Pen Ultimate / Time Piece

Some telling tales about watches, old and new.

When the word went out that in Israel there are some customers who fancy quality timepieces and are ready to fork over the money for them, IWC Schaffhausen decided to present its watch collection for 2007 locally, through its representative Chronotime. But let's be clear about this: These watches won't fit into pockets that aren't extremely deep. Their price range is between 2,000 and 200,000 euros.

Switzerland is thought to be the motherland of all little things that tick precisely and tell the right time at all times, but IWC (International Watch Company) was founded in 1868 by an American watchmaker, Florentine Ariosto Jones, who sought cheap and skilled labor that he couldn't get at home, in Switzerland. Taking advantage of what was then a new hydroelectric plant built near the waterfalls of Schaffhausen, in northeastern Switzerland, he decided to produce watches based on his patents there, becoming the only such manufacturer in that part of the country.

By 1880 Jones had gone bankrupt, and the company was auctioned off to the Swiss Johann Rauschenbach-Vogel. It went on making quality watches, among them the first digital ones with the Pallweber mechanism. In 1903 it came out with its motto "Probus Scafusia" - "solid quality made in Switzerland." In 1905, when Rauschenbach's only son died, the company became the property of his wife, two daughters and their husbands. That is how one of them, Carl Gustav Jung, had enough time on his hands to pursue his research into archetypes and the collective unconscious. His brother-in-law, Ernst Jakob Homberger, ran the company and later owned it solely, until his death in 1955.

But why am I telling you all this? To inform you, and indirectly the IWC Shaffhausen people, that I'm not going to buy one of their exquisite products, not only because I can't afford them, but also because I already am the proud owner of one: a pocket watch in a 14K-golden case, left to me by my father. Recently I learned that my sister has the chain that belonged to it.

With age I'm becoming sentimental, and I've replaced the collection of Swatches I used to use to tell the time with a wristwatch that was my father's: a Tissot made in the late 1940s. Before adorning my wrist with it, I took it to my court watchmaker (I don't have a court, of course, but I did find a watchmaker who loves and knows how to take care of timeless timepieces from old times) to clean it. He commended its former owner for the good care he lavished upon it, which explained its good condition, considering its age.

Then I took my Schaffhausen pocket watch to him. Overwhelmed by the emotions the watch stirred in him - it was made by IWC in 1912 - he had to sit down. He then announced that on such an occasion, he would use a new set of screwdrivers to check it, and again praised the original owner. I told him proudly that my father, besides being a physician by profession and musician by training and inclination, had also been an amateur watchmaker. "Your father knew what to get hold of and how to take care of it," my watchmaker told me.

I still remember my father, who died 10 years ago, hunched over with a watchmaker's magnifying glass stuck under his eyebrow and a tiny screwdriver in his hand, taking apart, fixing and calibrating watches and making them tick again. He belonged to the generation that did not accept the possibility that "things" - mechanical or electric - could break down. And if something did malfunction, he was confident that anyone with an average IQ and some rudimentary technical skills could take the "thing" apart and fix it, and if not, at least diagnose the problem and bring the item to an expert for treatment.

Pursuing this line of thought, he instructed me that prior to taking apart any contraption that does not work (something a male is inclined to do with just about anything), one should spend at least half an hour looking at it from all angles, and pondering. That saves innumerable unnecessary screws - which do not actually hold together the parts that need to be taken apart - from being unscrewed. My father also told me to organize loose screws, bolts and other pieces in the order they were unscrewed and dismantled, if one wants to put everything together again and not be left with spare parts.

Barak's pastime

Why am I telling you all this? Because (take a deep breath) in the biographies of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit's chief turned-chief of staff-turned minister-turned PM, who then lost the elections, learned his lessons, went on to provide for his own house, was reelected chairman of the Labor Party, became minister of defense and now has his eyes set on the PM's seat again - I have read that Ehud Barak, when he was still in his teens, used to take watches and locks apart.

I believe every word written in those biographies, and I can see how the skill of dismantling locks can earn one the mantle of army chief of staff. I tried through my sources to establish whether Barak's skill consisted only of taking watches apart, or whether it included also putting the parts back together, in ticking order. My sources were not good enough, and did not come up with an unequivocal answer.

Don't tell me that this does not really matter. Barak's claim to fame in the last days of his tenure as PM was pursuing a policy that was sort of like dismantling a watch. He coined the slogan "there is no partner" and managed to sell it to everyone. Do not underestimate his success in that mission, which in due course, with willing cooperation from the Palestinian side, was translated into "there is no one to return the occupied territories to." I'm afraid that all the PM's horses and all the PM's men (regardless of who the PM is) won't be able to put this watch together again.

It is very true that even a broken watch tells the correct time twice a day. But it is not true that time works for, or against, us: Time only provides for its own house (in a watch's case, it's a case). Were these not my, and my children's, own times, I could have had a lot more fun, and time could have flown by more quickly.