Reprinted from November 1992
It had been pretty much like any other day. A few customers had drifted in for various small jobs and purchases. I stepped from the back room and found RB waiting on a neatly dressed, grey haired lady.
“I want something for my husband’s birthday,” she said hesitantly. “Perhaps a cigarette lighter…”
“Certainly, madam,” RB said, leading her solicitously to the appropriate showcase. He offered to demonstrate one for her.
“Now here’s a lighter which has been proven year after year. Yes sir! It works every time! Just look at this lovely model.”
He held the lighter in his hand and snapped the mechanism. Nothing. Again he snapped. Nothing. In desperation, he tried once more – still nothing. He snatched up another model and went through the very same process. Nothing. I could tell he was starting to sweat.
Undaunted, he switched to still another make. “Now here’s a lighter that never needs a flint, wick or battery! Isn’t that marvelous?”
With more courage than I’m sure he felt, he snapped the button. Nothing. Snap, snap. Nothing.
“Would you consider anything else for your husband?” RB inquired weakly as he fumbled with the lighter.
“Well, he’s always wanted a pocket watch,” she said thoughtfully.
“Ah! I have just the thing for him!”
RB hustled to the watch counter, relieved that he’d won a reprieve. He extracted a lovely antique-styled timepiece which displayed an exposed balance.
“Isn’t this lovely – a true look of antiquity.” He tenderly caressed the case and placed it in her hands.
“Now this is a real masterpiece,” he told her. “A reflection of Swiss ingenuity. Look at these finely tapered hands and that beautiful dial.”
He rotated the watch slightly to demonstrate the swing of the balance wheel and then handed it back to the customer.
She rubbed her chin. “Well, I don’t know, it’s more than I wanted to pay. I have to think it over…”
“Madam,” RB said persuasively, “your husband will be overwhelmed when he sees this beautiful timepiece and realizes how thoughtful you were to purchase it for him. And it is exactly what he wants, it isn’t that correct?”
“Well, yes,” she stammered. “I’m sure he’d like it, and perhaps I could afford it, but there’s the service problem. What if it went on the blink?”
RB breathed a sigh of relief. “Why, service is no problem at all. I am a master watchmaker, so I can fix anything. Besides, this timepiece is designed to give years of service without problems. You won’t have any trouble with this fine watch, I’ll promise you.”
The customer nodded. She was sold!
“Well if you’ll just wind it and set it for me and explain how it works, I’ll take it!”
“Of course, madam,” RB said, stepping over to her side of the counter.
“First of all, this watch is an eight day timepiece. This means you’ll only have to wind it once a week! Pretty convenient, huh?” He winked knowingly.
“Now,” he said authoritatively, “take the crown between your fingers and wind back and forth. You can’t over-wind it so don’t be afraid of winding it…”
RB struggled to wind the watch, but the crown refused to budge. “Ugh, it must need some oil on the stem to loosen it up a bit. Just a second…”
He retreated to the safety of his bench and snapped open the back of the case.
“You should be glad I’m a watchmaker,” he smiled and kept talking rapidly while trying to repair the trouble as inconspicuously as possible. “If you’d purchased a watch from a discount store or drugstore, you’d have been out of luck!”
RB should have been more modest. One glance inside disclosed a broken part… at least it looked broken. Still hoping for the best, he removed the barrel, which lay directly on top of the movement…
For the benefit of those laymen who read this, a spring on an eight day watch is very heavy and long – extremely long – it looked to be about three feet long when it lurched out of the barrel and coiled itself around RB’s neck two or three times, sending his loupe flying and the barrel dancing across the floor.
While he gasped and fumbled, the customer stared in shocked disbelief. Her eyes bulged like those of a Chinese pug dog and she shrieked, “Never! I should have never considered it! I don’t want it! I don’t want it ever, even if you get it all back together! I’ll get a shirt, or a sweater – anything – I don’t ever want anything mechanical again!”
She retreated out the door, leaving RB struggling to dislodge the eight-day mainspring.
“Well, that was a total loss,” I said as I retrieved RB’s loupe from under the bench.
“Maybe not entirely,” he said, rubbing his neck. “You can write it up and make something out of the incident anyway!”
“You must be out of your tree,” I laughed. “Never! Never in a hundred years would anyone believe this really happened.”