Where the most of my business on a day to day basis is assisting customers with relatively simple jobs of replacing batteries and fitting new straps, there are a number of jobs that are clearly more of the passionate, heirloom variety. Collectors will sometimes send me their long overdue watch for service or a father will ask me to restore his father’s vintage wristwatch or pocket watch to be passed on to the next generation. Once and a while I’m offered something special… not the watch necessarily, but the story.
I started thinking about this a year ago when my father, now in his early 80’s, came into the shop and handed me a watch. No fanfare, no gifting episode…. He just handed the watch to me and said “do what you want with it”. OK, maybe it wasn’t quite so off the cuff, but my dad is not known for his pomp. What he gave me was his graduation watch, gifted and engraved to him by his parents. After a few months, the significance of this watch awakened my mind to something intrinsically distinct about a watch. My dad always wore this piece, he looked at it multiple times a day, his schedule was determined and regulated by this humble yet amazingly, intricate machine. The tick that he heard 60+ years ago is the same that echoes in this stainless steel case today. The engagement of his fingers on the winding crown is the same as when I offer it to my wrist for a special occasion. There are very few items in one’s life that can hold these similar features and sentiments.
A few weeks ago, a gentleman sent in a watch from Malta, Montana. The watch was passed down to him from his mother. When I first looked at it, I had a feeling… this was going to be a challenge. The watch, a fine example of the factory of Hamilton, was a 992, a railroad grade pocket watch, made to keep very accurate time. Upon initial inspection, I was suspect. The enamel dial had a corrosive material and the hour hand was partially there. Once I opened the case to peer into the movement, it was evident that the watch was a rust bucket. The hairspring was nothing more than a blob of deteriorated steel. Much of the rest of the works were in equally rough condition. I called the owner and asked what he specifically wanted done to this disaster. He told me he wished I could make it run but wanted nothing done to the case or dial… leave the evidence there. Being curious, I inquired. He then told me the story. His grandfather, whom he’d never met, was out feeding his cattle sometime in about 1920, and did not return. A search party was sent out to find him to no avail. The next spring, nothing. Four years later, a skull was found and it was identified by the widow as her husband. Not far from the skull, a small pile of bones and a Hamilton pocket watch was also found. This clearly identified the deceased.
The watch is now back with the grandson, happily ticking away and keeping time as it did when his grandfather ventured into the canyon to feed his livestock. I find it immeasurably gratifying to know that although my customer never heard his grandfather speak in person, he can now hear the same ticking of his watch.