Saturday, February 28, 2015

The True Cost of a Watch

A photo of fake Rolex watches, from Wikipedia, public domain, full citation below in the sources.

Greetings All:

The other day, I did something I had not done before, I posted a "Throw-back Thursday, or TBT" photo on Facebook.  It was of my wife and I at our wedding reception w-a-y back in 1997.  That was a fun night.  Held at our local Elks Lodge, with Dwyer and Michaels, DJs extraordinaire, spinning tunes, it was a great time.  Here's the photo, complete with a speaker photo-bomb:

Dawn and I at our wedding reception, July 19, 1997.  Photo by J. Berta

As I looked at the photo, I was struck with a couple of things.  The obvious, that we're both a few years' older.  Second, that this is "Exhibit A" that men, in fact, do gain weight as they age.  Then I noticed what I was wearing on my wrist.

It's kind of hard to see in the photo but I recall exact what it is.  It's a fake Rolex.  Now, before I go any further, I should say that to the best of my knowledge, the purchasing of a conterfeit Rolex is not, per se illegal.  I've got a link to a NYT's story that basically says, "It's OK to buy, just not sell such items.  The story went on to say that Customs will even let you bring back into the country one such item.

Also, as this was almost 18 years ago, any statutes of limitations would have run.  So my sporting of my "not real Rolex" was not criminal.  

As I recall, Dawn and our friends (names redacted) were purchased from a guy with a briefcase near the Statute of Liberty in New York a few days before we got married.  I think it cost me $20.00 or $40.00, cash, of course.  There was something wonderfully "New York" about the whole experience.

So back to Iowa I went with my shiny yet utterly unauthentic Rolex.  I wore it pretty much everywhere and truth be told, it kept pretty good time...for a while.  Yet as was to be expected, it died.  I think I kept it around for a bit and then it ended up in some drawer and then at some point during some move it got thrown out.  

So why did I buy it?  Part of it was a joke, "Hey look my 'Rolex' from New York City, see how it ticks, ha ha ha."  However, as I look back on it, there was more to it.  I think I liked the idea of the illusion of wearing a Rolex and the status, albeit fraudulent, it brought.

Here's a case in point.  Back then, I was a court-appointed defense attorney.  I never represented anyone charged with anything truly heinous, but on occasion I did have to visit clients residing temporarily at the Scott County Jail.  Shortly after we returned from our wedding in New Jersey, I got the call to meet a new client at the jail.  As I recall he was a complete gentlemen (to me) and seemed to be genuinely appreciatively of my advice.  As we were wrapping up our conference, he commented on my watch, inquiring, "Is that a ROLEX?!?"  

I smiled, looked at it and said, "That's what it says."

For whatever reason, he seemed pleased, perhaps even a bit relieved that his lawyer was wearing a purported expensive watch.  If that's not a sad commentary on our legal system, I don't know what is.

This of course reminds me of a lawyer joke.  A busy attorney was often late for court.  One time, an exasperated judge said to him as he hustled into court, "Counselor, you're late!  What does your watch say?"

The attorney replied, "Rolex, your Honor."

As I mentioned, a sad state of affairs of our legal system.

I do own a few watches.  I have a Swiss Army one that I received for Christmas in 1999 that still works great.  My Mom-in-Law got me a very nice Fossil I wear about once a week.  My Grandfather's Bulova is sitting in a safety deposit box as I do not want ANYTHING to happen to it.  

Then there's the one in the photo below...

This was a gift from my friends Brian and Sandy after a trip to Vegas.  I am on my second battery with it and needless to say, I love it.  Something this special should warrant special occasions.  The last time I wore it was for the Make-A-Wish gala a few weeks' back.  It has also seen service at the last few military balls we've attended.  And, why yes, I do enjoy showing it off now and then.  It gets a good laugh.  What's wrong with that at a party?

Let's back up a bit to around the time I obtained my "Rolex."  A book came out entitled, The Millionaire Next Door.  It was written by a couple of economists who were on a quest to find the typical millionaire in America.  They thought they would find the doctors, lawyers, bankers, executives, the country-club set.  Nope.  Instead, they found mostly small business owners doing perceived unseemly tasks for the financial elite of America.  

Here is one fact that I recall from reading the book that the authors, Thomas J. Stanley, PhD & William D. Danko, PhD, mentioned:

"We know from our surveys that the majority of millionaires never spent even one-tenth of $5,000 for a watch." (Citation to book below in the sources.)

So here I was, a young lawyer, flashing a fake Rolex on my wrist, attempting to act the part of a big-shot.  (It's a role I've reprised more than once, I must confess.)  The irony was the folks were already were big shots could care less about such things.  Their watches were simple, functional time pieces.  These "new" millionaires knew both the effective cost of such watches and had far better things to do with their money.

I'm not saying that this book had some huge, life-changing effect on me.  After all, I had to Google it to find the above-stated quote.  I will say that I have never felt the need to need or want a Rolex, fake or otherwise.  It's just not worth the money.  Besides, I've got plenty of cool time pieces to wear AND they are all real!

So yes, watches, like most material things, have costs.  Some are inexpensive, some are not.  Some watches can cost their owners a whole lot more than money.  Here's Exhibit A:
Recently, the sentencing for the former Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonald, and his wife Maureen, was held in a Federal courtroom.  Both were convicted of a number of crimes.  Here's how The Washington Post reported the story:

"The sentence brings to a close a stunning narrative of politics, greed and family drama that reached a climax in September when McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted of public corruption. A jury found unanimously that the couple used the governor’s office to help Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a wealthy dietary supplement company executive, advance his business interests and that, in exchange, Williams gave the McDonnells $177,000 in loans and gifts." (The full citation to this story is listed below in sources.)

177 large,, that is a lot of purchased influence.  Oh, and what was one of the items involved...a $6500.00 Rolex watch.  Mrs. M gave the Guv this watch for Christmas one year from funds not coming from the McDonald's checking account.

Both the Guv and his wife will be spending some time as guests of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Even though I am a Democrat, this story is a shame.  I've got a couple of links to the story for those of you who either missed it or would like to re-visit it.  

A couple of points about this sad tale.  First, I like how former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder, a Democrat, pushed back against the prosecutor at sentencing.  He reminded everyone how the guy who offered the bribes walked away free.  The prosecutors decided they'd gladly give immunity to a businessman to bag a politician.  Second, I think it is sad that someone who had such potential to lead is now done.  He succumbed to temptation.  The cost to his freedom is high.  Yet that is nothing compared to the cost to his reputation.  

In this story, there is plenty of juicy info about how the Governor's wife initiated this whole sordid affair.  I'm not going to dump on her, as she's off to prison herself.  I hold politicians to a higher standard.  (I'll pause for snickering.)  As Judge Spencer said: "While Mrs. McDonnell may have allowed the serpent into the mansion, the governor knowingly let him into his personal and business affairs." (The Washington Post, same cite as stated previously.)  

Here's the kicker for me.  Governor McDonald was lauded at sentencing as a person who served others.  Even Judge Spencer was impressed by this record, particularly his Army service.  And yet, at the end of the day, he had to impose prison time.  It was a fair sentence.  Far less time than the sentencing guidelines called for, yet not the probation and community service the defense pleaded for.

From what I have heard about Governor McDonald, he governed well and was fairly to very well respected.  Prior to this thing blowing up in his face, he was talked up as a potential Presidential candidate.  Now, that's all done.  No need to check the primary and caucus calendar now.    

In some ways, very painful ways, the true cost of that Rolex watch was far more than $6500.00.  
Be well my friends,


Opening photo,

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