By: James F. O’Neil

Some watches I’ve admired–even desired–have been very expensive pieces of jewelry.  On a trip once from Minnesota, the man next to me on the plane was a commercial pilot.  Instead of talking with him about flying in bad weather, long flights to Europe, or cockpit boredom, I asked him what kind of watch he wore.  This was important to me.  Breitling.  Navitimer.  “Instruments for Professionals.”  Of course. 

Breitling-Navitimer  credit wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Breitling Navitimer

My stainless steel Seiko is supposed to run for 77 years, as long I move.  I figured it would be my last watch, since it would stop when I reached 120 years old, or so.  It has stopped twice; it needed a new power storage unit. 

So do I need a new watch?

What is the real purpose of a watch?  To tell the time: Am I late?  Am I finished working?  What time do I need to get there–and how long yet do I have?  Really, that’s all I need it for. 

Something else I need: Every watch I’ve owned that was not stainless has corroded.  My biology reacts with the metal or plating; corrosion results.  Only stainless–or gold–for me.

I used to have a gold pocket watch, with fob and chain.  It’s gone…

c d peacock gold watch

Photo credit:

C.D. Peacock Gold Pocket Watch

Hardly anyone wears a pocket watch anymore.  Perhaps there is something too fancy about the vest that must accompany the pocket watch, something too pretentious or ostentatious about the fob.  However, not wearing a pocket watch can be exciting, just the same: having it, seeing it, or touching it can be as exciting as wearing one‑‑perhaps even more so‑‑especially an old watch that belonged to someone special. 

An old pocket watch is something special, like having an occasional fine meal. 

A person who possesses such a watch‑‑man or woman, for such watches come in styles for both sexes‑‑is uniquely joined to a piece of history, the past, a period of time.  On the other hand, the remembrance of a watch might belong to a memory of a particular person.

My Grandpa Schuma had a pocket watch.  He wore a vest most of the time around the house, after he came home from work (the 1940 Census states “Lamp Cleaner, Park District”), or after he spent an afternoon in the garden or in the home workshop.  He always wore a vest on Sundays.  I remember the puffed sleeves of his long‑sleeved shirt–and then the fob, the gold light in the sun.

G'Ma & G'Pa Schuma 1938

Grandma and Grandpa Schuma

He learned the time of day on the watch after making a smooth, swift, artfully accustomed movement of the right hand and arm, into the smallish watch pocket, taking out the watch pressing the stem with thumb to flip open the gold cover that now rests against his first two fingers looking at the time while he purses his lips closing the lid‑‑”Snap!”  ‑‑with the same two fingers and thumb and returning the bulky piece of gold‑filled and jeweled mechanical perfection to the safety and silky softness of the pocket…  “Quarter‑past four.”  “Half‑past eight.”

I remember that, those moments of flourish. 

My memory of the movements Grandpa made makes me feel good.  I enjoy these memories of that time and that person, with memories of the comfortable times, the good times: the warmth of the past, the affections of the past, and even the bit of elegance that goes with the past–especially the elegance of a common, yet dignified, working man, who always wore a vest on Sundays.  With that special watch.                               

© James O’Neil  2013                  

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