“I absolutely refuse to go to Beverly Hills right now,” I say.
I’m sprawled in a lounge chair by the pool reading to my kids. My wife is standing over me, explaining that she needs to go to Beverly Hills because there is one small boutique which is the only place that has some sort of makeup product that she must have.
We are on a return visit to Los Angeles, staying in Santa Monica, which is where I would love to remain. Besides the fact I try to avoid Beverly Hills when I can, packing my 1.5 and 3.5 year old kids into the rental car and schlepping through Friday afternoon traffic to go to buy makeup is the complete opposite of what I want to be doing.
My wife is relentless. Groan.
What I don’t realize is that this conversation is one of the final stops on a journey that has taken over a decade.
Twelve years earlier I was living in Los Angeles, working as an assistant to a director. I was a wide-eyed small-town kid; my boss was a worldly man of discerning taste. Working for him was an education in many things: food, architecture, design, photography, art, kindness, surfing… the list goes on. Although he had many fine things, nothing was flashy or ostentatious. His inclinations towards understated thoughtful design had a huge influence on me.
He had one watch. The moment I saw that watch I was completely enamored. I had never seen anything like it. At a first glance it appeared beautifully simple. As you looked closer it was full of detail. The gold hands caught the light in a magical way. The numbers on the dial were in a striking font, and cut out to give depth. The dial was protected by the most lovely crystal dome which had a pleasing way of distorting the view at certain angles. A bold chunk of metal covered the crown, with a clever little lever to ensure the case would be water tight. It was huge, yet amazingly comfortable to wear. Even the strap was a work of art; a thick slab of honey colored leather that matched those gold hands. I was enchanted.
It was a Panerai. And from that moment I made up my mind that I was going to own a Panerai.
Then, one day, while filing paperwork, I came across the receipt. The watch cost more than I paid for my Honda Accord. I was flabbergasted; I couldn’t understand how a watch could be that expensive. At least my car could comfortably drive five people around, had AC, and a sound system I could plug my iPod into.
I’ve always had an in interest in watches; the Mickey Mouse watch my grandparents gave me, the Indiglo lighting up on my dad’s timex, the fifty dollar Alfred Sung my parents bought me when I was 16 after staying out until five AM with a pretty girl and using the excuse that I lost track of time. But, I knew nothing of “luxury” watches. I had a Kenneth Cole that my girlfriend bought me which was pretty awesome.
But looking at that Panerai, I realized it was a different animal. More than simple admiration, I identified with this watch. However strong the attraction, spending thousands of dollars on a watch was not an option for me. I resolved that owning a Panerai would never happen.
As the years passed, the desire for that watch never waned. If I ever found a store that sold Panerai, I was going in to ogle them. I started to notice other nice watches that were closer to my price range, but I waited. I refused to buy near perfect Panerai replicas in the Chiang Mai night market, it felt sacrilegious. My girlfriend became my wife; we moved to Toronto, built a home, had two kids, and achieved various other milestones of adulthood.
Now, twelve years later, that Panerai still feels like a distant possibility. What does seem like an immediate possibility, is that I am going to drive through LA rush hour to take my wife to buy make-up.
We load the kids into the car. They are over-tired, but they’ve had too much sugar to fall asleep as the car stops and starts down Santa Monica Blvd. It’s not an easy drive. When we finally arrive in Beverly Hills my wife becomes overly excited as she sees a parking spot. “Park there, park there!”.
It isn’t until I’m in the spot that I notice we are parked directly in front of a Panerai boutique. Woah, I didn’t even know there was a Panerai boutique.
I lose myself, dreamily looking through the window display for a moment. When I turn around, my wife has such a devilish look on her face, I’m pretty sure she’s about to sprout horns and a pointy tail.
“Let’s get you your watch.”
I’m not sure I heard her right. She repeats it. I mumble something. I’m starting to realize that she never had any intention of getting makeup. She discovered a Panerai Boutique opened in Los Angeles and she’s brought me here to finally get my watch.
We go into the store.
The boutique is tiny. My kids are on fire, hooting, running, spinning around on the floor. Having a great time, but it’s a little much in this tight space. I’m trying to look in all the display cases at all the beautiful watches. I’m both excited and panicked. I can’t really believe I’m going to get a Panerai, but also, I’m not seeing The OneI have coveted for the past decade.
There is one salesperson helping a guy and his girlfriend. This guy is asking all these in-depth questions. Actually, he’s framing them as questions, but really he is just reciting information about these two watches he’s looking at. He seems to know a ton. He’s talking really specifically about…. I don’t even know what he’s talking about. How does he know all this stuff? Why don’t I know all this stuff? I realize I know nothing about Panerai. I’m a guy who researches things to death. If I had even the slightest expectation of getting a Panerai, I would have researched every model there was. I would have already read everything on the internet about anything anybody could know about Panerai. With no warning, I am standing here, completely ignorant.
The customer is still spouting all the information he knows. The salesperson is nodding, smiling, confirming everything he says. His girlfriend is bored. My kids are now standing on top of the easy chairs, throwing the Panerai catalogues across the room.
Finally, Mr. Knowitall, stands and leaves, looking satisfied. We get the kids to sit in the chair they are standing on top of by pulling out the iPad. Dinosaur Train is going to buy us some quiet time.
The salesperson is Lisa. I try explaining the watch I originally fell in love with (what I don’t realize is that my Boss’ watch was a highly coveted Special Edition, the PAM00127, which had tripled in price on the aftermarket). Lisa listens, thinks for a moment and says, “look at this one”. One of the watches Mr. Knowitall was looking at is laying face down. She picks it up, turns it over and presents it to me.
My heart skips a beat. My breath gets caught in my lungs. The ceiling opens up and a brigade of angels descend singing Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria, dropping sweet smelling rose petals. I take the watch in my hand, hold it close.
“I love this so much” I whisper.
So many years desiring a Panerai, and here it is. This watch in my hand has that special thing, that mysterious power that my boss’ watch had. This is the only other watch I have ever seen which gives me the same emotional charge. Heck, I like this one even more. It’s weird how excited I am. Lisa is explaining the history behind this specific model, the features, the little details that make it unique. I am listening intently, but completely absorbed in watch.
Thank goodness Dinosaur Train is keeping the kid’s attention.
Then, as if in a dream, I’m walking into the evening sunshine with the Panerai PAM00372 strapped to my wrist. It quickly feels like it has always belonged there. I’m in shock; my wife is beaming, even my kids think it’s cool.
This watch will open my mind and heart to the world of fine timepieces and be the first in a small, carefully curated collection. It will be an introduction to other watch enthusiasts whom will become good friends. The luminescent markers on the dial will delight my children as I turn off the lights to tuck them into bed. They will pull my wrist to their ear to hear the gratifying tick of the mechanics inside. The leather strap will take on the smell of campfire smoke. The little scuffs and scratches on the case will be reminders of the adventures the watch has joined me on. The watch itself, a reminder of the lasting love and partnership I share with my wife.
In addition to the tremendous symbolic value this watch holds, I will discover how this little piece of horology ties into my identity. Anything we buy, from cars to clothes to technology, reflects our personality, but these things are transient in our lives. Very few items have the enduring and emblematic power of a beautifully crafted timepiece. Nobody is going to be handing down their iPhone 5s as a family heirloom.
When the day comes for me to shuffle off this mortal coil, I believe my kids will look at my Panerai amongst my collection of watches and know that it is the piece that most clearly represented me. For this reason, my first watch will also always be my most important.
By Noah Davis