Often when I meet people, I ask them about their vintage watches. And the first thing they tell me about isn’t the reference number or what caliber movement is inside. They tell me the story behind it. Often it was purchased or received in celebration of an important moment in that person’s life.
Watches are a special gift no matter what the price point. If you think about the three greatest material gifts you’ve ever given, odds are they include a wristwatch. That’s partly because almost every other gift you can give someone gets disposed of eventually. Even if you give someone a car, it won’t last forever. A watch, however, is an intensely personal gift that will probably last for the wearer’s entire lifetime — and beyond, through future generations. It’s giving someone the gift of time. Here are a few great reasons to gift a watch.
Birth year watches
In recent years we’ve seen a rise in requests by people looking for timepieces from the birth year of someone they love, often as a birthday gift. I think it’s the ultimate bespoke gift. Whether it’s a Rolex Explorer from the 1950s or an Omega Speedmaster from the 1970s, there’s a birth year watch for everyone.
It can be difficult to find a specific reference for a specific year, and hard to prove exactly when some watches were made. As a consequence, most birth year watches that people buy are Rolex and Patek Philippe: Rolex because we match the serial number to the date year; Patek because collectors can request extracts from the Patek archives, which tell you the year of production and sale for any watch. More watchmakers have begun sharing their archive information in recent years, which has made it easier to do research than in the past. But there are several ways that Christie’s can make it easier to find that specific vintage timepieces. One is through our auction catalogues, in which we always include a watch’s known date of production and original date of sale. We do the same on Christie’s Watch Shop. And more discreet clients have challenged us again and again through private sales to find watches from specific years throughout history.
Giving someone a watch for graduation signifies the passing of an era, the passing of the torch from one generation to the next. And a watch is lasting and useful, the same way that an education is —a tool you’ll have for the rest of your life. I once had a client who celebrated the college graduations of three of his children — two sons and one daughter — by gifting each of them a Patek Philippe. It was something his kids knew they would get someday, and they always wondered what their parents would choose. This client put a lot of time into choosing these watches — down to the color of the strap, the dial, the size, the aesthetic — each of which was completely different, reflecting the distinct personalities of each of his children.
I can guarantee you that all of them still have those timepieces and will treasure them for the rest of their lives. I think my most prized possession is my grandfather’s Hamilton watch, which he gave to my father and my father gave to me. In terms of monetary value, it’s worth a few hundred dollars. But it’s priceless to me.
I’ve worked with many families that have given the gift of a watch to the groom. Often it’s from the bride or the bride’s parents. In some Asian cultures, new watches are made in his and hers sets, and they’re presented to brides and grooms as wedding gifts. Through our private sales, we’ve also been able to find matching vintage pairs for brides and grooms.
It’s important for many men to celebrate certain occasions with a watch that’s meaningful to them or does perfect justice to the event. Marriage is definitely one of them. I spoke recently with a young groom-to-be who was very intent on finding the right watch to buy for his wedding. For months, he was obsessed with finding himself the right watch. For him, step one in getting married was finding the right stone at his local jeweler, step two was coming to Christie’s to find his watch.
Almost weekly, we get a case of a father buying a watch for his son. Or a mother for her daughter. Often it’s as a wedding gift. That makes perfect sense — between parents and their children, a wedding represents, in part, a changing of generations. Treated right, a mechanical wristwatch endures across those changes. The classic Patek Philippe ads say it well: ‘You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.’
In the business world, giving gifts has always been common for as long as watches have existed. There are so many examples of 19th Century pocket watches, for instance, that were given as gifts to close a deal. Henry Clay Frick gave gift watches when he closed deals. Middle Eastern royalty today often gives watches to close deals or to express friendship. There was even a famous episode of the Sopranos where Tony Soprano gives someone a Patek Philippe as thanks for help with a business deal.
A watch is such a personal gift that presenting it in a business context makes a strong statement. It conveys trust and loyalty. A watch is not like a bottle of wine that’s going to be consumed and forgotten the next day. It’s something that’s going to be treasured for many years. And every time one checks the time, he or she is reminded of that relationship. — Edited from an interview with Austin Considine