Engraved watches – the do’s and don’ts

The situation is the following: Your father/husband/wife/friend (replace by any other relative that suits you) is celebrating his/her anniversary/retirement/wedding anniversary/career goal (replace by any event worth celebrating) and you’re thinking about offering him/her a watch.

Since you want it to be special, you’re also thinking about engraving a message. This article should bring some light on whether you should really engrave it, and if you must, what you should engrave.

Watch value

Let me start by telling you a story. In the beginning of the 20th century the famous Swiss watchmaker Zenith started exporting watches to India. One of India’s prime minister offered a friend a pocket watch with the friend’s name engraved. This silver pocket watch became one of the few material possessions that accompanied this person throughout his life.

In 2009 this same watch was sold in an auction for 1.8 million dollars. The engraved name was Mahatma Gandhi.

The point is, unless your recipient is as known as Gandhi, the watch you’ll be offering will surely lose value from the moment it is engraved.

Shall the recipient want to sell it (yes, who would want to sell something that was offered with so much love and respect anyway?), it will be vastly depreciated.

Engraved Jaeger Lecoultre Reverso

Engraved Jaeger Lecoultre Reverso

Return policy

Or shall I say no-return-policy? Would you buy a watch with someone else’s engraving? You certainly would not.

Once the watch is engraved it cannot be returned. This sounds logical, but if you are offering an item (being a watch or not) there is always a risk of the person not liking it.

With a non-engraved watch, if the recipient comes clean, he or she will tell you that the watch is not of his/her liking. In that case you can work out a style or model that would make that person happy, and you can return the first one in exchange for the right model.

Understand how the recipient sees watches

The question you should ask your self is “Is the recipient a watch collector / lover / enthusiast?”

You may find this question strange, but if someone collects watches, or simply likes watches, then it’s very possible that the person is against watch engraving.

It is the case for many watch collectors who are purist in the way they appreciate watches. For these people engraving a watch is modifying something that should not be modified, and that would ruin an otherwise perfect timepiece.

Before moving forward with the engraving, ask innocent questions, such as how many watches the person has and some more technical questions such as “wow, nice watch you’re wearing. Which movement does it have?”. The answers to these will allow you to assess the relationship this person has with watches and ultimately decide whether to engrave a watch or not.

Choose a watch that may be engraved

Right, you have decided to engrave the watch. The next headache you’ll have is what to engrave.

Too many nice watches were spoiled by engraved paragraphs.

When in doubt, use the US Navy KISS principle – keep it simple. The surface you can engrave on a watch is limited. Long sentences will take most of that surface.

Think of the engraving as of a tattoo. A long engraving will look just those tattoos with long sentences that nobody reads and look so ugly.

The initials and a date will be more than enough most of the times: the initials of the recipient, your initials if you want to, and a date.

Initials should be more than enough to identify both the giver and the receiver. And for the date, if the it is important, then the person will surely remember the meaning, there’s no need to have it included in the watch inscription.

To finish, try to choose am engraving style that matches the watch dial style and hour marks.

Which watches can be engraved?

Depending on where would you want to engrave it: any metal watch can be engraved. Most watch engravings will be done on the back of the case, and some of the on the case sides.

Most of the times you’ll be wanting to engrave your message on the case’s back. In that case, bear in mind that most automatic watches will have a glass/sapphire back, so the movement can be seen and appreciated. In that case the watch may also be engraved use laser technology, but not all the traditional engravers will be able to do it and you should count on it being more expensive than metal engraving. Additionally, with the complexity of the movement in the back, it may not be readable at all.

Some watches, even if automatic have customizable backs, and you can opt for metal ones. When in doubt, contact the watchmaker and ask if it is possible to get a specific model with a metal back.

Watch engraving alternatives

If you have decided not to engrave the watch (for any of the above reasons, or a different one) but you still want to make it personal, there is a way.

It only works with metal bracelets, on which you can engrave a removable link. That’s the best of both worlds: Your message is there, on that special person’s wrist. If the person does not like it, then the strap link can simply be replaced by a non-engraved one.

Where to engrave your watch

You can find jewel engravers everywhere, but choose those who will give you a warranty. A watch is a valuable item, and engraving it is a risky process, even for skilled and experienced professionals.

Having a fixed insured value may mean a higher engraving cost, but after spending, potentially several hundred dollars in a watch, would you want to risk it to save a few dollars?

That’s it. I hope this article has shed some light on your doubts.

And you, would you offer or wear an engraved watch?

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