By Tobias van Schneider Published December 9, 2020
If you’ve been following me online, you know I love watches. I’m a designer, and watches are essentially what design is about.
Watches are the perfect marriage of functional and beautiful. A watch is first and foremost a tool, but it can also become an intimate part of someone's life. Watches carry memories, and often the watch becomes a symbol for the experiences or people we cherish. A watch can be a new beginning or a window to the past life of someone else.
Because they are so personal, gifting a watch can be challenging – and navigating the world of watches even more so. But one thing is for sure: If you give someone a watch, you’re going to be with them every minute of the day, on their wrist. It’s a powerful gift.
In this short guide, I’d like to share some ideas for those considering a watch for their designer friend or family member. Most are fairly unisex, but you can decide for yourself no matter what the listing says. Also: These are not sponsored or affiliate recommendations. They're what I know to be good as a designer who appreciates watches and the art of watchmaking.
The beauty of watches is that you can get one for as little as $5 or as much as $500 – and way beyond. But in this article, we’re going to focus more on the affordable and in-between options. If you’re already thinking about gifting someone a Rolex or Patek Philipp, chances are you don’t need to read this article.
Nr.1 — A classic: the Braun
Dieter Rams has been an icon in the design industry for decades now. His product designs have not only inspired a generation of industrial designers, but graphic designers as well.
This classic Braun Analogue is an affordable piece of design at roughly $130. It’s a quartz watch, so while it may not be as impressive on the inside (compared to a mechanically powered watch), it’s functional, accurate and simple. Exactly what your designer friend or significant other may value.
Nothing says “I’m a graphic designer” more than a bold but minimalistic watch dial. If your friend is a graphic designer, they may already be aware of this watch. It was designed by Copenhague-based watch company LARSEN & ERIKSEN in collaboration with Mads Jakob Poulsen, who is a dear friend of mine.
Similar to the Braun watch with a quartz movement inside, this watch is $200 and simple, both on the inside and the outside. And one thing is guaranteed: people will comment on your watch when you’re wearing it. It’s a conversation piece.
The watch comes in multiple versions, see images at this link:
You can’t go wrong with a Casio, and the G-Shock is a classic. Casio is famous for its hard plastic pieces, but this design offers a bit more. The G-Shock feels more premium (and it is, at $500), with metal cases in a range of nice colors. If your designer friend also loves the outdoors, this is the perfect gift for them. It’s practically indestructible. Get it in either black, silver or in a more fancy gold.
Still under $500, we have another graphic design- inspired piece: The Swiss Railways edition of the Mondaine SBB. The simplicity and ingenuity of Swiss design is celebrated by designers everywhere, and this watch encapsulates that. It was designed by Hans Hilfiker, a Swiss engineer and designer for the Federal Swiss Railways. It’s another iconic piece that your designer friend would wear proudly.
Keeping with the digital watches for a second, next up is the Braun Digital at about $300. It’s a design statement, right on your wrist. If you’re a designer meeting other designers, they'll notice it immediately. As soon as they see the name Braun, they’ll know this watch is special.
Nr.6 — The Uniform M40 PreciDrive, a minimalist watch
For the more distinguished designer, there’s Uniform Wares. Still within the $500 price range, you’ll get elegant design and beautiful craftsmanship. While the watch is still powered by a quartz movement on the inside, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the outside. It’s simple and refined. If your friend is a minimalist, this is the watch for them.
Now, moving away from digital and quartz movements and entering mechanical engineering, we’re in the world of gears and screws. The Hamilton is iconic, beloved by even the most hardcore watch collectors who own watches 100x the price.
Inspired by military watches, the Hamilton is a more rugged piece but also beautifully designed with its bold hour markers and the 24h military time. Simple, functional and Swiss-made, this watch is pure graphic design. Nothing more and nothing less than it needs to be. Also, you can swap out the nato strap with something else and give the watch a completely different look. Get it at just over $500.
Next is the Junghans, at around $1,300. With an automatic and self-winding movement, it’s even more refined, more German, more elegant. Bonus points for your designer friend: This one's inspired by the famous Bauhaus design movement. Works for both for design meetings and date night. It’s the perfect watch for every day.
We’re leveling up! This watch, also Bauhaus-inspired, is for a special friend or family member with refined taste. Quartz won’t do at this point. If you’re looking in this price range for this person, it has to be a proper Swiss automatic movement in a German design. Welcome to the Nomos Tangente, perhaps one of the most beloved, more “accessible” watches (priced at $1,900, they get much more expensive than this). High-quality materials and craftsmanship meet some of the finest and minimalistic dial designs in the watch world.
If you’re buying this $5,000 watch, your friend is a special one. So special in fact, you’re ready to scratch the surface of high-end watchmaking. That said, you’re not about to dive too deep into the world of Rolex & Co.
The Tudor Pelagos is a beautiful, classic steel sports watch. It’s the perfect all-rounder. And the best part is, you can dress it up and down as much as you like. Works as nicely for diving in the ocean as it does on your wrist wearing a suit (your friend is the James Bond type, right?). The Pelagos is a watch lover’s watch. As an alternative, you may also like the Tudor Blackbay.
Nr.11 — The Omega Speedmaster, for the friend you really really like
You don’t just want to give your friend a nice watch, you want to give them a piece of history. A watch they will have FOREVER and most likely pass down to their children or grandchildren.
The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch is iconic. And compared to other high-end watches with history and craftsmanship, it's somewhat "affordable" at $5,000 – which is all relative, I realize.
The Speedmaster was the first watch on the moon, worn by astronauts. That alone makes it one of the most unique gifts you can give someone. But this watch is also beautifully designed for someone with taste. It’s a watch people notice, whether they appreciate watches or not. And if they appreciate watches, they’ll know exactly what watch this is as soon as they see it.