Monday, July 17, 2017

What do Gene Conley and Patek Phillippe watches have in common?

A couple of weeks ago, Gene Conley died.

Now if you’re a youngster say, younger than 60, or a fellow geezer who didn’t grow up in the wonderful world of Boston sports followers, you’re no doubt scratching your head.

Gene Conley? Huh?

Well, let me tell you that Gene Conley is an athlete who has the distinction of having won championship rings for two professional sports team. As a backup forward, he won for basketball a few times as part of the crazily-winning Boston Celtics of the Bill Russell era in the 1950’s – 1960’s. He also pitched for the Red Sox back in the day – some of the same years he was with the Celtics – but, of course, back in the day, the Red Sox didn’t exactly win World Series. But Conley was with the Milwaukee (née Boston) Braves, and picked up a ring when they won it all in 1957. He was also a total character, all the more notable given the bland corporate personalities that populate professional sports these days. (At one point, he got off a Red Sox team bus that was stalled in traffic, went out for a few pops, and showed up at the airport, without a passport, trying to get on a flight to Israel.)

Anyway, I read the comments responding to a Boston Globe article on Conley’s passing, and noticed that a few youngsters (i.e., under 60 and/or not from these here parts) had no problem revealing their ignorance, doing a virtual yawn and noting that they’d never heard of him.

Gene Conley is, of course, a footnote in sports history. Other than around here, he was never a household world.

But Joe DiMaggio, John F. Kennedy, and George Patton certainly were. And probably still are.

Still, when I saw a headline on Bloomberg on a Patek Phillippe watch exhibition, I paused for a moment. Would pointing out that Patek Phillippe is “The Swiss Watchmaker Favored by DiMaggio, Kennedy, and Patton” actually mean anything to someone who was, say, much under the age of 60?

Even us old geezers remember Joe DiMaggio mostly from black and white clips, and from Simon & Garfunkel’s tune Mrs. Robinson. And unless he looked like George C. Scott, who played him in the eponymous movie, I really don’t know what General George Patton looked like. JFK, well, that’s another story. But even our forever young president would have turned 100 this year.

I’m pretty sure there aren’t a lot of youngsters buying Patek Phillippe watches. Sure, you can get one for under $10K, but that’s the equivalent of a Swatch watch. (Do they still make those?) As going to the google will reveal, there are plenty of limited editions that go for $600K and upwards. One I saw was going for $729K ($25 off if you surrender your email address.) The name for this beauty is the Grand Complications Men’s Watch. Well, figuring out how to pay for a $729K watch would present plenty of grand complications, so I think it was well named.

Anyway, young folks – who don’t wear watches – aren’t the target for Patek Phillippe watches. Collectors are. (And, if you’ve seen the ads in The New Yorker and other mags - “You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.”- rich folks in the making.)

For Patek Phillippe buyers, I suspect the names DiMaggio, Kennedy, and Patton do resonate. (Duke Ellington, too, in case you’re interested. Another household name of yore.)

The older you get, of course, the more backward looking you do. That’s because there are a lot more years in the rearview mirror than there are straight on through the windshield. Sigh.

The number of folks who actually remember George Patton, who died in 1945, is steadily and inexorably decreasing. Ditto for those who saw the great DiMaggio play ball. Or – gulp – remember exactly where they were when they got the news that JFK had been assassinated.

Anyway, I’m sure that the Patek Phillippe watch exhibition is quite interesting. There’s something for the old geezers – George Patton’s straight-out-of-West Point watch, a gift from his folks – and even some virtual reality immersion for the young folks. And then there’s this:

There’s even a moment of unintended contemporary relevance. Visitors should spare a moment to chuckle at the wall text describing Kennedy’s desk clock, given to him by the mayor of West Berlin. Its three dials display the time at the White House, at the Kremlin, and in Berlin “to signify the establishment of a direct communication line between Washington, D.C., and Moscow.”

Direct communications? How quaint. How throwback. (Do you think Donald Trump, Jr. owns a Patek Phillippe or, rather, is looking after it for the next generation?)

What do Gene Conley and Patek Phillippe watches have in common? Nothing really. Just that ol’ Gene, just like Joltin’ Joe, JFK, and Patton, are remembered first-hand by a diminishing number of folks.

Thus ends today’s meditation.

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