What I bought with my very first paycheck
After 30 years of keeping me fashionably late, my Golana watch has finally resigned.
As if pining for a time when there were more hours in the day, it tells me it's brunchtime when people are heading back to their desks; it's ready to wine and dine when I should be hitting the hay.
This tiny little watch - about the diameter of an Australian 5 cent piece - was the object of my desire for months, until I finally broke down and bought it with my very first paycheck: $A247.
$247 was a lot to blow in one go, let alone on a watch. It felt like $1500 feels like now.
I remember gazing at it through a plate glass window in Canberra, Australia, when I was 17 years old. The store, called Gold and Silver (I think), jutted out from a very desirable little enclave of shops called Centerpoint, overlooking a pedestrian plaza. It was an exclusive little mall, selling fancy clothes by Aussie fashion icons like Nadjee menswear, Cue, and probably the best frozen yoghurt fruit salad I will ever eat, Pinkberry notwithstanding.
The watch sat right at the front of the display case, and my nose was, by my calculation, exactly 10 centimeters from it at my closest and most frequent approach. It never moved from that place, even after months, daring me to enter the tradesman's entrance to yuppiedom - much like owning Hermes scarf or a Marc Jacobs keyfob without the entire wardrobe to match.
I received that first paycheck as a Technical Assistant (Junior) working for the CSIRO Division of Computing Research. My duties were to look after a "node" at the behest of beslippered academics beavering away at their life's work. I remember turning up at work in sandals, shorts, and a pink singlet with gold thread running through it. I must have looked like an exchange student's kid sister, scurrying around the corridors letting the printer and plotter paper run out. That was Australia in the 70's - hot, carefree summers, Tang powdered pop in the fridge, cicadas buzzing in the eucalyptus trees, bugs crapping yellow enamel dots on your white Ford Laser Ghia.
I remember buying a silver box link chain for my very first boyfriend back in high school, a few years prior. Each week, after school, I secretly caught a bus to the store and paid them $5 of the $35 over 7 weeks. Secretly, because I didn't have a lot of money and I wasn't allowed to have a boyfriend. I remember the shopkeeper saying "Look, we don't normally bother with this, most people just come in and buy it cash!"
"Its the perfect choice for you," said the lady behind the counter when I finally caved in and bought the watch. It fitted my bony little wrist perfectly. I liked the 'post modernist', clean lines of the case: a sandblasted silver donut encircling a gold inner ring, and the white, modest face.
Over the years, I wore this watch interchangeably with some cheapie, garish ones. You know, ones with Mona Lisa on the face, or scrolly blingy cases, or even those big, clunky, fake Russian watches with the cap that locks over the winder. That was the eighties.
It told the time spot on until today. I took it to the Chelsea Cobbler on 7th Ave in NYC, where a Russian man called Anatoly sat behind a counter full of clunky and blingy watches, bracelety bands and smudged bottles of cleaning spirits. He peered inside my watch with a big lupe.
"Kaput," he said. Just to make sure, we set it for 5pm and waited. Nyet.
He assured me that watches with quartz movements are pretty well parity, whether you're talking a $50 Swatch, a $500 Tag Heuer, or a $22 goldtone no-name from his case.
'They're all similar - you're just paying extra $20-$200 for the name, and/or the case."
Only when you enter the realm of mechanical watches - ones you have to wind yourself or shake - do you start getting into haute horology. I should know this. I use to write ads for Sydney haute horologist J Farren-Price years ago, when I worked for ad agency Doorley Buchanen. I remember one watch priced at $250,000, by Patek-Philippe. Then there was a case of Blancpain watches worth half a million or more. Perhaps my purchase of a Golana prepared me for J Farren Price.
While Anatoly tried to rescusitate my watch another woman came in with an equally old favorite. At first, he gave her the same bad news. But then, hers started working. Mine stayed stalled at brunchtime.
So I ended up buying a new watch - for $34.95 - with a bit of my paycheck:
It's a Timex "Easy Reader", so named because you can actually tell the time without Mickey or Snow White or Gossip Girl or whoever getting in the way. I like the clear, Bodoni-style characters and the easy-on-off stretchy wristband. I'm not sure how it will stand up to bicycling in the sun and rain, but I rather like fantasizing it's the kind of "gold watch" you get after you retire.
While we're on the subject of watches, I'll divulge the only other watch I own: a rubbery $50 Karim Rashid YAHOO! watch with two faces:
The analog time is the time in Sydney, Australia, so I know when to call my mother. The digital time is the time where my feet are. I gave up trying to find a nice world time watch for women. It's as if watch manufacturers think women neither travel nor have any reason to want to know the time away from house and home ...
The only other watch I've ever coveted is the ultra minimalist Pod Watch by Marc Newson - just for the sheer coolness of telling the time via a few drilled holes on a set of rotating concentric rings.
So what did you buy with your very first paycheck?
UPDATE: Strewth, what's happening to me? I've just gone and bought myself another watch, a Paris Hiltonesque blingy thing for $26 ...