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first person

Illustration by Andrew Watch

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

I spent a lot of time agonizing over buying a watch, several years in fact. But before I tell you about it, let me tell you why it was such a difficult choice.

Watches are somewhat important in my family. My grandfather, when he was alive, would often tell me that he never bought a watch in his life. They were all gifts. I’m the exact opposite. I have almost never been given a watch. I’ve had to buy nearly all of mine. I’ve never had a really good watch. The closest I came were two Victorinox Swiss Army watches. The first got left behind, never to be seen by me again, when I left for Edinburgh to do a master’s degree. The second, I bought when I returned. But after a few years of wear, the numbers started to fall off the dial as the glue gave out. That was when I realized that $200 spent on a watch provided no certainty of a lifetime of value. I began to set my sights a little higher up the price range.

You are probably thinking at this point, “Why does this guy even want a watch? Doesn’t he have a phone?” I do have a phone. It’s sitting in my pocket. It’s only a minor inconvenience to pull it out at meetings to check the time. I doubt that people wonder too much about whether I am finding their presentation boring when I look at my phone, but the thought always crosses my mind. It’s also probably a bit snobby of me to think that James Bond would never look at his smartphone to find out the time, but I am a frail and fallen creature and subject to vanity. In short, I don’t need a watch but I want one. If you don’t wear a watch, I will slightly judge you for the decision, but I am working on my character flaws.

Having decided long ago that I wanted a watch, I began to think about what watch I wanted. I went through a silly period when I thought I wanted a Rolex. Actually, I thought I could settle on a $5,000 Rolex as a concession to my deeper desire for a Patek Philippe watch. I live downtown and I don’t drive a car, so why not spend the equivalent amount of money for a nice car on a nice watch? I had many dark nights of the soul greedily lusting after a watch like this. I watched YouTube videos, I read reviews and read watch-enthusiast blogs. I tried to convince myself that a single beautiful watch and a few other carefully curated objects could be part of a minimalist life focused on quality over quantity.

Along the way, I contented myself with an innovative smartwatch that was made by robots and was completely mechanical and self-winding. We had a happy two years together, but the watch would lose a couple of minutes a day and I often found myself showing up late for meetings. As much as I liked it, I just knew that it wasn’t my “forever watch.” If you think I use the term “forever watch” without shaking my head at my own ridiculousness over the time and effort I have given to thinking about this watch, then you cannot read subtext.

Eventually, I realized that spending $5,000 on a watch was not consistent with my values, although I am not really out of the woods on this one. There is a completely manual Leica film camera which, I am convinced, would help me take pictures of stunning beauty and win me lasting fame as a photographer.

I began to turn my thoughts to high-quality quartz watches. I thought about a Bulova perpetual watch. Bulova has a soft spot in my heart since the father of one of my best friends growing up worked for them. He always had snazzy watches and I was a little jealous of them compared to the Casio watches I wore at the time.

But, deep down, I realized that I didn’t want an American watch or a Swiss watch. I really wanted a Canadian watch. I wanted to express my patriotism in my watch. Sadly, the few watches I did see were completely not to my taste. I wanted a simple but elegant watch that looked like it would be worn by a First World War ace, but who am I kidding? I wanted a watch that a retired commander in the British navy, who now worked in MI6, would wear – only a Canadian version. This was clearly an impossible quest.

And then I found it. Hidden among Birks’ inventory of nice watches is a line of Canadian designed (but still Swiss made) watches. They even had a mechanical one designed as a pilot’s watch. It’s beautiful, and before you think this is an ad for Birks, I have to tell you I think my watch is now sold out. If it is an ad for anything, it is for Canadian design and Canadian product stories. This is me doing my little part.

In the end, I got a great deal on the watch as part of the store’s clearance of the model. I utterly failed in purchasing a high-priced global status symbol, eventually spending barely 10 per cent of the price of a Rolex for a watch that no one will ever ask me about. On the positive side of the ledger, I am completely to blame now when I show up late for meetings and I can check out the time without fear of judgement.

More importantly, I got a good-quality product for a reasonable price, and for one of the rare times in my life, I am finally a satisfied watch customer.

Gregory Butler lives in Ottawa.