By now my arms are just about caving under the weight of catalogues—each shop gives you a lush full-color book to peruse as soon as you express a fleeting interest in their wares—so I trudge back to my hotel. Even as I lie in bed watching Jerry Springer with French subtitles, the bright blue Franck Muller sign beckons through my window.
So early the next morning I visit the Muller store. I have a particular affinity for these timepieces, with their curvex cases and loopy numbers, since they pay such loving homage to the great days of pre-war watchmaking. The shop is located in the Noga Hilton, the lobby of which doubles as a veritable watch mall. At Franck Muller, I am shown a women's watch with a mechanical movement. It's an adorable black-faced white-gold timepiece in what is known as a tonneau (barrel) shape, with diamonds around the bezel and a little window in the back through which you can actually see the movement chugging along—and it's $21,600. For $5,510, there's a far larger tonneau called the Casablanca, which has a sandy beige face and pale green numerals like palms in an oasis. Then I see something truly delightful: a jaunty rectangle with arched numbers that looks as if it could have belonged to Salvador Dalí. "It's our new model!" the saleswoman tells me, pride in her voice. "It's called the Long Island." The Long Island?Oh, the irony: that island I have spent my adult life trying to get away from. The watch even says LONG ISLAND on the face, a reminder that Thomas Wolfe was wrong: not only can you go home again but you can also be reminded of it whenever you check the time.
I think about this—time passing and the strange feeling of seeing one's past show up on a watch face in Geneva—as I stroll the lobby of the Noga Hilton. Though by now I feel as if I've seen every permutation on the market, I am struck by a shop called Moussaieff. There is an extraordinary timepiece in the window: deeply encrusted with brown and white gems and sporting fully three faces laid out like flower petals, so you can know the time simultaneously in, say, Geneva, Casablanca, and Long Island. The watch has the vibe of a novelty item, but the clerk tells me that the glittery bits are in fact brown and white diamonds, that it's made by Kutchinsky, and that it'll set me back $29,000. "Still wish to see it?" she says, her eyes sweeping over me for signs that I am a $29,000 type. "Sure, why not?" I say. As she takes it out of the window and places it in my hand, I notice that its trio of faces is so heavily pavéed in diamonds that it is impossible to tell the time.
Wandering back to the Rue du Rhône, I spot what I've come to Geneva to forget—Masis, a big antique-jewelry store with knockout watches from the 1920's winking at me through the window. Don't do this! I tell myself.Don't even go in! But my feet aren't listening. They enter the store, and I hear myself asking the salesman about the round diamond timepiece in the window, the one with the four sapphires and the ribbon band with the diamond clasp, the only ribbon band I've seen—save the one on my wrist—since I came to Geneva. He goes to the window and returns with it. Suddenly the Chopard fish swim away, the Cartier goes back to fighting the First World War, the Franck Muller stays with Bogey in Casablanca, and I am once again a person with a beating heart, fondling an 80-year-old watch and thinking, like someone set to embark on yet another love affair: Could this be the one that will keep on ticking?
LYNN YAEGER is a contributing editor for T+L and a senior editor at the Village Voice.
TIPS ON BUYING A WATCH
It's easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of timepieces in Geneva. How to plow through the seemingly thousands of styles available?Some suggestions:
• Have a clear sense of how much you want to spend; if your favorite watch is too expensive, remember that many high-end watchmakers offer the exact same styles in a variety of metals, with diamonds and without.
• If you are buying for practical rather than purely aesthetic purposes, make sure you can read the time. A surprising number of watches have distorted numerals that are almost impossible to make out, and many have no numbers at all.
• Decide whether you'd like a quartz or a mechanical movement. Though most women's watches feature quartz—preferred for its convenience and practicality—over time, winding mechanical movements prove more valuable.
Though there are timepieces for sale virtually everywhere in Geneva—from the corner tabac to the grandest boutiques—here are some of the finest addresses in the city.
Bucherer 45 RUE DU RHONE; 41-22/319-6266
Cartier 35 RUE DU RHONE; 41-22/818-5454
Chopard 27 RUE DU RHONE; 41-22/310-7050
Franck Muller 19 QUAI DE MONT-BLANC; 41-22/901-0036
Joaillerie Moussaieff 19 QUAI DE MONT-BLANC; 41-22/731-0822
Masis 12 PASSAGE MALBUISSON; 41-22/311-2220
Montblanc 3 RUE CÉARD; 41-22/312-2770
Patek Philippe Museum 7 RUE DES VIEUX-GRENADIERS; 41-22/807-0910
Piaget Boutique 40 RUE DU RHONE; 41-22/817-0200
Rolex Chrono-Time 3 RUE DE LA FONTAINE; 41-22/311-0855
Salon Patek Philippe 41 RUE DU RHONE; 41-22/781-2448
Vacheron Constantin 1 RUE DES MOULINS; 41-22/316-1740