Saturday 03 Dec 2016

Wristwatch Jungle
David Simmonds

Okay, as the time for graduation presents or gift for dear old dat, and we must brace for the predictable wave of ‘bling’ ads. The well-to-do will say that we should give them a break, because it’s better to spend their money than to save it; and better that they wear ridiculously pricey watches than load up on SUVs or embark on jungle safaris. As a rule, I buy that argument.

All the same, the hair on the back of my neck began to tingle a bit when I saw the full-page, colour ad in the Globe and Mail for a watch called the, “Tag Heuer Carrera Mikrogirder 10,000.” I’ll call it the Mikrogirder for short.

First, let’s give the watch its due. It isn’t just a watch. It’s the winner of the grand prize, the “Aiguile d’Or” at the annual Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix.

According to Forbes magazine, this Oscar-style event is an annual event among the “horological glitterati.” Any brand, regardless of origin or price, is eligible to enter. Winners decided by a panel of experts, journalists, collectors and independent industry professionals. No, I had never heard of the event either.

By way of background, it seems the Swiss watchmaking industry and the mechanically driven watch, itself, was dinged, badly, by the advent of the Asian quartz watch. The industry decided to reinvent itself by re-positioning its ever more complex mechanically driven watches as luxury brands. Over the past few years, we have seen watches with gimmicks such as minute timers, moon phase displays and tourbillons; peek inside at the mechanics themselves.

Now there’s a Mikrogirder with a new shtick: speed. The Mikrogirder is accurate to 5/10,000ths of a second. That is, it beats 7,200,000 times in an hour. It is apparently a source of corporate pride that the Heuer company broke both the 1/100th and 1/1,000th of a second measurement barriers, so it was important to be first to the 5/10,000th barrier. I’m sure we can look for it to be at the front of the pack for the breaking of the 1/10,000th barrier.

The only problem I have is who cares how fast a watch can beat? Essentially, a watch is a good watch if it tells the time neither faster nor slower than other watches. Time passes, sorry Dr Einstein, at the same rate pretty much all over the world.

What can you do with a Mikrogirder and its blazing speed? You probably can’t set it exactly, because you can’t physically complete the physical act of setting the watch fast enough. The human eye is only able to take in about 30 frames of film per second; by the time you focus to set the watch, you’re in the past.

This watch is also a chronograph or stopwatch in a watch, if you must. Thus, you can measure the time it takes your yacht to go from the start to the finish line down to the 2,000th of a second. This is no doubt handy when you are in a close race, the other side is wearing some patently unreliable Rolex and you don’t want a nasty clubhouse argument.

Simply pushing a stop button takes about a quarter of a quarter of a second, doesn’t it? This means the watch is 50 times faster than it needs to be for use with human control? If a human didn’t control it, why would you wear it on your wrist in the first place?

Is this watch going to add much value to the world? Are domineering bosses going to start saying, “this being 400/10,000ths of a second late for meetings behaviour has simply got to stop”! Are lawyers going to start billing theer time in increments of 72,000,000ths of an hour?

Of course, these are the wrong questions to be asking; it’s all about status, not functionality. It’s also about canny marketing. It turns out you can’t just drop into your local Birks and pick up a Mikrogirder. They’re not even available to the public. If you know whom to ask, you can pick up the next best thing for about $130,000. What I think Tag Heuer really wants you to do is to settle for that $4,995 model that is available at Birks. After all, it will put you on the same team as the Mikrogirder, as well as Formula One racing driver Lewis Hamilton, tennis player Maria Sharapova and actor Cameron Diaz. It’s not that much by comparison to what it could have been.

On the other hand, as watchmakers say,, if you can manage without the celebrity company, they had some nice bright green watches with a plastic strap down at the Wellington Pharmacy a while ago for $9.99 apiece. They keep time at about the same rate as a Tag Heuer; you’ll never sweat if you lose one; and the difference will buy you a sundae at the Dari Dip once a week for the rest of your life.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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