The First Scratch is the Deepest

The First Scratch is the Deepest

You just purchased a brand new watch you’ve wanted for a long time. Milestone achieved! You eagerly remove the hang-tags, peel off the clear plastic protectors; You carefully place your new watch on your wrist for the first time and it’s everything you hoped it would be!

48 hours later, you reach into your pocket for your car keys, and inadvertently leave the first mark on your new watch.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been there and felt the same superficial pain as the rest of us. The watch is still beautiful, but now all you see is the scratch. It’s not even a deep scratch. You tell yourself you’re keeping the watch for years, so it doesn’t really matter, but it occupies an unreasonable amount of space in your mind.

Once you’ve made the first mark, the watch may no longer be perfect, but it has taken its first step towards becoming your watch. Soon, there will be a second scratch, then a third. After the first few months, you may even feel an urge to get it polished and bring it back to looking like the way you got it.

Consider your initial blemish as the first of many stories the watch will tell over the years. Stories of adventure, experiences with friends, past relationships, the places you’ve been, and the personal growth you experience while wearing it. The longer you resist getting it polished, each ding, rub, and scuff will matter less and your enjoyment of the timepiece becomes stronger.

After a decade of regular use, the watch will wear like your favorite leather jacket. After two decades of resisting the urge to polish, each and every mark will blend into the metal. The watch becomes distinctively yours and objectively meaningful to you and your family. Oh yes, your kids will definitely notice at how cool your watch is. In fact, there’s no watch cooler than ‘dad’s’ watch, and whether it’s destined to be a wedding gift or a portion of their inheritance, they’ll appreciate the visual signs of life the timepiece has lived on their dad’s wrist more than all those years of enjoyment erased in minutes on a polishing wheel.

When a watch is new, it’s natural to want to keep it looking as perfect as possible for as long as you can. Unfortunately, life happens, and scratches are an inevitable part of owning watches. The longer you resist getting it “touched-up” the sooner you truly take ownership of your watch. While a gash from a scuba trip may run your day in the short term, years later you’ll see that same ding and remember how amazing the vacation was. That rubbing marks on the clasp, not so bad - you dont want to forget years you worked that desk job as a keyboard warrior now that you own your own business. Even that night you got drunk at the nightclub and banged into god-knows-what to put that scratch on your bezel, after enough time, you’ll look back and be reminded of your youth when it lives amongst years of your other life-experiences scattered all over the watch.

From a collectability standpoint, auctions have shown unpolished watches in honest condition selling much higher than restored examples because you can never replace the chamfered edges the manufacturer worked to make painstakingly perfect. I get uneasy thinking about anyone thoughtlessly trading those handsome details for smooth, refinished surfaces.

Try taking things ten years at a time. If you can make it to your first service interval without a polish, you may find the scratches are what make your watch special to you. It’s certainly easy to wash-away all signs of use, but you can never replace the years it took you to earn them. At the end of the day, your watch should look like you spent years enjoying it.

Without those scratches, did you really own the watch, or did the watch own you?

Steve is a photographer based in New York.

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