BITS and PIECES # 50

1

June 18, 2014 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 50

Hello again from Luquillo,

Here’s a story about a treasured Rolex wristwatch that was my constant companion for over forty years until we wandered apart — and the surprising tale of our reconnection this week through the kindness of a stranger, after 15 years had passed…

I hope that you find the recounting an enjoyable read…

ROLEX REDUX

I purchased my first (and only) Rolex wristwatch in 1962. At the time, I was an engineer with the System Development Corporation, a RAND Corporation ‘spin-off’, over-nighting in Singapore at the legendary Raffles Hotel. The hotel had a duty-free jewelry store just off the lobby that featured Rolex timepieces…

In those long ago ‘salad days’ of my youth, my employer generously augmented my base salary with occasional per diem payments when I traveled on company business to exotic locales such as Tokyo, Manila and Taipei. My meagre fortunes were further enhanced by the intermittent checks I received from the state of Hawaii in compensation for time spent as a National Guard aviator. For the first time in my young life, I was flush with cash…

Honesty compels me to reveal that my shameless ambition to acquire a prestigious (but costly) Rolex timepiece was heavily influenced by James Bond and Chuck Yeager. 007’s fictional appetite for the Rolex brand made the prospect of owning one all the more enticing, and when I discovered that my idol Colonel Yeager considered a Rolex to be an essential component of the ‘Right Stuff”, I was absolutely won over…

Early the next morning, after checking-out of my room and paying my bill, I was about to hail a taxi and head to Singapore’s Changi airport to catch a connecting flight to Manila International Airport. Luggage in hand, I sped by the duty free store, glancing furtively at the Rolex display. This wasn’t my first encounter — since becoming a Rolex ‘convert’ I habitually paused to gaze covetously over the Rolex display on my sporadic Singapore stopovers…

As a rule, the styles the store exhibited were much too expensive (or too gaudy) for me to sanely consider – besides, ‘007’ wore a ‘plain’ stainless-steel Rolex, didn’t he?

As I turned to walk away, I noticed a stainless steel Rolex ‘Oyster Perpetual Datejust’ occupying a prominent position in the display case, and, wonder of wonders, as I looked closer, I saw that it was offered at a slightly reduced price!

In an instant I had directed the slightly bewildered saleslady (a Miss Wong, as I recall) to remove ‘my’ watch from the case while I withdrew my wallet from a jacket pocket. My American Express credit card seemed to leap into my hand with a life of its own. I quickly completed the transaction, brushing aside Miss Wong’s earnest attempts to describe the watch’s features – after all, I was an experienced aviator and world traveler, was I not?

I quickly stripped my Air Force issue Bulova ‘Hack watch’ from my wrist, and replaced it with the Rolex – it felt reassuringly hefty – I sensed that this was typical of a self-winding chronometer that displayed both the time and the date – lots of stuff going-on inside its impressive, stainless steel case – and, it was waterproof to a depth of 30 meters! If I ever found myself trapped in a shark tank like 007 had been, I would be suitably prepared…

My Rolex seldom left my wrist over the next forty years – it never failed me as I wore it while flying in high performance jet aircraft, competing in offshore yacht races, sailing across the Atlantic or during years spent island-hopping through the tropical heat and humidity of the Caribbean Sea…

By 1998 I began to notice a few slight signs of aging in my faithful timepiece – not unexpectedly in a watch that was rapidly closing-in on forty years of flawless service. The crystal was still intact, but marred slightly from frequent unforgiving collisions with sailboat hardware, the stem winder had cracked, the dial face had yellowed from constant exposure to the sun, the stainless steel bracelet refused to stay fastened, and a few other very minor discrepancies. I realized it was time to ‘send the old girl home’ for repair and re-furbishment…

Reluctantly, I boxed-up my revered Rolex and sent it off to the Rolex repair facility in New York City, accompanied by a letter explaining our long and fruitful relationship…

As luck would have it, soon after I had mailed-off my Rolex, I contracted with a new owner to deliver his 40′ catamaran from Bend Boat Basin in Newport, Rhode Island to Puerto Del Rey marina in Puerto Rico. My contract included commissioning (supervising the sailboat’s final construction details), outfitting it for the off-shore delivery trip, installing vital electronic instruments and sensors, and a host of other niggling but necessary details that required completion before departing on an ocean voyage…

Consequently, more than two months had elapsed before I sailed into Puerto Del Rey marina in Fajardo and delivered the catamaran to her new owner. My feet had barely touched dry land when I was approached by another anxious owner who wanted me to deliver his motor yacht from Puerto Rico to Florida. I left a week later and got as far as Puerto Plata on the north coast of the island of Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic) when the boat’s diesel engine broke down, causing a two week delay while I ordered replacement parts, waited for them to be delivered from the U.S,, and then installed them, thereby expanding the total voyage to more than a month before I finally arrived in Florida…

Curiously, by the time I returned to Puerto Rico once more, the fate of my beloved Rolex had faded from my mind. My life was in a state of turmoil as I contemplated changing career fields and addressed other nagging complications. By the time that my life had assumed an even keel once more, the ‘Rolex issue’ had faded even farther from my mind. As the years rolled by, memories of my treasured timepiece had been reduced to an occasional ‘twinge’ of remorse…

And then suddenly, earlier this month, out of the blue, more than 15 years after I had sent my Rolex away for repair, I received an extraordinary e-mail message — it was from Mr. Lauri Virkkunen, Director of Service Operations, Rolex Watch U.S.A, Inc.. It stated in part:
“Mr. Mowbray,
We have a Vintage Rolex watch in our possession, which I believe may belong to you. At this point I cannot determine fully the ownership of this watch, until we have matched some of the details. It was sent in to our Rolex Service at NY 5th Avenue several years ago from Puerto Rico, so I have a good reason to believe that the watch belongs to you. Please call me to discuss the details on how to return the watch to you. There is no charge involved in returning the watch.

When I had recovered sufficiently from the shock and surprise of Mr. Virkkunen’s message, I snatched-up my cell phone and called him as he had requested. He was very gracious, politely asking me to describe my watch as best as I could remember it, quickly determining that I was its owner, and making immediate preparations to return it to me at no charge. First, he said the watch must pass through Rolex’s rigorous quality control to ensure that it was in perfect condition. Then, it would be insured and mailed to me in Puerto Rico…

I thanked Mr. Virkkunen profusely for his thoughtful detective work in finding and then contacting me (he had ‘Googled’ my name and found me through my website) and promised to send him a signed copy of my book ‘The Day It Rained Frogs In The Forest’ as a small token of my esteem for his kindness and persistence in following through on this selfless quest…

My treasured watch arrived in yesterday’s mail — it is once again fastened securely to my wrist, where I intend for it to remain until I draw my final breath…

Life is filled with surprises of all kinds — it’s been my experience that good surprises often involve the thoughtful kindness of complete strangers…

Thanks, Mr. Virkkunen for engineering such a wonderfully good surprise!

© 2014 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

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One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 50

  1. mkhulu says:

    That is just another of those “blessed coincidences” that our Father likes to surprise us with. Thanks for sharing.

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