Nearly nineteen Christmases ago, my then-boyfriend gave me a stunning Raymond Weil Parsifal watch. I had told him I wanted a watch and showed him some examples of the style that I liked, but I didn’t him more detail beyond that. I trusted his very meticulous judgment and knew he wouldn’t let me down – he was from Switzerland, after all, and surely possessed innate good taste when it comes to classic watches. I didn’t care about the brand or even the cost – in fact, I insisted that he not spend much, but rather to find something reasonably priced yet elegant and (forgive the pun) timeless. Plenty of mid-range designer brands met all those criteria.
When he presented me with the little box near a twinkling Christmas tree, I was overjoyed. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered how much he paid for it when I accidentally found the receipt, but in all honestly it really didn’t matter. The watch face sparkled in the light and became my signature. It was the last thing I put on before heading out the door each morning and the last thing I took off at night before showering and getting ready for bed. It remains one of my most treasured possessions.
The boyfriend, of course, is long gone. Ironically, we broke up over the holidays, literally in the remaining hours of 2000. I’ve always been fascinated by how we mark time in our lives, using both major and even minor events as milestones to measure how far we’ve come, how much we still need to travel, how much we’ve learned, and how little we still really know. Despite the provenance of my watch, I still wore it on my wedding day. B. didn’t mind – he knew I loved him most of all, and that the watch by then held a deeper meaning for me, beyond a token of someone else’s faded love.
In many ways it represents not just a half-forgotten relationship but also the many, many things that have happened since. It represents travels around the world, homes I’ve lived in, friendships I’ve made and lost, letters I’ve written, dates I’ve made and broken, dogs and cats I’ve saved, business contracts I’ve won (and lost!), days and nights I’ve lived, loved, cried, laughed, wept, hurt, celebrated. Even during those handful of times I’ve landed in the emergency room, I’ve often hurriedly grabbed the watch from my dresser and clasped it around my wrist just before dashing out the door.
It has kept time and quietly measured the rhythm of my life without fail (well, okay, I’ve had to replace the batteries every couple of years), each second, minute, hour falling away and dissolving into history. As someone who has been obsessed with productivity, time management, and efficiency since I launched a freelancing career and then an actual agency nearly a decade ago, the watch has been the silent witness of my attempts to wrest control of time and make it my slave.
Of course, it didn’t work. (See “emergency room” above.) At some point, although I still wore the watch, it became a poor cousin to my phone, which began life as merely a phone and eventually morphed into this thin, boxy computer ever present in my hand. The box told time but also told me what to do with that time – every second, every hour, every day, it presented me with an infinite universe of things that I could be, should be doing with my time.
I still wear a watch. Sometimes, it’s my Raymond Weil watch. More often than not, it’s a cheap Timex Ironman sportswatch that I bought at Target, which is useful for when I’m running errands or just running, maybe walking the dogs or exercising. It’s extremely useful, the very definition of utilitarianism. Like my Raymond Weil, I’ve taken it on the road – around town and beyond, to Arizona, Oregon, Hawaii.
It doesn’t have the heft of memory that the Raymond Weil does, though. It doesn’t evoke any memories of even last week’s run or this morning’s playtime with the dogs. It simply is. And maybe that’s how a watch should be. It is, after all, just an object.
But I’ve never been one to just look at an object and see just an assemblage of parts, especially if it’s an object that’s been a part of me and my history. And when I look at the Raymond Weil, its dignified face tells me the time right now but also reminds me of time gone by. Time is fleeting, but not the memories.
If, like me, watches hold a particular fascination for you, you might be interested in reading this recent NPR story about the new Apple Watch, the history of watches in general, why the reporter feels ambivalent about what the era of the smartwatch means for the preservation of tradition and memory.