Fixing my dad’s 50 year-old Seiko watch

A watch has a soul. The dent on the case that reminds you of the fishing trip with your grandfather; the audible ticking of the movement you hear as you rest your head in your hand on the couch holding a loved one close; the routine of putting it on everyday, for years, through weddings, funerals, and all the other markers of passing time in our lives. A watch can be loved, can express love when it is given, and they grow old, gracing us with the charming tarnish of patina.

A watch can also die. The gears wear down. Springs no longer hold power. The tick slows and stops. Watches, though, can be revived.

My dad wore a blue-dialed steel Seiko sports watch through much of my childhood. He purchased it at a military PX in Fort Jackson, South Carolina in 1971 with his first army paycheck and it accompanied him during his service in Europe. He climbed mountains with it, drank with it in German beer houses, and brought it back home with those memories intact. I don’t know if he was wearing it when I was born but I’ll just believe that he was.

I might have sneaked into the bedroom and tried it on but I’ve never worn it, even now. It was, and always will be, my dad’s watch. I have meaningful watches of my own today and I had watches as a kid, like a Mickey Mouse watch, a Casio digital watch, or a beloved Kronoform that transformed from watch-to-robot in perhaps the most “me” thing that’s ever been invented. None of those watches survived my childhood but my dad’s Seiko did.

That watch meant a lot to him so when he gave it to me a few years ago I knew I was being handed something more than a simple watch. It only ticked for a few minutes at a time and it showed the years of love and wear you’d expect from a nearly 50 year-old watch. It had never been serviced so just that the hands moved at all is a testament to the quality of Seiko’s watches.

I also felt a responsibility to fix it as the new caretaker. Mechanical watches, like this Seiko reference 6119-8273, require regular servicing. Usually every handful of years depending on use. Modern mechanical watches can go longer in between services but the cost of keeping your watch telling the time is something you should factor before buying that coveted Omega, Rolex, or other luxury brand. It took me a few years but, as the watch turned 50, it was time to get the old girl running again.

A Seiko can often be capably serviced by any reputable local watchmaker but the age and history had me nervous about picking out the first name in a Google search that had good reviews. I knew the best option was to send it back to Seiko. It took three months from the moment I sent it to the time I got it back in my hands but they were like your favorite veterinarian who isn’t shy about giving you updates on your little buddy who’s in their care. They kept me informed of timelines and even double-checked that I still wanted to go through with the repair after they informed me that replacement gaskets weren’t available anymore and that it would no longer be water resistant.

The South Florida humidity put that lack of water resistance to the test immediately as the crystal fogged within a few minutes of being out of the box. I knew it was temporary but seeing the hands move through that mist was all I needed to smile. It was keeping time again. I put the watch against my ear to hear the rapid tick of its heart and knew that the task was done.

This 50 year-old object had seen a lot of life and it suddenly had a new one. We can reinvent ourselves if we choose. Get a new job, move to a new city, and finding new love are not uncommon in our always too short lifetimes. We are custodians of the objects we come in contact with during our life and some of those can continue to have lives after ours have ended. Watches, maybe more than any other object, remind their new owners that a life was lived with it on the wrist. Sometimes you know about that life and sometimes you don’t but it’s now your responsibility to inscribe some new stories on it. Keep feeding its soul and yours.

I put it on a new leather strap and sent a picture of it to my dad so he could see that the watch, that marked a new beginning in his life, had a new beginning here with me as he intended. Not much needed to be said.

“I’m glad I gave it to you. That watch meant a lot to me.”

2 thoughts on “Fixing my dad’s 50 year-old Seiko watch

  1. I did wear it when you were born. I wore that watch for many many years after I returned from the army. I cried when I read your article (it was a joyful cry).

    Liked by 1 person

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