How To Buy Him A Watch: The Only Watch-Gifting Guide You Need

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How To Buy Him A Watch: The Only Watch-Gifting Guide You Need

Words by Ms Laura McCreddie-Doak and Mr Alex Doak | Photography by Mr Ivano Pagnussat

9 October 2020

Buying a man a watch? Whoever you are shopping for, be it a significant other or a relative, the process can be fraught with complications (and that’s before we even get to the complications on the watch itself). A watch is such a personal item: choosing one for yourself can be hard, let alone buying a watch for another. And it must be said, the watch world is a law unto itself, speaking a language all its own, at times quite impenetrable to newcomers – although we like to think we do our best to cut through all that.

Here to help you with your purchase are Mr Alex Doak and Ms Laura McCreddie-Doak. Not only are they both expert watch journalists, but they also happen to be a married couple, in the all-too-seldom habit of gifting each other watches (see: Ms McCreddie-Doak, who reciprocated Mr Doak’s engagement gift of a Zenith Elite Moonphase with a NOMOS Glashütte Metro), while in the less-than-seldom habit of pinching each other’s watches (see: Mr Doak, who thinks Ms McCreddie-Doak’s Bremont Solo looks far better on him). 

Ms Laura McCreddie-Doak: Hold on there a minute. While price is usually the first consideration, it’s not the best point to start.

Every type of watch has its spectrum of price points, from entry-level to king’s ransom. Of course, your budget matters, but whatever you want, you can find something that’s within range. First, you need to know what type of watch works for him. In other words: what are the gaps in his watch wardrobe, and how to plug them?

Google “watch wardrobe” and you’ll find insistent articles telling you he needs a dress watch, a sports watch, a “just for watching” sports watch, or whatever other convenient categories style writers are wont to compile. Ignore them. Instead, start snooping around his side of the bed. Previous watch purchases can provide clues as to style preference, but if he hasn’t bought a watch before, you can still play Sherlock Holmes with his clothing and lifestyle. If he has a wardrobe devoid of suits, but a job that involves him spending eight hours a day in dusty workwear, then a gold dress watch is not going to be top of your list. Something chunky in steel would work perfectly, instead. An architect with a love of neat sweaters? Think slimline styles with Bauhaus leanings.

That said, sometimes lifestyle has no bearing on what watch a man will want. My husband has five diving watches and a fear of open water. You can always save yourself a headache and buy a different version of a style he has already. When the formula works, sometimes there’s no point in deviating, as long as you’re introducing a breath of fresh air (unpressurised, non-helium-enriched, in Alex’s case).

Something else to flag up early: size is at least as important as style. It doesn’t matter how good it looks on Instagram if it dwarfs his wrist or sits atop it like a button. If you do nothing else, take a minute to understand how to properly size up your purchase.

Mr Alex Doak: Amen to all that. And while we’re on the subject, a diving watch happens to be a highly practical choice, in or out of the water. Shockproof and antimagnetic thanks to that chunky case, plus with a baked-in “throw on and forget” convenience, especially on summer vacation.

But at the risk of spoiling the romance, I would add that no one should hesitate to straight-up ask their man what floats his boat. If he’s a MR PORTER sort of guy, chances are he cares about such things, wants you to get it right and not waste your money. Guys are straightforward like that – and they’ll already be floored by the unsolicited prospect of a new watch. Come to think of it, women are the same.

If men today are being advised to propose with a bare rock, before enjoying the process of designing its platinum setting together, then there’s certainly no harm in raising the prospect of a watch before taking notes from him.

Ms McCreddie-Doak: In my experience, along with cars and sports, there is nothing men like talking about more than watches, so it should be easy to steer the conversation to find out more about his preferences. If his friend has a decent watch on, ask him what he thinks about it. Style pages and ads in magazines, websites and even films and TV programmes are all opportunities to get into specifics about what he does and doesn’t like.

Mr Doak: Something else men like is a chance to show off. So, my additional advice would be to dangle the mansplaining bait. Mention with incendiary naivety that perhaps a friend of yours is in the market for a watch, and has been looking at brand X, Y or potentially Z – where X, Y and Z all happen to make watches on your shortlist for him. Depending on the vehemence of his patronising advice, you should quickly gauge where his allegiances lie.

Mr Doak: Here’s where we come back to your first question – budget – and start to narrow down what’s on offer. For the sake of simplicity, let’s break it down into three likely price ranges: £1,000 to £5,000; £5,000 to £10,000 and £10,000+. (If you’re shopping with a budget of more than £10,000 then, um, marry me?)

Between one and two grand, we’re looking at classic, round, time-only daily wearers in steel, potentially with a second time-zone or “GMT” complication. Solid, but sober stuff, in other words, from Montblanc, Junghans or Baume & Mercier. From £2,000 up to £5,000, you’re stretching to a stopwatch-fitted chronograph for sporty sorts, or a cooler-than-school Bell & Ross.

The top end of this budget buys you membership to the “manufacture” club, with a much-vaunted “in-house” movement – from IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN, Zenith or Cartier to name buy a few. Then, between five and 10 grand, take your pick from a host of blue-blooded names, such as Cartier and Jaeger-LeCoultre (all in steel, mind, given the fine inner works) or some hard-as-nails professional-spec tool watches for the alpha male in your life, like Panerai, IWC, Breitling or Ulysse Nardin.

Above £10,000 you are opening the doors to the full range of models from the aforementioned, including the ones cased in gold, or something even more exotic. You are about to make a lucky man very happy indeed.

Ms McCreddie-Doak: Um, Alex? £10,000? We can talk about that later. In the meantime, if any of this is starting to sound dangerously technical, help is at hand. MR PORTER has a dedicated team of in-house watch experts available 24/7 on the phone or via live chat, so you can ask about any terms, descriptions or details of which you’re unsure. Plus, there are our guides to chronographs, dive watches and many more informative pieces on The Journal.

If he has mates who have a decent watch collection, ask them what they look for in a watch. He might already have been talking about this down the pub (see my previous assertion about men and talking about watches), which will give you even more detail.

Mr Doak: Yuh-huh! The same watch “head” can look totally different when attached to a brown rather than black leather strap, let alone the difference it makes if you swap a metal bracelet for coloured “Nato” in nylon. Broadly speaking, go for a bracelet if you think his wrist (as well as demeanour) is “manly” enough; and if leather, only go for black if he’s likely to wear it to work.

As for rubber? Well, the old adage goes that horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow – but given a horse isn’t ever likely to rock a Roger Dubuis, let’s accept that men sweat, too. So, if it’s going to see a lot of wear in the warm outdoors, and a steel bracelet’s out, rubber can be a funky (but not, you know, in a bad way) switch-up. Check out our in-depth guide to changing and choosing straps here.

Ms McCreddie-Doak: And I can’t tell you how doubly thrilled he’ll be if you splurge on an extra strap and a strap-change tool. Changing a strap can completely transform a watch, which means, for a little extra cash, you’ll be getting him two watches for the price of one. However, the real bonus is that by getting him the tool, he’ll get the chance to play watchmaker. And that will keep him happy for hours. Or at least until he’s worked out how to get the original strap off.

Ms McCreddie-Doak: If you happen to be this man’s better half, you’re going to have to live with this watch as much as him, so invest in something that doesn’t make you want to walk five paces ahead. And maybe consider buying a piece that you would also wear yourself. Stealing your other half’s watch is half the fun. I should know, I do it all the time.

Mr Doak: Wait, what?