Wednesday, 23 June 2004

Cheap and precise

Some years ago a very rich and generous Chinese friend gave me a Rolex; he was from Hong Kong, but this was no fake. After a couple of months I sold it, partly because I didn't like walking around with that much money on my wrist, but mainly because although its case may have been carved from a solid block of gold by enormously skilled craftsmen, it didn't keep very good time.

I had taken it to a Rolex dealer who explained that the Swiss Chronometer standard for automatic watches stipulated a variation of not more than 4 or 5 seconds a day (this means that you would have to put it right at least once a month). When I told him that my digital watch was more accurate than that and had cost around one-hundredth as much as the Rolex was worth he smiled gently and said something about such watches lasting a few years at best, while a Rolex is for your descendants.

I refrained from telling him that I hoped my descendants would be leading such high-powered lives that they would need really accurate watches, and that my cheap digital one, besides keeping excellent time, could calculate the cube root of pi or play a selection of Alma Cogan's greatest hits while I was diving to 20 fathoms.

The digital watch was thrown away years ago (and no doubt someone is still wearing my Rolex and being late for appointments), but I was reminded of all this when I went to buy a steel measuring tape the other day. I am always doing this because I lose them, so I didn't get a nice chromium one for £3.50. Instead, I went to a shop which is a sort of down-market version of Woolworth's, and bought a 3m one and a 5m one for 99p the pair. They've got attractive yellow plastic casings, and I bet they are dead accurate.

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