“A ‘worn and broken’ pocket watch once owned by Mahatma Gandhi sold at auction for £12,000 ($16k),” bbc.co.uk reports. “The silver plated Swiss watch was given to the owner’s grandfather by Gandhi in 1944 as a thank-you for his devotion.” The sale of Gandhi’s pocket watch raises some important questions, like . . .
Whatever happened to Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence thing? When did rioting and looting (a.k.a., affirmative shopping) become a politically correct way to “protest” injustice? Nothing to do with Gandhi’s pocket watch. Just wondering . . .
According to East Bristol Auction’s catalogue (unavailable online), Gandhi’s pocket watch was a reward for the man who helped design Gandhi’s famous ambar charkha or Spinning Wheel. “Impressed by [Mohanlal Sharma’s] work ethics and commitment to Gandhian ideology, Mahatma Gandhi gifted [him] this Swiss made pocket watch.” Picture or it didn’t happen?
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? How did Gandhi carry his pocket watch? A little research reveals the anti-imperialist activist probably did so in the traditional manner – before April 6, 1919.
Early in his career (as a barrister in South Africa), Gandhi dressed like a “proper” gentleman, waistcoat and all. His job required promptness, and thus, a reliable watch. No doubt he had one, maybe even this one. But there’s no pic of pocket watch or watch chain in situ.
Gandhi’s penchant for western-style dress ended the day he responded to British troops firing on Indian protestors demonstrating against the heinous Rowlatt Act. He advised his countrymen to boycott British products and burn British-style clothing. From then on, Gandhi dressed in a traditional, non-pocket-watch-friendly Indian loincloth.
Gandhi’s [abandoned] Swiss pocket watch sold for 16 large despite being beat to shit. “The fact it is so worn and broken adds to its charm” auctioneer Andrew Stowe opined. Well he would say that, wouldn’t he? And he has the cash to prove it.
But what was Gandhi’s pocket watch like when it was new, and how much did it cost?
If those are the remnants of luminescent radium paint on the dial, Gandhi’s pocket watch was deadly. Probably still is. Lethality aside, Gandhi’s pocket watch was a Fixit by Systeme Roskopf. I doubt Gandhi was aware of his timepiece’s genesis, but the story of its inventor and manufacturer – Georges Frederic Roskopf – is remarkably similar. wikipedia.org:
Roskopf was an idealist who dreamed of making a good quality, cheap watch for working men. To accomplish this he used an old idea and reworked it, that of having the hands driven directly by the mainspring.
In 1860 he began to design such a watch, which could be sold for 20 francs, and would still be of excellent quality, simple and solid. The watch had a large barrel in the center. a “Perron” pin-pallet escapement, and a monometallic balance. After discussions with Moritz J. Grossman he adopted the simple detached pin lever escapement.
Like Gandhi, Roskopf faced institutional opposition. Like Gandhi, Roskopf succeeded in uplifting those at the bottom of society.
Just as Gandhi helped usher in the end of British rule and the birth of democracy in India, Roskopf’s inexpensive and robust pocket watch brought accurate time to the European working man and woman. Not exactly the same thing, but empowering nonetheless.
Because Systeme Roskopf made so many pocket watches, because they didn’t have the cachet of a Patek, Vacheron, Tissot or any number of American pocket watches, you can buy a working Systeme Roskopf for peanuts. The above watch is selling on eBay for $159.99 or best offer.
Three years ago, Paul Newman’s Rolex fetched $17.5m at auction. Super cool movie star and admirable race driver/team owner that he was, Paul Newman’s influence on the course of human history was practically nil.
Mahatma Gandhi changed the world, enabling the world’s largest democracy. I reckon the U.S. buyer who secured Gandhi’s pocket watch for his collection picked-up a bargain – as long as he gets that radium dial “restored” (assuming it is). As Gandhi taught us, some things are worth dying for. Some things are not.