watch engraving

The dos and don’ts of engraving your watch

How long should your message be? Should you engrave a watch you're gifting? We scratch the surface of caseback inscriptions...

Congratulations! You’ve bought a new, very handsome, very expensive watch — and you immediately want to defile it. So take a minute, pause for thought and listen up. Because watch engravings can be bad. Really bad. And we feel for those Swiss watchmakers — the historic houses that have spent decades refining and designing the perfect case — only to have you cut and carve some spur-of-the-moment design onto the back of them.

Can’t you see that you’re ill-treating a perfectly good timepiece? You’re ruining an expensive accessory beyond repair. And all for an engraving that is — no pun intended — simply not up to scratch.

If we at Gentleman’s Journal had our way, every watch would be left as it was intended — untouched by customisation-obsessed customers. But we know that some of you have friendships, occasions and milestones you deem just too important to pass over without commemorating. So, if you are going to immortalise these memories on your watch forever, the least you can do is follow our dos and don’ts…

DON’T engrave on a sapphire case back

watch back

It sounds like common sense, but if you’re about to scratch your cat’s birthday into the back of a Rolex, you might need to hear this. Before you even consider an engraving, first turn your watch over to see if it can be engraved. If it has a plain case back, crafted from steel or a precious metal such as gold or titanium, you’re fine — and can go ahead with whatever misguided inscription you want.

But, if your watch has a sapphire case back — clear glass through which you can see the calibre ticking away — you’ve got a problem on your wrists. You can still get a sapphire case back engraved — but it’s a little bit trickier. You’ll have to take it to a specialist engraver, who will use a laser to engrave on the glass. This’ll doubtlessly be more expensive and, depending on the complexity of the mechanism, you might not even be able to see the inscription once it’s been carved in. Time to ask yourself: is it really worth it?

DO opt for a timeless typeface

When you’re engraving a monogram or a message, you should first consider the font. We know, we know — you like to express yourself — but at least try to exercise some restraint. The more tame and timeless your typeface, the less likely it is that you’ll hate your inscription as the years go on. It’s like a haircut. Look back at that voguish style you had a decade ago; once chic, now wince-worthy.

So cool it on those flamboyant fonts. Your new watch will probably be your constant companion for many years to come, so if you do insist on engraving it, at least keep the design simple. Speaking of…

DON’T engrave anything too personal if your watch was expensive

watch

If you’ve spent a fair chunk of change on your new watch, it’ll likely mean a lot to you. And that probably means it’ll mean a lot to your family, too — becoming an heirloom in the future, handed down from generation to generation. Keep this in mind when you get your watch engraved. Your summer trip to Greece last year may have been a high point of your life, but your great-grandson isn’t going to have the foggiest when he turns over his newly-inherited Patek Philippe and has to decode ‘ZANTE 2K20’.

Instead, if you want to make your six-figure watch even more special, try tastefully engraving your family name on the case back — or going full signet ring and digging out a long-forgotten family crest. Do this and you’ll add some real gravitas to your timepiece — rather than endlessly being reminded of that holiday when you left your best Sebagos by the hotel pool.

DO keep things simple — such as a date

You shouldn’t rush into engraving a watch — especially an expensive one. Kick around a few ideas with friends, gauge public opinion and make a list of possible inscriptions before you drop your watch off at the engravers. If you choose badly, you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to cover it up — like a bad tattoo.

So here are a few friendly tips. Even if you’re gifting the watch to a loved one, avoid any mention of relationships. No hearts, no anniversaries, no initials or names of girlfriends. Obviously, some of you will be hellbent on celebrating your union, so why not stick to a simple date? It’s not too overt, it’s a little bit mysterious and, if the relationship does go south, you can pretend it was just the date you bought the watch, made your first million or got your 50 metre swimming certificate. You know, something really special.

DON’T engrave at all if you’re planning on reselling the watch

A series of vintage Rolexes, engraved with messages, recently sold for $1 million, $2 million, $17 million. They belonged to Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando and Paul Newman. You are not Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando or Paul Newman. And, if you try to resell a watch with a message personal to you on the case back, you will almost certainly get back less than you paid for it.

So if, at any point in the future, you can foresee yourself selling the watch you’ve currently got strapped to your wrist, keep it as far away from the engraving needle as possible. As soon as you add any engraving or embellishment to a watch, it’ll depreciate quicker than the seconds hand can tick around the dial. Instead, put your energy into maintaining its factory freshness. That is, of course, unless you’ve got a feeling that you’re going to be an American acting sensation…

DO consider engraving a link rather than the case back

Here’s a nifty option if you’re still dead set on getting your new watch engraved: get one of the metal bracelet links engraved instead. That way, if you decide that you don’t want to celebrate a doomed romance or family name anymore, you can simply swap it out for another link. It’s also a good option for those of you who want to constantly flash your engraving to the public, as it will always be facing outward.

Or, of course, don’t get anything engraved at all — and simply content yourself with your wonderful watch as it is. It’s up to you…

Interested in personalising your watch even further? These are the best alternative straps with which to make a statement…

Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.

Further Reading