Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Murphy's Law as Applied to Timepieces

About a year ago, I posted about my decision to put a new stainless-steel band, which cost $45, on my old Timex watch, for which I had originally paid $13. I maintained at the time that this decision, peculiar on its face, was actually the most reasonable one under the circumstances: a cheap watch would actually meet my needs better than a more expensive one, so putting a more expensive band on my cheap watch was the most cost-effective way to get what I wanted.

Well, I should have known that boasting about the wisdom of my decision would only be tempting fate. Early this year, my watch started to get a bit unreliable; it didn't stop altogether, but it was losing time and would occasionally stop and then start again at unpredictable intervals. I replaced the battery and that initially seemed to fix the problem, but after a few months, it developed a new symptom: it would stop regularly at 7:30 every morning and evening. It wasn't always exactly at 7:30; sometimes it was shortly before or shortly after, and sometimes, too, it would stop at other times, but it could pretty much be counted on to stop at 7:30. Once I reset it, it would start again and keep going—usually—until 7:30 rolled around again.

I took the watch back to Jimmy's Watches (the same place where I bought the band for it last year), and after testing the battery and finding it full of juice, they said the problem was most likely with the movement—possibly as a result of water damage. I didn't quite buy that explanation, since I'd never taken the watch swimming and wearing it while washing my hands had never caused problems in the past, but when I went into a jeweler's shop for a second opinion, I got the same diagnosis. The movement was kaput, and replacing it would require an expensive trip out to a watchmaker, which would cost not only more than I'd initially paid for the watch, but also more than I could expect to pay for a fully functional replacement. Applying my "Repair or Replace" guidelines, I concluded that unlike the pricier watchband, this really wasn't an expense I could justify.

So, under the circumstances, I decided—regretfully—that the most reasonable thing to do was just to buy another cheap watch and then try, as I had with its predecessor, to keep it going as long as possible. So back I went to Jimmy's and selected a watch from their $15 sale tray that met my basic requirements: a dial face with all twelve numbers and a bracelet band. It doesn't have the little night-light feature that had occasionally come in handy with my old watch, but a little preliminary research had suggested that a watch that did have that feature and also met my other requirements would probably cost at least $55, and I didn't want the light enough to pay nearly four times as much for it.

The real punch line of this story is that now that I have the new watch, my old one actually seems to be working again. It didn't stop at 7:30 this evening, nor this morning, nor even yesterday evening or morning. It's just kept ticking along, right as rain, ever since I made the decision to replace it—almost as if it were deliberately trying to step up its performance in hopes of keeping its job. So now I'm wondering: was buying the new watch enough of a concession to placate the cosmic enforcers of Murphy's law and put the old one back into commission? Can I now start wearing the old watch, which I still prefer to the new one, with impunity? Or will doing that only trigger another Murphy cycle and cause the watch to start acting up again?

It seems likeliest, based on what I know of Murphyonic forces, that the old watch will now continue to behave itself perfectly so long as it's lying unused in a drawer, and possibly even for a few days while being worn—but as soon as I start trusting it, it will then stop again at the most unexpected and inconvenient time. On the other hand, I obviously can't throw away the old watch entirely, as doing that would naturally cause the new one to fail immediately, possibly in some spectacular fashion like falling right off my wrist just as I step onto an escalator. So clearly the old watch has to be kept, but kept unused. (In fact, it's probably just as well that I didn't choose a different watch off the tray, one that looked like it would be able to be fitted with my $45 stainless-steel band if its own band should wear out. I thought this might make that watch a more practical choice, but taking Mr. Murphy into account, deliberately choosing a watch that would work with my existing, expensive band would probably have guaranteed that the band would remain intact while the watch itself stopped working within a month.)
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