Deck the halls with straps and spring bars! Well… maybe. ‘Tis the season for giving and you may be wondering if you should gift a special someone their first timepiece. It just so happens that gifted watches can be surprisingly controversial. It doesn’t seem that a token of affection for someone in your life, especially around the holidays, would be complicated. Yet, type “watches as gifts” in your favorite search engine, and you’re sure to see long lists of debates on this topic. The rationale ranges from cultural superstition to practical concerns about preferred tastes and styles. It’s certainly worth considering your position on these perspectives before parting with one of your own watches or diving into a purchase on behalf of a loved one. However, I’m here to provide some personal insight into this conversation and perhaps convince you to take a chance on the prospective horologist in your life this season.
My collecting journey began just over two years ago when I received a hand-me-down watch from a friend. I was, then, a graduate student unaware of the watchbox-free counter space I was taking for granted. I hadn’t critically considered watches before, but knew I was drawn to material “stuff.” My apartment was filled with hundreds of books I’d accumulated over the years along with MOLLE-paneled backpacks, knives, sports equipment, and various trinkets I had used (or might one day use) in my adventures. I gravitated toward things I knew were reliable or served a purpose. But, more than only function, my possessions were expressions of my life, interests, and personality.*
My friend Gabe had rekindled his own dormant love of watches around that time and would patiently explain brand history and technical specifications to me – audaciously claiming this amalgam of metal and springs could rival my smart watch. Admittedly, giving up valuable wrist real estate for something that couldn’t read my texts was a fairly hard sell. However, I was intrigued by these mechanical machines, partially for their tactile nature and engineering, but primarily for how they allowed people to engage with the community around them. My smart watch could tell me about the world: my mechanical watches could tell the world about me.

Once Gabe saw the intrigue beginning to marinate, he passed along an inexpensive meca-quartz chronograph. “I can’t sell this,” he said, “do you want it?” Years later, I’m still the willing recipient of his castoffs: a Casio F91W (“too small”), more straps than I can count, and a Submariner homage with a temperamental crown and truly beautiful lume. New watches have also made it into my collection for holidays or milestones, including a white G-Shock GA2100 he gifted to me after the completion of my master’s degree in 2022. That watch continues to be the most frequently worn in my rotation, certainly for its versatility, but mainly because it serves as a reminder of a dear friend and our shared hobby.
Last year, my parents surprised me with the Mission to Venus MoonSwatch that had launched a month before my 26th birthday. There were two things that made this gift special:*
1. I had mentioned the watch once to them in passing, and commented on how much I loved the color, as well as the collaboration between Swatch and Omega.
2. They had to go to incredible lengths to find this watch mere weeks after its release – we all remember the MoonSwatch craze of ‘22 (and ‘23, etc…)
Of course, I loved the watch itself but, even more, I love how I’m reminded every time I wear it of the effort my parents made to ensure I felt special on my birthday. Later in the year, I also received a hand-me-down ladies Seiko day/date from my mother and an early 2000s Timex Expedition from my father. Within a span of just three months, my small collection had doubled in size.
A gifted, and frequently worn, G-SHOCK GA2100

Though I will say I feel an equal level of connection to the watches I’ve purchased for myself, it’s a different type of relationship. My personal additions often signify achievements I want to commemorate, such as the start of a new job. Or they fit an aesthetic I’m already partial to, like legible field watches. I find joy in the research, and often know based on specs the watch will fit nicely on my wrist. Gifted watches exist in a separate mental plane in my watchbox. As other members of my generation can likely attest, breaking into a hobby with luxury roots as a young professional is a challenge. Inflation, rising costs of higher education, and the other elements that come with establishing an adult life are difficult to manage when your savings account has yet to celebrate its tenth birthday.
If it wasn’t for gifted watches, I may not have become an enthusiast. The foundation of my early collection was entirely bolstered by gifts from loved ones who saw my budding passion and kept that little flame ignited for a young, broke graduate student. These gifted pieces let me experience a growing collection and participate in the hobby in ways I otherwise would not have been able to. I still wear all of them, even as my aesthetic preferences grow with more exposure to different styles, because they remind me of the people who gave them to me.

I think it’s worth pointing out that two conditions existed before receiving that first hand-me-down piece, and both are important factors to consider before ushering someone into the hobby by gifting them a watch. The first is that I had an interest in gear in general. Watches segued nicely into a love of practical tools I could use while doing things I cared about, like camping and hiking. The second is that I had been consistently wearing an Apple Watch for about a year, so I wasn’t a stranger to the feeling of a timepiece on my wrist. I had expressed an interest in watches after learning more about the history, but entry into that world seemed cost prohibitive during that season of my life. Receiving hand-me-down and gifted watches buoyed my interest in this space during a period where engagement in the hobby would have been challenging otherwise. I’m not saying that every person would be a good candidate for a gifted watch; but, there may be one or two waiting to jump into this world!

So, as we enter the holiday season, consider gifting or passing down a watch to your loved one. If you have a mechanically-minded protégé in your life, this may be the perfect time to get them into the scene. As with any present, you should be prepared for the possibility it falls flat. You can let that experience inform your future gift ideas. However, there is a chance you are able to shepherd a new collector into this hobby once they are able to experience the world as an enthusiast instead of merely an observer. If it’s a success, you’re now set with watch-centric gift ideas – as well a new watch buddy – for life.

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