From Berlin to Ulan Bator and back – again and again – with a new watch strap!
My lockdown birthday in Berlin, again. On a weekday. The weather was cold and occasionally blustery, so doing something fun outside to make it a special day was limited to an erratic ping pong chat/combo session with a friend, a popular Corona activity. Even a month ago, travel on my birthday was not going to be an option. So it looks like my special day, if it was to involve any kind of excursion, let alone travel, beyond Friedrichshain park’s ping pong tables, would have to be of the mental kind.
Now bring in the object that would get me to the other side of the globe in a flash: my watch. I bought it on the last leg of my trip through Russia on the Trans-Siberian 8 years ago, in a department store in Ulan Bator. It was made in Japan, Q&Q was the brand (Quality & Quantity), was apparently waterproof, had a bright shiny swimming pool blue reflective surface and white numbering, with luminescent hands. The watchstrap was translucent blue silicone, and the face was wedged into an off-white resin casing on either side. In circular mode, the resin casing had already been trimmed after it had got chipped (my partner has a lathe in his artist’s studio, so that was easily done), and the silicone strap had split and already been replaced once.
So, when asked what I wanted for my birthday a few weeks back, I asked my partner, very simply, for a new watchstrap. My current watchstrap – the second for the watch – was bought with a friend in Montmartre four years ago. I’d treasured it, but it was showing signs of wear and tear, even if not broken – the light coating of grey colour had started to wear off, it just looked worn and shabby, despite being leather. Clearly, spraying new colour and keeping it in use that bit longer as a watchstrap would be the best circular solution. Somehow, after some googling, finding the right spray paint that wasn’t a health hazard, or a watch repairer to do this in time if they could even do this, in a lockdown, wasn’t going to be an option.
So on went the new watchstrap, ordered online in a quarter of an hour and delivered a few days later, in time for birthday D-day. And – tada! The sheer pleasure at being able to renew the prize possession that had travelled with me from Mongolia through South East Asia for 10 months, was somehow more than that I felt for other new presents. It was like a renewed promise of service. The watch had seen me through multiple adventures, hikes, uncomfortable meditation sessions in ashrams at 6am, boat trips and epic cycle rides, a long list of guesthouses, not to mention its role in helping me catch planes, trains and automobiles on said trip. Bizarrely, on my return home, the watch had gone slow and was sadly unreliable. For some reason, I picked it up again a few years later, and it seemed to pick up its slack. With a new strap and perhaps through wearing it again, it was back in service – perhaps it too had needed a career break after our trip together.
Q&Q claim on their website to have sold 500 million timepieces since 1976. No mention of sustainability, let alone circular economy on their website, as one might expect. I hope to be able to enjoy wearing my watch for a while to come. It’s like having a talisman with me, a good luck charm, that bright blue face glinting the time at me: for a woman born in Greenwich, close to the Greenwich Mean Time Meridian, where my parents met in the swinging 1960s, watches have a particular meaning for me. Not least because I’m not the most punctual person: so having a watch and a smart phone help me to keep to that mainstream time zone even if in my head, I’m way off somewhere else.
I’m not sure what to do with the old watchstrap, by the way: I’ll keep it. Given all the circular businesses mushrooming all over the place today, I’m sure finding a new use for it, or keeping it as a plan B to respray one day, will just be a matter of time. As for my renewed watch on my birthday, I look at it and think: roll on Mongolia! And I recall that first night in my yurt in the desert with my sheeny shiny new watch, over 8 years ago, the luminous hands in the dark, reassuring, as I added yet another blanket to ward off the cold of the desert night.
• Try to buy quality products in the first place
• Check what they are made of, how long the brand has been around, any policies on repair, modular design, which parts are likely to wear and tear first and which parts can be replaced
• Care for the things that accompany your life – someone made that watch and that watchstrap with their life energy and time
• The objects that we care for can help us feel grounded if we have them for a long time, instead of endlessly zapping from one product to the next one.
• How to replace a watch strap
• Sustainable watches