Inspector Collector by Harley Spiller

WatchTime, February 2000

When I was 16, I bought my first watch: a Seiko Navigator Timer. It was during a family vacation in Saint Martin, and even today it brings back memories of that particular time and place – but back then it was the watch’s simple lines, red and blue dial and steel case that instantly caught my eye. I guess it seemed heavy and important. Sure, I’d been given a few watches before, but this was the first one where I laid down my own money.

It cost about $90 and I wore it out of the shop, marveling at the newfound heft of my left wrist. For the next two years, I wore it almost daily, never once actually needing its second time zone feature. For some reason, when I headed off to Northwestern University near Chicago, I stuffed the watch in a desk drawer at my parent’s house in Buffalo, New York. I preferred getting to class on time by tuning my ear to the carillon bells of University Hall. I found their chimes pleasant enough – besides, I wasn’t doing any driving and who needed to know what time it was in Dubai anyway. I graduated, and proceeded to spend 16 years working as a museum curator in New York City. At one point, I decided to dream up a class that would teach the passion for collecting to elementary and high school students. The idea took off, and I started working throughout the tri-state area under the handle of Inspector Collector. It was after I taught my first class to a bunch of 7 year-olds, that I realized how vital it is for a teacher to properly pace the lessons. I had my parents ship me my neglected Seiko.

When it came in the mail, it wasn’t running, so I made a trip to Canal Street where low-rent watch shops abound and quartz batteries are half price. The vendor thrust my watch back in my face, announcing “automatic.” I had forgotten that it simply needed a few shakes of the wrist to wind it. Once it was up and running, I found I could use the second dial to alert me to the end of the unevenly scheduled 43-minute class sessions. Since I didn’t wear it on weekends, it often had to be reset. I was winding it around and around to get the proper hour, when one day I happened upon another long-forgotten feature: The stem has two clicks so that it can be set without spinning all the way around. Rediscovering the tricks of my watch was like picking up a sport you haven’t played in ten years. Everything was strange but familiar.

Somehow, a few weeks later, the stem got bent. I tracked down the Seiko repair factory in New Jersey, but was reluctant to send the watch away during the hectic school year. But, then the miracle occurred: the stem actually straightened itself out! This simple stainless steel automatic can tell the tale of more than half my life.

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