Image Source: Courtesy of Cartier
People have been proposing with engagement rings since the early 20th century, with the popularity of De Beers, the infamous British company who introduced the slogan "a diamond is forever" in 1947. But did you know that the engagement ring got its meaning way back in 850? According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), Pope Nicholas I declared that the engagement ring was a symbol of a man's intent to marry. Back then, women sported rings in gold, ivory, and copper to affirm their mutual love.
Since then, engagement rings and proposals have been synonymous for future spouses. According to De Beers, 72 percent of spouses surveyed were proposed to with a ring in 2019. But with the average price of a diamond ring ($6,000) and the freedom to deter from genders, times are changing. Couples are ditching the engagement ring for something more functional: a watch.
"I think people are drawn to engagement watches because they offer the glamor of an engagement ring, but they're more functional," says Thomas Hendricks, private client advisor & US content creator of Chrono24.com, the world's biggest marketplace for new and luxury preowned watches. "They last a very long time, and both sexes can get in on the fun."
So what exactly is an engagement watch? Who gets to wear one? How much do they cost? And could they really take the place of an engagement ring? To get answers, we spoke to the experts at Chrono24 and Carpenter Watches, a Brooklyn-based watch company, for an inside view. Ahead is what we discovered.
What Is an Engagement Watch?
Although engagement watches have gained traction throughout the pandemic, they really began back in 2017. Essentially, they are a watch, of the wearer's choice, given as a celebration of the upcoming union. "They're a keepsake that you can enjoy that doesn't lose value," says Neil Carpenter, owner and designer of Carpenter Watches. "Watches are one of the few objects that, if properly serviced, last several generations."
Image Source: Courtesy of Carpenter Watches
Who Is an Engagement Watch For?
Short answer: anyone.
In traditional engagements, one partner typically proposes with an elaborate gift — the engagement ring — without receiving something. For some receivers of an engagement ring, an engagement watch is a great way to give their partners something equally as special. "I designed my own ring with a diamond from my grandma and gold from my mother-in-law," says 31-year-old Rachael Hegarty McGinn, senior sales coordinator. "I was so happy that I could create such a special ring, but I didn't feel like it was fair that my husband-to-be got nothing! We had a discussion about it and he really wanted a nice watch so we picked one out for him. I think it was great that we could offer each other a symbol of commitment on our engagement day."
"Engagement watches are also a good fit for couples who want something more functional or who aren't typically "jewelry people"," says Hendricks. This was the case for independent insurance agent Edna Leija, who's decision was more for financial and religious reasons. "We chose an engagement watch for financial reasons. Mostly it just made sense as we began our journey," she says. "Also, I grew up in a pretty strict religion where we don't wear jewelry, and my husband followed my mom's wishes on the no-jewelry policy."
Engagement watches are also great in our world of increasing gender equality, "Couples can get his and hers watches that carry sentimental value, and might carry increasing monetary value as well. And now that the genders are on more equal footing than ever and there's more freedom than ever to marry who you want, a watch can be seen as a neutral luxury for both parties," Hendricks tells POPSUGAR.
How Are Engagement Watches Measured?
"Watches are measured by width (not including the crown), length (lug to lug across your wrist), and thickness," says Hendricks. "Most "men's" watches are between 36m-42mm, and most "women's" watches fall between 26mm-36mm, but those lines are thankfully blurring more and more each year." In general, Hendricks recommends that the lug-to-lug measurement isn't wider than your wrist, and going smaller than larger if need be.
Image Source: Chrono24
What to Look For in an Engagement Watch
There are three types of watch movements (the motor that runs a watch): hand-wound, automatic, and quartz. According to Carpenter, quartz require a battery, but are the least expensive option; hand movements are the most rare (read: old school); while automatics are the most popular in the $500 plus range. Once you decide on what watch movement you or your partner desire, there are two further steps to take: set a budget and do your research.
For traditional engagement rings, where the responsibility falls on one person — and can often be a month's salary (or more) — the rings can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars; engagement watches offers more financial freedom, as they are priced for as little as $250.
Our experts recommend going with a watch manufactures (Omega, Blancpain, and more) that has been around for decades, perfecting their signature style and craft — proving they are reliable. However, you can also opt for newer companies like Mvmt and Shinola for affordable alternatives. The important thing to invest in is the material. A good-quality watch is made from stainless steel or titanium with a PVD coating to keep the color intact.
Image Source: Patek Philippe
Will Engagement Watches Surpass Engagement Rings?
Engagement rings have been a symbol of commitment for ages, but as people eschew the financial constraints of an engagement ring and traditional notions of marriage, the engagement watch will steadily continue to trend. But will it surpass the engagement ring? Not quite. "There are too many culturally entrenched traditions around getting down on one knee, sliding the ring on the finger, and such for it to replace the ring," says Hendricks. "[With that being said,] there has been more flexibility recently around who proposes to whom, styles of rings, and what materials the rings are made out of, so I hope couples see watches as a viable option as overall attitudes toward engagement loosen up a bit."