Thursday, February 16, 2023

Marking Time - About My Omegas

If you turned up for news on the latest Blancpain release, I'm afraid you've knocked on the wrong door ; )

Innovation and the "latest and greatest" is always intriguing. But with that said, I often find myself thinking back on what started my interest in watches, or as Robert-Jan at Fratello once said -

"What was the trigger?"

The first watch was this Omega. In truth, I had owned another automatic watch which I got at a pawn shop in Tachikawa, Japan in exchange for my quartz Tag Heuer and 4,000 Yen. But 1996 found Wendy and me living in Turku, Finland. And rooting around a weekly flea market I found a pair of truly neglected Omega wrist watches. The first was in such bad shape that the stall owner refused to let me buy it. The second he only did so reluctantly. Now whether he was really looking out for my "best interests" or he thought he might get more money from a more prosperous customer than an itinerant English teacher is a matter for another time. Long story short, negotiations went back and forth, and I bought it for the princely sum of the US equivalent of $23.00.

My first stop, the same day was to a jeweler in the downtown area who fitted it with a forrest green strap. Needless to say, this was an unusual choice, but my being not only foreign, but an American allowed me a certain amount of freedom to make odd choices. 

Now I wish I had taken a photo at the time. The dial was not merely patinated, it was pretty much ruined. The white/silver finish pretty completely missing in several spots. The second hand fell off twice. And thus began the long rehabilitation process. I took it in for a service. The watchmaker at the shop in Salo (next to the NOKIA center I taught two days a week at) took it in and 100 Finnish Markka later it didn't really seem to have made any difference. And things stayed that way for the next three years until we moved to San Francisco.

Once there, I discovered Geneva Watch Repair in the old Shreve Building. The owner / watchmaker took in my Omega, arranged for a redial (sacrilege to some, but the dial was completely shot), put in a NOS crystal and crown, new gaskets, a full service, and I was back in business!

The folks at Serregin's engraved the case back with 4 important years that marked:

1992 - moved to Japan and met Wendy

1995 - moved to Portugal 

1996 - moved to Finland

2000 - moved back to the US

And I happily wore it, but not as much as before as the watch bug had sunk its teeth deep into my limbic system and dozens of different watches flowed in and out of my possession. But the Omega 30 has remained a constant.

Enter the Seamaster CO-AXIAL

Whether I was ready to admit it to myself or not, I had one fairly strong (semi) regret in terms of watches that have been in my possession.

Back in 1992 I was what could be charitably called "situationally homeless". I was working at Kinko's (remember them?) and sofa-surfing. I had graduated from the University of Oregon and spent the following year and half trying to figure out what to do with my life. To say that things were getting "chancy" would be a gross understatement. I had sold virtually everything I owned, and was down to my Thomas McGuane collection of paperbacks, a handful of CDs, 1 pair of jeans, 3 shirts and a sweater (or 2). 

One Sunday I sat down at the coffee place I would frequent (a cup of coffee was $0.75 with free refills) and as I was leafing through the Sunday Oregonian, I came across two ads in the help wanted section -


Now for the record, I had ZERO teaching experience, and was vaguely acquainted with where Japan was in relation to the Great Northwest. But I did have the one requirement that was needed - an undergraduate degree (Thank you U of O!). I applied for the jobs more on a whim - my job search results up to that point had been mostly for naught. But I was about to be pleasantly surprised - both companies contacted me, I borrowed a suit and tie, drove the 4 hours to Seattle for the first interview, stopped in Portland for the second and 3 days later had a job offer! The only hitch was that I would have to be ready to leave in exactly 60 days. 

The next 50 days were spent working as many shifts and as much overtime as I could manage, I temped here and there and did everything short of selling my plasma to save enough money to pay for my flight and first month of living expenses. With 10 days to go, I found myself short by $65, with no real hopes of raising anything further. But I did have one more thing that had not been sold earlier.

Family heirlooms, at least in my father's family, tended to be discarded fairly willy-nilly. As it happens, I had inherited my Grandmother's Omega. It bears mentioning that this was probably a 28 mm quartz watch. Essentially, too small even by 1992 standards. I had never worn it, and truthfully it never occurred to me to do so. It simply sat in a sock in my dresser drawer. I was 23 and had to make a choice. Hang onto the watch and what seemed like a prolonged spell of itinerant living and minimum wage "copy-jocking", or let it go and roll the dice on a new life in a strange country where I did not have a friend and did not speak the language. 

Spoiler Alert - 

I sold the watch. It netted enough to pay for my air ticket, and I negotiated enough for a camera and 3 rolls of film in addition. The next Monday I took the train to Portland, went to the Japanese consulate to process my visa, and 3 days later I boarded a Northwest flight to Tokyo.

Japan changed my life. I met my wife, Wendy. I found my vocation, teaching. And from there I would go on to live in Portugal, Finland, England, and Scotland before returning to the US.

Nearly 25 years later, I got an email offering me the CO-AXIAL in trade (with cash) for a watch that I felt was not really for me and was trying to sell. And to be honest, I really wanted cash, and the Omega was not really on my radar. I opened the next email in my in-box, and it was a copy of an old letter from my Grandmother that one of our cousins had found. And it included a picture of her with me, her wearing the Omega I had sold so many years before, that had made it possible for me to really start my life. Sometimes fate whispers, but in this case it shouted. I accepted the offer for the Omega (with cash) and didn't look back. Sometimes you have accept that the universe, however flawed, tends to reveal itself as it is meant to be ; )

Enjoy your watches -

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