I haven’t always been into watches; for the first four years of my life, I barely knew they existed. Luckily, my mother showed me her Rolex one night, and set me off on the pursuit of a passion that would ultimately become my career.
What is ‘time’ to someone who has so much of it?
As a small child, there is little purpose to keeping track of time – time is simply that thing your parents use as an excuse to drag you from whatever activity you were enjoying before you were told that there simply wasn’t “enough time” to indulge your young adolescent agenda. Consequently, when I was a little kid, I barely acknowledged the existence of watches, as there was nothing inherently cool about them – or so I naively thought.
Although my mother wore a Rolex, my father wore a Casio calculator watch. As a pre-school boy, the Casio calculator was inherently more appealing to me, but for zero horological reasons whatsoever. It had buttons – a whole lot of them, plus it beeped, light up, and had a little screen on it. By comparison, my mom’s watch (a reference 69173 Lady-Datejust) was boring. Sure parts on it were made from solid gold, but all it did was look pretty and show the time and date. Where was the excitement and cool capabilities of a wrist-mounted plastic calculator?
And then I saw my mother wear her Rolex into the bath one night. She didn’t try to remove her watch, just stepped into the bathtub and dunked her arm straight into the water. Now this caught my attention. For all of the cool features of the Casio calculator, my father always removed it before he went swimming or jumped in the shower. I was very much aware of this practice, as these were the times that I would usually mess around with it (and then subsequently hope that I hadn’t messed up any of its settings).
Maybe it was because my mom almost never took off her Rolex that I had not previously noticed that she wore it into the water. She had other bracelets and rings, and her Datejust was simply another part of her arm. It had been on her wrist as long as I could remember, and even as I write this, I am positive that she is still wearing that exact same watch. But back to the pressing inquiries of childhood: how was it able to survive in water?
The Waterproof Rolex Oyster Case
I asked my mother why her watch was able to work underwater, and she simply explained that it was waterproof (the proper explanation to give a 4 year old). At the time, I didn’t really understand what she meant by this or how something could even be waterproof, but the idea that her watch was impervious to something that destroyed others was wildly appealing to me. A Rolex was a watch that you could wear anywhere – after all, my mom did.
My questions about my mother’s Rolex continued, and with each one of her responses, my interest level grew. While many things about her Datejust intrigued me, the one concept that eluded my young brain was how her watch didn’t run on any batteries. Her explanation to me was that it was like a wind-up toy, just one that winds itself. But how does it wind itself? (This “self-winding” concept was not something that I was going to be able to fully comprehend for years to come.)
A watch of my own
Due to all my questions about an object that I had no idea how to even use, my mother decided to teach me how to read time – and not on a digital display (that was cheating she said). When I asked why I had to learn the more complicated way of reading time, she told me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received: “All of the cool watches are analog, and all of the cool cars are stick shifts. You might not care about any of this now, but one day you will. And when you do, you don’t want to be the guy who has no idea how to use any of it.”
So it was settled. A few weekends later, we went to the mall, where we stopped at the Swatch store, and my mom helped me pick out my first watch. As I was in kindergarten, a mechanical movement was simply not practical (or cost effective); however all I cared about was that I could wear my watch in the water like my mom did. We decided on a Flik Flak with a blue aluminum case and a colorful nylon strap. The main reason behind the decision: the hour and minute hands were shaped like little people in different colors, making it easy for a young kid to learn how to read time on an analog display.
I wore that watch everywhere – and got it wet under the sink while washing my hands at every opportunity. After a few years, I acquired a few other watches, and soon had a small collection, where I was able to start appreciating the nuances between timepieces of radically different designs and intended purposes. Even my mother, who I only ever saw wear her Lady-Datejust, also owned a cheap digital Timex that she wore whenever she would do the L.A. Marathon. The concept of a “tool watch” was something that both my parents practiced – my mother just on a far more obvious level than my father.
Back to the watch that started everything
For years I didn’t wear a watch at all, until one day during my freshman year of college, I saw a friend of mine with a Rolex that reminded me a lot of my mother’s Datejust. I was instantly reminded of everything that intrigued me about watches when I was a kid, along with all of the questions about my mom’s Rolex that I had never fully answered for myself.
Not long thereafter, I decided to buy myself a new watch, and as I started to research my first “real” horological purchase, I still had the same criteria as I did when I was in kindergarten: I want it to be waterproof, and I want it the type of watch that doesn’t use batteries and winds itself.
Obviously a search within these parameters immediately led me back to Rolex, where I was slightly devastated by the prices I saw online. Given that at the time, a case of beer was a purchase that warranted serious consideration of my finances, a Rolex was not in the realm of possibility. However it did get me to start researching all of the questions that I was never fully able to answer for myself when I was a kid. And from there, my interest in watches only grew.
Fast forward more than a decade, and I finally have the Rolex that I always wanted – a Submariner from my birth year. Additionally, while I’ve disassembled countless Rolex watches while previously working at a place that serviced them, these tiny mechanical marvels still intrigue me just as much as they did when I was a little kid, and was looking up at the Datejust on my mother’s wrist.
I absolutely love the fact that it was my mother who got me into watches, when it was my father who taught me about cars, tools, and all of the other mechanical and stereotypically masculine things in life. In a lot of ways, I am very much the man I am today because of my father; however it was my mother who showed me my first ‘real’ watch, told me to always follow my bliss, and sent me off on a lifelong pursuit of answering a series of questions that first started back when I was just 4 years old.