The colours of time

October 2003

I have noticed something. In good economic times, people dress in black and wear sober watches, usually made of steel with a geometric design and without number markers. On the other hand, when the economic situation is not good, as is the case today, people wear large, flashy watches, which come in all colours, and if possible, loaded with diamonds.

At first glance, wouldn't this seem to be a paradox? Upon closer inspection though, we can see that there is a certain sense of logic to this conduct. When the road is dim and poorly lit, isn't it better to paint the pavements? If we look back into history, we observe similar behaviour. During periods of war, haven't the music halls and nightclubs done their best business? So, it is quite 'normal' that the dimmer the economic situation, the brighter the watches.

The colours of time

Dressed in our harlequin costumes, we will get through these depressed times and then rise to the surface. That's a promise. But when, you ask? Ah, the answer to that question is not so obvious. In trying to find it, I talked to some of my enlightened friends and a few unemployed stock market traders. All are professionals. “The recovery will happen in the next quarter,” declared one very lucid individual with a tinge of vodka on his breath. “It will happen at the end of 2004,” assured another who had met Alan Greenspan at some charity cocktail party sponsored by former employees of either Arthur Andersen or Enron, I don't recall which. “Ah, but the recovery has already started… It is coming… I am seeing more and more patients,” explains a sociologist who organizes relaxation courses by telephone.

I put the phone down and looked at my watch… the damn thing had stopped. It's an old manual winding model. The lubrication must have turned into a solid, if any remains at all. I really must think about buying another one but my sense of ethics prevents me from asking for a 'professional' discount.

Since the watch world is now moving upmarket, I will wait for the recovery. There will surely be one or two brands that will fall back down from the heights. By then, I'll be able to guess the time.

Another solution would be to borrow the large plastic Manchester United watch that my son no longer wears. I will stick a few Top Wesseltons on it so that it is in tune with the times. That way, during press conferences, other journalists will look at me with envy. They already know that I am always up on the latest trends, that I am constantly in search of the slightest market gyration, that I anxiously look for the smallest hints of fashion change. Then my colleagues in the trade will whisper among themselves: “Have you seen his watch? It's an unmistakable sign.”

Some will come up to me and ask with their best toothy smile, “So, things are looking up?” My answer will be enigmatic: “Read my next editorial. You will understand.”

While waiting for the so-called recovery, the shelves of a watch retailer friend are literally overflowing with stock. I hardly dared to ask him, but finally, in a low voice, I queried, “So… about the recovery. When do you think it will come?” “Oh,” he answered, gesturing with his nicely tanned arms, “It started yesterday.” With obvious surprise, I continued, “Really? Where have you seen the signs?” His response was immediate and to the point. “In Italy. I made a fortune selling fake Bubbles this summer. But they were fakes of only the best quality, with automatic movements and all…”

My eyes opened wider, surprise turning to astonishment. “You didn't know?” he asked, eyeing me curiously. “It is the latest trend, wearing a fake watch. Fake is IN. You don't seem to understand! Today, you have to go to the ends of the earth to buy a real watch. No one buys REAL any more!”

Well, I guess I will be the exception. I am going to buy one. I will purchase a Swatch, one of its Embedded Reporter models. This will be my small contribution to the hand, or should I say the wrist, that feeds me.

There is one last sign of the gravity of the current economic situation. For the first time, the Freely Speaking column of your friend Malcolm Lakin is not hilariously funny ... and that is serious!