Earning A Nickel Finish

In Praise of Honest Wear
; .

“Desirability does not arise from beauty…. Instead, their value is primarily derived from a third criterion: antiquity and personal association.”
— Everett F. Bleiler, introduction to Kakuzo Okakura’s
The Book of Tea.

My friend Gary once asked me which I would like to inherit: a mint condition 1911 my grandfather bought new, seldom fired and never carried, or the same one he bought new and carried for the rest of his life, with most of the blue gone and the checkered grips worn almost smooth, with all the stories that go with it. The question, of course, answers itself. Gary was serious about things being used, having once lent me a very expensive prototype knife with instructions to bring it back scratched.

I thought about this the other day when I bought my Quarantine Gun, a used .45 purchased from a friend. Assembled from an Essex receiver with a Colt slide and parts, it’s a very cool pistol but well worn. The slide to frame fit rattles, and unlike the hard fit barrels I’m used to, the chamber area of the barrel yields cheerfully when pressed down. It also has a “nickel finish” — you know, like it was dropped in a bag of nickels and shaken. I can fix any or all of this. I won’t.


The Zen of Attrition

In our Instagram-perfect world, we lose sight of the beauty of honest wear and use. You can’t expect something to stay perfect if you use it — and that’s okay. In fact, it’s even better. It becomes part of the story, just like your scars. Hemingway famously said people wounded by life were often stronger at the broken places.

The Japanese technique of kintsugi takes this further, making damaged things more beautiful at the broken places. Based in part on the idea of wabi-sabi, which values imperfect items, kintsugi is a repair method for pottery where the shards are joined with lacquer and the new seams outlined in gold. Rather than discarding the item upon breaking, it is made more beautiful and more valuable.

My favorite watch is a Luminox Field Chronograph given to me about 16 years ago. As a young(er) man with a modest salary and too much debt, the $800 watch was a very generous gift, one otherwise well beyond my reach. I took care of it, but I used it. I clicked the chronograph to time laps when I ran or swam, I clocked jury verdicts with it when I was a D.A. and I always carefully screwed the pushers back down before submerging when I took it SCUBA diving.

It wore its way through a couple of bands before alighting on the faded black Zulu strap it lives on now, and it’s either on its second or third movement, I forget. One of the subdial hands didn’t match the others for a few years, because when I knocked it loose, the model had been discontinued and replacement parts weren’t available. Oddly, the last time it was serviced it came back with the hands matching. One wonders.

It’s been to the bottom of the ocean and submerged in other bodies of water beyond count, banged onto rocks while hiking or scrabbling up hillsides, and I’m pretty sure it has a waffle stamp on one side from being slammed into the checkering on my .45.


Refinish? Nope.

That stainless full-house Novak .45 hasn’t gotten off easy, either. After a dozen years of carry, it’s got bright spots from holster wear, plenty of scuffs and scratches and some checkering I’ve flatspotted, probably with the help of the Luminox. The last time I had it at Novak’s for a quick checkup, they asked if I wanted it refinished. The answer — of course — was a decisive “no.” The same went for my worn badge when I used to be a prosecutor, which I was advised not to replace because “it says you’re not a rookie.”

Sure, it would be easy to bead blast the .45 back to newness, and I could probably have bought another Luminox for the cost of its most recent movement swap. But where would all this history go? I’ll leave it for my sons to pick up where I left off, just like I’m going to do with my new “nickel-finished” .45.

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