When I told my father I was getting more and more into watches, he told me he had a gold IWC pocket watch from my great-grandfather. On the back, it says “Van Moe”, which means “From Mom” in Dutch, and “October 1919”. Apparently, my great-grandmother gifted him the watch 103 years ago this October. My father, who recently handed the watch down to me, doesn’t exactly know why she did that. Even without knowing the exact reason, to me, this is a very valuable piece because it’s a part of my family history. But it also made me think about when and how I would engrave one of my own watches.

As most well-known watches with engraved case backs are vintage pieces, it seems like engraving a watch has become a thing of the past. I’ve seen a few engraved pieces on the wrists of other enthusiasts, often commemorating their marriage. I also have a friend who engraved one of his watches because a dear friend of his passed away at a young age. Other than that, I haven’t seen many more. But isn’t engraving a watch a beautiful thing to do?

I’m not ready to engrave one of my own watches just yet

Right now, I’m in my early days as a watch enthusiast. I’m still discovering my taste, and sometimes I sell a piece because I don’t enjoy it any longer or not as much as I expected. I’m also relatively young (35) and my kids are still quite young indeed. When my wife and I got married, we chose to exchange rings, thus, there are no special watches there. So, I’m not thinking about engraving or handing down a watch any time soon. But when I think about the future, I do fancy the idea of engraving a special piece, perhaps for a special occasion or before giving it to a family member or a faithful friend.

As a watch enthusiast, one of the things I enjoy is that the watches I own are there for me to make memories with. I haven’t really bought my watches for specific important life events. Now that I own them, however, I do remember when I was wearing them. They may appear in pictures of significant events, or they might have gotten a particular scratch on a memorable day. A watch may also simply remind me of a day with my family. The nice thing is that these watches are able to outlive me and can become a token of those memories for generations to come. Engraving a case back can reinforce that significance in a particular piece.

The back of a diamond-bezel Tiffany-stamped Omega piece to celebrate Elvis being the first artist to sell 75 million records — Image courtesy of Phillips

Let’s think of a few occasions

Earlier this year, I bought my wife a Cartier Tank Must Solarbeat for her 40th birthday. At the time, I didn’t really think of engraving it. I was too busy actually securing the watch for her. But I can imagine that for one of our wedding anniversaries, it could be a nice idea to engrave a personal message on the back. I could even imagine that we may also engrave something on the back of my Cartier Santos Galbée XL. That way, the watches will really become a set with significant personal value and something our kids could also enjoy when we’re not around anymore. Wow, it’s a bit weird to think that far ahead… It feels a sort of like I’m at the notary, writing up my will.

But while I’m at it, why not think about the future a little longer? At some point, my kids may graduate from whatever school they attend, and I can certainly imagine getting them a watch with some kind of engraving. It would be my sign of letting them go out on their own into the big professional world. Besides, I definitely also hope to still be around when that happens. That way, I can also enjoy seeing those watches on their wrists when I meet them every once in a while in their busy lives.

The second Rolex Daytona that Paul Newman received from his wife — Image courtesy of Phillips

Becoming a part of the family history

Aside from those situations, I’m not sure if I’d engrave any other watches in my collection. I guess it all depends on what life has in store for me. I am still thinking of becoming a teacher at some point. So I might want to mark my graduation with a watch and/or an engraving on one of the pieces that I already own. In all the situations I described above, I would make the engraving as personal as possible. However, I can’t really say what I’d engrave in each instance right now. I think that very much depends on the moment and the emotions that come with it.

And yes, unlike engraved watches that belonged to famous people, my own watches will probably actually lose value if I engrave them. But on the other hand, I really hope those watches will stay in the family for a very long time. Together with my father, I’m now actually researching why my great grandmother gave that IWC pocket watch to her husband. Was it for their wedding anniversary, or was it for something else? I notice that I’m very much enjoying this little dive into our family history, and I have to thank the watch and the engraving for that. I hope my offspring will enjoy it as much as I am now.

Marlon Brando’s Rolex GMT-Master, which was featured bezel-less in Apocalypse Now — Image courtesy of Phillips

Send in photos of your engraved case backs!

So, what about you? Have you ever engraved any of your watches, and if you have, for what reason? I’d love to get a little insight into whether or not this is still a common practice and how people are applying it to their own personal situations. Through our Instagram, we’ve asked people to send us photos of their engraved case backs with a short explanation. We’ve already received some entries, but if you’d like to share yours, please send some photos of them to me: [email protected]. I’ll make a selection of the ones that were sent in and write an article about them next week. And if I find out more about the history of that IWC pocket watch, I’ll make sure to let you know about that as well.

You can also find and follow me on Instagram @fliptheparrot

*Header image via ACollectedMan