Watching watches

- Tingting Cojuangco () - February 5, 2012 - 12:00am

Time: the swinging of pendulums in grandfather clocks at the Estrella del Norte’s huge showroom in Escolta impressed me at a tender age. So did the dancing of a watch’s spring when my dad pulled one apart at a junk shop. It was thin as hair. I’ve imagined the burning of a candle that signaled the time of Rizal’s execution. To tell time, the draining of sand in an hourglass must have helped conquistadores. The National Geographic magazines Dad bought for me made me curious about sundials that were featured. Sundials: I found them incomprehensible as a way of measuring time. But it taught me about the rotation of the earth that resulted in our calendar, measuring time at a constant rate, to give us a form of stability.

Time is what the clock measures and what my left wrist doesn’t need again. I must have the house’s gutters repaired. I remind my conscience I’m not intending to buy a wristwatch, with models changing so often. Mine was sold to me with a punchline: “It’s the latest.” I only purchased it last year, now it seems like a vintage watch. Sensibility will nag me to wait ‘til next year: the newest models will dwarf this year’s in design and mechanism. Yet I can’t live without a watch to be on time.

So, I need a watch. They make me nervous about how time flies. Late? Early? Even the drip of a dextrose bottle scares me. Too fast? Too slow, Dr. Rose Ann Bisquera? When I asked Dr. Randy Francisco, “How long? Today? Tomorrow?” his answer was, “Go home and rest.” He was caring for my father at the time, before he passed. “We’ll make him as comfortable as can be.” That’s the best children can do for parents. And what about parents? Sure, I remember Dad and Mom hurrying me to school. “Where are the car keys?” That was the last sentence after “Good Morning” before we left the house.

Well. Now I own vintage watches and serious watches. But do I take my watches as seriously as watchmakers do? Imagine designers competing in conceptualizing watch cases. The back plate needs to give access to the movement and battery. What kind of covering will this watch need to protect the dial, an acrylic glass or mineral glass or glass? Put lines on the face or roman numerals or numbers or mother of pearl? Its hands, its wheels, its gears need the indispensable watchmaker with his eye clasping his magnifying glass and fingertips turning the crown.

I view a watch in its entirety, which incidentally tells a story of a lifestyle because it’s difficult to be a watchmaker, playing games with consumer psychology. Will it be yellow gold for the European market, pink gold in Asia, white gold in the Middle East? How fun! Bulky for men? Finer models for women? Because today, with women as multitaskers, they wash the dishes to preserve vintage plates, too, from breaking. So waterproofed watches may be a necessity, not just for divers. Women sit on a swivel chairs conducting meetings, taking on men’s jobs. Shall it be a masculine stainless steel watch for them? A computer operator records meetings, letters, memos, resolutions and the time of decisions. Precision is needed. Call center operators rush to catch up with international date lines, a digital or quartz? Baby’s who go for placemats and cups and grab shiny metals on our wrists must be fed on time. And then dining out without changing our timepieces commands design decisions for timeless pieces.

Watches live throughout time. I have a Rolex watch inherited from my grandmother: round, very tiny, with a gold flower on its face and at the center a sapphire. Its strap features a pattern of upright “V”s inverted in gold. No one can duplicate that today. Not even the sentiments of her husband Angel who gave it to Dada Lucia. A Cartier circa 1997 with diamonds around its face made me think: This is the last watch I’ll ever buy because it’s just like me, to own it. It expresses my personality. Last buy? No. Bulgari came out with stretchable gold arm bands that reminded me of this story: I received a stainless watch as a present and outsmarted the giver. I’ll change this for a bigger face of the same style, I decided. And, the little difference, I’ll pay in Hong Kong dollars. The salesman lay my old three-day watch on top of a glass casing displaying several new gold models underneath. In an hour my stainless steel watch was “transformed” into two — not just one — gold watch. One square all gold for my daughter Mai-Mai and for me the round model with a matching ring. It was a holdup, that’s how my husband described it that year, 2005. Seven years later I walked into Bulgari Malaysia and the salesperson noticed the watch: “That’s our very old piece. We don’t make them anymore.” I thought “old” was 50 years ago.

I’m not obsessed with watches anymore. Practicality has visited me. I’m reminded about Mom who wears a Guess watch her three grandchildren gave her for Christmas with huge numbers so she can see. It’s a toy watch she wears for very sentimental reasons that replaced her 1950s watch with a gold strap so faded no one would believe it was a prized Baume Mercier.

I recall a friend who told me, “I met my husband when I asked the man beside me, ‘What time is it?’ So no watches for me.” Tony, my secretary, said: “I don’t need a watch. I see the time on your television screen, computer monitor, desk phone and our stove.” A watch has become an extra expensive accessory for some or just a piece of décor, whether broken or working, selected over and over, like changing clothes and rings.

It’s made its mark as a rite of passage. When my daughter Liaa graduated from high school she received a Tiffany watch from her dad. It’s still functioning. After college she got a Cartier watch. Men think gifts, and decide on watches or rings. A man celebrates his birthday; a watch could be a perfect gift. And me? Who could resist a Van Cleef timepiece half its original price? I couldn’t. I agree with Ray Cummings, an early writer of science fiction of 1922, who wrote: “Time... is what keeps everything from happening at once.” It’s on my wrist now. I forgot to wind it 2:03 a.m., the time Dad bid us goodbye.        

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