A Watch is like one of the family

If you’re reading this then you probably agree with my assertion that a special watch can become a very important part of a person’s life.

In fact Patek Philippe’s ‘Generations’ adverts tell us that “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation”.  I’ve recently discovered that passing a watch between generations is not only a very special experience but that it can work in both directions.

While posted to Germany with the RAF in 1962, my father bought a rather lovely gold Omega dress watch.  Sixty odd years ago such watches were worn on a daily basis and that’s what my Dad did throughout my childhood so it’s fair to say that it was a familiar sight and I got to know it pretty well.

While walking on the beach one day in the late 1980’s, dad felt momentary confusion when the seconds hand of his watch snagged on the fabric of his shorts – he knew that something was wrong with this scenario but couldn’t immediately figure out what it was …. When he looked down he realised that the bezel and plexi had both fallen off his watch and into the sand never to be seen again, exposing the hands to the elements, and to his shorts.

A quick discussion with the local Omega AD confirmed that the watch was beyond economical repair and the insurance company quickly replaced it with an horrible champagne dialled quartz monstrosity (It was the ‘80s after all).

Fast forward 25 years and this all came up in conversation over lunch one Sunday.  Dad said that he had his old watch in a drawer somewhere and I asked if I could have it. I was delighted when he said that of course I could and went to find it.

I sat there remembering the beautiful round gold case, the white dial with its delicate gold hands and markers and the black leather strap.

I was very excited by the time he came back to the table but when he opened his hand he revealed something that looked less like it belonged at a garden party and more like it had been dug up in a garden.

Of course the lack of the bezel and plexi had left the dial and hands exposed to the damp air for the previous twenty odd years and this had wrought havoc.  Everything was mottled and corroded and looked a real mess – ‘patina’ wasn’t the word.

When I looked at the case I could see that it wasn’t solid gold (not a surprise as my parents were never wealthy) but gold plated, and the plating had worn through on many of the edges, revealing the base metal underneath. He did wear the watch daily for over 25 years after all.

The lovely black Omega strap and matching gold plated buckle were also lost forever leaving just the case, movement, dial and hands, all of which were in a real mess.  However, this watch was a member of the family and being a confirmed ‘watch guy’, I had no choice but to rescue it.

I called on many contacts, each of whom set about tackling a different part of the challenge as they replated the case, made a new bezel from 18ct gold, restored the dial and hands, serviced the movement and fitted a new plexi.

When it came back I treated it to a new leather Omega strap with period Omega gold plated buckle and put it in the correct Omega box.

Of course all of this work took many months, destroyed the originality of the watch and cost far more than it was worth to anyone but my family, but it was worth every penny.

Initially it had been my intention to keep the watch as my dress watch but as soon as I saw it all together I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold on to it and that it had to go to someone who would appreciate it properly.  It was close to Christmas and so I wrapped it all up in festive paper and put it under the tree.

When he opened his surprise present on Christmas Day, there were real tears in Dad’s eyes as he told me that it was like “meeting a very old friend who hadn’t changed a bit in all of these years”.

Nowadays he still wears his old Omega for special occasions and I know that one day it will come to me and then to my son – not for a long while yet though.  This is a piece of family history that will pass from generation to generation and will take a little bit of my Dad with it wherever it goes – a very special watch that has become a very important part of our lives.

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