How Time Passes

Every now and then, the New York Times weekender would have a special advertising supplement. The supplement would be a thick, glossy magazine on its own and it would have editorial content plus page after page of advertisements. The supplements, coming out on a regular basis, perhaps every two months or so, seem to alternate between the advertising of lawyers, doctors, and – it seems a weird juxtaposition but it you think about it enough, it’s actually a logical one – luxury watches. Last weekend, the supplement was on luxury watches and was entitled The Philosophy of Time: The Year’s New Watches.

It would be easy to mock the marketing of and the lust for luxury watches, just as it would be easy to say that the mockery stems from the sour-graping of one who can’t afford them. I’m not going to mock the supplement here (or maybe I will, I’m not completely sure where this is going), but I do admit that I cannot afford these luxury watches. I’m not sour-graping, however, because I don’t like watches. I cannot wear one, in fact. I’ve tried, every now and then, but it irritates my skin, the lightest one feels heavy and cumbersome, and I can never wait to take it off. Besides, I check the time on my phone.

The supplement this weekend features the famous watch brands we’ve all heard of – Rolex, Chopard, Longines. It features a couple I’ve never heard of – Blancpain, a maker of precision diving watches apparently, Panerai, and Roger Dubuis.

Some of the editorial content is interesting. Some examples: The most expensive luxury watch sold at auction is a Patek Philippe. It was sold in Sotheby’s Geneva for an astounding $21.3 million. The watch, called the Supercomplication, is, as its name suggests, super complicated, taking “five years to complete, with each component being made by hand.” Here’s another interesting tidbit: We think of watches these days as a predominantly male accessory – women have their diamond rings and designer handbags, men have their watches. According to an article in the supplement, however, “the wristwatch was originally invented for women, and it was worn almost exclusively by women for its first one hundred years of existence.” One of the first wristwatches ever made was for the Queen of Naples, made by Breguet in 1810.  Patek Philippe made its first watch for the Countess Koscowicz of Hungary in 1868.

The articles have interesting epigrams related to time: “Movement of any kind engenders creation” from Edgar Allan Poe; “Everything that has existed lingers in eternity” from Agatha Christie; “I’m killing time and it’s dying hard” from Raymond Chandler.

Finally – and here I realize I’m not going to mock the whole enterprise after all – the watches are beautiful. The images were exploded into full-page photographs to display the craftsmanship of each one, to show how exquisite, like tiny works of art, they are: there’s a Rolex that’s set with sapphires, turning gradually from blue to green to yellow; a Jaeger-Lecoultre with diamonds and a mother-of-pearl moon phase display; many watches, from different brands, that display the inner workings of the interlocking gears and tiny hammers inside.

All this looking of watches reminds me now of a young cousin of mine who visited me in New York a few years ago. She just broke up with her boyfriend, a handsome young man she loved but had to break up with because of work and distance. She herself was, at the time, moving from London to Sydney. She stayed with me for a few days, took the train to Manhattan every day on her own, came back to my house in the evening, and chatted with me about where she went and what she saw. She seemed excited about exploring New York, the adventure of it, but also somewhat lost, as if her heart was somewhere else. I would look at her, this cousin of mine who, the last time I saw her was in elementary school, and, from my perspective as a boringly settled and suburban wife and mother of two kids, would see a beautiful young woman for whom the world was still so vast, so achingly filled with possibilities.

Like many young, professional women, she loved to shop and she showed me items she bought in the city, a pair of boots from Frye, a few tops from J. Crew, I think, maybe some make-up from Sephora. She dressed fashionably, carefully matching tops and skirts with leggings and boots. She walked around wafting a designer perfume. But what struck me most about her was her watch. She wore an old and battered and decidedly unfashionable watch, a Citizen or a Seiko I think, with one of those old-timey metal bands. It was probably gold when new, but was nicked and dull when I saw her. The face had a curving rectangular shape, ungainly and somewhat dreary. I never told her, but, in its eccentricity and genuineness, I thought it was the most fabulous thing she wore.

On her last day, however, she came home and was wearing a new watch, one she bought that day as she was walking in Manhattan. She told me excitedly that it was in her wish list. And it was a beautiful designer watch, one of those trendy chunky watches with the white ceramic strap, a true fashionista accessory.

It looked good on her. It really did. But I much preferred the old one.

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