Timepieces

Preserving Family History With a Pocket Watch

Beautiful inner workings
Beautiful inner workings

Updated August 01st, 2018

I wanted to give my husband a pocket watch for Father's Day, and it seemed that everything was conspiring to make that impossible. The antique pocket watch that once belonged to his father was something that I knew would mean a lot to him. Mechanical pocket watches are not typical treasures for men of my husband's age. They would rather have the shiny Rolex or the latest trendy watch on their arms.

How I Decided on This as a Gift

I remember conversations I had with my mother-in-law when my husband and I were dating. She told me stories of how she met my husband's father and recalled all the things that made him a suitable match for her. The things that stood out the most was that he was a gentleman who loved to dress the part and that he had an affinity for pocket watches.

My husband's parents did not stay together for his entire childhood, so there are many things that my husband just didn't know about his father. It was strange how alike they were without ever talking about it. My husband does not like to wear jeans and sneakers, even in casual situations. If I didn't know better, I could've sworn that fashion was in their genes.

One day, as I was talking to his mother, she took a mechanical pocket watch from her purse. She said she kept it with her at all times because it reminded her that she and her deceased husband did have a good marriage until he lost his job. Eventually, the pressure was too much for him, and he just left. The pocket watch was the only thing he left behind.

She told me that she thought he did this so that he could pass something on to his children. Now, she wanted my husband to have the antique pocket watch, but she knew it didn't work. She wanted me to find a reliable technician to fix the watch. I just kept thinking of how perfect this would be as a Father's Day gift and I set out to make it as if it were new.

Keeping the Gift a Secret

I should say that my husband is extremely nosey, and it was tough trying to keep this from him. I was so full of excitement at the idea that I could do this for him, that I almost told him a couple of times when we were talking about random stuff. I managed to talk myself back from the ledge and keep the conversation away from it.

It hadn't taken me long to find a reliable repair shop and ask the right questions to make sure the person could really restore it. Of course, I wanted to see what other work the repair person had done and see what he knew about the particular 10K gold Hamilton Railroad antique pocket watch. After I asked a few questions, I knew I was dealing with an expert.

There was one night that I accidentally left the service receipt in a pile with our bills. As we sat down at the kitchen table to pay the pile of bills, the receipt fell to the table. He looked at it and asked me who owned a pocket watch that was getting repaired. I played it off and said that the receipt belonged to my brother. He knew I was lying.

It hadn't occurred to me that finding this receipt might plant the idea in his head that I was cheating on him, but he kept eyeing me with suspicion for weeks. Had the issue escalated, I definitely would have told him the secret, but I wanted the reward of seeing his face more than I wanted to erase his doubt. I was strong enough to keep up the game for a little while longer.

The Big Reveal

I kept trying to think of a way that I could give him this pocket watch that didn't involve me just placing it in his hands. He did not like a lot of fanfare, but this moment was one that I knew he would remember forever. He would be claiming a family heirloom that once belonged to his deceased father, and I recognized the impact of the moment for all of us.

I decided to do it over dinner, but I wanted to invite his mother to be with us when I would give it to him. On Father's Day, I announced that we would be having dinner with his mother, and he was okay with that. Because we both had to be in church for the first part of the day, I had my brother pick up my mother-in-law and meet us at our home.

My mother-in-law came in the house commenting on all the smells. I had prepared a beef roast, which had been slow cooking all night. Once we got home from church, I had cooked the vegetables to go along with the roast beef. I really hoped that the pocket watch would not make my husband too emotional to enjoy it. I knew he had some strong emotions connected to his father.

Once we were all sitting around the dinner table, I placed the box in front of my husband. I gave a small speech about how important it was to keep some things in the family. He lectured our children about this all the time, so I know he was happy that I seemed to be on the same page.

When he found the pocket watch, his eyes filled with water. He looked at his mother, who was already wiping tears streaming down her face. "For a long time, it was all I had of him," my mother-in-law said. "Now, I have you, so I don't need the watch anymore."

She was trying to say to him that he had grown into a new version of his father. The pocket watch symbolized a transition between generations in our family. It is a role that my husband happily plays. Now, he gets to do it with an antique pocket watch chain dangling from his trouser pocket.