Pick Me!

A weblog by Laura Moncur

9/21/2008

The St. Germain Swatch: What Does It Mean?

Filed under: My Life in Swatches,Personal History — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

St. Germain by LauraMoncur from FlickrI have been looking at my St. Germain Swatch for nearly twenty years now and I’m beginning to wonder what it means. What did Swatch mean naming it St. Germain? Sure, I know what the watch means to ME, but for the first time, I’m wondering what the designer of the watch was referring to.

There are a number of saints with the name Germain and many of them are French. Considering the words on the face are French, I thought there must be some connection there. But which saint would it be and what does any of them have to do with the images on the watch?

  • Patron Saints Index: Saint Germanus – Nephew of Saint Patrick. Missionary monk in Ireland, Wales and Brittany. Bishop on the Isle of Man where several locations are still named for him.

  • Patron Saints Index: Saint Germanus of Auxerre – Imperial governor of part of Gaul, based in Auxerre. Patronage: Auxerre, France

  • Patron Saints Index: Saint Germaine Cousin – Born: 1579 at Pibrac, France – Daughter of Laurent Cousin, a farm worker, and Marie Laroche. Her mother died while Germaine was an infant. A sickly child, she suffered from scrofula, and her right hand was deformed. Ignored by her father and abused by her step-family, she was often forced to sleep in the stable or in a cupboard under the stairs, was fed on scraps, beaten or scalded with hot water for misdeeds, real or imagined. – Patronage: abandoned people and peasant girls

  • Patron Saints Index: Blessed German Gardiner – Educated at Cambridge. Secretary to the bishop of Winchester. Martyred with Blessed John Larke for refusing to recognize the spiritual supremacy of the King of England.

Of all the references available, I believe Saint Germaine Cousin to be the best fit for this watch. She is the patron saint of abandoned peasant girls. What better visual representation of that than the lonely woman in the coat and the forest?

Then there is the lengendary Count of St. Germain, who is rumored to be immortal (or maybe even a vampire). He is represented quite often in literature, including Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.

One of the representations of the Count of St. Germain is a French television program called “Le Collectionneur des cerveaux” or the “Collector of Minds.” I found a YouTube clip of the movie that has been dubbed into German:

Chess playing robots and piano virtuosos aside, I don’t really believe that the Collector of Minds was the basis for my St. Germain watch. For all I know, they were merely referring to the city, St. Germain in Quebec. They speak French there, don’t they?

In fact, the closest representation of the watch from independent sources is this:

St. Germaine of Cousin

Here is St. Germaine of Cousin alone and cloaked under a sprawling, but leafless tree. Very similar to the St. Germain watch from Swatch. Am I close or have I been thinking about my watch for FAR too long?

Can anyone out there direct me to what Swatch was thinking about when they designed the St. Germain watch?

Update 11-10-08

I received this nice email from one of the readers and I think he’s totally correct!

Email Dated 10-14-08:

hi Laura

many thanks for featuring that classic French-style Swatch on your blog. I remembered my own one morning and googled “tu es hasard”, one of the few combinations I remembered (the other was “tu es vertige”) and yours was the single result.

I also loved my watch, which I owned from about 1989-92 I think. It seemed so expensive, classy, mysterious and pretentious. The original strap broke, and then it stopped working entirely.

It reminded me, back then, of Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire, and also of some academic theory I was reading at the time — and re-read today, which put me in mind of the watch. Jean Baudrillard wrote, in The Ecstasy of Communication, of the new cold universe, of “hazard, chance and vertigo”. It seemed more than chance and coincidence that those were two, or three (translated) of the terms on my watch, and it made the object seem even more “adult” and intelligent.

However! I think you have mistranslated, or I have always misunderstood the watch. I believe the watch is saying, with the small hand, “you are chance”, “you are vertigo”, and the long hand ALWAYS says “I want you”.

I don’t believe “je te veux espoir” and the other combinations are any kind of grammatical French, and that they do not mean “I want you hopefully” and so on.

That is, I think the watch can only say 12 things: “You are chance, I want you”, “You are hope, I want you”, “You are dreams, I want you”, and so forth.

But thanks again, because I really wanted to see that watch.

Email Dated 10-16-08:

hi Laura

Yes, I’d be very glad for you to include my thoughts about the watch., with my name if you like. The association with “Wings of Desire” is pretty tenuous as the watch evokes 1940s Paris more than 1980s Berlin (I agree with your correspondent that the name is meant to evoke the place, Paris St Germain, and probably a “Casablanca” feel), but I think it was the figure in the long coat, in black and white (or grey-green and white?) that reminded me of Wim Wenders’ film.

This photo may make the visual connection clear.

Wings of Desire

The parallel with the terms discussed by Baudrillard is also entirely coincidental I’m sure, but it added to my feeling that the watch was very adult, sophisticated and profound. In fact, I didn’t mention that my first serious girlfriend bought me that watch, perhaps for my 21st birthday — which is probably why it would not be fitting to have it again now, because it was something of that specific time and point in my life. I remember feeling that the watch face and strap were like a kind of romantic lost world, which I could immerse myself in by looking at them.

I also enjoyed your discussion of the Mondrian/”Studio Line” style watch, which is so wonderfully 1980s! I remember that advertisement well, and I also bought the product (specifically, the mousse) because of the advert and the Mondrian design. I’m sure if I smelled it now, the distinctive fragrance would immediately recall that time.

Like many things from the 80s, I think it may be better in memory, but your site provided some great nostalgia.

Please feel free to post this mail as well on your site, as it gives a bit more context to my experience of the St Germain watch, and the associations it had for me at the time. It is good to know that the watch meant so much to someone else, as well.

best wishes
Will Booker

Update 08-25-13

Here is another example of France in the Thirties that reminds me of this style of art.

Colonne Morris dans le brouillard Paris  France circa 1933

Via: WIL WHEATON dot TUMBLR, ckck: Colonne Morris dans le brouillard. Paris,…

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4 Comments »

  1. Hi there, it is so nice to find someone putting such effort into diagnosing the design of this watch. While I only had scant information that it was created by the swatch lab and not a specific designer, as a long time employee of the company we only believed the name referred to the St. Germain area of Paris, in an abstract way. The images evoke a time between the wars, and the words evoke the brooding philosophical and romantic ennui so tied to tha artistic era.

    Comment by Dino — 9/21/2008 @ 11:39 pm

  2. Dino,

    THANK YOU so much for noticing my blog entry. It’s funny how personal a watch can become because we look at it so often for liberation. I remember being trapped in classes in school just staring at my watch, wishing the minutes to move.

    Do you still work at Swatch? They are really blowing it on their websites. Squiggly is beating them hands-down as far as searchability and community. That breaks my heart. I have so many ideas that could make their website THE place people go to identify their Swatches. I also loved the Internet Time idea, but it doesn’t look like it’s catching on. We sure need something to solve the Time Zone problem with us Internet folk.

    I’m wearing Floral Story this morning.

    Thanks again, Laura Moncur

    Comment by Laura Moncur — 9/22/2008 @ 8:26 am

  3. I don’t work for Swatch, but I too always just assumed this Swatch was named after the St.-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood on the Left Bank in Paris. St.-Germain was the hotbed of cafe society during Paris’ inter-bellum artistic/literary Renaissance in the 20′s and 30′s – It seems likely that the handwriting shown belongs to Camus or Sartre, and perhaps the Rive Gauche street scene is shot in front of the Deux Magots or Brasserie Lipp.

    Comment by Clay — 1/28/2009 @ 2:49 pm

  4. Laura, do you want to sell your St.Germain? I have mine since 1989, the welcome gift from a friend in West Germany when I headed West in summer 89 from East Germany with a pair of spare shoes and one spare trousers jumping over a fence in Hungary….

    Long time gone….:-)

    Guess it…I am now living in Paris, in Saint Germain, regulating the European Union space programme….:-) Of course the name comes from Saint Germain des Pres, it is the most wonderful 5 square miles in the world….see it once in your life and you will agree…:-)

    I ask you because a piece of my watch broke, the wheel to change the time, and this watches can’t be repaired, it’s impossible to open them as Swatch at place Vendome told me today.

    So if you still have yours and it works and you want to sell it….

    Comment by Michael Jordan — 8/9/2011 @ 12:16 pm

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