Engraving Your Case Back Is (Still) Such A Cool Thing To Do
Last week, I wrote an article about when and how I would engrave one of my own watches. Well, not engrave it myself, of course, but you get the idea. At what moments in my life would I let a skilled person engrave something on one of my case backs? I considered some plausible occasions, but we also asked you, dear Fratelli, to send us examples of your engraved case backs. So here I am again with an overview of occasions and some nice examples of case back engraving from our own community.
It might have been our own poor explanation of what we were looking for or the fact that we used examples of famous vintage engraved case backs. Either way, we received a lot of entries of case backs that were not engraved while the watch was in its current owner’s possession. Most examples that came in were watches our readers had bought after the engraving had already been done. Often, they were engraved quite some time ago as well. We might use those examples for another article. For now, though, we’ll focus on the more personal examples that we received. Let’s dive right in!
I think this first one is quite an original one because it’s not family- or love-related as many others are. This is a project by a true watch enthusiast. He wanted to honor the first watch he ever owned, a Swatch Snowwhite GK104. To do that, he asked Sartory Billard to build him a reinterpretation of it. After it was done, the brand also engraved “SNOWWHITE revamped” on the back of it. I think the watch looks stunning and the engraving fully completes the design. Well done!
This next one is an enthusiast-related one as well. It’s from a member of the “Watches@” watch-collecting group that started at Google, and the watch is a specially produced NOMOS Glashütte Tangente. Instead of putting “Google” on the back, the group went for an appropriate math reference — 10^100 (ten to the hundredth), which is also known as a “googol”. Maybe I’ve been living under a rock all this time, but I honestly didn’t know that this was the origin of Google’s name. Every member of the watch group was able to choose his or her own personal engraving. This member got number 99 of the limited series, so he decided to add a little Ice-T (and later Jay-Z) reference to it, engraving “Problems but a watch ain’t one” on the back.
Now we move on to the more family-related engravings and to one I could actually see myself doing for my kids. The watch you see here is a Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical. It was a graduation present from a father and a mother to their son when he finished his Bachelor of Health Science degree in 2020. I think there are many examples like these out there, but of course, it’s a really generous gesture from a parent to a child.
Mark the occasion
The next enthusiast, Michael, sent us his pictures and a very nice story to go with it. I think it’s best to let him explain the “why” behind the engraving:
“After many years of Fossils, Timexes, Casios, and Swatches, I knew I wanted my first quality watch. My family and I had recently relocated from Las Vegas to St. Louis for a new job opportunity, and I wanted to mark the occasion, literally. I always thought the idea of a marking milestone that was tied to a date was arbitrary (like a 50th birthday), so I knew that I would play with that concept on the back of the watch I would eventually choose. But which one? Omega has too much case back architecture to land any text of note. I find NOMOS to be boring, and Rolex is impossible to get. Tudor, however, rang all the bells — heritage, look, function, and a clean case back. I purchased a 2020 Black Bay Chronograph Steel & Gold and had my local AD engrave it with ‘Not 50 yet, happy birthday, Michael’.”
Michael also added a little piece of advice for people like myself who have never engraved a watch:
“It’s none of my business, but I think you should engrave a watch of your own. Any time I’m looking at vintage pieces, I am always more drawn to engraved watches. Each one has a bit of history that I will never be able to unravel, but I can imagine. And for me, imagining that stranger’s life and their adventures with the watch is half the fun. The watch lives beyond you, and you can be part of passing on that heritage to a loved one or a stranger like me.”
I think that’s actually a great way of thinking about engraving a watch. It definitely makes me feel excited to “mark” my first watch!
Formerly known as…
And here’s Roland, another enthusiast who engraved something birthday-related on one of his watches. I’ll also give him the floor so he can tell you more about the engraving on the back of his NOMOS Orion:
“The (factory) engraving is ‘all good things, they say, never last’, taken from Prince’s ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’. He would have been recording (and finishing writing) the track around the same time that I was being born on the other side of the world. On that very day thirty-one years later, he would pass away. Originally I had planned to go with ‘parties weren’t meant to last’ (see next paragraph) but the song ‘1999’ doesn’t link me to Prince across time and space in the same way. I realize I’m starting to sound like someone who makes life decisions based on their Zodiac sign, but here we are.”
“On top of this, in the last year or two, I’ve found myself revisiting still life and, more specifically, vanitas (the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death — thanks, Wikipedia) with its recurrent symbols of watches, clocks or hourglasses among all the skulls and old fruit. A bit bleak and/or pretentious, but I keep coming back to it. To this degree, the engraving (or is it more dramatic to refer to it as an ‘inscription’?) functions as a memento mori.”
This is perhaps not the most lighthearted of things to put on the back of a watch. Nevertheless, it’s certainly nice to tie it in with music and an artist you feel connected to!
Now, we get to the more romantic part. All the following engravings have something to do with love. And this first one, from Piergiorgio and his Omega Genève, just has to come first:
“I was spending my first anniversary with my girlfriend in Verona, Italy. We passed by a vintage watch dealer that was recommended to me by a friend weeks before. I wanted to take a look and buy my first watch. Within the shop’s collection, this beautiful Omega with a stunning green dial caught my eye. I instantly fell in love! I bought the watch, and we then went for dinner at a restaurant in the city center. After that, we were having a walk along the river, and I said, ‘I love you,’ for the first time to my girlfriend. After a few years, I decided to have it engraved on the back with the word ‘First’, which has multiple meanings — first watch, first anniversary, and first time saying, ‘I love you.'”
It’s lovely to be able to encapsulate so many first things to remember with just one word. Bravo!
As a watch enthusiast, you know you’ve found the right partner when they gift you a Seiko Turtle! This is especially true when it’s engraved in a nice way. That’s what happened to the owner of our next entry. His then-girlfriend, now-fiancée gave it to him for his 21st birthday. She engraved the famous line from their favorite song on the back: “I can’t help falling in love with you!”. The owner is now thinking of adding the date of their engagement to the case back. I think that is a great idea! That way, this one watch can gain even more significance over time.
Flip it and reverse it!
For our next entry about a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, I’ll let the owner, Mark, explain it himself:
“Here are the pictures of my wife’s Reverso! A bit of the backstory is that she’s an absolute non-watch person, and every time I suggested buying her a “nice watch” as a Christmas or wedding anniversary present, she’d always tell me not to bother spending money on a watch. We’re coming up on our ninth anniversary, though, and prices keep increasing on a yearly basis. So I figured that if I’d like to get her something nice, I might as well do it now rather than wait another year for our 10th anniversary but end up spending more. I took her to the AD for a look-see, and she preferred something classic and timeless, so it was a choice between a Datejust 31/34/36 or the hand-wound Reverso Classic Monoface (Q2548140).
Given that everyone’s already got a Datejust, I figured a Reverso would be the more unique, less “obvious” choice. The added bonus is that it is the perfect candidate for engraving something personal on it, and it would pair well with the Reverso Duoface that I already own. I initially intended to send the watch to an engraver. But after looking online, I chanced upon this image and the decision was a pretty simple one to make. I got in touch with a local laser engraver, brought the watch to them, and it was done in less than an hour.
I love the end result, and more importantly, my wife couldn’t be happier. It is, in her own words, the one watch she’d be happy to wear all the time.”
This reminded me of when I got a watch for my wife. She wasn’t (and still isn’t) really into watches, but she does enjoy wearing the Cartier Tank Solarbeat that I got her. I think it’ll definitely be nice to get that watch engraved at some point.
Tank or Explorer?
And to finish it all off, as a little bonus, here’s RJ with the story of the engraving on his wife’s Rolex Explorer. He asked me if he could write a little something about it, and I was a bit hesitant, but to be honest, it’s a fun anecdote to read. Enjoy!
RJ: Back in 2008, I decided to ask my then-girlfriend to marry me. We had already been together for a few years, and although we never really discussed marriage, I thought it was time to ask her the big question. My plan was to ask her on Christmas, as she loves that time of the year and enjoys the Christmas holidays. They’re special to her and to me as well. I bought a diamond and had a ring made for her by a friend who worked as a goldsmith for a number of jewelers. But since I’m also a watch guy, I thought it would be even more personal to propose with a watch — one I knew that she’d love.
During the many city trips and holidays we spent together, I’d always stop and linger at the boutiques and jewelers. And often, I would ask which watches she liked. She pointed out a Rolex Explorer (114270) on multiple occasions, as well as a Cartier Tank Française. I decided to take a look at both because I wanted to have the case back engraved with the big question. With the Rolex, I knew it wouldn’t be a problem, as the case backs are blank. But I didn’t know about the Cartier case back. But when I checked it out at an authorized dealer, I noticed there was no chance of having it engraved. Cartier decided to put every little fact about the watch on the case back (okay, well, only the brand name, serial number, reference number, and that it’s Swiss made and water-resistant).
“Now take a good look!”
RJ: So, I decided to go for the Rolex Explorer 114270. After I bought the watch, I had it engraved with “Wil je met me trouwen?” (Will you marry me?). A few weeks later, on Christmas morning, I decided to ask the big question. I had the gift-wrapped watch box in one hand and the other little box with the ring in my pocket. I decided to give the watch to her first and present the ring when she read the text. At least, that’s how I thought it would go down. But I made a crucial mistake in my thinking process. After I gave her the present, she unwrapped it and opened the green box. Inside was the Rolex Explorer, sized for her wrist. So, she took out the watch, examined the dial, and put it on her wrist. Click. This was not going as I had planned…
So I asked her to take a good look at the watch. She did a “wrist roll”, as we’d call it today, and said, “Yeah, it’s really beautiful.” So, then, getting more nervous by the second, I asked her to take it off again and have a look at the case back (apparently, some people never look at case backs). She finally read it, and again, her eyes lit up. I then presented her with the ring and asked her in person. Somehow, I can’t even remember if she actually said yes. We got married a few months later, though, so I guess she did. She cherishes this watch, and while she developed more interest in watches and got a few more along the way, this is the one with a special story to it.
Thank you and stay tuned!
I’d like to thank all the contributors for their entries. Through them, we see that watch engraving is still a thing, even though resale value is a hot topic today. I’m happy to see that some people still use their watches to record important and meaningful moments in their lives. From all the above stories, you can see how much these pieces mean to their owners. I very much enjoyed reading all these stories, and I hope you did too.
As I mentioned, we received many more entries of watches that had already been engraved long before the current owners bought them. Some of them come with a great story indeed, but you can only guess what’s behind the engravings on others. For me, that’s a completely different category, albeit a very interesting one. I think it’s better to go through those in a different article, so stay tuned for the next installment coming soon!
I won’t ask you to share your favorite of the above stories in the comments, as that would be unfair. However, I’d love to know if you have a similar story to tell or if you feel inspired by the stories above. Again, thanks for sharing!