A terribly long winter and wet spring has and is still enveloping Bozeman and most of southwest Montana this year, and has offered ample time to ruminate on the direction of the business, its buying trends, and its future. The most highly attended show for watches and all sub industries in the world, the Basel Fair in Switzerland, offered some insight this year, and the global trade reports likewise actively indicated a healthy market for not only new watches, but vintage pieces as well.
But where is the Last Wind-Up in all of this? On our end there’s been a strong influx of watches that have been inherited, passed down from fathers and mothers to sons and daughters alike. These treasured heirlooms are then brought in with the sole idea that they should be preserved, and are met with open arms. All too often most of the recipients of these hallowed pieces have never handled or been taught anything about the mechanical timepieces they receive, and their questions illuminate the newness of the experience. How do I wind it? How often should I wind it? How long will it run? Can I set the hands backwards? I have to remind myself constantly of the words of Barry Marcus, featured in my first entry in this journal, that, “it is not about the watch, it is about the customer.” Sometimes it does seem like these customers can’t see the forest for the trees, but on the other hand I too at times can’t see the trees for the forest. These questions raised to me tell me I’ve been part of this industry and craft long enough that it boggles me to think that this knowledge so basic to me could be completely unheard of to them. Though transversely, I’m not excusing myself from that same pattern of behavior - when technological issues arise in my world, I seek those at least half my age for solutions based on what is to them equally pedestrian knowledge. I like to think the pot and the kettle need to give each other and themselves more slack, and that perhaps exchanges like this instead of being discouraging are just the perpetual give and take that has to happen with unique knowledges. How can any of us expect others to know what they have not been taught, especially if we are not willing to teach them ourselves?
Just this evening I was forwarded a news article about how schools are changing over to digital clocks in classrooms because they are finding that students are able to tell the time easier with numbers rather than with hands. This was slightly disheartening to me, to say the least. Yet a number of years ago a customer came into the shop who still wanted analog watches to offer her students so that they would learn to read time with hands. We gladly offered her twenty-some silicone “slap watches” that had numbers and hands. I was pleased that they were headed to a local elementary school, and that not all schools were following the trend claimed in that article.
George Keremedjev, long time friend and director of the American Computer & Robotics Museum here in Bozeman, told me a story some years ago about a young high school couple who came through his museum. They were observing the Apollo 15 lunar mission watch, an Omega Speedmaster worn by Dave Scott in 1971. They were apparently disgruntled because they couldn’t read the time due to the of the lack of numerals…. and too many hands! Granted, I’ll give them a little room for the number of hands but really, one could say that reading a watch face without numbers isn’t exactly rocket science!
On the optimistic side of things, in the last month we’ve sold a number of vintage Omega watches to young men who are easily 30 years their watches’ junior ...and who had no trouble telling the time regardless of the lack of numerals. That they are buying watches that were made when their parents were kids definitely made my heart smile. When the world and the happenings of mankind seem to be being marked only by the click of a mouse, there is some solace in the idea that there are still those - young and old alike - who deem the tick of the mechanical watch worthwhile. For those of us who do, it is not only a preferred means of marking the passage of time, but also a means of engaging and reinvigorating an appreciation for things that tick rather than click regardless of what era they are from. Most can expect the intrusion of a text from a family member or friend at some point during the day, but there is something intrinsically nostalgic and gentle about being able to choose roll over one’s wrist to check the time of day and take that split second to re-orient. Even more engaging is the concept of winding one’s watch in the morning - feed the dog, take out the trash, and wind your watch before you have to go and tackle your day. Whether some believe it or not we have time for this - we should have time for this - and we should strive to make time for these simple and elegant rituals. They are what keep us connected, engaged, and mindful of our place and our time in this ever hastening world.