A Gift Given, Not Bought

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Sometimes the best gifts are given, not bought.

Several years ago, my mom asked me to give her some ideas for what she could get me for Christmas. I told her that I wanted my dad’s watch. It was a 30-year-old Coleman watch with a bronze case and leather strap.

If you’re new to the world of watches, Coleman does not make the list of “Greatest Watchmakers of Our Time.” Tents? Sure. Sleeping bags and lanterns? Closer. But watches? Nope, not happening.

And if you’re new to me, I am a watch aficionado. Mechanical watches to be precise. Not because I need an accurate way to keep time (thanks Apple), but because there is nothing that more beautifully mixes art and engineering for me than a watch. A watch is a mixture of raw material, mechanical tinkering, and sociological peacocking. It can be ornate or unassuming – complicated or simple – imposing or understated.

Unfortunately, the watches that are easy to make and inexpensive to purchase don’t do anything for me. That would make this relationship too easy. No, I’m drawn to watches that will one day make me decide between choosing them and choosing a new car. I have a newfound understanding for people that are drawn to dysfunctional relationships… It doesn’t make much logical sense, yet there is an undeniable attraction that you just can’t shake.

So yes, handmade Swiss watches that require an insurance policy and a payment plan are the things that my dreams are made of.

The type of watch a person chooses to wear says a lot about how they approach life. An Apple Watch, for instance, says that you like tech gadgets or anything that makes your life simpler. A Rolex, on the other hand, can mean one of two things: 1. You want people to know that you can afford to spend a certain amount of money on a watch (and let them follow the rabbit trail that if you spend this much on a watch, you should see my car or my house etc.) Or 2. You appreciate what Rolex has contributed to the history of watchmaking and you are going to choose to appreci- ate it whether others understand your intent or not. Pick the right watch and it will do a lot of the introductions for you, without you having to say a word.

So if I enjoy watches and I know that they communicate something about me, why would I want an objectively mediocre Coleman watch from 30 years ago?

Because it was my dad’s.

There is a photo of my sister when she was two, sitting in the front basket of my dad’s bike, and he’s wearing this watch. It’s one of those photos that unlocks all of these other memories from your childhood. When I saw that photo, I saw my dad holding me as a baby and sitting through night classes to get his MBA and playing catch with me in the yard – and he’s wearing this watch.

I don’t know if any of those memories are true, but I also don’t think that it matters, because whatever the true history of this watch is – it reminds me of all of the best memories that I have with my dad. And those are true.

On Christmas Eve, I unwrapped a small present from my parents. The box wasn’t Cartier red or Tiffany blue, but the watch that waited for me inside meant more to me than either of those ever could. This old Coleman probably cost $45 in 1990 and taking depreciation into account was worth about $0 – but gifts that are given, not bought, usually work within a different type of economy. An economy that forgets about dollars and cents and instead places value on the meaning and the memories.

This old Coleman is mine now (it will always be my dad’s watch) and it has already started to take on new memories. It was the watch I reached for when my wife and I travelled around France, Italy, and Greece a few Summers ago. It was the watch that led me to my first bucket list watch – A Tudor Black Bay Bronze (They loosely resemble each other in appearance, the way that a Burberry trench coat and an H&M trench coat look similar if you are far enough away and moving fast enough). And I’m not finished with it yet.

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