The rules of engagement: Can you buy the person you plan to marry a watch instead of a ring? The rules of engagement: Can you buy the person you plan to marry a watch instead of a ring?

The rules of engagement: Can you buy the person you plan to marry a watch instead of a ring?


EDITOR’S NOTE: Let’s face it, a lot of marital traditions have thankfully changed. These days, if you choose to ask the bride’s father for permission to marry them, it’s more of a tokenistic gesture to get the old bastard on side rather than a potentially deal-breaking request. Same-sex couples can finally get married in most right-minded countries, too. But does the wedding ring still remain a sacrosanct piece of the marriage experience? Or can you buy your intended a great watch instead? In this article, Brynn Wallner, founder of Dimepiece investigates…

watch instead of a ring
Picture Credit: @tinyassprops

 An article claiming Watches Are Becoming An Engagement Staple was published a little while back on the Refinery29 website and, although it didn’t quite break the internet, it certainly stirred up some dialogue. The writer, Frances Solá-Santiago, told the story of how, amidst “engagement watches” surfacing as a growing trend, one couple decided to go for it: sidestepping tradition, they’d opt for timepieces over diamonds. Their decision was impacted by a number of factors: they were disillusioned by the institution of marriage, they’re a same-sex couple and watches feel more gender-neutral, and engagement rings felt too obvious for them. They’d rather an intimate object that didn’t scream “we’re getting married” to every stranger that noticed. (And because this is a watch outlet and I know you’re all dying to know: they landed on two pieces from the same brand, Original Grain, inspired by their Pacific Northwest home, retailing between $200–$600.) Equipped with all this context, this couple’s decision seemed completely logical; but when the article’s headline was posted on Instagram (accompanied by a photo featuring a woman wearing a gold Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori), the girls got mad!

Refinery29’s audience is 73.2% female-identifying, and the reactions in the comments were strong. One user typed (I imagine) with fire in her fingers: “Nope. Stop being cheap and buy the damn ring! No one is gonna know it’s a damn ‘engagement watch’ Who came up with this idea?” Another, practically minded, said she “personally doesn’t like it because there are so many ways it can go. Symbolically a watch can stop. It can be limiting. Sure a watch can be timeless but it can also mean times up.”

These knee-jerk reactions were reasonable, especially coming from an audience that we can only guess is not as watch-obsessed as we are (yes, we). Despite the watch industry’s surging spike in popularity over the past two years (“high-end watches are a strong category in the crisis market environment, thanks to their appeal as investment pieces,” according to McKinsey & Co’s 2021 State Of Fashion Report) they still don’t feel quite as mainstream as other luxury items such as handbags, shoes, or, of course, diamond rings. And to propose (pun intended) that watches could potentially replace the centuries old tradition of receiving an engagement ring seemed preposterous to these women. I mean, imagine: the love of your life gets down on one knee and inside of the box isn’t a ring, it’s a Submariner (okay, realistically probably a Cartier). It may be appealing, but – admit it – it’s a little funny.

watch instead of a ring
Picture Credit: @tinyassprops

If you’re asking me, though? I’m in a serious long-term relationship, and because I’m 31 (you know, of age, friends and family increasingly ask “when are you guys getting married?” In fact, every time I go on a romantic vacation, my girlies are like: “He’s totally packing a ring with him. Get ready.” The reality is we’re both so busy that marriage is something we’ve talked about, but it’s not on our immediate priority list. I myself have never been the girl to fantasise about a wedding – I’m down to tie the knot at City Hall (or even elope to Vegas like my grandparents did in the ’50s). And when it comes to rings? I know absolutely nothing about them… The only language I have to qualify them is that the rock is either “big” or “not so big.” Also, to be honest, the thought of wearing a diamond ring right now doesn’t feel right. I mean, I just got my first luxury watch. Do I really need something else weighing down my left hand?

But enough about me. When the R29 article dropped, I reposted it to Dimepiece with a poll prompt – “Picture this: you’re about to get engaged. Would you be down for a watch over a diamond ring?” 57% answered yes and 43% answered no, which is to be expected (my modest 13.4K+ audience is 54.8% men and 45.2% women). Most people hit me up separately and said, “why not both?!” which, of course, yes, oh my god, give me both. But with your average engagement ring clocking in at $5500 USD, and your average luxury watch coming in at… what? A minimum of $3K USD if you’re open to preowned? No offence to the R29couple, but a $200 watch wouldn’t do it for most of us – so budget constraints would likely force most brides/grooms/whatever-to-bes into choosing one or the other. So I took it a step further, asking around why, if you had to, choose one over the other? Again, lots of “WHY NOT BOTH??” but also a lot of insightful, sound logic to be explored.

Before we dive in, I’d be remiss not to mention that “engagement watches” have been a longstanding tradition amongst many different cultures. In Korea, for example, “there seems to be quite a strong wedding or bridal gift culture,” Tina Kang, the marketing and communication manager for IWC Schaffhausen in Korea, said to The New York Times in 2017. “In many cases, the bride and the groom will exchange rings and watches.” (There it is again, rings AND watches… a girl can dream!). Similarly, when I spoke with Anita Yardemian, who does public relations at F.P. Journe, she immediately recounted her first-hand experience: “In the Armenian culture, gift giving is an ancient tradition symbolizing care and respect, especially with items that will be heirlooms for generations to come,” she explained. “Armenians are givers innately and are always ready to share their wealth,” she continued. “Watches are the best example of this tradition for any celebration.” She then spoke about her own family, in particular: “My father gifted my mom a Cartier Santos when they got engaged 40 years ago, which was later passed down to me as a surprise for my 21st birthday. It remains one of the most symbolic timepieces I own.” Indeed, a watch holds its value not only as an object, but as a symbol of heritage and resilience – to think of Anita wearing her Santos today as a constant reminder of her parents’ love puts a genuine smile on my face. It seems that only recently Americans are catching up to the idea.

watch instead of a ring
Picture Credit: @tinyassprops

Okay, so let’s get into it. What are the pros and cons of swapping watches over rings? Let’s start with the norm:


First of all: one simply cannot deny that an engagement ring is deeply rooted in the tradition of marriage, and therefore is more symbolic of long-lasting love. As @bigexperiment on Instagram bluntly put it, “a watch signifies almost nothing, whereas a fatty diamond on the left says a lot.” Stripped of that meaning, a watch feels, to some, more ordinary and casual by default. Practically, too, to have this as your primary symbol of engagement, you may feel obligated to wear only that watch. “I like to change up watches,” Zoe Abelson (aka @watchgirloffduty) says. As a collector, she’d feel a need to wear her engagement watch daily, forcing her other amazing pieces into the background. On top of that, watches are constantly oscillating between a place on and off the wrist. It’s most likely that you’ll wear your engagement ring 24/7; but with a watch, you’ll (if you’re normal) remove it to shower, to sleep, to… you get it. Watches, too, are considered as objects to commemorate an array of milestones, from graduations to personal accomplishments – like, if you get the big promotion, you may go out and gift yourself a watch. But Nikki Ogunnaike, digital director of Harper’s Bazaar told me that a diamond ring isn’t probably something she wouldn’t buy for herself. And rightly so… how weird would it be to buy yourself your own diamond ring? Maybe some of you do it, but because it’s so loaded with meaning, it really only fits that one occasion. And one more practical note: watches need to be serviced, while rings are pretty low maintenance.


And yet… if we’re looking at things symbolically, don’t relationships, too, need to be serviced? It’s been drilled into our heads since the 40s that a “diamond is forever”, which seems like a lot of pressure. Forever forever? Although the divorce rate has been in decline, separation is still a possibility; and, at a minimum, your relationship may not have that shiny diamond sheen it once had without a lot of hard work. So in this case, the maintenance required of a watch feels par for the course! Furthermore, the symbol of a diamond ring can sometimes feel oppressive whether we’re aware of it or not. Examine the history: engagement rings can be traced all the way back to Ancient Rome, where they were used to mark a man’s ownership of a woman. Obviously, this meaning has shifted, but there are still not-so-great vibes that a diamond ring can give off.

I was particularly struck by an argument raised in the comments section of the R29 article by reader “Tarah”: “An expensive watch sends a different signal than an engagement ring in the workplace,” she writes. “A watch in the workplace has been associated with accomplishment,  put-togetherness, professionalism (i.e. ‘the company watch’),” she continued. “A designer watch at work makes you feel powerful; whereas, an engagement ring reminds employers that this woman has family and may have kids soon.” Sure, a watch can signify that your marriage’s time may soon be up – but women are no longer defined by their marital status. It’s 2021, baby! We’re defined by our strength, our brains, our ambition, our careers – and unfortunately there is still a workplace stigma around a woman entering her child-rearing years. The ring could suggest that she’s going to get married, she’s going to have kids, she’s going to take maternity leave; and because of deep-seated biases, she’s not going to receive the promotion she deserves. Of course, this is not always the case: there are plenty of professional women who’ve managed to balance a successful career with raising a family, but it’s something to think about!

watch instead of a ring
Picture Credit: @tinyassprops

Thinking bigger than a traditional male-female relationship: watches, as we’ve already pointed out, are more gender neutral. If you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community and you’re fatigued by the institution of marriage, a symbol of something that you’ve been legally excluded from can be a bit triggering. Or maybe it just feels dated! And if you are in a male-female relationship… what about the man?? Doesn’t he deserve something nice too? Exchanging watches brings both parties into a level playing field. It’s such a fresh concept that there really is no symbolic baggage to potentially weigh you down with. Also, and we’re just fantasizing here… what if opting for an engagement watch means we can finally get our dream timepiece? Recent NYU grad Hadley Goodman explained that “A Daytona would say more about my partner’s love for me than a diamond ever could.” I know you watch heads out there get what she’s saying.

The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer. It all comes down to personal preference, and whatever you go with should make you and/or your partner feel happy and comfortable. On that note, if you’ve found love and you think you’re about to pop the question, communication reigns supreme. Always, always, always discuss something like this with your partner before you take the plunge. There will still be moments for romantic spontaneity, I promise.

This article first appeared in Now magazine