(Slide) Rule To Live By: Matt’s Navitimer

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When you find out someone’s wearing their dad’s watch, you assume it was inherited. Before they tell you about it, you probably imagine how the scene played out: a father sitting his son down, passing down his treasured timepiece; maybe even the watch he received from his father.

This gold-filled Navitimer, which until recently belonged to Matt’s dad, came into his possession a little differently than the typical father/son watch transfer. The best way to explain how this Breitling came to be Matt’s is by knowing how it came to be owned by his dad in the first place…

Matt’s a Chicagoan through and through. He feels a great deal of pride having been born and raised in the “Windy City.” One reason he’s proud to hail from Chicago is it’s the city his dad immigrated to – back in 1965. The U.S. – Chicago in particular – proved to be the land of opportunity for his dad, as well as the place where Matt grew up to become a successful adult. Matt has deep roots in Chicago, so anything associated with the city is special to him.

Which brings us to his Breitling. When he got the watch last year, he was told by his dad it was bought “in the mid ’70s on Maxwell Street – one of the historical Chicago markets; a street market in every sense of the definition.” Matt says about his dad, “[he] always loved to go there very early in the morning; scrounge and find deals…” With regard to watches, Matt said “it isn’t in my dad’s nature ever to go to a jewelry store and buy anything; not in his nature to buy anything brand new. He always buys things second hand. [My dad felt] ‘if it’s super-high quality you don’t need to buy it new; it’s super-high quality whenever you acquire it’.”

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Back in the early ’70s, Matt’s dad was a big fan of Omega’s Speedmaster – the watch NASA placed its faith in. However, his thriftiness wouldn’t allow him to shell out hard-earned coin for a brand new one. So it’s a good thing he came across another well-built, reliable chronograph while strolling Maxwell Street – a Navitimer – a watch promoted as the trusted tool of aviators.

Matt’s dad started out as a UPS delivery man, before taking on a highly skilled job as a “tool and dye maker [working with] lathes, mills, customization for manufacturing.” As a youngster, Matt remembers his dad was “someone who worked with tools – instruments – we had micrometers around, my garage had lathes and mills and all that machinery. The technical instrument aspect of [the Navitimer],” the fact that it has a circular slide-rule, the fact that, like the Speedmaster, it too had a three-register chronograph with a history of space travel, made it naturally appealing to him.” (In 1962 astronaut Scott Carpenter wore a Navitimer while orbiting Earth.)

Of course his dad wasn’t a watch geek like Matt turned out to be. He had no idea this Navitimer had a “reverse panda” dial with highlighter orange “boxed tens” on the inner dial and outer ring, which aligned – a detail only occurring on examples produced in 1967. To his dad, the watch just had personality – with its contrasting dial with gilt printing and gold hands, including gold chrono runner.

Besides representing his personality and being drawn to its aesthetics, perhaps the most important reason he bought it was the price. His dad saw an opportunity to purchase a durable watch – a Breitling – for a fraction of the cost of a new Speedmaster. Based on what I learned about Matt’s dad, I’m confident some haggling took place, and if the deal wasn’t right for him, he would’ve easily walked away. Of course his shrewd bargaining tactics won out and “he paid 50 bucks for it” according to Matt.

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One of Matt’s favorite memories growing up in Chicago was going to Maxwell Street with his dad. “My dad would give me a little bit of money and let me walk around and talk to different vendors. He’d be watching, he wasn’t right there, he wasn’t walking with me, but he’d be observing me try to buy baseball cards or stuff for my bike. I learned the lessons of haggling and negotiating in that environment. ‘What’s your best price?’ I would ask. Sellers were stunned to hear this coming from a 10 year old, followed by a counter to their offer.” Matt’s dad taught him “the stated price is never actually the price; be prepared to walk away. If you’re not interested in the deal, walk away from the deal. Even if you really want it, don’t act like you want it.”

Many years later, when it came time for his son to purchase a watch, just like his dad, Matt gravitated toward one that was loosely-related to his personality: Matt’s an engineer, so he opted for IWC’s Ingenieur. But what’s more interesting about his choice, is the manner in which he bought it: Using the very lessons he was taught by his dad and honed on Maxwell Street. Matt let me know he bought his IWC “the cheapest way [he] could find it – buying it on the gray market from an online seller who offered the steepest discount.”

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As Matt fell deeper into watches, he started having flashbacks of his dad always wearing a watch. He remembered seeing it sit in a dish with his wallet, his knife and his change. He couldn’t quite recall what it was, so he asked his dad “hey what was that?” His dad brought it out – having not worn it since the late ’80s – and told Matt about his buying experience back in the day on Maxwell Street. Matt quickly realized the connection this watch had to the old Chicago his dad grew up in – and raised a family in. Listening to his dad, Matt also put two and two together that the watch did more than just mark an era. It stood for guiding principles and street smarts that helped his dad survive and succeed in a foreign country.

I can imagine parents always look for moments when they can teach their children something. So when Matt expressed interest in his dad’s old Navitimer, his father saw another opportunity to reinforce a valuable lesson. True to form, Matt said his dad “wanted to make a deal.” His dad took the position “what’s in it for me?”

Treating the handing-down of an heirloom as if it were a business transaction isn’t what you’d expect… But Matt wasn’t put off, he knew his dad: “even if he wanted to give it to me, I don’t think he could. It had to be a trade.” So, he took stock of Matt’s worldly possessions and – even though he’s in his 60s – chose to swap for a vintage motorcycle Matt used to ride.

Personally, I don’t think it was the 1981 Kawasaki GPz550 that his dad wanted per se, but rather the chance to stay in character, and by doing so, further ingrain in Matt one of the rules he’s lived by.

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One thought on “(Slide) Rule To Live By: Matt’s Navitimer

  1. Pingback: Letter from the Editor | watch patina

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