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Rituals in time

Watch writer Debbie Hathway received her first watch from her mother for her 10th birthday, with her name engraved on the back. She believes the evening ritual of winding this manual piece was the first habit she chose to learn.

I have accumulated and kept several timepieces over the years, mostly for sentimental reasons. One of my favourites is a pocket watch given to me for my confirmation when I was 17 years old. At the time I couldn’t find a watchmaker who could restore it to working order, but it is a beautiful piece of jewellery in an engraved silver case that I wear on a heavy chain around my neck.

Looking back, and listening to the watchmakers and collectors I meet at occasions like the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva talk about their early time-related memories, I realise mine are not dissimilar. My grandfather was a craftsman who specialised in making furniture mostly from stinkwood. His garage was his workshop and I used to spend hours in there surrounded by the tools of his trade, wood in various stages of transformation and that unforgettable smell and sound of the saw. He built a blackwood case for a grandfather clock too, which is still in the family. And my parents have a wall-mounted clock whose sound we’re so accustomed to we don’t hear it ticking or chiming, but which makes an indelible impression on others –particularly overnight guests who are light sleepers!

These memories come flooding back when I walk into the hallowed halls of the SIHH every January. I feel like that child again, surrounded by impressive booths conceptualised to showcase the work of some of the world’s leading maisons in haute horlogerie and haute joallerie. Four solid days of admiring the gleaming timepieces and glittering jewellery on display, and listening to the stories behind them, puts me on a high for weeks as I gather the gems for my writings in the year to come. It’s a highlight on the annual calendar.

Of all the experts I’ve interviewed during the past decade and more, not one has said they wear a watch to keep track of time. The mobile phone is generally accepted as serving that purpose, although there are many pieces purpose-designed for jetsetters, adventurers, divers and pilots. I must confess that I’ve long been one of those relying on my phone as a timekeeper but since acquiring a Frederique Constant Ladies Automatic recently, I find the opposite is true. The romance of the ‘heart beat’– the movement revealed at 12 o’clock – is an endless fascination and the shimmer of the dial decoration not only catches my eye but attracts admiring glances too. More of the intricate inner workings are revealed through the open case back. The watch bears the ‘Swiss Made’ mark as a result of it being fully produced (from design to final assembly and quality control) at the manufacture in Geneva. I can’t wait to see the big reveals at SIHH for 2019.

This article by Debbie Hathway originally appeared in Issue 42 of Private Edition.


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