Back in 2001 when I was a computer consultant fixing Y2K bugs in Poland I had a layover in Zurich. I wandered through the airport marveling at all the things I could buy. Chocolates. Leather goods. Watches. Having recently graduated college I wondered what kind of people shopped at those places. Then I realized that I was working a good job and had some money.
I wanted to get something for myself. I rolled back through the duty free, intent on finding something. I found the Swatch booth.
I didn’t really wear a watch – it made not sense because I carried a Nokia cellphone shaped like a brick. But Swatch was a Swiss brand and I was in Switzerland so I perused the selection.
Among the candy-coated timepieces in the Swatch boutique I found the Irony Diaphane. It was a precursor to the metal Irony line with a bonded case made of plastic and aluminum. The ETA movement ticked away behind a little balance wheel window and the clear casebook let me see everything that was going on inside. It was perfect but I didn’t know why.
I did know that I didn’t like quartz. After high school my parents bought me a Seiko auto quartz but, recalling my Dad’s 1970s-era mechanical Seikos, it seemed too new, too inelegant. I loved the idea of a mechanical even though I didn’t understand the mechanics behind them and their long history. The Irony unlocked all of that.
I bought it. It was my first real watch purchased with my own money. It was like meeting an old friend after a long absence.
The Gyrotempus couldn’t have cost more than $100 and I wore it for years, setting and resetting it as I flew around Europe and the US. When I settled into journalism in about 2002 I started exploring new watches and it was quickly relegated to the watch box. But I just pulled it out today to look at it and aside from some junk in the crevices it still looks just fine. It’s the perfect first watch – plastic and metal and a great movement work in nearly flawless concert. It’s cheap, sure, and the design is a little dated but for a newly-minted world traveler it was just the thing.
We remember firsts because they are momentous or mundane. We joke that our first kiss was an accidental peck in the school yard or crow that our first beer led to an epic party. But our first watch is uniformly special, uniformly fascinating. Watches are living things that live alongside us and, when we feel nostalgic, can spring back to life with a flick of the wrist. It’s respect for that kind of magic, that kind of power, that defines what it means to be a watch lover.