Put it down to the mulled wine, or the prospect of such pleasures after a crappy couple of years, but even by our own admission luxury gift guides can verge on the fantastical. You could own half of Shropshire, but would you really splurge on a Vacheron Constantin for anyone but yourself?
If you might be that sort of person, well we should get acquainted soonest, yes? If not (no, it’s fine, really) then regardless of individual means let’s at least take the opportunity to appreciate what a truly meaningful luxury purchase looks like. That Vacheron isn’t only worth every Swiss franc thanks to the timeworn crafts behind everything from the ticking balance wheel to the folding clasp, but it’s an object brought into this world with passion and purpose; intended to last forever, given occasional TLC.
Sustainable, anti-obsolescent, soulful… the antithesis of a pair of socks, in other words. If you can’t stretch to an haute horlogerie masterpiece for Uncle Frank this Christmas, at least let it be your guide. If you can? Simply follow our seven recommendations for every price bracket and you’ll put Santa Claus to shame.
£1,000 - £3,000: Rado Captain Cook 42mm
If you’re related to the sort of stoic, constitutional swimmer who seeks hell and/or freezing water regardless of public holiday, then you’re looking at the perfect stocking filler. Like the relative himself, this ceramic-bezelled diving watch is suited to a tougher age, when SCUBA technology matured beyond the wrists of WWII frogmen and Jacques Cousteau, seeing Civvy Street dive into the deep end come the Sixties, long before PADI thought to educate and certificate. Spruced up with modern-day precision mechanics, the ‘rice’ bracelet detailing and royal blue colouration still feels as crisply contemporary as when the Captain Cook launched in the early Sixties.
Rado Captain Cook 42mm
£3,000 - £5,000: Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925
Here’s hoping the snow’s lying deep and crisp and even when this beauty’s lucky recipient tears it open. The Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925’s case has a near-ethereal sheen that perfectly complements a wintery day. Why? Well, the clue’s in the title: ‘925’. Those who know their jewellery will know that’s the ultimate purity rating (out of 1,000) for sterling silver. While using tarnishable, dent-able silver for a 200-metre diving watch historically endorsed by military hardmen doesn’t sound particularly sensible, you must remember this is Tudor – Rolex’s ever-innovative sister brand, who can now add to its list of in-house specialties a fit-for-purpose silver alloy spiked with aluminium plus other top-secret elements, rendering it tough and forever-silvery.
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925
£5,000 - £10,000: Breitling Superocean Heritage B01 Chronograph 44
Sometimes, the best gift is a stone-cold, timeless classic that your ‘giftee’ would never normally afford themselves. Think Chanel fragrance, navy rollneck, 18-year-old Talisker… or monochrome 3,6,9 sports chronograph, perhaps? Every self-respecting watch wardrobe needs one, and Breitling does well drawing design inspiration from the original 1950s Superocean, keeping an otherwise chunky, utility watch suited to smarter affairs. Things couldn’t be more up to date beneath the bonnet though, with one of the 21st century’s finest self-winding stopwatch movements ticking away to chronometer-rated precision.
Breitling Superocean Heritage B01 Chronograph 44
£10,000 - £15,000: Chopard L.U.C XPS 40mm
Somewhere between the 19th-century classicism of Breguet and the contemporary lines of an ultra-thin Fifties Piaget, you’ll find Chopard. Or more specifically, its elite “L.U.C.” facility buried in the evergreen slopes of the Jura, nurturing an Art Nouveau modernism like no other. Unlike the established jewellery side of Chopard, L.U.C. has only been going 20-odd years – the brainchild of co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, who wanted to revive the long-lost horological spirit of founding father, Louis-Ulysse Chopard. This tuxedo-level dress watch encases within 100%-ethical white gold a 3.3mm-thin whisper of micro-mechanics, whose two stacked winding barrels nevertheless pack a 65-hour punch.
Chopard L.U.C XPS 40mm
£15,000 - £20,000: Glashütte Original Senator Excellence Panorama Date
To wear a Glashütte Original is to contain all of western Europe’s 20th-century history beneath your sleeve. A perfect Christmas-tree alternative to Simon Schama’s latest bestseller, in other words. Hand-crafted to similar Teutonic codes of no-nonsense excellence as those informing Mercedes-Benz or the architecture of Dresden, GO’s timepieces come to life in the titular village of Glashütte, Germany’s Mecca of watchmaking. Its cutting-edge factory lies on the site of so many concerns decimated by WWII then re-consolidated, refined and remixed as one ‘Now That’s What I Call Fine German Uhrmacherei’. (NB: the trademark, oversize ‘Panorama’ date here may suit shorter-sighted relatives…)
Glashütte Original Senator Excellence Panorama Date
£20,000 - £25,000: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding
The best advice we can dispense here is simply: make sure you own a Royal Oak Selfwinding of your own, before gifting one. The self-inflicted envy will be unbearable otherwise, every time that special someone rolls up their sleeve. Reason being, it’s one of those rare designs that looks as stunning from a distance as up-close on your wrist – so perfectly did Gérald Genta draft those iconic, octagonal lines in 1972, singlehandedly coining the very notion of ‘luxury steel sports watch’ and equipping every Riviera boulevardier with the ultimate accessory. The textured ‘Grande Tapisserie’ dial here is ruthenium-coated, rendering the whole flowing, integrated affair more coherently than ever.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Self Winding
£25,000 - £30,000: Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle Self-Winding Ultra-Thin
So here we are: that Vacheron Constantin you can’t quite believe you’re gifting someone. At the very least, it’s the perfect pick of Switzerland’s most venerable haute horloger – up there with Piaget’s Altiplano and Patek Philippe’s Calatrava as timekeeping in its purest, most refined guise. Modern carmakers work to tolerances of single millimetres, watchmakers since time immemorial have fine-tuned within thousandths of a millimetre, which tells you why the Traditionelle dares to step over the 40mm-diameter threshold of dressiness: its the only way its self-winding movement can be contained within a 7.26mm case and yet maintain perfect proportionality. These things matter to the Swiss – just make sure your gift’s recipient bloody well knows it.
Read next: These are the best watches under £1000
Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle Self-Winding Ultra-Thin