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The Magic Watch A Learning Adventure
Interesting Products - Interesting People

Watchmakers are considered among the world's finest craftsmen. Their profession blends the sciences of mechanics, physics and electronics with the beauty of precious metals and gemstones. The result of their artistry and skills is a precision instrument small enough to be worn on a wrist and which is expected to perform flawlessly for years. And then of course, there are the Watch Wizards...

 

Grandma, is there such a thing as a magic watch?, asked Amanda Grey?

Amandaís Grandma looked up from her computer. Why do you ask dear?, she inquired.

Because I was looking at this watch catalog and it says Time Travelers on the front. I figured they must be magic watches to travel through time.

Amandaís Grandma smiled. Let me see, she said, holding out her hand for the catalog.

Amanda scrambled up from where she sat on the rug and handed the glossy catalog to her Grandmother, who glanced at the front and back covers.

You know whose catalog this is, donít you? she asked Amanda. Amanda shook her head.

See? Amandaís Grandmother said, pointing to the name, Grayson Jewelers, on the back. Thatís the same Mr. Grayson who lives next door. He and his family are jewelers.

Amanda raised her eyebrows. Is Mr. Grayson a Time Traveler?, she asked.

Amandaís Grandma smiled. Well, in a manner of speaking, yes. What Mr. Grayson sells is Estate Jewelry and fine, pre-owned Swiss Watches. His jewelry and his watches are very pretty and of very good quality. They're lovely things, that just happen to have been owned by other people first.

Lavinia Mudwallow is a pre-owned dog, right?, asked Amanda, gesturing to the plump black Laborador Retriever who lay on her back next to Grandmaís chair, sound asleep, with all four feet in the air.

Exactly, said Grandma with a laugh. She smiled fondly at the slumbering dog who was clearly dreaming about chasing something. Lavinia's paws made sporadic running motions, and every once in a while a series of quiet little woofs would erupt..

You remember that our friend Cathy had Lavinia before we did, but when she found she couldnít keep her, Cathy gave Lavinia to us.

You know, Cathy originally paid quite a lot of money for Lavinia. The fact that we got Lavinia second doesnít make her worth any less, does it? Amanda shook her head.

And we love her, and weíre delighted that sheís part of our family, right?

Amanda nodded.

Well, itís pretty much the same with things like fine watches and jewelry, she explained.

One of two things can happen when something of very good quality has been owned by somebody else first. Either you can save a lot of money when you buy it, or, if it was owned by somebody particularly interesting, and thereís a record of that ownership, then whatever it is can actually become a collectorís item. You might even find yourself owning something worth a small fortune.

Why? asked Amanda.

Because of the thing's history. Itís what they call an itemís Provenance, said Grandma.

I donít understand, said Amanda.

Well, letís use your bicycle as an example. That bike belonged to your brother Timothy first, right? And when we offered to get you a new bike for your birthday, you said youíd rather let Timothy get a new one so you could have his old bike.

Amanda nodded enthusiastically. Because thatís the bike Timothy used when he raced Billy Wilson. Thatís the fastest bike in the whole wide world. Itís a lot more interesting than any new bike. she said.

Grandma smiled. Exactly, she nodded.

Cool! said Amanda. Does that mean my bike is worth a small fortune?

WellÖsaid Grandma. Worth is relative. To somebody else, that might be just a second-hand bike. But to you, that pre-owned bike was worth just as much as, or more than, a brand new bike, wasnít it?

Amanda thought for a moment. Youíre absolutely right, she said.

Amanda reached for the catalog again, glancing with new interest at the sparkly things in the Estate Jewelry section.

What kind of stuff do you have, Grandma? she asked.

Stuff? Watches and jewelry you mean? Grandma inquired.

Amanda nodded.

Actually, Iím partial to interesting things. I rather prefer older things, things with a great deal of character.

Like Grandpa? asked Amanda.

Amandaís Grandma burst out laughing.

Iíll tell you what, she said, still giggling. Your Grandpaís got a birthday coming up. I was thinking about getting him something special for his present this year. Thatís why weíve got this catalog.

Suppose you see if you can't find something in there that would be a nice present, and Iíll call Mr. Grayson and tell him you and I will stop by his place this afternoon. Maybe while weíre there we can talk him into showing us some of his special things.

Amanda was instantly alert. Special ? What kind of special?

Oh, I'll let him show you, said Grandma, with a mysterious smile. Mr. Grayson doesnít allow very many people to see his very special things, so whatever it is he shows us will have to be our secret. Assuming he'll show them to us at all, that is.

Wow, said Amanda. I can keep a secret. Hurry up and call him!. Then Amanda paused for a moment. Hey wait a minute, Grandma, she said, with a thoughtful look on her face. I was wondering something. How come Mr. Grayson has almost the same last name as me, except that he's got "son" on the end of it?. Does that mean that we're from the same family?

Amanda's Grandma smiled. Well, not that I know of, dear, but certainly stranger things have happened. I've heard of people who have known each other all their lives, and some who lived literally a stone's throw from each other, but never even knew that they were part of the same family. But you know, lots of people do share either the same or perhaps a similar last name. One of these days we'll get into the subject of genealogy, but right now, let's stick to watches, shall we? Amanda nodded enthusiastically.


Mr. Grayson was showing a gold watch to a handsome man with broad shoulders, when Amanda and her Grandma arrived, so Mr. Graysonís friend and employee, Junior welcomed them to the store.

He shook Amanda and Grandma's hands and told them that Mr. Grayson would be with them in just a minute or two.


Well hey there, Amanda, said Junior, Good timing, he smiled, nodding his head towards the counter. This place has been full of famous people today.

Amanda glanced around, then her eyes grew wide and she tugged excitedly at her Grandmotherís sleeve. Pssstt, Grandma! Do you know who that IS? she said, gesturing towards the handsome actor at the counter, who was busy talking with Mr. Grayson.

Grandma glanced over her shoulder. Oh honey, there are movie stars in here all the time, I canít keep track of them all. But Amanda's Grandma took her sunglasses off and turned back to take a second look. Oh my goodness, she said to Amanda. He IS pretty good looking, isnít he?

Iíll say, said Amanda.

The handsome movie star smiled at Grandma and gave Amanda a wink on his way out the door with his purchase.

Sorry to keep you waiting, said Mr. Grayson to Amandaís Grandma.

He then turned to Amanda.

Hi Amanda, he said.

Boy, have you grown. Youíre about a foot taller than you were last week, arenít you?

Amanda rolled her eyes and smiled.

Mr. Grayson you are SO silly, she said.

Mr. Grayson just laughed.

Mr. Grayson, weíre shopping for a special present for Amanda's Grandpa. We're going to buy him a watch.

Have you decided what youíre looking for? Mr. Grayson asked. Weíve got all kinds, including chronometers.

We want something special, said Amanda. Something very special.

Well, said Mr. Grayson thoughtfully, That's the only kind of things we carry here. Special. Let's look around, shall we? We'll start with this case over here.

Most people tend to take watches for granted, Amanda, but they're actually pretty interesting things. You know the earliest watches have been around since the year 1500 or so. Say, do you know what a chronometer is? he asked

Amanda shook her head.

A chronometer is a watch that keeps the correct time with extraordinary precision. Before the times of wireless communication and global positioning satellites, navigation on the open seas was done by measuring the position of the sun at exactly 12:00 noon. You know, on the equator, if your marine chronometer was off by as much as one second it could mean an error in determining your ship's position by more than 400 metres!

Whoa! said Amanda. You could get really lost!

Mr. Grayson nodded. In order for a watch to be called a chronometer it must have passed a special test performed by the Official Swiss Chronometer Control. In 1995, only seven companies manufactured watches that were good enough to pass the test. 29,000 watches failed the exam.

Bummer, said Amanda. I've got a teacher who grades like that.

Mr. Grayson laughed. And out of the roughly 812,000 that did pass, 83% were manufactured by Rolex.

They do good work, huh? asked Amanda.

You bet, he replied. Rolex is a high quality mechanical watch.

Many watch companies today mass produce Quartz watches, he said. When you have a lot of ordinary things being made, those things can't be considered valuable. And understandably, they don't cost very much to make in the first place. That's because they're manufactured of ordinary, instead of high quality materials. Some are designed to look like they're made of gold, but they're not real gold. They might be an inexpensive gold-colored metal, or maybe a metal with a very thin layer of real gold on top. But if you wear that watch everyday, and most people do, the coating will eventually wear off, and you'll probably end up with a green arm.

Amanda started to giggle. That happened to me once, she said.

Mr. Grayson smiled. That probably happened to all of us when we were kids. The material the watch case is made of is a major factor in evaluating the value of a wristwatch. The most desirable of course, is platinum, followed by 18kt gold, 14kt, 10kt. and so on and so forth.

Got it, said Amanda.

Most of the mass-produced watches you'll find on the market today while not precision instruments, actually work reasonably well. But they might not work very long. That's because they're not really designed to last. There are a lot of throw-away products around lately. When that type of watch breaks, if you take it in for repair, you'll most likely be told that it would cost more to try to repair it than it's worth. So you end up tossing it in the trash. Those are the kinds of watches you might find sold in grocery stores and pharmacies and in discount department stores.

I got a watch for my birthday last year, said Amanda. She shook her head. It doesn't work any more.

That's exactly what I'm getting at., said Mr. Grayson. High quality mechanical watches, the kind you see in the case there, are exceptional timepieces. No, they're actually more than that. They're wearable art. Some can even be compared to an original sculpture by Picasso, or a painting by Renoir. I know of one, a Patek Philippe, that was created to celebrate the company's 150th anniversary, that was pretty remarkable indeed. It contained 1,728 parts and had 33 different functions. It sold at auction in 1989 for $3.7 million dollars.

For a WATCH?, gasped Amanda.

Pretty impressive, huh?, said Mr. Grayson.

Hooboy, said Amanda. I'll say!

Mechanical watches like these can't really be mass-produced. They're assembled by hand. And they're made to last. Some take more than a year to create. They're the type of thing you end up passing down to your grandchildren. So in addition to being wearable art, they're also a form of investment. They come in all types of metal ... from steel to 18k gold. And I'll bet you didn't know that a steel case is considered more valuable than gold plated or gold filled case.

Amanda shook her head.

Hey, she said, What kind of watch did you just sell a minute ago?

Ahhh, said Mr. Grayson with a smile. I thought you'd be curious about that. He prefers Rolex. But he's a pretty smart shopper, so he also prefers to buy pre-owned watches. He's bought several from us over the past few years, in a lot of different styles. Some look sporty, some are more formal looking. Rolex watches are beautiful and well made. The manufacturers have been around since 1908.

Rolex was the first company to introduce a waterproof watch, Amanda. They came up with a really clever ad campaign for the time. Way back then they had jewelers all over the world put fish aquariums in their windows, and at the bottom of the tank they put a Rolex watch, right where everybody could see it ticking away. Rolex was also the first company to produce a self-winding watch that displayed the date.

Rolex watches are a bit like Mercedes automobiles. Theyíre considered a sign of quality and good taste.

Yep, that sounds like something that would appeal to Grandpa, alright, said Amanda. But what else have you got thatís interesting?

Well, thereís Omega, said Mr. Grayson, pointing to another section of watches. These tend to appeal to young sophisticates like your famous models and movie stars. The actor who plays James Bond wears that kind of watch.

Grandpa reminds me of the first James Bond, said Amanda. The really handsome one.

Grandma smiled.

Interesting observation Amanda, she said, I tend to agree with you.

Alright, tell us about Omega, Mr. Grayson, she invited.

Omega took International Grand Prize at the Worldís Trade Fair in Paris in 1900 for the excellence of their collection, Mr. Grayson continued. The manufacturer was the first watch enterprise to abandon the assembly workshop system in favor of a true modern factory producing all its own parts.

In 1965, he said, NASA chose the OMEGA Speedmaster Professional as its official chronograph. In 1969, when astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first step on the Moon (you remember his words, don't you?): "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind", he was wearing an Omega. And in 1970, this very same same chronograph helped rescue the crew and craft of the Apollo 13 mission from disaster after an on-board explosion.

It DID? How? asked Amanda.

When the computerized timing system became inoperative, the astronauts had to time the critical engine ignition with their OMEGA to set them on course for Earth. There was even a movie about that very situation.

Oh yeah, said Amanda. I remember that one. That was really exciting! "Uh...Houston, we have a problem"

That's the one, Amanda. So OMEGA is the one and only watch ever worn on the Moon. It even went along on a rendevouz with the Russian space station MIR.

Thatís neat, said Amanda thoughtfully. I didnít know any of that stuff.

Amanda leaned toward the case again. Whatís that one? she asked, gesturing to a handsome watch towards the back of the display case.

That's a Breguet. Their company's founder is considered the grandfather to watch development. They've been around since 1775. Breguet was the watch supplier for the British royal family, and the Bonapartes. The watch next to that is a Patek Philippe, and it's considered by most to be the most prestigious watch in the world.

Brand name is far and away the most important element in valuing a wristwatch, Amanda. All mechanical watches function basically the same, in that each one tells the hour and the time of day. And each of their mechanical movements are fundamentally the same design. But just like automobiles, although the designs might be similar, there can be a world of difference under the hood. It's the innovation of production and workmanship that make one watch more desirable than another.

What's that one over there? asked Amanda, pointing to a watch in an adjacent case.

Thatís a Hamilton, Mr. Grayson replied. They were considered the premiere American watch company. Theyíre no longer in business, but their watches have a very interesting history. The company dates back to 1892 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They were the first company to introduce the electric watch, one that never needed winding, back in 1957.

A Hamilton watch was chosen by General Pershing to time the movement of his troops on World War I battlefields, and by Admiral Byrd for his North and South Pole expeditions. Hamiltons were used by the first U.S. airmail pilots, and in 1937, they became the official timepiece of the Navy, Air Corps, and most U.S. airlines. In 1957, Hamilton introduced the first electric watch. That particular model was worn by Elvis Presley in the opening scene of "Blue Hawaii." And Hamilton was the first company to introduce the electronic digital watch...the Pulsar, back in 1970.

You know your Grandma's antique diamond watch? The one we just finished cleaning for her? That's a Hamilton, too.

Neat. Hey, this is pretty interesting. What's that one over there? asked Amanda.

Ahh. Thatís an Audemars Piguet. It can take a year or more to create an Audemars Piguet classic such as the one that you see there. Watches like these are assembled from 600 or more components. The work of a master watchmaker calls for patience, devotion and total absorption.

Boy, I GUESS, said Amanda. Wow. You sure do know a lot of stuff, Mr. Grayson.

Mr. Grayson smiled. You remember, our familyís been in this business for a really long time, Amanda.

Hey, wait a minute, said Amanda, suddenly. What's THAT one? Amanda put her nose up to the side of the case. It says Rolex on the face but itís sort of glowing. It looks different than the Rolex next to it.

Mr. Grayson sighed. You are your Grandmotherís grandaughter, all right. Not one person in a million would have seen that. We hadn't really planned on selling that one, Amanda. It's part of my special collection.

Amanda looked up.

Thatís the Magic Watch, isnít it? she asked quietly.

Mr. Grayson looked startled.

She KNOWS? he asked Grandma in surprise.

I didn't tell her. She recognized it herself, said Grandma. She doesnít know what it DOES, though. Would you like to demonstrate?.

I seem to be outnumbered by overly perceptive women, Mr. Grayson said with a grin. You've got SOME family, you know that? He glanced around to make sure nobody else was close enough to hear what was being said, then he reached into the case and brought out the watch. He gestured to some chairs near the showcase. The three of them sat down.

This is a Time Traveler, Amanda. There's only a handful of these in the whole world. Maybe nine or ten. They're not very easy to recognize, either. Weíve been looking for these for years. We've managed to locate only four of them in all this time. This one's a Rolex, but they're just as likely to be disguised as any of the brands you see here.

You sure she's old enough to wear this? Mr. Grayson asked Amanda's Grandma.

Amanda piped up and gave the answer herself. I'm a big girl. I've already been up in the U.S.S. Starship Treehouse.

The two of you took that thing in your backyard UP?, asked Mr. Grayson with a laugh.

Well, said Amanda, Grandma and I and Sam Cat got to be the crew. My brother Timothy was actually the Captain. But yeah. We did.

Works for me, said Mr. Grayson, grinning and shaking his head. If your Grandma thinks you're old enough to travel through outerspace in a treehouse, you're probably old enough for Time Travel.

Amanda grinned. Am I old enough Grandma? she asked. Grandma nodded.

Iím going to put this watch on your wrist, Amanda, said Mr. Grayson very quietly. Now the bracelet is going to be way too big for you, and it could easily slip off if we let you wear it by yourself, so your Grandmaís going to hold onto your hand very tightly, so that we can keep track of you.

Iím going somewhere? asked Amanda.

Only for a moment, Grandma said firmly. And youíll be able to hear us talking to you the whole time.

Cool, said Amanda.

Ready? asked Amandaís Grandma.

Yep, Amanda replied.

OK, then, said Grandma.

Mr. Grayson Gray slipped the heavy steel and gold watch band over Amandaís wrist, snapped the clasp, and then tapped twice on the watch stem.

Hey!, said Amanda. Who turned off the lights?
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