Nowadays, it seems everybody wants something that is exclusively their’s. In the upper echelons of watchmaking, this can go as far as unique pieces created for extremely wealthy clients. But what about for the rest of us? What do those of us with shallower pockets do when we want to put our individual stamp on a timepiece for ourselves or a loved one? The time-honored art of engraving is still alive-and-kicking. But it doesn’t make sense in every case (literally)…

Engraving can be a fine solution for adding a personal flourish to a watch purchase. It can be done by hand or machine, but it isn’t sensible for every watch. The first question you need to ask yourself is why you want to alter a factory fresh timepiece in the first place.

…a treasured family heirloom.

Sometimes, it isn’t necessary to engrave a watch for it to be unique. Limited watches with unique serial numbers are, arguably, special enough without the need for modification. That’s not to say you wouldn’t want to engrave it as well (especially if you foresee the watch becoming a treasured family heirloom), but such engravings could seriously damage the resale value should you or your descendants ever wish to part with it.

Alpina engraving

Emotional value

There are exceptions to that rule, of course. Firstly, there’s no telling who the future purchaser might be. That person might collect engraved watches because they are interested in the personal history of pre-owned watches. We’ve got a few guys on our team at Fratello that get a real buzz out of knowing where their vintage timepiece has been and exactly what kind of life it lived before it found a new home on their wrist. If you want an example of how this kind of history can actually add emotional value to a piece, check out Tomas’s recent article on a rather special Alpina diver here. It isn’t engraved, but I bet he wishes it was…

Speedy Tuesday Frankfurt Charlie Duke

Whose wrist?

Furthermore, who you or the person you’re having the watch engraved for is (or may become) is a factor. If the owner goes on to become a famous or respected person in any field the watch may gain value. There is no doubt that the Rolex reputedly gifted to JFK by Marilyn Monroe is worth several times more than an unengraved Rolex of the same age for many reasons.

…astronaut Charlie Duke.

Additionally, the story surrounding the engraving itself could be relevant. RJ himself doffed his Omega Speedmaster Silver Snoopy so it could be “signed” by astronaut Charlie Duke. The execution is not exactly artful, but the genuineness of that moment and the rock-solid provenance surrounding the “engraving” makes that limited edition far more important than perhaps any other released in the same run.

Snoppy engraving

A personal note

On a personal note, I really love watches that have been engraved to commemorate an individual’s long service to their company or institution. I find them fascinating windows into history. I also like the fact that the person’s descendants may well be walking around the Earth on a fatalistic collision course for an unexpected reunion with their forebear’s timepiece. And so, to that end, a sympathetic engraving that does not “damage” the watch does not seem like such a bad idea.

…a well-trained artisan.

Although case backs these days are rarely blank, I would strive to seek one out if I were planning on buying or gifting a watch to be engraved. I would always advocate having it done by hand by a well-trained artisan. It may cost a lot more and have a longer turnaround time than if you get it lasered, machined, or stamped at your local key cutter’s shop, but, for my money, it is well worth it.

347 - Back Engraving


Be mindful of material. A lot of cheaper watches are plated with coatings that do not take well to engraving. When choosing a watch for engraving, look for something with a solid, untreated case. Hardened steel is not a great choice because it is hard to work with, so stick with 316L stainless steel or gold for really crisp results achievable by most engravers.


Design fidelity

Your main consideration should be about remaining faithful to the watch design. If you choose a vintage or vintage-inspired watch as your canvas, go with an appropriate typeface (perhaps something cursive). If you prefer a more modern or futuristic watch, choose a similarly edgy font. And don’t, if you can help it, force the issue. If there isn’t enough space to fit the text you wanted to inscribe, pause. Either edit your original words or find a different watch. Engraving is permanent. So take your time. Choose wisely. And always rely on the very best to give your watch a very personal touch.