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  1. Pascal S Nov 28, 2022

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    Introduction

    This is mostly the story of not one but two journeys. The first is the one that led a ref. 145.022-69 Omega Speedmaster Professional to spend a great deal of its existence oscillating between the two sides of the English Channel. The second one is mine in the field of horology with my growing appreciation for this chronograph, despite a somewhat unenthusiastic start. They were meant to eventually intersect, but I didn’t know that at first, nor did I have a clue about the insanely strong emotions I would be feeling along the way.


    Respect but no love

    From an early age, I’ve always liked watches. It’s undoubtedly something I inherited from my dad, even though our tastes ended up being somewhat diverging over time. But even as a kid, I enjoyed looking at timepieces exhibited behind shop-windows with my father. And one day in 1984, my dad’s interest was piqued enough to enter the shop with me in tow, and buy what was at the time one of the first analog quartz chronographs, marketed by Seiko. It was a beautiful 7A38 model, and much to my delight he instructed me to also pick one for myself as well. I chose the 7A38-7000 model
    [​IMG]
    That impromptu gift most probably shaped my tastes for watches in general and chronographs in particular for the decades to come. The 3-6-9 register layout, the highly legible white baton hands, or the presence of a tachymeter scale is something I value on a watch just as much today as I did earlier. The Seiko was a watch I was proud of, and that I wore daily for several years. But already I was starting to look at what was available upmarket. It is also at that time that I had started training as a private pilot, first soloing at age 15 and getting my full license at 17, a full year before being allowed to drive a car. So a true bona fide pilot watch logically seemed like the next step up.

    Remember that we’re talking about the second half of the 1980s, and at that time the marketing machines of large watch companies were seriously upping their games. One in particular was unavoidable when it came to aviation: Breitling. And my dad happened to like the brand, and already owned a couple of their models. So I naturally leaned in their direction, but I also looked at a few more options, and among them was Omega with its Speedmaster Professional. Despite not being a great fan of the brand, whose advertising at the time was largely centered the Polaris series of watches which I found ugly, I had been aware of the Moonwatch for a while. And despite its distinguished history with NASA, I didn’t really picture it in my mind as a true pilot watch. I was flying a single engine, fixed propeller plane, not taking off from Cape Canaveral in the Space Shuttle! Besides, while I respected greatly the Omega for its history and kind of liked the flight instrument like clarity of its dial, it somehow never broke the ice with me. It was just too plain, to the point of appearing bland. I was a proud young pilot, and my watch had to make that statement. Loud. So back to Breitling I was, assuming I was ever gone.

    While the Chronomat was all the rage at the time, the model that got my attention was obviously the Navitimer. My dad had just bought himself a Cosmonaute version, and I was really after the same watch with a 12 hour dial. I didn’t know at the time that Breitling had produced some with the same handwound Lemania movement under the ref. 81600, but had quickly switched to producing the so-called Old Navitimer ref. 81610 with an automatic Valjoux 7750 calibre inside. While I was slightly less fond of the 6-9-12 layout, I did however welcome the addition of a date and the convenience of automatic winding. That’s it about the features, but regarding the looks, what on earth was I thinking?
    [​IMG]
    Of course it was the late 1980s, and I was growing up in Monaco of all places. Given my tolerance for a blingy look that I would later reject, I can only assume that it is a major reason why the Speedmaster didn’t really speak to me in those days. It was subtle at a time I was anything but. And no one made any comment about the looks of the watch. What I did get though were gentle teases about the size of the thing. Compared with most watches of the period, it was enormous, even though it was in fact 1 mm smaller than the Moonwatch. But its slide rule chapter ring made it appear bigger than it was. Frankly, I didn’t care. I had wanted an iconic pilot watch, and I had spent all my savings on it, much to my mom’s horror. This chronograph was supposed to be my companion for life. I did firmly believe that. However I got a couple interesting watches as gifts in the years that followed. First a Longines Hour Angle Watch, also known as the Lindbergh after the famous aviation pioneer who had co-designed it. Then a few years later an early Breitling Aerospace. The latter, with its black dial and matte titanium case was a striking departure from my other timepieces, but was instrumental in showing me that a less flashy watch than my Navitimer could be very cool as well.


    A loss, and the Lemania trail to Chicago

    In 2004, my dad’s poor health finally caught up with him. My mom and I knew it was coming, because he had had open heart reconstructive surgery in 1993, about which the doctors told us at the time that it might give him maybe another decade if all went well. In those days, my watch addiction had been laying dormant for a while. Most of my serious timepieces were stored at my parents’ place in Monaco, where I would wear them whenever I was there for a visit. Otherwise I mostly wore a Swatch Irony Chronograph. But on that day of July, in the train that was bringing me back from Paris where I lived at the time to Monaco, timepieces were not what I had on my mind. I had always been very close to my dad, and however prepared I thought I was, losing him was a massive blow. And with the void he left in my heart came the need to cling to some symbols and memories of him. And one that came pretty quickly was his watch collection.

    It’s at that point that I fully realized how my tastes had evolved quite differently than those of my dad. While I had progressively turned away from the bling, it appears that he had chosen to embrace it, and some things in his watch box were, shall we say, questionable. However I was happy to be their custodian all the same. But it also prompted me to explore my own tastes, now that I knew how far they had strayed from my dad’s. I wanted to buy a watch, and then another. And I started reading dedicated Internet forums, learning as much as I could about watches in general and chronographs in particular. And among the latter, one calibre caught my attention a lot more than any other: the Lemania 5100. I found its central counter for seconds and minutes brilliant in its legibility, and much superior to the Valjoux 7750 I was now so used to. What’s more, this movement was found is a large range of very different chronographs, and some of them had bona fide military credentials with fighter pilots. I progressively came to think that my Breitling Navitimer was a bit of a pretender, while some Lemania chronographs were actually the real deal when it came to being a true pilot chronograph.

    I needed to know more, as my thirst for knowledge knew no bounds. So I started corresponding with other collectors worldwide, and one in particular was kind enough to send me detailed, and often humorous, answers to my enquiries. That gentleman was a proud Chicagoan named Chuck Maddox. While many knew him as an authority on vintage chronographs and one of the most knowledgeable Omega Speedmaster collectors of that time, he also had a well documented fondness for the Lemania 5100 that pretty much mirrored my own. Soon, our e-mail exchanges became more regular, to the point that we found out that our tastes were similar in other fields as well. We both liked Apple products and vintage cars, so our discussions soon extended on these topics. He tried many times to kick-start my interest in the Moonwatch, but I was proving resistant. It became a bit of a running joke among ourselves. My introduction to the Speedmaster world would therefore happen through a calibre 1045 chronograph, Omega’s denomination for their version of the Lemania 5100.
    [​IMG]
    After a false start through being scammed by a seller in Australia (the mid-00s were a bit of a Wild West), I finally bought a ref. 176.0012 Speedmaster, the one many collectors now refer to as the Mark 4.5. I immediately loved it, but not more than my other Lemania 5100 chronographs. It was however my entry into the world of Omega. And soon I set my sights on finding one the most exclusive calibre 1045 chronographs made by the brand, the ref. 376.0822 Speedmaster, which Chuck referred to as the grail given how much difficulty he had had sourcing one for himself. That watch was significant because it used a case that was very similar to the Moonwatch’s, a first for an automatic Speedmaster. And I have no doubt that my research into it and quest for an example definitely helped me better understand the design language of its distinguished ancestor and direct inspiration.


    From Sheffield with love

    One day, I finally got my epiphany. I was visiting a semi-retired watchmaker who still did some work from his home, and there on his workbench were 3 vintage Omega Speedmaster Professional, including a straight lug model. I was taken aback by how amazingly beautiful these three watches looked. And suddenly, as if some subtle rewiring had occurred in my brain, I fell in love. That dial, that I would have described as plain until then, now appeared pure and supremely legible. The watch just looked right. Period. And of course, that meant that I had make a brief departure from my all-devouring Lemania 5100 obsession to get myself one. And unsurprisingly, I quickly decided that it would have to be a birth year (1969) model, and a pre-Moon one since I had been born in March.

    Needless to say that Chuck was highly amused when I sent him a long tongue-in-cheek e-mail to bollock him about passing on his virus to me. He basically replied that he knew that was coming and that it had just been a matter of when and not if. In my subsequent reply, I enlisted his help in trying to locate what would become my Speedmaster Professional. So, now aware of my set of requirements, he promised to he would keep his eyes peeled for the right example. In the meantime, I had already started looking by myself, finding a couple of candidates in the US. The logistics of buying one of them were not ideal, but with a strong Euro at the time they appeared cheaper than what I thought I could find in Europe. But each of them had cosmetic issues that ultimately prevented me to go ahead. They were just not right.

    A few days later, Chuck sent me an e-mail pointing to an eBay auction from a Britain-based seller. Without his prompt, I would have missed that listing, because at first glance it was pretty generic and the pictures, while okay, were not exactly appealing. But a closer look revealed that this watch was near perfect, at least according to my requirements and standards. I contacted the seller, based in Sheffield, to find out what the cost of shipping his watch to France would be, and his detailed reply gave me confidence that I was dealing with someone serious. But I still had to win that auction. Bids were low, but I was under no illusion that it would stay that way. I waited, intending to put my bid in the dying seconds of that sale. And when the moment came, I entered an amount roughly similar to the one I had seen the US-based watches sold for. And I got lucky, because when the clock reached 00:00, the watch was mine, for what was my maximum bid: £ 630. Even in 2006, that was a very good price!

    The package containing the watch showed up a few days later, which was the norm in those pre-Brexit times when the UK was part of the common market. I was relieved not to have to pay duties, as I might have had to do if I had bought my Moonwatch elsewhere, and across the Atlantic in particular. And strapping it on my wrist, I was comforted in my decision to acquire a watch I had for such a long time felt cold about. I was in love, and knew that this was not some sort of passing fancy. And I had another topic on which I could quiz Chuck, to whom I fully gave credit for finding my example. Our correspondence had slowly evolved into a genuine friendship, and I started making plans about organizing a detour to Chicago to visit him whenever I would go to the US next with my wife to visit the in-laws. But that get-together was not to happen. On May 12 of 2008, I received an e-mail informing me of Chuck’s premature death. One of his cousins was going through his inbox, and our latest exchange taking place just days before, I was among the first to be told this tragic news. It affected me a lot more than one may think given that we had never met. But even today I miss him just as much as I did then. And I am forever grateful that some of his US collector friends (Bill Sohne and Jeff Stein and a few others, I believe) were able to keep his many articles online for posterity. Even today, they still are a treasure trove of information for any serious chronograph collector.

    After Chuck’s passing, my Speedmaster Professional became even more unique in my eyes. I didn’t wear it very often, as competition from my many Lemania 5100 chronographs was fierce, but every time I did it put a smile on my face, remembering how my departed mentor had predicted that I eventually would succumb to its charm. He was right, as he often was on many topics. Thanks to its modest height compared to my automatic chronographs, it became my default watch when wearing a suit. And I remember a job interview during which, while waiting for my turn, I was approached by another candidate who had noticed the Speedmaster on my wrist and told me that his father had one and wore it all the time. And despite the arrival of another Speedmaster, the rare ref. 376.0822 which would later be mostly known under the Holy Grail nickname, the original Moonwatch was firmly in the very exclusive club of the few watches I would never sell. Or so I thought.
    [​IMG]


    Back to England with tears

    Over the years, a great deal of my savings had gone into my watch collection. That would have been fine if I had a stable professional situation, but mine was anything but. I had made two stillborn attempts to create my own business, had gone back to working for a company that promptly folded through poor management, and had then attempted to reboot my career by reinventing myself as a self-employed insurance agent and financial adviser with a mandate from AXA group. That latter venture looked good on paper, as after a rigorous vetting and months of training, the company offered generous financial support to new agents. I successfully completed my training only to find myself opening my agency in September of 2008, right at the beginning of the financial crisis. After only a few months, many of the people I had trained with had dropped out of the programme, because finding customers in these troubled times was a much bigger challenge than originally advertised. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have taken the hint and done the same thing, but I’m a stubborn individual and decided to soldier on. The problem was the AXA’s help was not designed to sustain an agent struggling with these types of circumstances. So my savings shrunk in order to keep me going, under the hope that things would eventually get better. But they did not. After almost two years, I was still struggling, working my ass off for very little return. Worse, I had come to dislike this job which turned out very different than what had been promised. So, with the two year milestone to validate my mandate looming, I made the choice of pulling the plug. I was right over the minimum, but that meant that I would likely struggle the same way for several years before any hope of a better income. That was simply asking too much of me.

    There was also another issue: my wife never liked living in France, and she was pushing me to find work elsewhere. The logical destination was the Netherlands, as I have dual French and Dutch citizenship thanks to my Dutch dad. And having worked a few months there in the mid-90s, I was optimistic about being able to do so again. What I didn’t realize then is how mindsets had changed in 15 years. While in the past I had met many people working in the Netherlands without knowing the language, it quickly became clear that speaking Dutch was now a firm requirement for finding a good job. I travelled to many interviews, and at the end of most I heard the exact same thing: you would be a perfect candidate if only you spoke Dutch. So I tried. I registered to university classes, but progress was desperately slow. Then I burnt a great deal of money on a one week intensive session in a renowned Dutch language institute. Their teaching was top notch, but a single week was just too short. Most of the teachers told me that it would have been a lot better to do a second week. Well, that may be right for people whose employer pays for this, like all other students there I found out, but in my case I simply didn’t have the funds.

    In fact, I had started selling part of my watch collection to finance the steps leading to this desired move, including the language training. Going back and forth between France and the Netherlands wasn’t cheap, and with welfare benefits running out, things were going from bad to worse. So the each watch sale was more undesirable than the previous one, and I started getting worried about my so-called unsellable watches, among which the Moonwatch was a prominent member. It became apparent that I needed to find a job quickly, and if it was in France again, so be it. And that’s what happened, but it quickly became obvious that the company was not a good fit. In fact, it was not a good employer at all. I’ll spare you the details, but after less than a year, things had soured to the point that we mutually agreed to terminate my contract. That wasn’t too bad for me, because a friend had promised to hire me as his salesperson for his newly founded consultancy firm. But when the time came, he basically tried to blackmail me into working for free, undeclared, for the first few months. According to his plan, I would get state unemployment benefits, and the business I was to bring in would give him the financial means to actually hire me, someday. Yeah, some friend! Needless to say that I unequivocally told him in clear terms what I thought about his deception, and informed him that he would need to find another sucker to do the sales for him for free while defrauding the state.

    While my pride was intact, my finances were not. And the three watches I thought I would never sell were no longer safe. In fact, one had to go now. But which one was going to be sacrificed? The Moonwatch? The rare Speedmaster Holy Grail? Or the even rarer Heuer Audi Sport? In the end, I went for the one I would have least trouble reacquiring, and that meant the Speedy Pro. So I posted ads on different watch forums, hoping to sell it to someone who would appreciate just as much as I did. It took a bit of time, but I finally found an interested party. Ironically, he was based in England. Before completing the sale, I asked the buyer if he was willing to agree to a condition for that sale: if he ever wanted to sell the watch, he would have to contact me first. His agreement to this gentleman’s agreement reassured me, as I was starting to have second thoughts about selling this watch. He proceeded with the money transfer, and the next day the watch was officially his. I didn’t sleep that night. I needed to pack it for transport, and couldn’t really find the strength. I felt like I had made a terrible mistake, even though I knew that there was no alternative, and it’s with tears in my eyes that I drove to the post office the next morning. At that point, I would have preferred losing a toe than letting go of this chronograph, but the transaction had been completed and I am a man of my word. A few days later I received an e-mail from Rob, the new owner, thanking me for the transaction. He was pleased to report that the watch had arrived safely, and looked just as good in reality as it had in my picture. And he reiterated that he would keep our agreement in mind. Even though I had no realistic short-term prospect to buy him back that Speedmaster, his message left me a sliver of hope. That’s all I needed to keep the pain of separation under control.

    Unfortunately, my two remaining unsellable timepieces ended up having the same fate. The Heuer Audi Sport was sold to a French collector who had already bought a few of my Lemania 5100 chronographs, and the Holy Grail crossed the Atlantic to join its new owner, a New York City based lawyer. Their departure proved just as gut-wrenching as the Moonwatch’s. And in their case, I didn’t have the benefit of hope. They were no longer mine, and most probably forever. I now needed to get my life back on track, because I had pretty much run out of things to sell. Thankfully, and even though I didn’t realize it at the time, some light had started appearing at the end of the tunnel.



    The lean years

    With almost all of my watches gone, I was feeling sad and bitter about the whole journey. I had owned some exceptional timepieces, that I loved to bits, but was forced by circumstances to let them go. Probably forever. That was hard to accept. The withdrawal symptoms were severe, and I came to regard my passion as an addiction that I had to get under control to avoid feeling that sort of pain again in the future. That’s why I imposed upon myself an exile from anything that could remind me of watches. Forums where I had once been a regular were now off limits. I behaved like an alcoholic going dry, feeling that any misstep could make me fall again. I had to eradicate the source of my pain.

    Of course, this proved pretty much impossible. Every time I passed near a jewelry or watch shop, I would take a while looking at what they had on offer. And very often, I would spend a minute or two looking adoringly at a Moonwatch if one was on display. Brand new ones may have lacked the character that my vintage one had, but they were still incredibly desirable timepieces, and their basic design had not been disfigured by needless cosmetic changes over the years. The absence of a step dial of tritium indices were details that I was ready to overlook. But I also noticed that prices were moving up year after year. Up to the mid-2000s, the Speedmaster Professional had looked like an absolute bargain in Omega’s range of chronographs. It was telling that the brand halo watch was cheaper than many of its other models! But it felt obvious to me that the brand intends to correct that perceived discrepancy.

    In the meantime, I had found myself a new job. And ironically my new professional field was magnetic equipment. As a result, I found myself regularly in the immediate vicinity of 10,000 gauss magnets, and I saw it as a sign that my fancy watch days were definitely over. I only had a couple of obscure chronographs left, models that would not have got me much money on the market, and I didn’t want to expose them to such strong magnetic fields. The company owner, who was regularly wearing an IWC Aquatimer, had told me that he once got this watch badly magnetized, and I thought he was brave to keep wearing this timepiece in the workshop. So I mostly wore my Seiko SKX divers, watches I had not divested myself of during the great cull. I reasoned that if I ruined one, I could always buy myself a replacement. And that was true until a couple of years ago when this classic series of divers was ultimately discontinued by Seiko. But I didn’t know that, since I was no longer following watch related news.

    While I should have started to enjoy some newfound financial stability, events conspired to make it seem unattainable for a while longer. I was involved in 2018 in a serious car crash in the US. I was riding in the passenger seat when the rental car my wife was driving on our way back from dinner went off the road and hit a pole. Turned out she had dozed off at the wheel. Thankfully, she had nothing except a few cuts and bruises from the airbags. I was not so lucky though. Immediately after exiting the wreck that had been our vehicle thanks to the help of a few bystanders who ripped the passenger door open, I immediately knew something was wrong. I had trouble breathing because of pain, and I definitely couldn’t sit. An ambulance soon showed up and drove me to the nearest hospital, where they kept me for the night, performing scans and x-rays. Those revealed that I had suffered a broken back. So just 3 days into a two week holidays, I got myself stuck to a chair at the in-laws, with a lot of painkillers. Sitting down was painful, but so was getting up or lying down. And when came the time to fly back to France, I can definitely say that it was far from the most comfortable plane trip I ever took.

    The real aftermath came later. With none of the imagery being made available to me, I had new x-rays made in France, only to discover that my sternum was also fractured, explaining my remaining difficulties breathing. And the medical specialists I consulted ordered me to wear a corset for 2 months. But the real kicker came a few days later when I received the bill for my 7 hour stay in the ER. I owed the hospital no less than $ 32,000, and quickly found out that my credit card insurance would do everything it could to avoid paying even a cent of that amount. So I had to quickly find the money and hope to find a way to get reimbursed. And so started a saga involving France’s state medical insurance, my company provided complementary insurance and my Visa insurance. It took 18 months to sort things out before I got most of the money back, but I was successful and thought I could leave this whole incident behind me. That’s precisely when I received the $ 2,200 bill for the phone our car had clipped. I felt drained, and it took me a few months to completely realize that financially I no longer had a sword of Damocles over my head.



    Miracles do happen

    Then COVID came. It may sound weird that it is a pandemic that claimed the lives of millions worldwide that ended up changing my stance about watches, but it did. Reminded of my own mortality every day on TV or in print, and deprived during lockdowns of many of the things I took for granted, I really started looking at my situation through a different lens. I obviously still loved watches, and with a minimum amount of restraint I was now in a position to save for a nice acquisition. Now past the age of 50, I may not have that long left on this planet, and I really wanted to enjoy the thrill of once again strapping a Moonwatch to my left wrist. So the project gradually formed to set some money aside for a watch purchase.

    As you all know, Omega had at around that same time decided to make a few changes to their icon, and these had the direct consequence of raising its retail price. This was not good news to me initially, though this evolution ended up being irrelevant. Why? Because iit quickly became obvious that I wanted a vintage example. In fact I really wanted a vintage example just like mine. After a few days, it simply became blindingly obvious that I just wanted my old Moonwatch back. But was that even possible? First I had to find out what kind of budget I had to envision. Market prices were a lot different than when I had sold it 8 years previously, and I wanted to know what would be fair these days. Sites like Chrono24 were no real help, because they told me what people were asking for similar examples, but not really what actual amounts were paid by buyers. Speedmaster101.com proved more helpful, and it introduced me to a few subtleties I had never really paid attention to in the past. For instance, I realized that my watch had a desirable DON bezel, noticeably raising its value. But I still didn’t know which category I would rate it in. In my mind, it was probably somewhere between good and very good.

    Through a French language forum, I contacted an old acquaintance of mine who happens to be the co-author of the Moonwatch Only reference book on the Speedmaster. If he couldn’t give me an accurate estimate of what my watch would be worth on the market at the time, no one could. So, based on some of the pictures I had kept from my example, he promptly gave me his verdict. And my heart sank. The amount he gave me was roughly 4 times higher than what I had sold it for 8 years previously. To make matters worse, prices still seemed to be rising, and I genuinely wondered if I could actually save money fast enough to catch up with that upward trend. For a moment I felt defeated, and started looking at younger and less desirable examples for sale.

    That simply wouldn’t do. I needed to find out if there was a chance, as slim as it might be, to get my example back. So I wrote a long e-mail to Rob, explaining that not a single day went by for me without feeling regret at selling this watch. I therefore wanted to find out if he would be amenable to selling it back to me at a fair price, and if so if he was okay with waiting for me to squirrel away this amount. That was a lot to ask, and I hesitated before sending my message. I was afraid of what the answer might be. It turns out that I had another issue to deal with first, because Rob’s old e-mail address was no longer valid. Would that new hurdle prove to be a final one? Thankfully, I knew that Rob was a university Professor, and a Google search on his full name quickly revealed that he had moved to work for another institution a few years previously. All I needed was to find out what e-mail format that university was using, which was not too hard to achieve. With that information, I sent my message again and waited. Anxiously.

    He replied the next day, and I hesitated before opening his message. Would it be the end of my hopes to get my Speedmaster back? It turns out that I didn’t need to worry. Not only was he disposed to sell the watch back to me, he already had a price in mind. In 2020, he had the watch appraised by Bonhams, giving him a range of what he could expect in the course of an auction. And he was very graciously offering to take the lower estimate as his asking price. I couldn’t believe my luck! This was significantly lower than what I had resigned myself to consider as a realistic price, which put the prospect of getting this watch back just months instead of years away. I replied that if he was okay with waiting until the end of the year, we could probably conclude this transaction by December or so. This was last January. Since Rob’s stated amount was in Pounds, I was just hoping that it wouldn’t raise in value too much compared with the Euro.

    I’m probably one of the only person on this planet to be grateful for the short-lived Liz Truss tenure as British Prime Minister. Thanks to her so-called mini-budget announced at the end of September, the markets reaction was so negative that the Pound took a nosedive. Unexpectedly, a window of opportunity had just opened for me to conclude the purchase 2 months earlier than I initially thought I could. So I promptly made a money transfer to Rob, and booked a ticket on a Eurostar for the following month in order to keep the price reasonable. We had agreed through e-mail that it would undoubtedly be safer for me to come pick the watch up in London rather than have it sent and be stuck in transit in some customs depot. In the almost 9 years since our original transaction, Brexit had morphed from the dream of a tiny but vocal minority to a reality faced by all, and not a great one for collectors like ourselves. Besides, my visit would give Rob and I the opportunity to meet and get acquainted.

    On November 8, I boarded my Eurostar train to London. Rob had cleared his morning and was to come and meet me at the station. Of course, my train got delayed an hour, so I e-mailed him about our progress once we were finally moving. Upon arriving at St Pancras station, and after clearing customs, I found myself in the main hall. Minutes later, I spotted Rob. I knew what he looked like from photos of him posted on his university profile, but he had no clue what I looked like. We exchanged a few pleasantries, and he reached into his bag to hand me a red Omega service case. I almost cried. It was happening, at last. I may have been technically the owner of this watch again for a month, but in that brief instant it became reality. He proposed that we had a hot drink somewhere, so we went to a café in the neighboring King’s Cross station. There, once seated, I could open the case and look adoringly at my Speedmaster.

    Rob, who I understand to be a member of this forum, turned out to be a true gentleman, and we spent about an hour chatting about watches, cars, and many other things. I was definitely happy to go beyond the mere exchange of e-mails and discover a likeminded watch aficionado. He also revealed that his purchase of this watch nine years previously had actually been his introduction to the world of Moonwatches. After acquiring this one, he purchased a few others over the years, and developed a preference for the earlier straight lug models because their format is more suited to his wrist. And he was indeed wearing a strikingly beautiful early 60s pre-Professional model with alpha hands whose dial had spectacularly turned grey. Absolutely gorgeous example! In a way, this conversation allowed me to let go of that bit of guilt I felt for paying less than market price for the return of my watch. Rob knew, and deliberately chose to help me accomplish that dream while still making a profit. Besides, he also admitted that he hardly wore that watch anymore because of its size.

    When time came for him to return to work, we agreed to keep in touch. After running a few errands in London, like getting some Krispy Kreme donuts for my wife (why can’t they open shop on my side of the Channel?), I boarded my Eurostar back to France, still in disbelief that this crazy project that had formed into my mind about a year before had met success. What were the odds? Upon arriving home, I confirmed that the original ref. 1171 bracelet was still too tight (I need to find myself a few spare links for it) as I hadn’t exactly lost weight over the last decade, and swapped it for a leather strap. Actually the one leather strap on which this watch was mounted before I sold it: a Di-Modell Rallye which I had kept in a drawer, hoping to give it back its purpose one day. It was all beat-up and looked like a bit of a mess, but I somehow needed to do that for the symbol, if only for a couple of days. My Speedmaster is home.
    [​IMG]

    Final thoughts

    Now three weeks after getting my Moonwatch back, I still have the same silly grin stuck on my face every time I look at it. It is now mounted on a fresh leather strap, and it looks as gorgeous as I remembered it. I realize that I’m extremely lucky, because few are the people who get a shot of owning again a departed watch after almost a decade. Also, I’m pretty sure that somewhere, somehow, Chuck is smiling at me. And I’m smiling back. I sure will do my very best to avoid giving this timepiece another opportunity to cross the English Channel any other way than at my wrist. And that would be a return trip of course.

    But from all this the main lesson I got is that there are some wonderful people to be met among us collectors and watch aficionados. I fully intend to keep in touch with Rob, and not just because I’ll be eternally grateful to him for giving me a Christmas morning almost two months early, but mostly because I did enjoy our interaction a lot. Modern tools like the internet have given us opportunities to communicate with like-minded collectors through forums like this one. It’s already wonderful. But meeting people and having personal interaction is even better. Through a French language forum, I have participated to so-called watch dinners where a bunch of members would gather in a privatized room inside a quiet restaurant to talk watches and share some of our treasures. I have resumed going, because while I love every single timepiece I own and could spend hours contemplating each by myself, the human side of this passion is just as important to me. Rob and I probably wouldn’t have ever met if not for these two transactions 9 years apart, and that would have been a pity given how much we share in common.
     
    TimeODanaos, Ludi, MtV and 38 others like this.
  2. STANDY schizophrenic pizza orderer and watch collector Nov 28, 2022

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    Great read and story…

    Congrats on the ending :thumbsup:
     
  3. rspace Nov 28, 2022

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    Beautiful and well written. And always love a happy ending :)
     
  4. Enchanted Nov 28, 2022

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    Super cool story. Never say never, even after 9 years.:thumbsup:
     
  5. Jones in LA Isofrane hoarder. Nov 28, 2022

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    Fabulous account, thank you so much for the time and effort expended to share it here. And congratulations on the re-acquisition!
     
  6. ken_hodson Nov 29, 2022

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    Thank you. This is a fantastic story. I enjoyed reading it very much, a testament to the empathy and respect that watch collectors share for each other. May your reacquisition bring you good luck and health!
     
  7. jaguar11 Nov 29, 2022

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    What a lovely story. A nice read while I drink my coffee in the quiet of the storm before before everyone arrives at work.
     
  8. Mark020 not the sharpest pencil in the ΩF drawer Nov 29, 2022

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    Wonderful story!!!!
     
  9. joe band Nov 29, 2022

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    wonderful tale, so much of watch collecting is the stories they create.
    i got my 145.022-68 in the fall of 2008... have loved it ever since.

    congrats on your reacquisition.
     
  10. Pascal S Nov 30, 2022

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    Thank you all for the kind words.

    After a couple of days, I removed the old Rallye strap that was literally falling apart, and replaced it with a dressier alligator.
    [​IMG]

    But now I have settled on a sportier combo. For now...
    [​IMG]
     
    Risto, SpdMastr and Ron_W like this.
  11. tikkathree Nov 30, 2022

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    What a great story which deserves a fuller, more leisurely read maybe tomorrow.
     
  12. Pascal S Dec 4, 2022

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    This last Friday, local posters on a French language horology forum organized another "watch dinner". These events are held locally all across France and Europe, and a specific region will on average have a couple of these a year. For many years, I had been a regular in these events, bringing each time a selection of my collection, and enjoying greatly discussing with other like-minded aficionados while getting to see and handle exceptional timepieces in the process. These are wonderful moments.

    But they are instants I deprived myself of, once I had sold my collection. Staying away was part of my horological exile during my lean years. I didn't want people who had known my watches to feel sorry for me, and while I knew this would not be an issue, I didn't see myself showing up empty handed. But the main reason is that I had very consciously decided that I was done with watches. That weaning process had to be sharp and decisive, and the result is that I never got to properly say goodbye to many of the people I had built a friendly rapport with over the years.

    This year, with my project of getting my Speedmaster back in full swing, I thought that I had no reason to stay away from the forums I had once been an active part of, so I resumed posting. And in doing so, I came across some of the old timers I knew from a decade ago. And inevitably I got invited to a watch dinner last June. At the time, I showed up with just a couple of watches: my calibre 7A38 Seiko chronograph, introduced in the post that started this thread, and a nice Wyler Dynawind that I was hoping to sell. I was humbled with how warm and friendly a welcome I received. With some people, it felt that we had seen each other only a few weeks ago, except that hair doesn't go white that fast...

    So when I got wind of another dinner before the end of this current year, I immediately signed up. Besides, I wanted to show my beautiful returnee! And of course narrate the full story to whomever might be interested hearing it. Funnily enough, as I arrived in the restaurant's privatized room that had been devoted to us, it felt like every other guy present was wearing a Speedmaster. I obviously wasn't alone noticing that, and at the end of the meal we decided to have a group shot, giving my watch the opportunity to be with its sisters...
    [​IMG]

    It's funny how, in the right set of circumstances and among the right crowd, that 9 year absence seems to have been merely a bad dream. This passion of ours really allows us to meet some great people.
     
  13. Ron_W Dec 10, 2022

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    I am very happy for you Pascal, and your reunion !! Thanks for reminding me of good things can happen. My lemania has found another home in the meantime, and although i think mine was the best in the world - it didnt fit right for me. Maybe i should try a Speedmaster :D.
    Have Many happy days with yours !
     
  14. bardamu Dec 10, 2022

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    Thanks for sharing, that was a great reading!
     
  15. Pascal S Dec 18, 2022

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    In my original post, I had mentioned that the 1171 bracelet was too tight for my wrist and that I needed to source extra links for it. As a matter of fact, during my first stint of ownership, I had mistakenly bought links meant for a 1171/1 bracelet without realizing that they were quite different. At 16 mm wide, with a pin closure, they were not compatible with the original 1171 whose links are 14 mm and screwed.

    Thanks to this thread, I subsequently got contacted by a member of this esteemed forum who generously offered to sell me three of these 14 mm links. What's more, in the course of our PM exchange, I mentioned that I was contemplating getting myself the replica of the Mexican Holzer bracelet made by Uncle Straps, and lo and behold he had one of these as well, unworn because bought just before finding an original 1175 bracelet. He offered me a very good price for the lot, and we promptly agreed on a deal.

    His package came in yesterday, and I'm thrilled. I can now finally wear my Moonwatch on its original bracelet, something I had never done. I took a quick and dirty shot to document this milestone, as this configuration will be mostly used during Summer.
    [​IMG]

    As for the US Mexican Holzer, I like it even more than I thought I would. It's just as light and rattly as a vintage bracelet, which is not necessarily a bad thing in my book, and it looks really good and distinctive. I will probably end up favoring it somewhat to spare my 1171 from wear and stretch, and it is definitely a worthy addition in my options for dressing up my Speedmaster. Once again a quick and (very) dirty picture to illustrate the effect. Next time I'll take a minute to wipe off the dust!
    [​IMG]

    Once again, my pursuit has allowed me to meet another friendly collector with whom I hope to keep in touch. My love for this watch is burning as bright as ever, but I don't want to lose sight that the human element of my quest has been just as heart-warming as the outcome of getting my Speedsmaster back.
     
    MtV, bardamu, Aludic and 3 others like this.
  16. JMO1995 Jan 2, 2023

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    What a great story!

    @Pascal S how’s the back now?
     
  17. Pascal S Jan 2, 2023

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    Thanks a lot for the kind words.

    My back is doing surprisingly well given what I went through. In fact, and I may very well jinx it by writing that here, I have less incidences of back pain than I had before the accident. On the other hand, after the crash I sort of felt that all my internal organs had been reshuffled at random, and I never got past this impression as even today I sometimes feel that not everything is back in its correct place. It's a weird feeling, and quite hard to accurately describe.
     
  18. JMO1995 Jan 2, 2023

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    Good to hear the back is okay, I hope the rest sorts itself out over time.