The Watch


“In talking about memory of something that no longer exists, one cannot forget the traces they leave behind. Traces, present in physical and psychological environments, are similar to memories in that they can be very personal. A friend recently commented that I am doing rather well (after not seeing me for some time) citing that I am wearing a Rolex watch. “It was my father’s.” The response created a moment of awkward silence, but that was quickly replaced with a light-hearted discussion of the authenticity of the watch. To her, a Rolex is symbolic of a certain status, while to me this particular watch embodies many personal experiences and stories, mostly formed through my own observations and eavesdropping of my parents’ conversations about the watch. I thus assign a sort of significance to this watch. This collaborative nature of traces is intriguing to me. And through making works based on my experience of my father’s passing, I feel that the outputs are products of our collaborations.”

– from Beyond THE END by PG Lee


I was never really fond of Rolex watches. They always remind me of Ah Peks or Uncles who may (or may not) be well off and are showy – a very common and clichéd status symbol.

I did not come from a wealthy family. Pa, the sole breadwinner at home, had been a car spray-painter throughout his working life, right till the moment he passed away.  There was a period during my childhood that we seemed to be more comfortable due to Pa’s fortunes but it was short-lived. During that time he owned a big car and had a Rolex that was gold plated and adorned with diamonds. He even bought a similar one for Ma. Somehow all these status symbols disappeared, in fact quite swiftly, and his gold Rolex became something less flashy, a stainless steel one with a black watch face. My memory of this humble Rolex watch as a child was that it felt heavy and big.

Pa passed away very suddenly in 2011. Ma kept the watch that he would religiously wind up every morning safely in a cupboard. One fine day she asked if I would like to have it and my reply was “Its a fake Rolex la!” When I became an adult, I had, in numerous occasions, picked up the watch secretly and analysed it closely. It felt really, really light and weathered. I am not an expert in watches but it did not feel like that watch he used to wear when I was a kid. From the 90s till his death, Pa did not do very well with his finances and had to occasionally borrow money from various sources, so I concluded that he could have pawned that original heavier, bigger Rolex for some cash and replaced it with something similar. Still, after much consideration, I took the watch and started wearing it. It became my duty to wind it up everyday before putting it on to leave the house for work. Whether it was a fake Rolex no longer mattered as it made me feel like Pa was still very much part of my life.


The mystery of the watch was put to rest on 31 May 2016. I had accidentally cracked the glass a while back and had to send it for repair. Even though I had always doubted its authenticity, I decided to send it to the Rolex Service Centre. I had to wait for a while for it to be assessed.  Eventually the receptionist came back and told me it was real and they could repair it, but it would cost a lot.

It felt like I had woken myself up from a beautiful dream.




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