Gun to your head… which watch would you never sell?
Unless you have Harrison’s H5 marine chronometer or George Daniels’ Space Traveller stashed in your watchbox (and if you do, an invitation to tea would be splendid), every watch you own is utterly replaceable. And if they’re all replaceable, it doesn’t actually matter a damn which one you keep.
That means the choice has to be a very personal one. The watch you choose needs to carry as many irreplaceable memories as minutes. That’s a problem though. Which one do I choose? Most of my watches have memories ticking around the dial. My first Rolex, an ‘89 GMTII, bought as a graduation present to myself 20-odd years after I’d picked up my degree. My Breitling Aerospace has seen travel adventures and thousands of motorcycle miles. My El Primero; that realised an ambition I’d had to own one since 1978, when I first cut out its picture from the Zenith catalogue and stuck it to my wrist. Nearly every watch I own has a story and memories of some sort.
But I’m being disingenuous. I have a clear choice. And, on the surface, it’s about as horologically interesting as a Swatch. It’s a very simple Seiko SNA141P1.
Dark green dial, three sub-dials, cal. 7T62 alarm/chrono movement. The case is scratched from wear and hawking about inside old car and motorcycle engines. The strap is old, bashed about and well-worn cordovan leather, the original green NATO long gone. The crystal has a selection of scars across it, some deep enough to feel with your fingernail. This is not a prepossessing watch. If you saw it in a watch dealer’s window you’d wonder if someone had left it there by mistake.
But it’s the only watch I’d never, ever sell and the only one I could never replace.
It was December 2002, and my (now) partner, Pip and I had been together just a matter of a few months. My birthday was imminent and she asked me what I’d like. I knew exactly what I wanted – a Seiko 7a28-7120 military spec.
I described it to Pip and left it there. I didn’t realise that, as a junior BBC radio presenter, there were church mice with fatter payslips. And she’d never even worn a watch, so a slightly wafty brief to find an obscure military, issued-only Seiko was like asking Mother Teresa to track down a Ferrari 250GTO and raid Sunday morning’s collection to pay for it.
What I didn’t bet on was Pip’s sheer damn determination to find me my watch. I only learned later that she’d trekked round pretty much every jeweller in Oxfordshire to hunt it down. She’d asked and hunted and asked. Of course, the 7a28-7120 was a watch that had never even reached a high street window. It was an impossible task – there was no way she could do it.
But, on my birthday, I unwraped a square, watchbox-shaped parcel and found my SNA141P1 inside. It wasn’t a military-issue 7a28. It was something far more precious. It was my first birthday present from Pip. Twelve years later, it’s still on my wrist as I type this. It’s my favourite watch and the only one I can never replace. Memories beat money. Every time.
The real irony? Despite all my faffing about with Rolex and Zenith and JLC, very quietly, the little Seiko Pip bought me has quietly become a bit of a classic.