For a number of years now, I've been on a quest, kind of like Diogenes or Don Quixote. But the object of my quest has not been an honest man, or glory and adventure. I've been looking for this watch.
Back in 1961 when I was graduated from boarding school - most of you probably would think of that as high school but I thought of it as high-security prison - my parents presented me with a watch exactly like this.
It is an Eterna-matic. Eterna is a proud old Swiss brand, one of the few that remains famous for producing its own movements - or, as they're known in horology circles, "calibers."
These days, a majority of wristwatches use generic, mass-produced movements. One of the really well-known movements is the ETA, which was invented and built by Eterna before the company sold the design and rights to the Swatch Group, which sells ETA movements to - well, to almost everyone. ETA variants power Tudor watches, for instance, the Rolex budget brand. Many others, too, including Hublot, some Omegas, and many, many more.
But back to my Eterna. In 1961 the company was not at all well-known in the U.S., but my folks bought one, and on graduation day I strapped the thing on and wore it when my classmates and I celebrated our prison release with a joyful class visit to Disneyland. I wore the thing for years until it stopped and I couldn't find anyone to service it. So reluctantly I put it away and bought a Seiko.
Then my world crashed to the ground and in the ensuing darkness, I lost a lot of meaningful stuff. Including my Eterna-matic.
That pissed me off. It still pisses me off. And as irrational though the thought might be, not having that old Eterna seems disloyal, at least a disservice, to my parents, working people who were generous enough to present me with this watch at a time when they were, like so many other people, just getting by.
For a number of years now I've been jousting with the Interweb vintage-watch sites for an Eterna-matic just like my old one. All I've found is the above photo.
Well, it isn't. Not exactly. Not quite. What it is, is Eterna's modern take on its 1950s/'60s design. The bad part is that it is, just as I'm sure my old Eterna-matic was, very expensive, way out of my league. The good part is that it has been discontinued, superseded in a strange move that puts a new, even better, caliber into this same case.
(The details are that the caliber in the watch shown here is called the Eterna 3501; the new ones use calibers called the 3505 and 3510. The big difference between the old and new is that while all three are mechanical and require winding, the new ones use new, very clever, very high-tech mainspring/bearing arrangements. But never mind, that doesn't really matter. In fact, I suspect that this will serve only to make these new watches much more expensive to service, a benefit I certainly don't need.)
At any rate, these 3501 watches are left-overs. Last week I found a watch site that is selling these left-overs for discounts. I mean, ridiculous, huge, discounts, discounts so enormous that my first thought was, "OK, these must have "fallen off the back of a truck;" they must be so hot they'd burn one's wrist.
But no. I did some checking. The place seems legit, so I was stoked. And when I called to inquire about these, the woman I talked to provided me with a coupon that saved me even more money. I had a little loot saved - lately I'm selling things that I don't use - so I bought one. I mean, what else could I do? Probably buying a vintage Eterna and having it rebuilt would cost more than I've just spent.
The world is a much more sophisticated place today than it was in 1961, but even if one looks diligently, one cannot find Eterna sales and service in the U.S., Eterna having bailed from the U.S. market. If you want official service, you get to ship the thing to the Eterna service center near Geneva. But the same technician down in the Lost Angeles jewelry district who fettles my wonderful old Omega Speedmaster is fully capable of providing whatever this new Eterna might eventually need.
I'm not usually sentimental or sappy about things like this, but in this instance, I feel kind of like I'm renewing an unspoken pact with my folks. I mean, does not one take care of one's tools and equipment? Does one not honor a well-given gift? Of course one does.
In fact, I'm so happy about this that I might even strap on my new Eterna and go to Disneyland.
No, wait, cancel that. Better to leave those particular memories just as they are. Besides, that place is way too crowded these days, and way too expensive. I think I'll just stay home and look at my new watch.