If you met me, you wouldn’t think I’m the sort to own a Cartier watch. My clothes, my car, the vacations I take, don’t exactly harmonize with my timepiece of choice. Here’s the thing, though: my watch is a whole lot older than my possessions. Purchased decades ago, when I was still figuring things out, before my overall style settled comfortably into unpretentious — or as a friend describes me, “If Gertrude Stein teamed with Oscar Madison to give you a make-over, you’d look a lot like you.”
I didn’t buy it as status symbol. I’m a huge fan of all things low maintenance. Non-stick frying pans, self-cleaning ovens, multi-vitamins, shampoo-and-conditioners-in-one. This watch operates on “perpetual motion.” There’s no battery. That’s why I bought it.
Back when I was in advertising, we called this sort of reflexive rationalizing of an otherwise expensive or unnecessary purchase “permission to believe.” Permission to believe is what causes someone who’s already dropping a bundle of cash on a Mercedes to offer up: “It had a great safety rating.” It makes someone spring big for a pair of John Varvatos boots: “They last forever!”
The beauty of the Cartier watch is that its operation is contingent upon my perpetual motion. This translates into two “permission to believe” rationales in one watch! Off my agenda flew time squandered purchasing and installing batteries. It takes roughly an hour to travel to a reputable jeweller, wait while they change a watch battery, and travel back home. Watch batteries, on average, need changing once a year. So, over the next 50 to 70 years of projected watch wearing, I’d gain almost three free days — a gratis long weekend — where I can really accomplish things. For instance, I have long dreamt of visiting Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic house, situated deep in rural Pennsylvania, but could never carve the time to travel there and back. Did you know it takes longer to travel from New York to LA than it does to Iceland? And yet, I can never justify the hop skip and a flight time to check out its legendary volcanoes, glaciers, and fjords. Then there’s Anna Karenina. I keep promising myself I’ll get to it . . . By eliminating watch batteries from my future, a universe of experiences became attainable. And the nature of my perpetual watch requiring me to function as its battery, means my watch promotes daily exercise. The health benefits associated with my increased physical activity could extend my life by years or even decades. The watch was a nod towards teleportation. It was a Fit-Bit before the invention of Fit-Bits.
This is why, about thirty years ago, I thought it prudent to pay $800 for my Cartier wristwatch. Adjusting for 2021 inflation, that’s a hair under $2000 today. I was earning $300/week at the time, writing ads for Tide Detergent, Cascade Dishwasher powder, and Ivory Liquid soap. I had been given a $5,000 bonus a few months earlier for writing a successful Ivory Liquid jingle promising, “A little bit in your sink does more than you think” and spent part of the bonus on a two-week backpacking trip in France.