10 of the best 40th birthday gift watchesTom Austin
Finally, a milestone birthday I can write about that I haven’t already surpassed. That said, 40 is only around the corner for me so I suppose this is more of a wish list than it should be (I’ve made sure to leave my browser open so my wife sees it). The big four-o is a landmark birthday for anyone, albeit a bit of a confusing one, old enough to not be a kid anymore by any reasonable definition, but still young, inexperienced, and stupid enough to feel like one anyway. Nevertheless, as watch enthusiasts it’s traditional to mark these turning points in our lives with a nice watch, one that represents our achievements, or shows how much your loved ones care for you, or one you want to align for use as a family heirloom. While you may not consider 40 as old, it’s time to be thinking about this stuff, as it matters more than you think. If you’re stuck for ideas as to what to get your spouse who’s aging like a fine wine, or you’re thinking of treating yourself for reaching 39 plus one, we have you covered. Here are our picks for the best 40th birthday watches.
Longines Spirit Flyback
As you get older you gain an appreciation for the more mature, sometimes older things in life. For example, you may be bored with the latest releases from car manufacturers, and you’re starting to lust over that exciting classic Jaguar that you can see yourself winding through the countryside in. This is where a watch like the Longines Spirit Flyback comes in. Longines have recently realised they have a wealth of heritage in their back catalogue of flyback chronographs and have drawn upon it to create a watch that harks back to their aviation watches of the early 20th century. It’s by no means a small watch, at 42mm in diameter and a pretty chunky 17mm thick, however, it’s certainly a relaxed yet beefy wear, likely to suit the more mountainous of watch enthusiasts. The stainless steel case is paired with a bi-directional rotating ceramic bezel, screw-down crown, and sapphire crystals on the front and back, sealing the watch to a 100m water resistance. The watch is also available in titanium too. Locked inside is the Longines-exclusive automatic flyback chronograph calibre L791.4 movement, a column-wheel chronograph reminiscent of the Longines flybacks from the mid-1930s. All in all, the Longines Spirit Flyback is a high-quality, heritage-style watch in modern clothing, which will look awesome on your wrist as you take that Jaguar for a spin.
Grand Seiko Spring Drive Skyflake SBGA407
There’s something pure about the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Skyflake. Functionally it’s a relatively simple time and date function piece, however, the closer you look, the more the details stand out. In typical Grand Seiko fashion, the most notable is the exceptional finishing, with the Zaratsu polished lugs, hands and indices, all finely polished to a distortion-free, brilliant mirror finish. At 40.2mm in diameter and 12.8mm thick, it’s an elegant piece of stainless steel on your wrist, suitable for most sizes. The watch is powered by the automatic calibre 9R65 Spring Drive movement, combining traditional automatic energy generation, but regulated electronically, delivering incredible precision and the silkiest, smoothest second hand sweep in the game. One of the many dials available, the Shinshu dial is characterised by an icy blue texture, representing the surface of pale blue snow, and it’s scarily accurate, just like its movement. The Grand Seiko Spring Drive Skyflake is a meticulously detailed watch, made for those who appreciate the care and attention that goes into its creation.
Panerai Radiomir Quaranta
Panerai has perhaps gone a little off the radar this year, with some new releases already being forgotten. But don’t let that lack of attention fool you, often it’s the things that are hiding in plain sight that are the best. Officine Panerai released the Radiomir Quaranta quietly among a bevy of other pieces at Watches & Wonders earlier in 2023, and it’s a clean and modern take on the traditional and popular Panerai Radiomir. It’s not huge either by all accounts, at 40mm in diameter and 10.15mm thick, which is relatively subdued for a Panerai, but it means the audience for this piece is much wider. While also available in gold, the cushion case is in highly polished stainless steel, with wire lugs and domed sapphire crystal, bringing that softly curved look to this classic watch. Powering the watch is the in-house Panerai calibre P.900 automatic movement with a date function and a 72-hour power reserve. The Panerai Radiomir Quaranta can be dressed up or down with a variety of straps, making this a versatile, timeless watch ideal for most occasions.
IWC Portugieser Automatic 40
For a special watch as a gift, you’re going to want the recipient to be able to wear it with anything. You want the watch to be well-sized, clean, sophisticated, and understated, especially for a person heading into their 40’s. The IWC Portugieser Automatic 40 is the ideal watch for the job, as probably the most easily wearable Portugieser in the IWC lineup, and our choice is the white dial stainless steel version, a 40.4mm traditional wristwatch that oozes class and style. Initially released in 2020, it features a stainless steel case which is a respectable 12.3mm thick, with a convex sapphire crystal and exhibition caseback. The clean dial consists of simple applied numerical indices, which are blued to match the elegant feuille hands and finished with a hacking small seconds dial at 6 o’clock. The sapphire case back reveals the stunning 82200 Calibre automatic movement, boasting a 60-hour power reserve and finished beautifully with Côtes de Genève machine work. The IWC Portugieser Automatic is a beautiful watch, worthy of a special place in any collection.
Cartier Santos Large ADLC
A modern twist on a timeless classic, the large Cartier Santos in black is the ultimate in stealthy opulence. The Santos needs very little introduction, it’s a Cartier icon, and there are a plethora of variations to choose from, however, one particular standout is the Cartier Santos Black, one of the most contemporary-looking watches in the brand’s collection. If ever there was any doubt that Cartier make masculine watches, this watch dispels those doubts. Finished using a coating called Amorphous Diamond-Like Carbon (ADLC), its slender 39.8mm stainless steel case boasts this all-black colourway which is incredibly distinctive and incredibly hard wearing, setting itself apart from all other Cartier watches. The beauty of this piece is that even in all black, it’s still perfectly paired with a t-shirt and jeans or a suit, thanks in part to the quick change rubber or leather straps. The monochrome dial is functional and legible even with those Roman numerals and features a brushed centre section, not forgetting the secret Cartier logo at 7 ‘o’clock. Powered by the Cartier Caliber 1847MC automatic movement, the watch features centre seconds and a date function, along with a 40-hour power reserve. The Cartier Santos Black is a watch that oozes masculine sex appeal, yet retains that touch of class you’d expect from a Cartier.
Breitling Premier B09 Chronograph 40
To me as a guy in my mid-to-late thirties, when I was growing up Breitling always represented a Dad watch. They were worn by big, burly guys with hairy arms and hands as big as shovels. Usually, the watches were equally as massive, however now as we’re into 2023, more restrained sizes are generally preferred. That and also watches with some timeless elegance to boot. The Breitling Premier B09 Chronograph 40 fits this bill perfectly, with its 40mm, classical case design being a stylistic departure from the traditional Breitling we’ve come to know, and more of a draw on its historical roots. The stainless steel chronograph is available in 3 colour variations, silver, green, and gold, each with elegant design details that make for a classic-looking chronograph without the overly fussy dial. The case features rectangular pushers, an open sapphire caseback, and a domed sapphire crystal, paired with a choice of beautiful alligator straps. Visible through the case back is the Breitling Caliber B01 movement, a hand-wound column-wheel chronograph with a 70-hour power reserve. The Breitling Premier B09 Chronograph 40 is a classy and elegant watch, perfect for all the Dads out there who want a perfect everyday watch to treasure forever.
Tag Heuer Monaco Dark Lord
Another famous black watch, this time from Swiss Maison Tag Heuer, with the Monaco Dark Lord. Drawing inspiration from the rare unicorn from the 1970s that was the “Dark Lord” 740303N, this limited edition Monaco pays homage perfectly to the original, The iconic 39mm square titanium case is black DLC coated, (to a much higher standard than the original, I will add, this coating is safe from your fingernails) giving the watch a brooding and aggressive appearance. The dial is faithfully reproduced with twin square sub-dials at 9 and 3, with a subsidiary seconds hand at 6 o’clock, made to look as subtle as possible as it wasn’t present on the original watch. The dial furniture is finished in rose gold, which contrasts the black dial and red chronograph hands wonderfully. Driven by the automatic Calibre HEUER02 movement, which is visible through the sapphire caseback, the watch features full chronograph functions along with a massive 80 hours of power reserve. Overall this is the Tag Heuer for connoisseurs, based on a watch that has gone down in horological history as one of the coolest watches ever made, and faithfully bought up to modern standards.
Rolex Submariner Ref. 124060
I can hear you sighing from here as I write this, but bear with me. I’m putting my neck out here, but the Rolex Submariner is one of the greatest watches ever made. A wristwatch so engrained in history, that it’s touched pretty much all of us as watch enthusiasts either directly or indirectly. Most of us have either owned one, wanted one, or owned a watch inspired by one, and that stands for a hell of a lot. Since its inception in 1954, it’s defined dive watches, with its plethora of features that make it a perfect dive watch that has been perfected over the decades. Such as the rotating uni-directional bezel, the specific hour marker layout, and the excellent water resistance, all things that have gone on to be the most replicated features by pretty much every brand over the years. The current model is a 41mm stainless steel diver with a black ceramic bezel, now featuring slimmed-down case proportions to be more in line with the historical models. It’s powered by the trusted Rolex 3235 movement which is highly accurate and offers a 70-hour power reserve. Granted, nowadays getting hold of a Rolex Submariner is a challenge, however, it’s a worthy one to have one of the best watches ever made. I’m sorry if you don’t like that; it’s just the way it is. With all that in mind, with its historical significance, it has to make it onto this list for that special 40-year-old in your life, especially the no-date model, the purist’s choice.
Omega Speedmaster ’57
We all know the Omega Speedmaster by now, in fact, it stands a chance that your 40th birthday gift recipient probably already has, or has owned one if they’re into watches. However, I’d place a bet that they don’t have this Speedmaster, the ’57. Early Speedmasters from the 1950s hold a special place in our hearts as watch enthusiasts, and Omega has done a fantastic job of producing a modern Speedy while being faithful to the legendary 1957 original. This 40.5mm Speedmaster features a stainless steel case and bezel, layered sandwich dial, vintage style lume, and those famous “Broad Arrow” hands, underneath a domed sapphire crystal. Driving the watch is the manually wound and brilliantly finished Calibre 9906, Omega’s co-axial master chronometer movement. Lastly, we can’t not mention the exquisite flat link bracelet, a favourite amongst Speedmaster fans. The Omega Speedmaster ’57 is an exercise from Omega on how to make a faithful reproduction of an iconic timepiece, by looking back at its history but also continuing the evolution of the Speedmaster family.
Glashütte Original PanoReserve
We’re heading to Germany to finish off this list, to the German watch-making town of Glashütte, with the Glashütte Original Pano Reserve. Made to the highest of standards, the Pano Reserve is an exceptionally finished dress watch with unique asymmetry on the dial, almost a hallmark we’ve grown to love from high-end watches from the region. Featuring a 40mm stainless steel case which is reservedly slender at 11.7mm, it makes for an impeccably proportioned dress watch. Finished to a high polish, the case is designed to present the dial as the showstopper, and what a dial it is. Available in either black, white, or blue, the dial is finished in a fine powdered treatment which is clean and offers depth. The large date display is well placed, along with the huge power reserve indicator, which certainly doesn’t look out of place. Powering the watch is the manually wound, in-house calibre 65-01 movement, which is also exquisitely finished and presented through the sapphire crystal caseback. The Glashütte Original PanoReserve is the enthusiast’s choice that would make a perfect gift for someone who appreciates fine craftsmanship and also likes something you won’t see every day.