My Mother, The Reluctant Watch Collector
And how she became one, with two family heirlooms.
Originally published by Pedro Vidal on Hodinkee, May 7th 2022
When I first started to write this essay, story, article, what have you, I was wondering how I was going to write about my mother’s two watches, and also recognize all that she’s done for me and all of those around her, in honor of Mother’s Day. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was less a story about the watches and more about the people they came from and her relationships with them.
My mother, Maria Herminia Vidal Colls, would never consider herself a collector of watches, but here we are, on HODINKEE, using her middle and maiden names, writing about how she is indeed a watch collector, and dare I add, enthusiast. If you ask her, she can’t deny that they are special pieces, but they’re still not something she would’ve sought out herself. She would much rather be traveling, reading a book, or sharing a good meal with family and friends. Watches aside, she does collect art and antiques with my father (a pastime I fondly remember sharing with my family, growing up). And she is also an educator, a professor of the Spanish language, literature, and Latin American history for the past 30+ years.
Her passion for history and heritage never stopped in the classroom – she’s always been the one in the family to preserve our oral history, passing down family stories for as long as I can remember. And she’s always the one to remember someone’s birthday, whether a direct family member, grandparent, cousin, second cousin, or in-law. This is why it makes sense that she would be the one to inherit her uncle’s and sister-in-law’s watches.
My mother was given a white gold Patek Philippe Gondolo ref. 5010 by her uncle, Pablo Manuel Fernandez, her mother’s brother and my great uncle, when she turned 50. When her uncle, Pablo, or El Tio (literally, “The Uncle” in Spanish) gave her the Patek, my mother looked at him and jokingly said, “I’m going to sell it and go to Europe!”
El Tio, born in Cuba in 1926, loved watches and loved to give them to family members for special milestones. I never had the pleasure of receiving a watch from him, but apparently he purchased all of his watches, whether for himself or for others, at Mayors Jewelers in Miami. They knew him well, and so did his credit card companies. But his family, of course, knew him best.
When my mother’s family left Cuba for Puerto Rico in 1961, El Tio was right there with them, helping and supporting along the way. He was my grandmother’s brother and my grandfather’s best friend, so my mother remembers him always being around growing up, this being in Puerto Rico during the 1960s and early ’70s – whether taking her to the movies or just hanging out for dinner after work or on the weekends. He was also the accountant for my aunt’s carpet and flooring company in Miami until he passed away at 83 years of age in 2009, leaving his other collections to the family, along with his memories. Now, anytime I’m visiting my mother and ask to see her Patek, she always has a story to tell about El Tio.
My mother’s other watch, her 25mm stainless steel Rolex Oyster Perpetual, was inherited from my father’s sister, my aunt Adriana Teresa Vidal, or just Titi Adri. To put it simply, Titi Adri is the reason I live in New York City. Eleven years my father’s senior, she moved from Puerto Rico to New York in her early 20s, after completing secretarial school in early 1968. Titi Adri was smart, independent, and social – New York City made her shine. One of my favorite memories is visiting her in New York with my parents when I was 5 or so: We stayed in her apartment and she bought us bagels, cream cheese, and smoked salmon. Being so young, I thought the smoked salmon was really good ham, and so I asked for more ham. She was apparently wearing that Rolex OP at the time, a gift from a “wealthy European boyfriend she was once with,” as my mother explained.
Titi Adri had introduced my parents to sushi in the 80s, and there’s a good chance she introduced my parents to each other many years before. Being 11 years older than my father, she was friends with my mom’s older sister, my Aunt Clara, who happened to be the same age as Titi Adri. I know, a lot of names, big Latin family. I think you get the picture. Growing up, I always remember my mom talking on the phone with her, or asking my dad if he had called her, his parents, or his other sister. Despite the age difference, Adri and my dad were very close, and her friendship with my mother made them even closer. I think this is why she wanted my mother to have her Rolex when she passed away in 1997, leaving it to her in her will.
When I look at the photographs I took of my mother’s two watches I start to think and laugh about the cliché in watch collecting about how “it’s not about the watches but about the people they connect you with.” It’s funny, but it’s true, because when I look at this Rolex and this Patek, I remember the stories my mother has told me about these two very important people to her and to my family while I was growing up. It makes me realize that heritage and legacy can truly be preserved and passed down, and watch collecting can be a truly beautiful representation of that, even if you don’t see yourself as a watch collector.
Whether a watch is given as a gift, inherited, or purchased for yourself as a token of celebration or achievement, it represents a higher ideal or the physical manifestation of a memory. It doesn’t matter if you’re a purposeful enthusiast or a reluctant collector, we all need to protect our watches. HODINKEE Insurance is here to protect those valuable and important parts of your collection. They are so much more than just timepieces; rather they are pieces of time that can never be re-lived, only remembered.