A few years ago, I became somewhat obsessed with watches. I wanted to own an even dozen, just for the fun of it. More specifically, I became obsessed with owning an Elgin watch. My husband has an old Elgin pocket watch that belonged to his grandfather. It’s a beauty. But I wanted an Elgin watch because I had lived in Elgin for a year. My nostalgia made it seem like I needed to own an Elgin watch.
Now I have four—or at least four that say Elgin on their faces. One of them had to have been made after the factory closed, when rights to the name were purchased. My sister gave me two of them as gifts. I found two of them on my own. All of them were e-bay purchases.
My favorite is one I bought from a guy in Slidell, Louisiana, which he categorized as “pre-1940.” It’s got a chrome casing with some western-looking engraving. Not only did I like its look, but I liked its story, assuming it’s true. This was probably a small pocket watch recased as a wristwatch after the first world war ushered in the practicality of such a thing—driving away the testerical view that wearing a watch on one’s wrist was feminine. The winding mechanism is at 12 o’clock, and the bands attach at 9 and 3. I love it.
When the watch arrived, the minute hand had fallen off in the casing. I had to send it back, and the seller promptly fixed it.
Then I couldn’t get it to run. E-mails went back and forth a bit, the seller being certain it worked when it left his hands—he’d had it fixed by a professional, after all. I was about to send it back again, when I accidentally dropped it from a height of several feet, and it started.
So I kept it, and it worked on and off. Finally, I took it to a jeweler, who sent it off to be cleaned. A month or so later, it came back, and it works. I don’t wear it often, but I love the thing, and it’s an Elgin.
But there’s something else. When I look at this watch, I think of Slidell, on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain, an area hit hard by Katrina. I think of my husband’s trip to Slidell not a year before the storm, on which he caught what was likely the biggest fish of his life. I think about how devastated the fisheries were, how ecosystems and economies were destroyed. I wonder about this watch’s journey to Louisiana. I wonder what happened to Darrell, the watch seller of Slidell, who sold me the Elgin timepiece I love so well.