No man ever forgets his first proper, grown-up watch or, for that matter, the occasion it celebrated and the person who gave it to him - which is why watches make such great graduation gifts. With final exams just around the corner, a proper mechanical watch is a perfect gift that will last well beyond the summer holidays and any passing technological fads.
As with the purchase of any men's watches, your first mission is to evaluate which watch will best suit his personality. Is he sporty or artsy? What's his build? Large watches can look clunky on small wrists, and elegant dress watches can look diminutive on the arm of a rugby player. I would steer clear of very complicated watches, which are not only more delicate and infinitely more expensive, but will spoil the fun for when he is ready to upgrade to something more special.
As you might expect, sports watches far outnumber classical models in this category and, although most of the big brand names are included here, you will be pleasantly surprised by the friendly price tags.
Rolex watches are not just for well-to-do adults. An entry-price Rolex is definitely an option for young men and a solid choice of graduation gift that is not going to go out of fashion or style any time in this century. The new Oyster Perpetual Explorer, a model that has been going strong since 1953, pays testament to the enduring popularity of the brand’s watches. As many of you will recall, the original Explorer watch was the model that accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their conquest of Everest’s 8,848 metre summit in 1953. Conquering a new generation, the 39mm Rolex Explorer II comes with all the robust qualities of an Oyster case - water-resistance to 100 metres and a virtually scratchproof sapphire crystal protecting the dial - but has been enhanced with glowing blue numerals, hands and hour markers. The luminescent material (Chromalight) emits a long-lasting blue glow allowing the owner to consult the time in even the darkest conditions.
Since chronographs and dive watches are the most sought-after models by young men, let’s take a look at some strong candidates. I am a die-hard fan of the iconic Omega Moonwatch, and the history behind this chronograph will spark plenty of conversation. Ever since that epic day in July 1969 when the Apollo 11 Lunar Module touched down on the surface of the Moon with a 1957 Speedmaster strapped to Buzz Aldrin's wrist, the Speedmaster Professional earned the moniker "Moonwatch". Still bearing the distinction as having participated in all six lunar missions, and as the first watch to have accompanied an astronaut on the pitted surface of the Moon, these Omega watches are perennial favourites. The rugged good looks of the 42mm Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional remain unchanged with its hallmark black dial, tachymetric scale, white counters and green luminescence. What is even more extraordinary is the watch keeps time with the same manual-winding movement worn on the Moon and visible through the transparent sapphire caseback.
Tudor, a sibling brand of Rolex, has created a niche for itself with its rugged, masculine timepieces. The new Heritage Black Bay Bronze dive watch has been kitted out in a bronze diving suit and combines an appealing vintage spirit with a state-of-the-art, automatic, in-house movement developed by Tudor for the larger proportions of the 43mm case. Offering a sturdy 70-hour power-reserve, these Tudor watches are water-resistant to 200 metres and come with a choice of straps.
In a similar vintage mood, Ralph Lauren's Safari Chronometer with a khaki dial is geared for adventure and travel, and its 45mm blackened steel case gives it a rugged, nicely worn-in personality. Unlike so many fashion brands with inexpensive watch collections designed to accessorise their collections, Ralph Lauren watches are made to last. Powered by top-quality, Swiss-made mechanical automatic movements, these timepieces reveal Ralph Lauren’s passion for all things mechanical, as anybody who has seen his impressive collection of vintage cars can attest.
Young men who are more design-oriented, meanwhile, will appreciate the cool Bauhaus aesthetics of the German watch brand Nomos. The minimalist designs of Nomos watches are quickly garnering cult status and, with excellent prices, this is most definitely a brand to consider for a graduation gift. The square case of the Tetra Neomatik Tiefblau is slender and flat thanks to the incorporation of an ultra-thin Nomos automatic movement, which gives life to the hours, minutes and small seconds on the deep blue dial with subtle green and orange accents.
Another classic from Rolex, and a true icon in the world of dive watches, is the Submariner. Launched back in 1953, the Rolex Submariner was designed as a professional dive watch capable of fathoming depths of 100 metres. The resilient case of this watch opened the hatch on a new underwater world waiting to be explored. Jacques Cousteau and his Calypso team took to the abyss with an Aqua-Lung and a Rolex Submariner and, a few years later, the rugged, yet handsome, timepiece caught Ian Fleming’s eye as the ideal watch for his spy. Rolex watches were therefore crowned with the honour of being the first to adorn the wrist of James Bond.
Still the reference among dive watches, this virile 40mm stainless steel Submariner features a superior long-lasting blue glow emanating from the indices and hands, which lasts up to eight hours. Water-resistant to 300 metres, this formidable diver houses a rotating 60-minute bezel with a green scratchproof ceramic insert, and the classic Oyster bracelet with a special clasp to prevent accidental opening.