Time Out

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IWC Porsche 1980 Chrono

To get a license to carry a gun in Providence you have to prove good cause. Protecting your life or the lives of your family, friends and neighbors? Doesn’t count. Asserting your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms? Doesn’t count. As you’d expect in a city where greed and corruption are background noise, cash is king . . .

If you can prove that you carry large amounts of cash, jewelry or other valuable items on a regular basis, the Powers That Be deign to consider the rest of your application. So I went to work for an estate buyer, helping him collect the and store the treasures left by locals who’d shuffled off this mortal coil.

Did I say treasures? Steve occasionally came across extremely valuable items. They were quickly sold to dealers, auction houses or private buyers. The vast majority of his inventory was unavoidably pedestrian. He filled his warehouse with a farrago of faded furniture, worn carpets, broken lights, tacky paintings – a huge range of personal effects one step from the dumpster.

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There was a large table in one dusty corner covered with yellowing papers and disintegrating photo albums. If you were a future historian looking for source material on the “average” Rhode Islander’s life in the late 20th century, it would have been the mother load. But I can’t imagine anyone else caring.

Paging through the piles was sad and not a little spooky. The albums and newspaper clippings were filled with once-important moments in their owners’ lives: weddings, fancy dinners, employee awards, vacations, military service, graduations, football games and more. People, places and events disappearing into the mists of time.

I remember standing in the gloom and glancing at my watch: the titanium Porsche Design Chronograph my father had worn for his last twenty years. I remember thinking that the evidence of my father’s life was following these documents into oblivion. And that the seconds ticking away on the watch were marking the time left before my clippings, videos and photos would make their own journey into the void.

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It should have been a depressing moment. But it occurred to me that one day one of my daughters would wear that watch, connecting her to me and thus to my father. Her grandfather. It would bear silent witness to her journey from the forceps to the stone, and maybe accompany one of her children through their life.

This idea – a watch as a precious and practical family heirloom that survives its buyer, that lives on after its owner has passed – is being lost. As digital and smartwatches extend their domination of the watch market, fewer and fewer people are wearing watches that will outlive them. More and more people are viewing traditional watches as outdated relics of a bygone era.

We’re at the point where pocket watches were after World War I, when soldiers returned from overseas after discovering the obvious advantages of a wristwatch. The horological die was cast. They never returned to wearing a pocket watch, condemning millions of beautifully built American timepieces to a slow death in a rarely opened drawer.

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The old Patek Philippe ad – “You never really own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation” – is losing its pull (and not just because it completely ignored minorities).

Sure, families will continue to pass down horological heirlooms. Granddad’s precious wristwatch may be worn from time to time. But the traditional wristwatch’s day as a living memorial has passed.

Seiko Solar in the waiting room

The first day I legally carried a firearm I wore my inexpensive Seiko solar. I did so as an acknowledgment that a watch is, ultimately, a thing. My true legacy – my flesh and blood – doesn’t need a memento of my existence. All I want is to protect them as best I can. And for them to cherish every moment of their life, however they keep track of its progress.

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