I’m pretty sure many of us either thought about buying or actually bought a watch from our birth year. I know I have at least thought about it. But it never happened. When I was looking for one back in the late ’90s, I could have bought a 1968 Rolex Submariner 5513 Meters First, but I didn’t like it that much. Stupid? With current knowledge, absolutely. But they were different times back then, kids. I didn’t like it enough to wear it, and that was that. Recently, though, we had a talk here at HQ about why you should (not) buy a watch from your birth year. For instance, ask yourself: is that Rolex really the one you want? I will share some views and ideas with you. But I’m also curious how you feel about birth year watches for yourself or your kids. And what about birthday watches?

Mechanical watches are all about emotion. I get that. I feel that too. But when it comes to “birth-year watches” it seems I’m more rational than emotional. When I played with the idea of finding myself a nice watch from my birth year in the ’90s, I came across a 1968 Rolex Submariner 5513 Meters First in a now-gone Amsterdam watch shop.

Steel sporty Rolex watches were not scarce at all, and vintage was still called second-hand …

Please be aware that back in those days, the market was completely different than it is today. Steel Rolex sport watches were not scarce at all, and vintage was still called “second-hand.” To be honest, “second-hand” doesn’t really have a pleasant ring to it. Neither does “pre-owned,” for that matter. And because I approached the Sub as a second-hand watch, it felt like it. The bracelet rattled, and the scratches hurt my eyes. As a watch novice, I wanted my watches to be spotless. And that’s why I bought a new Explorer II 16570 “Polar Express” (with a persuasive discount, FYI).

Why you should (not) buy a watch from your birth year

Ever since that day, I never paid attention to “birth-year watches”. Even when I was looking for a vintage King Seiko (see the use of the word “vintage” here instead of “second-hand?”), I didn’t even look if there was anything nice from 1968. Instead, I went for the one that looked the best and had a fair price. But that doesn’t mean I am insensitive to the whole watch-from-a-special-year concept.

I know quite a few people who buy a luxury watch when they have a newborn. When the kid turns 16, 18, or 21 — pick the age that fits your culture best — the NOS watch is THE gift. Hopefully, the kid in question is perfectly prepped to receive the watch with great enthusiasm, because nothing spoils dad’s mood like a … (your favorite watch brand) that’s not met with tears of joy, but rather, blatant indifference.

Is that Rolex really the one you want?

1968 sure was a good year from a watch perspective. But since I don’t have any active memories of that year, I also don’t have a strong connection to this “Sub,” even though it’s undeniably awesome. Please don’t look at the price of the watch in the advertisement.

Not a dry eye in the house

Let me make something perfectly clear: I am not against parents gifting kids watches, engraved or non-engraved, for a special occasion. I just like things to be more organic. And emotionally more profound, if you will. Imagine this. A kid has always lusted after his dad’s wristwatch. He likes the watch and what it stands for because he sees his father as a role model — it happens, trust me.

… he takes off the beloved timepiece that characterizes him and has been on his wrist for 18 years …

On his 18th birthday, his dad, just before or after cutting the cake, takes off the beloved timepiece that characterizes him and has been on his wrist for 18 years — you guessed it, he bought the watch on the day his son was born — and puts it on the birthday boy’s wrist. There’s not a dry eye in the house, guaranteed.

For future generations

See what I mean? The gifting of that watch makes perfect sense. And the chance that the kid will pass on his watch to his own kid when he or she turns 18 is significant. That’s how I envision a perfect family watch tradition. I know of people around me who proudly wear their grandfather’s watch from time to time. They’re fragile dress watches that need to be handled with care, and those people take extra special care of them because they need to be passed on to future generations. I take care of my dad’s Mido that he bought in the late 1950s in Liberia and which has signs of the tropics written all over the dial. I wrote a few words about that watch right here. It’s a small, slim watch I wear when I require dressing up and looking extra smart. That doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, I really enjoy the watch.

To engrave or not to engrave, that’s the question

The idea of wearing something that was loved and taken care of before, especially by someone that also cares for you, is a special feeling. That doesn’t mean that gifting your partner a watch on a special occasion with an inscription on the back is less meaningful. Absolutely not.

… something along the lines of “Drive slowly Joanne” …

If it’s the desired watch, selected with great care, and the engraving is tasteful – something along the lines of “Drive slowly Joanne” – it could be the start of a beautiful tradition. The engraving can be the icing on the cake, but to me, the real value is how much love the watch received and wrist action it has seen. Action speaks louder than words in this case.

Is that Rolex really the one you want?

“World Watch Gifting Day”

Did I buy a watch the day my son was born, you ask? No, I didn’t. And I’m glad I didn’t because his interest in watches has only just woken up. It’s not even fully awake, it’s in a state of slumber. If one day, I find him lusting over something in my humble collection, I will be more than happy to pass the watch down to him somewhere in the near future. A birthday could be a good occasion, but I can also create a special occasion when I feel the moment is there. That’s also something I wonder about — why does it always have to be a birthday, an engagement, or an anniversary to gift someone a watch? When you gift a watch, THAT is the occasion. Come to think of it, why not introduce “World Watch Gifting Day” as a special holiday? I think October 8th is the perfect date.

Is that Rolex really the one you want?

Is that Rolex really the one you want?

Final question: will I ever buy a watch from my birth year? Well, if I ever get serious about a Rolex Day-Date Ref. 1803 “Wide Boy,” that would be cool to find one from 1968. But if there’s a watch from 1969 that looks better, it’s a done deal — I’ll go for the younger one. And you know what? If I then wear it a lot and it becomes part of me, my son – now fully awake watch-wise – will notice the bond between dad and his watch, and on one glorious day – I’m guessing October 8th, 2045 – I will take the “Wide Boy” from my wrist and put it on his. How about that?

Please let me know how you feel about all this. Is a “birth-year watch” a must-have for every watch collector? Would you gift your kid a pristine birth-year watch on his or her 18th birthday? Or do you prefer the idea of wearing what your dad or granddad had on his wrist, for instance, and carrying on the tradition by passing it on to your kid?

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