[This post first appeared on my Substack. Click here for more.] When I was a young boy, my family wasn’t wealthy. Thanks to my father’s grit, charm and determination, his manufacturing business took off. The gold Patek Philippe Calatrava above was my first indication that our family’s fortunes had changed.
For its owner, a Holocaust survivor, the Patek represented triumph over unimaginably cruel fate. Success in The Land of the Free. And the European sophistication he’d left behind.
To me, it was my father’s watch. There could be no higher horological honor.
When I was five, my parents bought a “summer house.” It had thin walls, creaky floors and no air conditioning. But it looked out on its own little beach on the bay, and there were cooling breezes.
As the last of three boys, I rarely got alone time with my father. On that fateful day, my brothers were off playing tennis. I joined my old man in front of the house digging steamers (clams).
The process was simple: toss a heavy rock on the beach, locate the squirt of water betraying the steamer’s position, dig it out and put it in a bucket.
Clamming was a low tide activity, digging into the mud. It was dirty work. At some point, my father handed me the Patek and told me to take it into the house.
It was the first time I ever held his watch. I put it on my wrist, feeling all kinds of grown up.
My father came back to the house with his bucket of clams. The watch was gone. I had no idea what I’d done with it. Where it was.
My father was angry – an extremely rare occurrence and not one I care to remember. As we turned the house upside down searching for my father’s pride and joy, his anger increased. And then worse. Silence.
My father decided to punish me for my carelessness. He led me into a bedroom and removed his belt.
I can’t begin to describe my shame. And fear. Mother’s abuse was distressing, but familiar. Corporal punishment from my father was a million times worse.
I cried as he struck me. I never felt so guilty, so lost, so bad, so wrong…
Some days maybe weeks later, I was reaching deep into the cardboard toy box. And there it was. The Patek must have slipped off my wrist.
I could see the pleasure in my father’s eyes as I returned his watch. But it only lasted a second. No mention was made of my beating.
And so began my obsession. Over the years, in fits and starts, I collected watches. As my own fortunes improved, I began buying expensive Swiss watches. But never a Patek Philippe.
For one of my father’s birthdays, I bought him a titanium IWC Porsche Design chronograph. He wore that watch, and only that watch, for the next twenty years, until his death.
When he died, I inherited the chronograph. I also inherited his Patek Philippe Calatrava. A watch I hadn’t seen for 40 years.
It fit like a glove. At first, I was glad to have it. To wear it. It was as beautiful as I remembered. Understated. Elegant. Perfect.
And then I started having a recurring nightmare. I dreamt my father was beating me – a subconscious betrayal of the love he’d shown me during our life together.
So I sold the Patek and started wearing the Porsche Design watch. The nightmares went away. The happy memories did not.
My watch thing has eased over the last few years. I’ve come to realize that a watch is just a thing. How we spend our time defines who we are. Not how we keep track of it.