At this point in time I was not the owner of any vintage Omegas. The only watch I had at the time was my Reference 2225.80 Seamaster Pro Chronograph and a Rolex 1680 Submariner, which was pretty beat up and far from running. Most of my family knew I was “into” watches and was interested in any good deals I could find, so I was being sent ads for watches from various locations quite regularly. Most of these watches were nothing but overpriced junk, but occasionally something interesting would appear within my price range.
Unlike me, my father had never been interested in watches and had especially disliked mechanical watches and bracelets. It was not long before a major wedding anniversary of my parents, when a Constellation Pie-Pan appeared on beads of rice bracelet, my mother decided it would be perfect for him even over his various objections.
The watch had been listed in a local area newspaper with very low readership and almost none under 60 years old, so it was safe to say the watch hadn’t been seen by many people, and it was listed at $750 AUD. The owner mentioned the bracelet type by name and even used the term “Pie-pan” to describe the dial. It sounded like he knew what he had and the pricing was fair, but there was no photo and I was quite keen to see it in person.
Speaking to the owner on the phone, he lived on the outskirts of town, a large property situated on the bend of a river about an hour away. He sounded like a very nice, polite, older gentleman, quite knowledgeable about vintage Omegas and with an interest in Bulova Accutrons also, which he seemed to be very keen to sell to me.
After work, I drove out to meet him in the early evening, arriving just after dark and driving down a long driveway to a very large older house positioned right on the waterfront with horse paddocks around. His taste in cars was quite good, a really nice old Mercedes 560 SEL in dark grey was in the carport that looked to be in excellent condition. The place was very well kept and tidy as I walked up and knocked on the door.
The owner opens the door and shakes my hand, as expected a polite gentleman in his 70's or so, thinning grey hair, large square bi-focals. He was wearing a Bulova Accutron Spaceview on a vintage style bracelet, which really drew my attention as I had never seen one before. He offered to get me something to drink and invited me to come through and take a seat on the back veranda.
As he dipped into the kitchen to make himself a coffee I had a look around. I slowly walked down the long hardwood floored corridor to the back of the house. I paused and did a double take upon seeing a large red flag hanging on the wall in the entryway, with a black and white swastika in the center.
Looking further down the corridor, I noticed more flags hanging vertically with familiar symbols on them, SS bolts with a skull, a stylized eagle with a swastika under it. It looked like something I’d seen as a kid playing the video game Wolfenstein 3D, and it was particularly jarring seeing it in a person’s home on public display in their entryway. There were also a large number of photographic prints of scenes of war, some German period documents framed, and some medals that I walked past on my way outside to the veranda.
The old man came out with a glass of water for me and placed the Omega Constellation, along with two other redialed Seamasters in front of me. He also brought out a bag of less interesting vintage Bulovas, probably 30-40 of them but no more Spaceviews among them. The Constellation looked good, it definitely had an original dial, a nice case that wasn't over-polished, and was a reference CK2852 in steel with shark tooth indices. The bracelet was one of the more unusual beads of rice variants that has a sliding release mechanism and was unfortunately broken, but overall it was still a nice package and a good deal by Australian standards.
As I was sitting there at a table and chairs on the veranda, the man was still going through a back room looking for more watches. I noticed another picture in black and white on the wall just inside from the veranda. It was a photograph of a young man in his 20's or 30's in shorts, shirtless, holding a pacific islander toddler by a fistful of its hair. He had a large old style revolver pointed at the baby’s head, finger on trigger and hammer cocked, grinning with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Even more than the strange Nazi memorabilia in the entrance, I was wondering who buys a portrait like that to hang on their wall. What a bizarre thing that is to own, much less display for other people to see.
As he returns with another bag of Bulova watches he notices me staring, mouth open and perplexed at the photo and laughs, saying “That probably looks a bit strange without context doesn’t it, that was me as a young man”.
I nodded and asked what the story was. I couldn't really think of any context that would make this scene look OKAY, but I was still very curious.
The old man told me the photograph had been taken in Papua New Guinea, just north of Australia, and that the baby had been posed for it with the assistance of the mother. He said the mother of the child was his housekeeper over there at the time and that the pistol was in fact not loaded, which I suppose was the bare minimum one could expect.
He went into a back room and came back with many more photos from his years in Papua New Guinea. Some of these were normal family photos, some of them were a bit of a dystopian nightmare that he was quite a bit more proud of than he really should be. Many showed a similar lack of care for firearms safety.
He went on to tell me of how until relatively recently, in 1975, Papua New Guinea was in fact not an independent sovereign nation, but was effectively a colony of Australia. This man’s father was a senior Australian military officer who had served for many years as administrator, or de-facto military ruler, of this nation.
As the son of the man who represented the law, in a war torn nation that was largely lawless outside Port Moresby where Australian forces were concentrated, this man had certainly entertained himself. He and his mates were Kiaps, somewhere between law enforcement, magistrate, ambassador and peace keeper.
As he went on and on about his various exploits in those days, eventually he realized I hadn’t found many of his more grim stories as funny as he had and wasn't impressed. He changed topic back to the Constellation and completing the deal.
We came to a pretty quick agreement on a good price and I put the watch on my wrist as he counted the money and began writing me up a receipt for it. I asked him then about the Nazi stuff, and he immediately became very defensive about it. He was quick to insist he wasn’t a Nazi sympathizer or racist, but that he had begun collecting German military memorabilia during his time in PNG as many earlier artifacts were available in Papua New Guinea.
Before it was Papua New Guinea, part of the nation was a German colony known as German New Guinea. German New Guinea was then conquered by Australian forces at the start of World War I, so that apparently got him started down that path. He went on to explain that over time his German military collection expanded to World War II and Nazi artifacts, including his questionable entryway decorations. I suppose this is what happens when a man remains a bachelor his entire life. Having said that, a normal person doesn't just put stuff like that in the entryway of their home unless they are genuinely proud of it and want others to notice it.
As I drove home, I was still rather confused, conflicted, and really just didn’t know what to make of the man. I was glad in a sense that the watch was going to be for dad and not me, as I'd have been reminded of that guy every time I looked at it. The entire time I was in that house, even though I was much larger than him and younger than him, I was extremely uneasy and didn't want to be there. At the same time I humored him for nearly two hours because I really didn't want to upset the man either. Everything I'd seen in that house, including its owner gave me the distinct impression that a gun lives here, probably several.
It took me a while to make better and safer decisions in terms of meeting people to buy watches but he, and a few other uncomfortable house calls including the cult leader's Seamaster, which happened only months later were a wake up call. That said, sometimes if the deal was too good to pass up, I'd still go breaking my own rules, so maybe I didn't learn as much as I should have.
A service and a new clasp for the bracelet later, the Constellation was ready to go by the anniversary date and dad absolutely loved it. He wore it every day for many years until my brother, sisters and I chipped in to get him a Skyfall Aqua Terra for his 70th. We still have it sitting in the vault, and being my dad's first good watch I'll never part with it.
I'll probably never wear it though either.
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