I have loved that craftsmanship ever since I was 9 and heard a story from my brother — probably apocryphal — about a supposed friendly competition between NASA scientists and Swiss watchmakers to see which country was better at precision work. The NASA folks supposedly mailed the Swiss folks 15 strips of 14-karat gold milled so narrow in width that it would take a million of them, placed side to side, to be the length of an inch. The Swiss watchmakers supposedly mailed them back, with holes drilled through them.
So I wore mechanical watches for much of my adulthood, which made me an object of curiosity and at least mild contempt among my friends, as though I were sporting a monocle or spats. Dave Barry once listened to me waxing euphoric about the fine 1961 Jules Jurgensen watch I had on my wrist. Then he took off his own watch — a $4 yellow plastic digital monstrosity the size of a Hostess Ho Ho, and flung it against a wall. “Now you do that,” he smirked.
I stopped wearing watches altogether with the advent of the cellphone, which you have to carry everywhere, and which gives you the precise time, synced to Coordinated Universal Time, which is synced to a cesium atomic clock in Zurich or some other fancy place, synced to every other cellphone on the planet, and no less personally accessible than a glance at the wrist. Even I abandoned my first love. It suddenly seemed so … quaint and redundant.
So what explains these pop-up ads? They are from a company named Govberg Jewelers, which, according to its online presence, does not sell wristwatches. It sells “timepieces.” One of the most recent ads was for a “pre-owned Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Contemporaine” discounted to a mere $22,950 off a retail price of $57,300. (“YOU SAVE 60 percent!”) Vacheron Constantin brags that their products have been worn by “Pope Pius VI, Napoleon Bonaparte and Marlon Brando.”
Govberg also markets Patek Philippe, a brand that has been on the wrists of “Pope Pius IX, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Leo Tolstoy.” I am relatively certain “Gene Weingarten” will not be added to that list. Its watches are also $20,000 or more.
Why, then, am I getting these ads, and why have they elbowed out virtually all other ads? I am pretty sure I know. I like to look at these watches, the way some men might like to look at pictures of other unattainable items, such as $700 wagyu steaks from hand-massaged cows, or Beyoncé. I click on pictures of these watches, a lot. And, as I said, these ads have crammed their way past all the other ads I used to get, so it works out fine. No longer do I find myself enticed to purchase underpants, stereos or lawn-care products.
But it’s getting a little more diabolical. A friend of mine has started getting the watch ads, even though her only connection to them is simply that she gets emails from me, and I am connected to them. She is young, just starting out professionally. For me, buying a Vacheron Constantin watch would be like buying a Lexus. For her it would be like buying Greenland.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Email Gene Weingarten at email@example.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.
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