I have two fob-watches.
One is a wedding keepsake. When my brother got married three years ago in northern Portugal, he and his Spanish bride gave watches to all the male guests and perfume to all the women. It was a proper feast of a wedding celebration, lashings of food and drink and dance and music and family and friendship; and the watch is just one example of the generosity of spirit and fullness of love which marked the occasion.
The other watch was given to me in 1997, the year of my own marriage, by my late father. I remember the date because along with it he included the bill from the jeweller who had just repaired it. The jeweller, Martin of Maryhill in Glasgow, describes the watch in some detail in his report:
A gentleman’s 18ct gold half hunter fob watch by Vacheron Constantin. Watch hallmarked through London 1907. Inscription dated 1909.
Jean-Marc Vacheron was a Swiss watchmaker who set up shop in Geneva in 1755. His sons inherited the thriving business in 1785, then his grandson in 1810. In 1819 the latter, Jacques-Barthélemy Vacheron, went into partnership with François Constantin. In his letter to Vacheron on 5th July 1819, Constantin wrote that the new partnership must strive to “do better if possible – and that is always possible.” That became the company’s motto, and remains so to this day. The company, one of the top three Swiss watchmakers, is still based in Geneva, producing watches for the very wealthy. One produced in 1979 cost $5 million.
As you’d expect of a Swiss firm, VC is very discreet about its clients. But VC owners in the past have included Napoleon Bonaparte, the Duke of Windsor and Pope Pius XI. So I, my father, and my grandfather who was originally given the watch, are in good company. In 2003 Vacheron Constantin finally began producing watches for women.
Inside the back of the watch lies the inscription: To F. Gurney Salter from C. de W. and H. de W. 1909
The de W.’s were friends of my grandfather’s. I confess that although my father did tell me what de W. stood for, I have forgotten. I want to say de Watteville – de Watteville is an ancient Swiss family with branches in England. Before the First World war my grandfather and his brother Willy were keen alpine climbers who visited Switzerland regularly, and it’s entirely possible that they knew de Wattevilles.
But whoever gave Fred the watch, it was a lavish gift. In 1997, the repairs alone cost £215, which is emphatically more than I’ve spent in total on all the watches I ever bought. It must have been given to mark a special event. In 1909 Fred was 33, not a landmark birthday; so perhaps the watch was an expression of gratitude. Fred was a practicing solicitor and may simply have rendered legal services to C. & H. de W. But perhaps it was something more personal – a mountain rescue, for example.
Fred Salter (standing right), on an unidentified mountain, c1910;
perhaps C. & H. de W. also present
We will probably never know now. The timepiece will keep its secret, one might say to the end of time. But even unknown, the secret makes it more than just a watch, and as Martin of Maryhill noted in red ink in his report to my father in 1997, “must be treated with care!”
This has been my 250th post in this blog. Thank you for reading any of them!