send my Rolex to the agents.

There was a watchmaker’s exhibition in the local museum, so I went along to ask if there was anyone local who could repair Rolexes. Apparently not. But the chief horologist gave me the telephone number of a German living in Vancouver, Canada, about 50 miles north of here, who was reputedly very good at it. “He’s got a place in a little alley downtown,” my informant said, “and you can telephone him between 10 and 12 every other Saturday.”

Yeah, right, I thought, and I’m still very glad I bought the Golden Gate bridge for 50 bucks.

And then, resigned to winding my watch every day for the few remaining days of its life, I met a man from Wichita, Kansas. He was the brother of my wife’s boss. We met him at supper at the boss’s house.

He was surprised that I was wearing a Rolex. Apparently not many people as scruffy as me wear Rolexes. But he collects Rolexes and has a dozen of them. “I have a friend who works on them,” he said. “Would you like me to take it back to Wichita with me and get him to have a look at it?”

I handed it over then and there and the short story is that his friend, a Vietnamese immigrant, fixed it and mailed it back to me for a little over $100. I estimate that’s about one sixth of what the Rolex agents would have charged. But I could be wrong. Maybe they charge you even more if you’re a scruffy sailor and obviously unworthy of a Rolex.

Today’s Thought
He that hath time and looketh for a better time, loseth time. Time comes that he repents himself of time.
— George Herbert, Jacula Prudentum

“Why were you running away from that car in Lovers’ Lane the other night?”
“Because I was being chaste.”

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