In 1996 I had a bit of luck that would change my life, for better, or for worse. This wasn’t a marriage or even a bond between people. It was a connection that began in the sand.
It was the middle of summer. My girlfriend and I had been invited to stay with some friends of hers at their home on the beach. Irvine Cove was a private beach for the elite. Homeowners like Elizabeth Taylor, and a bunch of other people with long names followed by roman numerals. These people were the kind who owned Ferrari’s that people like me should be ashamed to look at because of the obscene thoughts running through my mind. All the homes came equipped with a golf cart, and possibly a surfboard rack mounted to the top for that matter. Each home was remarkably breathtaking in it’s own way. Some houses (I’m using the word “house” loosely) were adorned with gold fixtures while others had koi ponds in the front yard that would rival most people’s swimming pools. We didn’t hesitate to get out of our stuffy clothes, change into swimsuits and walk barefooted down the lava like asphalt to the beach. I’m sure we were quite the spectacle, high stepping down the street like two white horses on parade. As we walked by the mansions that seemed to be a city block each, I could imagine being looked at like foreigners wearing cameras around their necks and walking into the local country diner in Middle America. A couple of bright white flashes for some as we zoomed by trying to make our way to a cooler surface. We made it to the beach without being picked up by the local mental institution, after all, we must have looked like birds of paradise or even a pair of drum majors. Our smiling faces were jerking back from one side to the other as our out stretched arms and fingers were pointing at every house in the area.
After we splashed in the water and ran till we were out of breath, we settled in to our familiar beach routine. We sat on the sand and took in the rays of the sun while we talked about the scenery and how cool and refreshing the water was. I shoved my feet into the sand like a dolphin playing in the surf. Each time I would lift my feet I would watch the sand run between my toes like the sand from an hourglass. I dug deep trying to pile up enough sand to make people using shovels envious. This time, however, a gleaming bit of gold caught my eye. I reach down below my toes to unearth a wearable treasure. It’s black dial held me in a trance for a moment like a bird looking into a dark pond searching for its last meal of the day. As I lifted it from it’s sandy tomb each sharply chiseled link came into focus. The sand poured through the cracks as if it were a creek flowing over the rocks below it. The white spotted lumens were a stark contrast to the onyx face of the timepiece. It had a gold bezel that rotated, though I didn’t know that at the time. On the hour hand was a Mercedes symbol. Ahhh, maybe it was German? The logo it’s self was crest like, it had a vague similarity to the Swiss army logo. It was nicer than any watch I had held before.
“Oh my god” I whispered just above an audible tone. My girlfriend looked over to see me holding the fine crafted two-tone watch in my hand as I stared into the abyss of the black dial. “Where did you find that?” she said in a shocked voice. I looked over reaching my hand toward hers, “I just kicked it out of the sand.” She gasped as I laced it from my fingers to hers. “This looks expensive!” she said while her mouth hung open. “Are you going to keep it?” she asked. “I don’t think so, I’d be bummed if I lost a watch this nice” I replied. I stood up and took the watch from her hand, and looked around for the closest person. “Have you lost a watch?” I said, walking toward a man and woman who were walking in our direction. The man grinned and said, “What kind is it?” The woman to his side gave him a light slap on the arm. I chuckled and told him “it’s a nice one.” He glanced over at her and reluctantly said with a laugh, “No, I wish it was.” Peeking over my fingers to get a look at it. “Oh, wow, that’s nice!” he said with a half grin. “Lucky man! Good luck finding its owner.” said the woman next to him.
I spent the rest of that day and the following day asking each person in the small crescent shaped cove about the newfound watch in my hand. With almost the same response I got from the first man, each “No” filled my head with the idea that this watch could end up being mine.
After two long days searching for the owner, I slipped it on my wrist for the first time. It was heavy; lightly tugging at my arm to let me know it was there. It even fit me like it was sized just for me. The heavy metal links felt solid and soft at the same time. It was comfortable too! Not like the stretch band of your grandpa’s, pulling the hair from your wrist like a starship getting ripped off its course into the vortex of a black hole. I didn’t realize it then, but the connection was made during one of those moments. I’m not sure when exactly. It could have been when I first saw it, or possibly when i heard the first click of the clasp locking into place.
It was cool, not just to the touch, but it had an elegance that made people take notice. It made me feel different too, not like I felt in my youth, brandishing my inexpensive swatch and Casio watches that were hardly durable enough for a young boy who played outside. It made me feel mature. Maybe it’s because of the looks I would get. For the next few days’ curiosity began to set in. Why was everyone looking at this watch as if I couldn’t afford it? After all, I was 19 or 20 back then and I had a job. I don't think a week passed before I looked in the phone book for a watch shop. When I opened the local yellow pages to the “watch” section, the logo of my watch was one of only two on the page. The Rolex and Tag Heuer logos were set on each side of the page as if they were fighting for attention. I already knew the bravado of the rolex brand, but I knew nothing about the Tag Heuer; the same watch that was on my wrist. I suddenly realized why everyone looked at the watch like it was on the wrong wrist. I dropped the phone book where I stood and sped to the jeweler to learn about my new watch.
Either I didn’t look like I belonged in that place or someone in a three-piece suit farted before I walked through the door. The look on the salesman’s face was part shock, part disgust. His finely manicured eyebrows never relaxed while I was there. They arched up so high; they almost touched his dirty blonde toupee. I asked in the most posh voice I could muster, “How much would a watch like this cost?” Without hesitation, “about 800 dollars” the well-dressed man said casually. Most people twice my age wouldn’t try to afford a watch of this caliber. With my almost limp hand holding the watch over the glass counter, the salesman reached out and slipped it off my then frozen fingers. I don’t know if it was the shocked look on my face or the fact that I looked like a bum begging for change in that frozen second. With his, half surprised but part stoned look, he asked, “Where did you get this watch?” With out hesitation, I replied, “it was a gift from my uncle” as I snatched it out of his hand like a child fighting for a piece of candy. I must have been over come with shock because I don’t remember thanking the salesman for his time, or even leaving the jewelry shop for that matter.
I knew little to nothing about watches at that point in my life. If I had any clue that I could use a serial number to track the owner I would have. Then again, it’s hard to look back now and wonder what I would have done differently. I was raised with a defined moral compass, although my father took me gold prospecting and metal detecting at a young age, so there was a finders keepers mentality at the same time.
Since then, theirs not much I’m not willing to research or learn. I have my own watch desk for doing my own minor repairs; I have leather tools for making my own straps. I even have an OptiVISOR for when I’m really geekin out. I’m more into the vintage watches now days, but there is still a place in my heart for some of the newer pieces, even some of the quartz watches.
In the tragedy of someone’s loss, I gained something. It was a sense of pride, dignity, and self worth. A small piece of jewelry filled my head with wonder and joy. I never took that watch off. I didn’t remove it for sleep, showers, or even trips to the beach. I wore that watch till it finally stopped working and needed to be serviced. I don’t remember now if I sold it or gave it away because I couldn’t afford to have it fixed. Hell, by then it was scratched, and had dings all over it. It looked like it had been in a war zone.
The connection that fostered my love for watches was the lost watch I found that day. For those of you who don’t know the better or worse analogy in this story, you haven’t owned multiple watches yet or haven’t experienced the craving of wanting “just one more.” Someone’s loss gave me a hobby, something to look forward too, and a way to silently express myself. I loved that watch more than anything I owned. Since then, I’ve learned what it feels like to buy my own beautiful watches and would hate the feeling of losing one of them. However, I would gladly give up one of my own or even repay the man or woman who unknowingly passed something to me. Your loss gave me a treasure to cherish and passion to fall in love with. If you’re out there reading this, thank you for the memories and I hope that your memories of that watch were as good as mine.