More Dogs on Main Street
February 16, 2008
It’s surprisingly easy to get used to the excesses around here. When I ski past a single-family house the size of a shopping mall, I hardly notice it anymore. Some of them have names: the Enron house at The Canyons, the Bear house at Deer Valley, and the Deer Valley Dental Clinic house. I’ve been to parties in a few of them, and back in my lawyer days was involved in the construction and sale of many of these palaces. I remember one that had cabinets in the garage that were better and a lot more extensive than I have in the kitchen at my house. How could you be expected to store your greasy socket wrenches in anything less than the finest exotic hardwood? I think it actually had a dishwasher installed in the garage for cleaning tools.
There are several houses under construction around the area that require tower cranes. It’s not unusual on any building project to bring in a portable crane to lift the roof trusses or other heavy stuff, especially on steep lots. But a house that needs a tower crane, like a high-rise office tower, well that seems a little extreme. It’s not limited to Park City any more, either. Mega-houses are popping up more or less anywhere in Summit and Wasatch counties. They’ve become common enough that when the revolution comes, it will be hard for the Bolsheviks to know where to start.
So it’s becoming increasingly difficult to really shock me with excess these days. But it can happen. In the current issue of Outside magazine there is an item about wristwatches. There are two nice-looking watches shown. The prices were $135,000 and $185,000. At first I assumed I had read that wrong, and had imagined an extra "0" or missed a decimal point. But after finding my bifocals and getting into a better light, the price was actually $185,000. For a wristwatch.
Of course, this isn’t your ordinary wristwatch. It is the Vacheron Constantin Malte Troubillon Regulator. It apparently "counters the effects of gravity to keep perfect time." So, when you put it that way it sounds like a bargain. The article says, "15.4 tons of ore has to be mined to produce an ounce of platinum." It doesn’t say how much the watches weigh, though the article says, "the weight of the platinum makes the watch feel as if it was hewn from the bowels of the earth." And if it weighs in at a modest 3 ounces, that’s about 50 tons of earthen bowels being hewn for each watch. Apparently, among the people who buy $185,000 wristwatches, it is important to know that significant, irreversible environmental damage was done to create the item. The article didn’t say how many miners were injured or killed in the process.
In most of the United States, outside of the coastal areas and warped resort-town economies, $185,000 will still buy you a three-bedroom house. It’s pretty hard to get my brain around the idea that somewhere, somebody is wearing the equivalent of a three-bedroom house on his wrist. The buyer is probably somebody on Wall Street who got a $10 million bonus for creating the current mortgage mess and is now foreclosing on those $185,000 homes in wholesale batches. You need a good watch to check the time to see if the illegal alien who mows the lawn is late. Gag me with a silver spoon.
The article on the Vacheron Constantin watches was actually in a kind of sidecar magazine called Outside GO, which is all about travel, style, and excess consumption and comes packaged with the regular version of Outside every now and then. With no apparent sense of irony, this was with the "green" issue of the magazine, which was otherwise filled with preachy articles about how we must act now to save the earth. "Screw in the light bulb, but then screw in the new senator immediately thereafter." Good advice. Then you can move 50 tons of ore to make a wristwatch.
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I went to the Vacheron Constantin Web site in search of more information about this three-bedroom wristwatch. For $185,000, it ought to have some pretty cool features beyond just telling time. I thought there might be other models available, say, a nice split level or a colonial with a two-car garage. But the Web site was disappointing. It’s not quite like the Harbor Freight or Northern Tool Web sites where there are prices and detailed product descriptions. This was mostly photos of watches, and then links to the "concierge" who would be happy to provide you with more information, assuming your financial statement proved your worthiness. Clearly, price is an entirely unnecessary detail. I think the computer did a quick financial check on me before blocking me from entering the main information on the Web site. They can’t let just anybody in.
The Malte Tourbillon Regulator is clearly not for me. The only watch I ever use is a heart-rate monitor when I’m on my bike, and since the battery died, I haven’t even used that. There’s a clock on the dashboard of the car, in the corner of the computer screen, on the iPod, the phone, and more or less any place I go. Somehow, I manage to get through life mostly not caring what time it is, but when I need to know, I can figure it out for less than $185,000. It’s hard to imagine irrigating or working on the tractor wearing a watch like that. It seems like you would require a security detail to go with it: three or four burly guys wearing Timexes to make sure nobody steals it.
I’ve got no idea how many $185,000 wristwatches are sold each year. Even if it’s only one, it’s one too many. There’s something seriously wrong about a society that has working people being thrown out of their homes while others are buying $185,000 wristwatches.
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for nearly 20 years.