Pass it On: Buying a Timepiece for the Next Generation

by Rod Cleaver

While there are plenty of good reasons to get one for yourself, you really buy a fine timepiece for the next generation.

In my line of work, I mostly encounter people who understand what it means to own a quality watch. Something I like to call a ‘legacy timepiece.’ One that will not only outlast your time on this earth but also, at the very least, enhance the time you have left.

Every once in a while, however, I come across someone who wonders why anyone would spend a significant sum of money on a watch. I’ll be honest, these people confuse me.

I grew up with a father who loved the finer things in life. His logic was that we were not wealthy enough to buy low-quality goods, so buy it once and be done. Buying quality generally accomplishes this and endures changes in fashion and fads as an added bonus.

In the 1990s, Patek Philippe undertook an advertising campaign, adopting a signature phrase to capture the heirloom nature of their watches: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” To my way of thinking, not much else needed to be said to effectively convey the enduring quality and timeless style of a Patek.

As appealing as that is to me, I realize that there does exist a significant portion of society who don’t understand the sentiment and philosophy of buying quality and keeping it for life, and beyond. For some it’s simply difficult to suppress the anarchistic rebellion against the notion of a watch. More so if that watch is an expensive one. “Why give in to the establishment that has brainwashed us into believing that we need an expensive watch to feel good about ourselves?” they no doubt believe. After all, my cell phone, my laptop, even my toaster tells time. But a watch is more than just about telling time. A watch shows an appreciation for the finer things in life. A quality watch is something so intricate and exquisitely mechanical that it is a wonder to behold and a treat
to wear.

Others no doubt believe it’s an unnecessary excess and, especially in these times, hard to justify. It’s hard to argue with that, but it truly is a relative situation. Take me, for example. I can recall walking into a store with my very first real paycheque and buying a fine timepiece. That it cost over $1,000 left my mother—beyond frugal by nature—shaking her head in disbelief as she muttered, “You will never have a dollar to your name.”

Of course, she was right. I don’t have a dollar to my name. I have more. Which is why I am more than willing to take some of those dollars and invest in any ‘legacy timepiece’ that happens to catch my eye. To my mother, with her history of hardships and growing up in need, it was impossible to consider spending that much on a watch. Yes, she had fine Swiss watches. Three, if I remember correctly. Just none bought by her. All were gifts from my father, who must have thought my mother would come to understand what this lust for watches was about. She never did, but her shoe closet, however, rivaled the infamous Mrs. Marcos. To each his, or her own, I guess.

Aside from socioeconomic considerations, there is yet a third category of cynic out there. This consumer is not even aware that a premium watch market exists. The aforementioned consumer group simply has their discretionary income focused elsewhere. The most amusing encounter I’ve had with this type came during a dinner hosted by a German auto manufacturer for the press. While seated with the company’s head of design, a man responsible for designing $200,000 cars, the subject turned to watches. When Car Designer Man blurted out, “Why would anyone spend that much on a watch?,” it was left to me to take him to task. His company at the time made compact vehicles, mid-sized sports sedans, as well as a full-sized grand touring vehicle. At the top of the range was a sedan so lavish and detailed that no one questioned the $180,000 starting price. Why make such a vehicle? The answer was obvious, it stood out as a statement, a proclamation of the buyer’s view on quality, and most notably, a statement about what this person could afford. Whether it is fine-spun clothes from the far corners of the globe, sparkling minerals dug from the earth or fine art and antiques, society expresses taste, style and affluence in many ways. I prefer one that lets me know I’m late for my
next meeting.

One thing I’ve come to appreciate, however, is that, unlike automobiles, no one throws a fine watch out. I guarantee that you know where your parents’ or grandparents’ watches are. Broken, abandoned or discarded, they are still coveted. Partially as emotional keepsakes, but just as easily retained in the hope that one day they will be worth something. Our relationship with time defines our lives, and though our lives are finite, the life of a legacy timepiece need not be nearly so short.

Rod Cleaver is the proprietor of, known in the world of collectibles as a knowledgeable source for vintage and used watches.