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How to Buy a Fine Watch as a Gift

Feature: Long Read

Being as intangible as it is, time is a difficult thing to give – even allowing for the idea that we can be generous with what we have of it. Perhaps therefore, when looking to give time, we’re often advised that a watch is the next best thing. Which it might just be. A watch, after all, is a sort of surrogate for the passing of time. While it can neither make nor control it, it will at least act as a perpetual reminder of its value and fleetingness.

If this idea rings at all true, it might yet be amplified by the equally unproven theory that our appreciation of time increases when that watch is a ‘proper’ watch – by which I mean one that’s designed and built to outlast us all. Add to that the eternal power of a watch that’s given to channel love and devotion, and we’re edging ever closer to the gift of time. Certainly, my most treasured fine watches are those passed down to me by generations now gone, or given to me by loved ones at junctures that merit something so special. Do watches make good gifts? By this account, it’s hard to think otherwise. So, if you’re of a mind to reward a loved one (or indeed yourself) in such a way come Valentine’s Day, perhaps one of these ‘proper’ watches will prove the right thing.

For the Purist
Cartier Tank Must Extra-Large Model

Few designs are more storied, recognisable, or desirable than Cartier’s Tank. It’s an icon more than a century in the making, originally created as a symbol of the French maison’s gratitude for the role played by Allied tanks in keeping Paris from occupation during World War I. Cartier’s signatures are all here, too. In no particular order: the sword-shaped blue hands, the IIII numeral at four o’clock, the rail-track minute scale running around the dial, and the sapphire cabochon set into the crown. This broad-shouldered, steel, ‘Extra-Large’ model on a black leather strap is home to an automatic mechanical movement, too. As pure as they come, in other words.

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For the Collector
Piaget Polo Skeleton

There are some who believe that a watch collector is anyone with more than one watch. But, as in most anything, there is an appreciation spectrum at play here. At the loftier end, true watch collectors will typically seek watches defined by superior ingenuity, elevated levels of detailing and finishing, a design story that stacks up, and of course rarity. Piaget’s Polo Skeleton ticks these boxes, picking up on a form that was conceived in the late 1970s by Yves Piaget, now made more delicate and refined by a skeletonised movement. That is, one reduced to expose a watch’s inner workings and, indeed, the hand of the watchmaker who crafted it. This steel and green model pre-launched exclusively at Harrods, which only adds to its mystique – and its collectability.

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For the Explorer
Tudor Ranger 39mm

For a time, the rough-and-tumble Ranger disappeared from view – but, earlier this year, Tudor reinvented it to time with the 70th anniversary of the British North Greenland Expedition, relaunching it with a crisp new design and upgraded ‘plumbing’. The new model’s spec list is explorer-proofed: a 39mm satin-brushed steel case (no glare), an in-house mechanical movement with a hefty 70-hour power reserve, chronometer certification, a black dial with high-contrast luminous numerals, and water resistance to 100 metres. It comes on a metal bracelet or a black leather strap, but for that extra whiff of the great outdoors, here it’s on an olive fabric strap. Given the relaxed sartorial codes of our age, the Ranger has terrific cross-over appeal too, for when the adventure moves from the sticks back into the city.

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Bamford Watch Department
For the Disruptor
Bamford Watch Department B347 Forged Carbon

The old guard will forever have their admirers, but for some, more attractive is the iconoclast, whose posture is novel, unexpected and disruptive. Step forward George Bamford, whose fast-growing watch company continues to ask awkward questions of luxury watchmaking – albeit not so much through mechanics as design. The B347 (read: ‘BEAT’) is a case in point. Its complication is its monopusher chronograph, a traditional function that offers control of the stopwatch in its entirety via a single pusher – at two o’clock, in this case. What’s novel here, though, is the case, a barrel-shaped hunk of black carbon fibre. As a rule, forged carbon cases send prices spiralling, but Bamford Watch Department’s example is priced with reassuring modesty. With that as the backdrop to the company’s signature baby blue detailing, the B347 Forged Carbon becomes a natural disruptor, unrecognisable as anything other than itself.

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For the Party Host
Chopard Happy Diamonds Icons

Sometimes, the simplest ideas are also the most powerful. In 1976, Chopard introduced the Happy Sport, a playful design that suspended so-called ‘floating’ diamonds between two layers of sapphire crystal over a watch dial. As the wearer’s arm moved, so too did the diamonds, spinning across the dial like pirouetting ballet dancers. The concept has endured, now expressed in numerous ways, including through this Happy Diamonds Icons model. It sends seven diamonds frolicking around the dial between two crystals, as if in suspended animation – hovering over the skin without ever touching it. In total, the watch is decorated with 1.29 carats of diamonds, all set into ethically sourced 18-karat white gold. A beguiling watch for a beguiling host.

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