Without thinking I plunged my left arm up to the elbow into the Beaverkil and freed my
black wooly bugger from a rock on the bottom. Then I looked in horror at my wrist. I
had submerged a rare Patek Phillipe wrist watch and it was not waterproof. But
there was a greater reason than the loss of the value of the watch that aroused such
powerful emotions, the story of which follows.
Ever since I held my grandfather’s minute repeater as a child I have been a cousin to
crows, blackbirds and ravens. I have coveted shiny morsels for my larder, namely
gold watches. Ten years ago I was picking my way through the crowd on Madison
Avenue looking for a suitable golden crumb. There was a shop called the End of Time
opposite the Whitney Museum. In the window was a men’s Patek Philippe wristwatch in
18k rose gold, with an alligator wristband. Giving way to an irresistible
force, I went in. The proprietor was the farthest being imaginable from someone living
among the chronographs of dreams:
He was of a salt and pepper age, at least in his 60’s and very short of stature though I
don’t remember him standing up. He had disheveled hair and 3 days of beard on his face,
not then a fashion statement. His clothes and shoes were old and bedraggled
such as an out-of—work day laborer might wear to paint his own apartment. His glasses
were so dirty I could not imagine anyone seeing through them and the frame was held
together in 2 places with tape that was so old he clearly had no plans to repair them.
Affixed to these glasses were 2 additional magnifying lenses so common to jewelers but
for this man, necessary to read a newspaper.
I asked about the watch. Never have I felt so ignorant. Never have I been regaled by
such a history of watch making, and jewels, and why jeweled to the hammers was so
Important. To this day I do not know what the hammers are for or why a watch needs
them. I began to think he would throw me out of the store and not let me buy the watch
at all so low was my knowledge. Only when I showed him my grandfather’s minute
repeater and did his features relax. I tendered it to him like a low barbarian from an
outlying province to the emperor of Rome.
Holding the watch, he beamed, glad to have found something.
“What is this schmutz on here?” he demanded
“I don’t know, I was thinking of having it cleaned and oiled.”
“Are you mischugina? Leave this watch alone. They will do more harm than good
monkeying around with it.”
I promised never to let mortal watch maker touch it.
“Look,” he spoke to an invisible someone else,
“It has filigree hands, very nice. I like the hands”
He pulled the lever and it chimed.
In the mythology of the family it had been made by Swiss elves at great price for use by
wealthy blind people. I told him the story and he cut me off.
“Enough with your whole megillah.”
“I, I will tell you, not you. The were made for export. “See,” he opened the back, which I
had never done.
“I’m surprised, it ain’t jeweled to the hammers. Only 10k. It isn’t worth much, maybe
two, three thousand. But I like those hands, very nice.” He shook his head as if the
watch made him remember something from long ago. -
“Now this watch,” he said as if preparing to teach a long class, this is something
special, 18k, made in 1963. Patek made very few watches with the cal. 27 AM 400.
This is watch making art , the peak of Patek's 12 ligne mechanisms. What does he care,
Mr. Filigree Hands,” again he addressed an invisible person.
He opened the back triumphantly and slapped his thigh: “lever escapement and
I assumed that by pulling this lever the watch and perhaps even I might defy
gravity but I stayed mute, fearful of his reprimand.
“So, Mr. Fancy big shot. You want such a plain watch?”
I wanted to buy it, if only to escape from the shop.
“Well don’t go monkeying around with this watch neither. Wear it in good health and zei
I paid for the watch and ran. I loved the watch. When I had a new batch of shirts made,
the shirt maker keep the left sleeve shorter, the “wristwatch length” he called it and
many people complimented my treasure.
I fell into the habit of wearing it all the time. It was just as at home with tweed as it was
with a dinner suit. I reached a point where I forgot about it altogether, the fate of most
such objects of our strongest desires. It was a bright morning in May and I was fishing
the Upper Beaverkill. There were no fish hitting the surface so I tied on a wooly bugger,
the emergency kit of all anglers. After a few casts it got caught on a rock. I
waded over and plunged my left arm up to the elbow in the fast moving water and
struggled with the line until I broke it free. This the point where you first came in so, to
make a long story short, I was afraid of incurring the wrath of the End of
Time’s proprietor and sold the damn thing on Ebay. Since that time I have only worn
waterproof “sports” watches and had no further need of his ilk. Yet now and then I wish
his shop was still there. I would ask about one of his watches just to hear his voice
* * *
From the War Canoe