This stemwinder began in 2014, when I wrote here about one of the most profound customer-service disasters of my life:
My 1950s Movado self-winding watch went through the washing machine in December. It was my dad’s. I was going to fix it no matter what the cost.
I took it to a Chicago jeweler reputed by Yelp to be good at this. There should be a Yelp for Yelp. Two months and many unreturned phone calls later, I showed up at the jeweler on Saturday and waited in line for nearly half an hour for a chance to demand the watch back.
But she didn’t have it. She’d outsourced it to another repairman, who was scouring the world for a new movement. She didn’t have his address, and there was no use calling him because he didn’t work on Saturdays.
I performed the obligatory truculent rant, in front of a whole store of customers who seemed weary, as if they had seen my performance before, on the same stage, delivered by better actors.
The owner promised to bring the watch, unrepaired, to my home on Monday. On Monday, I got a text:
“I am so sorry for your ordeal. The thing that I like most about my job is restoring customers’ jewelry and watches, although my treatment of your job sends a totally different message. I really do apologize and wish the outcome could be otherwise. I’ll call you as soon as I’m back in Chicago.”
Then another text. “I have wonderful news!” The watch, lo and behold, is fixed!
The subcontractor had found a movement for it and just forgotten to tell her!
She would bring it by later, charging me cost, $150.
But on her way, she texted me that it would be no charge.
Because, she explained, there was no new movement after all. The old movement is in a plastic bag, and, unauthorized by me, the repairman had replaced the self-winding innards with Quartz.
Nor did I ask or authorize anyone to replace the glass on the watch, which I noticed after she’d left, that they’d done. So though the watch is shiny and nice to have around my wrist again like my dad’s big hand, it doesn’t look right. Like somebody else’s dad’s hand.
Emotionally punch drunk, I considered my options. But before I could come to a conclusion, I discovered in my jacket a three-page, single-spaced letter “to our family of customers,” that the watch-store owner had apparently handed to me during my swirling performance on Saturday.
It tells the story of the store, which from its founding in 1948 thrived in its charming small scale. “Its diminutive size allowd for only one showcase, and it shared its rear space with a nearby grocer’s fish cooler. My mom and dad … put in twelve hour days, and customers ducked and weaved in those close quarters while fish purveyors burst through the curtained divider, their finned parcels hoisted on their shoulders.”
Things got tough in the late 2000s, when her parents died (the father, she specifies, of heart disease and liver cancer and the mother of advanced colon cancer). At the same time, the economy tanked, Internet competition came on strong.
“Although many of our long suffering clients, waiting in long lines for a battery change or band shortening, or weeks for repairs to be completed, may assume that we’re doing a booming business, the past four years have been a struggle financially, personally, and operationally.”
And then she turned to introspection:
“I was an art major; I came to the business with a love for design and aesthetics … Although I am admittedly not a business person, it was never a problem; my mother handled the financial aspects of the business …. With her passing, and our ever increasing workload, my inefficiency has resulted in over sights which have caused frustration and bad feeling with customers and others ….”
All of which to announce that the store was severely scaling back its service and its hours. She listed a couple dozen regular customers by name: “We’ve shared your joys and suffered your losses, welcomed new generations and extended farewells upon retirement.”
And now the store itself was mostly closing. “Hopefully we will be able to work with you again in some capacity in the future,” she concluded. “If not, thanks for trusting us to serve you, and for being part of our business family.”
Overwhelmed by the weirdness and sadness of the whole thing and not wanting to get any further involved in that dysfunctional business family than I already am, I’m left gazing down at my compromised watch—it’s now a Timex in a Movado case—in a kind of wonder.
Does anybody know a good watch guy in Chicago?
I wound up wearing the crudely repaired watch for two years, until the hands fell off, one by one.
Just then, an in-law told me about a jewelry and watch repair shop in Des Moines, Iowa that might be just the place, as I wrote in this 2019 post.
In a strip mall, next to a Bail Bond Pro,
That fixes stuff well, and cheap.
So I took it there.
Almost a year and a half ago.
Every three months I call the guy for a status update.
The gears are corroded, and he’s cleaning them.
Three more months.
Good news: “The company that sells the part we need
said they are not positive that they don’t have the part.”
Three more months.
Still working on those darn gears.
I just called again, for maybe the sixth time.
I’m David Murray.
I have a Movado watch in there?
I’m from Chicago?
Do you remember me?
“Yes, I remember you.”
Well, could you give me a status update on the watch?
“It just runs and stops, runs and stops.”
Do you still have hope that you might fix it?
“Yep, I’m still tinkering with it.”
Should I call back again in three months?
“That sounds good.”
Over this last Christmas I was in Des Moines with the in-laws. After almost seven years, it seemed time to pick the watch up. I’d called ahead a week earlier and told the guy if he couldn’t get the thing working right, it would be all right if he reverted to the old Quartz. Here was our interaction, furtively filmed, for posterity.
My pal Tony thinks he’s got a guy, in Massachusetts. I saw Tony over New Year’s, and handed him the watch and the bag of innards.
Hope dies last.