The Fratello Holiday Gift Guide 2023
Season’s greetings, dear Fratelli! It is indeed that time of year once again. The holidays are just around the corner, and our yearly gift guide is here, fresh off the press! We’ve wrangled up the editorial team and had them put together a selection of gifts that will put a smile on the face of anyone horologically inclined.
Fratello Holiday Gift Guide 2023
Whether you’re looking for a gift for that special someone, a good friend, or yourself, or you’re playing Secret Santa to a watch-obsessed recipient, there’s bound to be something on our list that’ll catch your eye. As with last year’s Fratello Holiday Gift Guide, we didn’t strictly limit ourselves to watch accessories. We’ve also included a handful of alternative picks. However, since then, our shop’s selection has also grown significantly, so we’ll have a special of curated in-house picks too.
Nacho’s picks from Oddface, Artem, Manufactum, Uniqlo, and Swimpruf Press
This year, I’ve decided to keep my picks affordable, varied, and honest. They’re affordable as only one costs more than €100, and they’re varied since two of them are watch-related and the other two aren’t. Most importantly, they’re honest because these are all items that I’ve purchased myself and truly enjoy/use regularly. So, let’s kick things off with my first pick, which is more of a recommendation, but it’s one that ultimately leads to great products. This year, as some of you may know, I found myself thrust into the world of Panerai ownership. One aspect that comes with the territory is developing a slight strap addiction. Now, I already had formed a pretty significant one over the years. However, the issue is that Panerai watches, with their 24mm lug spacings and unique proportions, don’t lend themselves to the straps I owned.
This meant diving down the rabbit hole of thicker, wider PAM-specific straps. Thanks to a tip from my buddy Tom (@thespeedyshutter on Instagram), I ordered a couple of custom handmade canvas straps from Oddface Straps. A small operation based in Sweden, it’s a source of brilliant, reasonably priced straps made from a variety of excellent materials. From ammo pouches to canvas bags and even motorcycle leathers, you will likely find the material you’re looking for. Plus, the straps are delivered lovingly wrapped up in pages of old comic books, which is a very nice touch. So, if you’re looking for a great handmade strap, consider checking out the Oddface website. Prices range from €90–140.
The Artem Hydroflex
This pick was a last-minute addition to the list. The recently-released Hydroflex from Aussi strap maestros, Artem, is a hybrid sailcloth/rubber strap. The brand’s most comfortable strap to date, it completely does away with the break-in period that other sailcloth straps might present without any sacrifice when it comes to quality.
Could these be the perfect summer straps? Probably! I look forward to spending more time with mine once we make it past winter and onto the warmer months. As you can see, both the green and grey options are a perfect match for the Seamaster 2254. The Hydroflex can be had for just under €205 on the Artem website.
A tool, a bag, and a book
All right, I promise I’ll try to be slightly less long-winded for my next picks. Thankfully, they’re also slightly more self-explanatory. The first one, a staple in any watch nerd’s arsenal, is a pocketable set of calipers. I went with one made of brass similar to the one sold by Manufactum. At just €17, it’s not just a nice object but also a tool that will solve all your questions about the dimensions of any watch you can get your hands on.
My next pick is a bag. But it’s not just any bag; it’s the bag I’ve used as my daily carry/work bag for the past year. You might be surprised to find out that it’s sold by Uniqlo for just €35. I, too, was surprised when I stumbled across it. Now, a year, two major watch fairs, a dozen press trips, and countless flights later, it’s still holding up beautifully. There are three major things that I enjoy about the bag. The first is the fact that it has an adjustable handle long enough to wear like an over-the-shoulder tote. The second is the fact that it’s made of water-resistant ripstop nylon with a reinforced bottom. And third, its 23-liter capacity fits my laptop in a sleeve, camera, notebook, sunglasses, several pens, tools, and batteries.
My final recommendation is a spot of holiday reading. Sweetwater is a novel by Jason Heaton, fellow watch journalist and host of The Grey NATO podcast. A sequel to his first novel, Depth Charge, it’s an action-packed thriller with plenty of underwater action and a watch reference or two thrown in for good measure. Available on Amazon for €16, it’s a recommended read as well as a perfect stocking stuffer this holiday season.
Mike’s picks from Willis & Mazzucchi, Timbuk2, Carson, and Mcusta
This year, I’ve decided to pick a wide array of gifts for the Fratello Holiday Gift Guide. An amazing book, a backpack, a loupe, and a knife make up my selections. Heck, grab a bottle of water and an energy bar, and you’re good to go for the weekend! My first selection is a new book about the Universal Genève Polerouter, simply titled The Polerouter. Folks, I’ve read and leafed through a lot of watch books, and this is one of the best I’ve encountered. The quality is exquisite in every facet, and the research is also incredibly thorough. Polerouters are highly treasured, and this book does a fantastic job of honoring them. At £225 it isn’t inexpensive, but at nearly 400 pages and weighing in at almost five kilos, it’s clear that the authors aren’t skimping. Head here for ordering information, and stay tuned for my full review.
The Timbuk2 Tuck Laptop Backpack
No matter how hard I’ve tried to shake things up and replace my trusty Timbuk2 Tuck Laptop Backpack with something else, I always fail. Through rain, flights, overnight stays, and city dashes, this bag is impossible to beat. It has everything I want in a bag and nothing else. Plus, in a darker color, it looks simple enough to waltz into a business meeting — mine has done it for nearly 10 years. Within this lightweight 26-liter bag, there’s a laptop pocket, a basic organizer, a front pocket, decent side pockets for a water bottle, and a great roll-top closure. I hate digging through multiple compartments and prefer to store cables within small pouches, and this bag gobbles up those items with ease. It’s also small (fits under an airplane seat) and comfortable on the back, and I’ve never ripped a strap or broken any of the hardware. Stop looking at fragile luxury bags. Head to Timbuk2 and grab one of these for US$89.
The Carson Optical LED/UV Loupe
Ugh, my eyes have truly become a dumpster fire, but such is life after 45. My contacts do a wonderful job of correcting for distance, but I’m starting to suffer at close range. When the lights go down, I’m hopeless. Therefore, I’ve started carrying a loupe when I attend any sort of watch event. I like my 10x Zeiss folding loupe, but it’s small and certainly doesn’t help in dimly light rooms. I stumbled across this loupe on Bulang & Sons and promptly ordered one on Amazon the next day. It’s made by a company called Carson and features both LED and UV lighting along with a handle that’s easy to grasp. The lens is a large 11.5× magnifier, and it does a nice job of allowing me to examine dials and other details. It may not be jeweler’s quality, but it’s a real aid these days. Amazon has it here in the UK for roughly £37.
The Mcusta MC-113D Forge Tsuchi
My last Fratello Holiday Gift Guide 2023 pick is a folding knife. Now, knives are a tricky subject with loads of fans who have deep opinions on the subject. My suggestion for the Mcusta MC-113D Forge Tsuchi comes from years of ownership and liking this EDC knife as an attractive object that feels like quality. One can spend the same as a luxury watch on a knife, but when I wanted a good-looking knife to use around the house, open a case back, or throw in my pocket, I stumbled upon the MC-113D. It’s a Japanese-made knife with 33 layers of Damascus steel and a hammered-finish handle. It’s certainly sharp, and with its 9cm length, it fits nicely in a pocket. At under $140 on the brand’s US site, it also feels like good value.
Thomas’s picks from Fontenille Pataud and Rebecca Struthers
One of the things I love about good watches is that they are made to last. In a world of fast consumption, that feels like a breath of fresh air. The same is true for a high-end handmade pocket knife. It, too, can be an object of beauty that you carry on your person as you go through life. Just like a watch, it can also be an heirloom passed on from generation to generation.
My choice would be a Corsican-style knife from French knife maker Fontenille Pataud. These are handmade and beautifully decorated. You can pick from different steel alloys and a host of beautiful materials for the handles. You can even have your loved one’s initials beautifully engraved across the spring (back) of the knife, making it an even more awesome gift. The L’Anto knife above comes in at €231 and is available for purchase from Fontenille Pataud.
If you want to keep things a little more affordable for your watch-loving loved one, I have a great book for you. Master watchmaker Rebecca Struthers wrote Hands of Time, a historical overview of watchmaking, and it is an absolute joy to read. Whether you are new to watches or a seasoned collector, I am sure you will learn a thing or two from this book. Depending on where you get it, it should be somewhere between €20 and €30. You can find it on the Struthers Watchmakers website.
Ben’s picks: Horlogear watchmaking tools and a Bremont factory tour
Similar to Nacho, I’m recommending budget-conscious gifts for this holiday season. However, these stocking-stuffer suggestions are no less crucial for the watch nut in your family or friend group. As my collection has shrunk in the past 12 months, I’ve found that frequently swapping straps provides plenty of variety. While a strap change is no match for a “New Watch Alert” buzz, shaking up the core design with a fresh look is still satisfying. And you might find yourself falling in love all over again with a forgotten timepiece in your collection.
To supplement the strap addiction is a new watchmaking toolset from Horlogear. For many years, I’ve been a hardcore advocate for the industry-standard Swiss Bergeon tools. But with some of the high prices, I’m beginning to seek out more cost-effective alternatives. The trade-focussed Bergeon website also does not help in finding the right tools. As I’m not a watchmaker, I searched for more commercialized options for basic watch care. Horlogear offers entry-level tools for the budding collector without the high price barrier.
Watchmaking tools from Horlogear
I recommend going for the Heavy Duty Triple-Ended Spring Bar Removal Tool. “Triple-ended” refers to the fine fork end that can be unscrewed and reversed for a pin end. Opposite this is the heavy-duty fork, which works wonders on my Bremont MB Savanna. The heavy-duty fork provides more grip and latches onto the more stubborn curved spring bar shoulders (due to the angle) than the fine tool. For £12, it’s similarly priced to the Bergeon 6767-f, my previous go-to spring bar tool. But the Horlogear offering is more adaptable and, in my experience, much more robust.
In addition to this is a set of three fine screwdrivers from Horlogear. The HorloBLADE set is similarly sturdy to the spring bar tool, with a rotating end to maintain pressure when screwing or unscrewing. You can buy each size of 1.4mm to 1.8mm individually for £13 each, but I’d go for the whole set at £33. Previously, I had a relatively expensive set of watch screwdrivers that came out of the box with dented ends and some with excess metal on the flatheads. The ones from Horlogear, however, are cut perfectly, with a thick curve from the base to prevent the thin tip from bending or breaking.
Bremont Manufacturing & Technology Centre “The Wing” tours
My last suggestion is a gift that you can enjoy along with the giftee. I’ve been to the Bremont “Wing” a few times, and it’s always worth visiting. It’s a far more inviting watch manufacturer than some of its Swiss brethren (looking at you, Breitling). Bremont actively encourages customers to take part in its tours, and the setup and décor are very appealing. You have the top-tier CNC machines alongside the finicky dial and assembly departments. Upon my first visit, I completely reset my expectations for the brand. I pictured an old barn with a bearded watchmaker hunched over a scored wooden bench. The reality is far from this, with a high-tech laboratory setup and a diverse age group of watchmakers.
The rest of the facility is similarly fascinating, with nods to Bremont’s many partnerships. In a way, it can get a bit much, especially when you have part of an F1 car, a sailing yacht, the front nose cone of a ’70s Boeing 747, ejection seats, and movie props occupying the same area. It goes to show that the founding English brothers have a lot of interests. But with Davide Cerrato now at the helm, it’ll be good to see Bremont streamline its partnerships to core avenues of adventure. Still, it’s worth a day out to the Henley-On-Thames factory, which has easy transport links from London, all for £25 per person. Or, if you have a good relationship with an AD or boutique, I am sure you can bag a free invite.
Thor’s picks: a tool, a rather expensive watch-grail box, and maybe an actual watch
I know, we write enough stories about watches, which are notoriously difficult to gift to someone. But if you have a friend who’s curious about actual time-telling wristwear, why not give him or her a kickstart to our wonderful world? Do a fun search on Chrono24 sticking to below €50 for a budget, and you might find hidden budget-friendly treasure.
I picked this quirky Japanese Pulsar watch from the ’80s, with a solid quartz movement and budget Cartier Tank looks. With a gold-plated 25 × 36mm case and ultra-thin 6mm profile, this could be a gateway drug to horological obsession. And at what price? A mere €45 plus shipping makes this the gift that keeps on giving. And who knows? You might even be able to get it for less with some negotiation and add a new strap to make it feel fresh again.
A non-affordable but beautiful watch case for your grail
I don’t know about you, but I have had my share of watch cases with and without glass fronts, bulletproof Peli cases, and OEM cardboard. But with a varied collection that includes everything from microbrands and Casio cheapness to one-off pieces, this caught my attention. From Charles Simon comes this sky-blue Theo watch roll and display case with a papaya-orange lining in soft Alcantara. I know this is not affordable at $440, but with soft, textured leather and an aluminum base, your grail can have its special home. Whether it’s a small Cartier or a massive Royal Oak Offshore, there are three sizes of watch cushions to choose from and other less flamboyant colors.
My final choice is this fun yet practical tool — a loupe to immerse yourself in those lovely details. Whether it’s a Mount Iwate dial from Grand Seiko or hand-beveled bridges, everyone needs to admire them through loupe. And why not have fun with it? This is available for £25 from WatchGecko and comes in four versions with either ×3, ×5, ×10, or ×20 magnification. I know, the fun dive-bezel design might be a bit on the nose, but I find it rather charming.
RJ’s picks: Starting with a cool Lego set, a famous book, and a watch-storage solution…
Last year, I visited the Paris Le Bourget airport for the introduction of the new Breguet Type 20 and Type XX. In the museum, there are two Concorde planes. One is a prototype, while the other is one that flew for Air France. The Concorde was and still is a mighty piece of machinery, and Lego recently introduced a Concorde set (10318) consisting of 2,083 pieces. This will keep you occupied for several winter evenings! I haven’t bought this one yet as I still have the Optimus Prime set to build, and these kits do take up a lot of space. The Lego Concorde set is priced at €199.
I know I’ve suggested this book before, but it’s just the best book out there on watches. Moonwatch Only sets the bar incredibly high for other watch-related books, and I hope to see more similarly written and structured books for other brands. At €275, it’s not cheap, but if you’re looking into buying a pre-owned or vintage Omega Speedmaster, mistakes are easy to make and can be much more expensive. You can order your copy here. It’s the only book you’ll need on the topic.
I attended several watch GTGs this year, and it’s always a hassle to bring multiple watch rolls or pouches. A Peli case comes in handy when attending GTGs or just to store watches safely in your home or a (large) safe. The collection of Peli cases ranges from a single-watch holder up to cases that can keep 21 watches safe. Pictured above is the 21-slot case from the Peli Vault collection. We regularly offer them in our shop, but they always sell out quickly when restocked. You can find an overview of the Peli cases here.
And, of course, a fountain pen
My pen collecting kept going strong in 2023 and I added quite a few new ones. Just recently, I added my first urushi (Japanese lacquer) Platinum Izumo Aka-Tame. Only afterward did I notice this Pelikan M600 Art Collection Glauco Cambon edition. The M600 is somewhat smaller than my M800 and M1000 pens, but based on your preference for smaller watches, a smaller pen might also work! This pen is named after Glauco Cambon, a poster artist in the 20th century. He also did an advertisement poster for Pelikan in 1909, showing colorful reflections on the water caused by moving pelicans. On the barrel of the Pelikan M600, we see the same colors and shapes, inspired by the flowing, dynamic wave design.
The manufacturing of this Art Collection pen is nothing less than impressive. A brass tube has been guilloché engraved to create grooves that result in the hologram effect. Then, 10 layers of lacquer are applied to the barrel to create a smooth, flat surface to be printed with the image motif. Then, finally, the pen is polished to achieve a high-gloss shine. On the cap, you find the pelican’s beak, as is typical of this brand, and the 14K gold nib also shows an engraved pelican. The nib is available in fine, extra-fine, medium, and broad. Our friends at Appelboom offer this Pelikan M600 for €625 (including VAT), but if you use the code “Friend” in the check-out process, it provides you with a 10% discount. That means the M600 is priced at €568.55. If you’re outside the EU, the price is €469.88. You can order it here.
Jorg’s picks from Hobonichi, Pentel, and Uniqlo
With 2024 quickly approaching, it is time to look for a new planner — yes, an old-school paper planner. When picking a new planner for 2024, the choices are endless. From Moleskine to Leuchtturm 1917, and Smythson to Filofax (remember those?), they are all great options. However, I have a great passion for overengineered Japanese planners, specifically those from Hobonichi.
While Kokuyo and Midori are also great options, the design and the Tomoe River paper that Hobonichi uses are unmatched. The 52gsm paper is thin and works specifically well with fountain pens. I use a combination of gel pens and markers, both of which also work well with this unique paper.
You can choose from a wide variety of Hobonichi planners depending on your preference of size and vertical or horizontal layout. Obviously, there are also different cover options, including some created by famous artists. Next year, I will use a Hobonichi Techo Weeks as my Fratello editorial planner and a Hobonichi Techo HON A6 for personal planning. Both have a botanical cover designed by Tomitaro Makino and show why Hobonichi planners rule them all. The typography is great, and the different parts, pages, and layout show that a lot of thought went into creating these planners. I could go on for days about Hobonichi planners, but just try one yourself or gift one to a person you love, and you’ll find out what I mean.
Finding the right pen for all your planning needs
A good planner also needs a good pen. Where quite a few of my Fratello colleagues use fountain pens, I prefer gel pens as they are super comfortable to write with and the ink dries quickly. I started this year, however, buying a Kaweco Steel Sport Ballpoint that I adore. It is nice and heavy while smoothly gliding over the paper. But gradually, I gravitated towards gel pens more and more.
After trying different options from Japanese brands like Pilot, Zebra, Uni, and Sakura, I found my favorite in the Pentel EnerGel RTX pens. They write super smoothly, and the incredibly fast-drying ink colors are vibrant. These pens are also available with my favorite 0.7mm tip size and are super affordable at just a few bucks each. While mixing up pens is something I love, an EnerGel RTX 0.7mm will always be in my bag next to my Kaweco Sport.
The brilliance of Uniqlo goes beyond bags
The last thing I would like to add is not necessarily one product but a series of products. Nacho already mentioned his great Uniqlo bag earlier in this gift guide, and I can give away that I have one on the way as well. But there is a lot more to the Japanese brand than its bags. Uniqlo has great collaborations with a great number of other brands. The collaborations that stand out for me are with the Japanese brand White Mountaineering and the New York-based brand Engineered Garments.
Both show great style and prove that quality does not have to be super expensive. I own a Uniqlo × White Mountaineering down jacket from 2021 that has quickly become my favorite jacket during fall, winter, and spring. Both collaborations focus on jackets and fleeces that stand out because of the great attention to detail they were made with. Get one for yourself or someone you love, and it will be a guaranteed hit!
Lex picks the Tudor Pro Cycling team’s bike of choice, the BMC Teammachine R 01
If you’re a Tudor fan, a fan of the Tudor Pro Cycling team, or an avid road cyclist, why not splurge on the bike the team will ride in 2024? This is the new BMC Teammachine R 01 in carbon fiber. It was designed by the Swiss high-end bike brand and RedBull Advanced Technologies, and it’s a fairly lightweight, very aero all-arounder. Next year, Tudor Pro Cycling will ride the bike that rolls on carbon DT Swiss wheels outfitted with Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tires. It’s got a wireless SRAM Red AXS groupset, and Selle Italia provides the saddle and bar tape. Both the pedals and computers are from Wahoo for optimal data gathering of the rider pushing the pedals. It’s already a race-winning bike because Dutch sprinter Arvid de Kleijn powered it to victory in the Deutschland Tour.
Highlights of the bike are the ultra-wide Halo fork, which diverts turbulent air away from the frame, as well as the very aero frame itself. It’s pushing the strict rules of the updated UCI limits. The bike shows an expanded horizontal profile in key locations like the head tube, bottom bracket, and seat stay junction. The result is a fast-looking bike when standing still. Speed comes at a price, though. For the price of four Tudor Black Bay 54s, you can buy one BMC Teammachine R 01. Mind you, the €14,999 you spend won’t get you the exact team bike but a black and white version with almost an identical finishing kit, wheels, and groupset. But it will go just as fast as the team bike. Except it won’t because you’re not as fast as the Tudor team’s riders. Well, at least you can ride slowly in great style.
That’s a wrap!
Well, Fratelli, that sums up the Fratello Holiday Gift Guide 2023. Whether you want to spend €17 on a pair of calipers, drop €15,000 on a bicycle, or find some kind of happy medium, we hope you’ve gotten some great ideas. As always, we invite you to chime in with your gift suggestions in the comments. Whether they’re watch-related items or useful everyday goods, we’d love to hear what you’d recommend. Have a fantastic holiday season, everyone!