LONDON — When Kate Collins was looking for a combination 18th birthday and high school graduation present for her eldest son, Will, time was of the essence.
She wanted a milestone gift, something he would always remember receiving at a pivotal time in his life, as he was leaving home in London to begin his studies at Harvard University.
She decided on a watch, something that was cool as well as practical, that he could have and use all his life. After some initial searching online, Ms. Collins, an American mother of four based in London, decided on a stainless steel Tag Heuer. She said it was not inexpensive, but she was drawn to the watch because it was not flashy, was a practical timepiece and could even be worn when swimming.
To her surprise, Will, now 21 and a junior majoring in history, loved it. “You want to get something that you will keep awhile and remind you of those milestones and special people who are with you during that time,” he said. “A watch does not go out of date, especially if it is an analog or older watch; it only increases with value, financially and sentimentally. That is an important thing for a gift.”
Building on that success, she also decided to give her second son, Patrick, a Tag Heuer when he graduated from high school last year. “Looking at your phone to see what time it is, you could be checking your email, a text from a friend, but looking at your watch, whether in class or in a meeting, means you are just looking at what time it is,” she said. “A watch makes a statement, which is ‘I am an adult.”’
The industry, aware of stories like Ms. Collins’s, promotes watches as the perfect present for big events — Patek Philippe even has a slogan: “Begin Your Own Tradition.” And luxury brands including Cartier, Tag Heuer, Tudor, Raymond Weil and Tiffany deliberately have a range of prices to make gift-giving to teens more practical.
“When you give a watch as a gift, what I really think you are saying is ‘You are a responsible person now. You are in control of your own schedule; you have places to be and people are relying on you,”’ said Ariel Adams, founder and editor of ABlogToWatch, one of the most popular watch blogs. “The symbolic element of that is much more powerful than some of the more temporary things that kids are into these days.”
Mary Marsh agrees. When her daughter, Margaret, then a student at Princeton University, was about to turn 21, she asked for a Cartier watch as a gift.
Thinking it was a great present and remembering that she had received a watch when she graduated from high school, Ms. Marsh, who lives in Hong Kong, went to a department store to check prices and options.
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“To be honest, I would like the watch I got for Margaret,” she joked. “It is a classic enough watch so it won’t look like ‘I got this in 2014.”’
That, watch experts say, is an important consideration. Classic styles like Cartier’s Tank line and Bulgari’s Serpenti in stainless steel are a few of the watches that Marina Larroudé, Teen Vogue’s fashion editor, has seen on a number of young women lately. “For me, a watch is a piece of jewelry, it is not just about checking time,” she said. “I would give the most classic piece.”
Finding a classic style that will be both appreciated now and will retain its value, style and sentiment over the years may seem like an overwhelming prospect, but according to Daryn Schnipper, chairman of Sotheby’s international watch division, educating yourself about the choices is a good first step. “My best advice is go to a watch store that sells new watches with a wide range, have a look and get an idea of price points,” she said. “Another good way is to go to an auction and see what you like. They may not have exactly what you want, but it may not be a bad idea to see what is reselling.”
Mr. Adams cautioned buyers to avoid obscure brands — as they may not be around in a few years’ time — and not to buy incredibly expensive pieces.
“Give them something to aspire to; don’t get them something that they are like ‘That’s it, I have the nicest watch ever,”’ said Mr. Adams, whose interest in timepieces started when his grandfather gave him a watch. “You want to give them something nice and something that will always be relevant to their lives, but give them a place to step up to. If you get them a Rolex watch, don’t get them a gold Rolex right away, they haven’t earned that; they will expect stuff like that forever and where do you go from there? What do you get them when they graduate from college — a Lamborghini?”
Luxury brands such as Cartier, Rolex, Omega and Patek Philippe also can garner great resale value if, down the line, teens want to either sell their watches or add to their collections.
“Vintage can become a huge opportunity for those who are interested in history and in the value of a timepiece they were given as a gift,” said Lindsay Hymson, director of public relations, events and social media for Tag Heuer. “It’s definitely an opportunity to get them collecting watches and get excited about the different options between them, from fashion timepieces to technologically advanced ones. There are so many ways to express your interests through your timepiece.”
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Like Ms. Collins and Ms. Marsh, Stanislas de Quercize, chief executive of Cartier, has given watches as milestone gifts to his three sons. Each one has been (or will be) given engraved watches for their 18th, 20th, 21st and 25th birthdays.
“A watch is a perfect gift to mark a milestone moment. My youngest, who is 17, cannot wait to be 18 to have his first watch,” he said. “It is the start of a collection. If you get a Cartier when you are 18, you will wear it your whole life and you will give it to your child or on to your grandchild, and they will appreciate it forever.”
And Mr. de Quercize has put some thought into the giving process. “First, I would go for the element of surprise. When they are blown away, this is part of the gift,” he said, describing the moment when a teen is presented with a Cartier red box. “They do not know what is in it. It is part of the excitement.”