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Time to reset your watch or buy one

At 2 a.m. Sunday comes the end of the inconvenience that unites us all, daylight saving time, when we turn our watches back one hour or risk getting to work an hour early.

It is a democratic duty, falling to those who wear $7.99 drugstore specials, as well as to the strange citizens who buy "fine" watches _ though a person who spends $10,000 or more for a wrist watch may be too removed from the real world to figure out how to set the thing.

The interesting truth is that the mass-produced cheapo watch will look unexceptional enough to wear. And for a year or two, it probably will keep time as accurately as the $10,000-and-up watches advertised nearly every day on top of Page 2 of the first section of the New York Times.

The advertisements run like a weird, barely discernible melody in a national symphony of squawks that necessities are too expensive and the government is taking everything in taxes.

There is a natural division in the ads. Let's begin with the "bargains."

On Friday, Tourneau Corner offered a woman's watch for $5,290. It has sapphire accents, always useful for telling time; also a couple of triangular diamonds. Fair enough.

But right next to the Tourneau is something a little disgraceful from Cartier: men's and women's Opalin watches. One is round, the other is rectangular and they have "straps," not bracelets. I wouldn't accuse them of plastic, but I suspect mere leather. $1,300. You get what you pay for.

A more respectable watch was advertised Wednesday: a pleasant little Vacheron Constantin men's automatic. It was pink gold, which doesn't seem a very manly color, but it has Power Reserve and a Power Reserve Indicator. It's a good buddy watch for narrow-eyed brokers and tough CPAs. Price: $11,590.

Finally, we reach the rather pricey watch: Tiffany offers a selection of Patek-Philippe's La Flamme watches, which appear in the black and white photo to be women's watches and gaudy enough for a Barbie doll. Fortunately, the watches have plenty of "diamond bezels" (defined as the pointy, projecting portion of a stone). Sufficient bezels bring a smile to the most churlish of watch buyers. Price: $23,200.

But my own preference is an Audemars Pignet men's watch called The Royal Oak. Like any number of Timexes, it has three small faces on its one large face and a metal bracelet. If you can tolerate stainless steel next to your skin, you can have a vulgar little version of The Royal Oak for $5,500. The preferred Oak is made of platinum and costs $82,000.

All these watches are Swiss-made, and the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry wants us to know these are, after all, only popular prices. Some people spend real money on a watch.

A Patek-Philippe Calibre was auctioned in 1989 for $2.7-million. The most highly valued watch in the world was sculpted in 1977 from a single gold nugget for Vacheron Constantin watchmakers.

The federation takes a proprietary interest in daylight saving time. "The day after a switch in time is the biggest day for watch repairs," it announces.

Perhaps a little peevishly, it adds, "Mechanical watches must receive regular servicing . . . (to avoid) deterioration of the lubricants."

It seems never to have occurred to the federation that most people nowadays just throw their watches away when they quit running. The fixing would cost more than the watch.