A Watch Collector’s Life And A Mini Review Of His Blancpain Triple Date Moon Phase
By Hung Nguyen
This Friday I am going to a memorial service for a dear friend who died at the end of last year at the age of 95. I have known Robbie (his surname was Roberts) for 28 years. He introduced me to watches and handed down to me a beautiful vintage Blancpain. Robbie was born in England into a military family but grew up in Ceylon where his father was posted, and had fond memories of his idyll tropical childhood. He simultaneously enlisted in the British Army and trained as a medical doctor at the outbreak of World War II. In his last year of training, he was sent to the Belsen Concentration Camp just after it was liberated, to “sort out the inmates who were retrievable and those who were too far gone to be treated”. The evidence of inhumanity he encountered were to shape much of his thinking and his life subsequently. He worked in the British Armed Forces as a doctor and served in Malaysia through the insurgencies, before migrating from England to Tasmania in the early 60s. He was an accomplished squash player, skier, sailor of yachts and pilot of planes, who continued to ski well into his 90s. At work he was a straight talking, punctual, generous and knowledgeable teacher whose wisdom continues down the generations of people who trained under him. Robbie collected watches over many years, principally Patek Philippe, JLC and IWC dress watches. In his later years, he gradually sold off the JLC and IWC pieces, while opting to keep his Pateks, of which he was quite fond. His watches were mostly three-handers, but there were a handful with complications such as chronographs, moon phases and second time zones.
Some twelve years ago, Robbie showed me his Universal Geneve Tri-Compax, and said that he got it to commemorate the Universal watch that he rode into Belsen with in his twenties that he no longer had. That piqued my interest and I did some research on watches and well, here I am writing about it.
Once I had bought a couple of watches (sports watches of course, as we all do when we start out), Robbie thought my tastes needed a little refinement and gave me this Blancpain Triple Date Moon Phase from his stable.
As far as I can ascertain, the watch is about 30 years old, housed in a petite 34mm x 8.5mm case. The bezel is gold, the dial white with yellow gold applied markers in Roman numerals. The day and month are in English. It has a pointer date indicator with a crescent shaped end of the hand. The feuille hands are of elegant length and shape. All the corrections except for time is done by the four pushers and 10, 2, 4 and 8 o’clock. It has no second hand and it is the only watch I have that does not possess a second hand. I had it serviced last year when it was losing a bit of time. It had to be sent back to Switzerland and I was told that the calibre had to be replaced, either with the old calibre, or a newer version with a silicon hairspring. After a bit of agonising decision making, I opted for the newer calibre with the silicon hairspring. It has worked extremely well since returning, keeping very close to perfect time on the wrist and on the timegrapher. To me, it typifies all the best in a dress watch. Small, impossibly light, easily slipping under the tightest of cuffs, but with a whole lot of other useful information that does not dilute its essence.
This watch will always reminds me of my teacher and friend. Elegantly unpretentious, with a unique combination of class, discipline and generosity; an irreplaceable man, the likes of whom will be seldomly seen again.