How to Make a Timepiece Timeless

Experts reveal the secrets to selecting a wristwatch with heirloom potential.



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THESE DAYS WE’RE inundated with so many new products and trends cycling at a disorienting pace that heirlooms — enduring items with elevated status, a treasure handcrafted to pass down a family line — have heightened gravitas. And there’s no item better suited to mark a lineage of milestones than a well-made wristwatch. It is the heirloom of heirlooms. In a more spiritual sense, watches remind us of the passing of time itself, the steady keeping of it, second after second. And they connect us to a deeper understanding of the eons: A premium Swiss piece is designed to outlive its owner, to bear witness to the lives and benchmarks of generations.

But first, a timepiece must begin its life. If you are shopping for a watch in hopes of starting a new tradition — you’ll own it, then your kids, then your grandkids, on down the line — there’s much to consider, according to Isabella Proia, a specialist at the acclaimed Phillips auction house on Park Avenue in New York City.

The first thing to ask yourself is: Do you want something new or pre-owned? Pre-owned and vintage are in vogue at the moment and have already proven to be ageless. Plus, it can be magical to own an object with history, as long as you consider the realities of an older watch. “Vintage is a little higher maintenance,” Proia explains. “It shouldn’t be over-polished. If the dial is messed up but everything else looks perfect, that’s maybe an indication that something is not right. There shouldn’t be too much wear on the watch, and [you should ensure] it has been serviced well.”



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Whether the piece is new or old, she says the trick is to find what you like, then ask the right questions. “Do the research,” she clarifies. “Is it reliable? Is it something that I can wear and my kids could wear? Does it have a timeless appearance? Is it going to look outdated in five years or 10 years? Is it a blue-chip brand?” By blue-chip, she means heavy hitters such as Rolex and Patek Philippe, which are known quantities when it comes to quality.

Audemars Piguet’s brutalist Royal Oak and Cartier’s Tank (worn by Jackie Kennedy, Princess Diana, Cary Grant, and Andy Warhol) have similarly proven their staying power. And there are also possibilities that are more accessible and offer just as much quality and heritage," such as TAG Heuer’s wildly popular Carrera collection, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

“There’s a reason why people like Picasso paintings — and you know that’s a safe place to put your money. If you are new to watches, then you have some comfort in a big brand. It’s like [blue-chip] stocks that are in the S&P 500 — you don’t have to think about it so much.”


One of the finest of the fine is Vacheron Constantin. The oldest uninterrupted watchmaker in history, it has been around since 1755 and has enduring designs to prove it. “Our restoration workshop regularly receives timekeepers that were created two centuries ago,” says the company’s style and heritage director, Christian Selmoni. “Some have been kept within the same family since their acquisition.” Anything you buy from Vacheron Constantin will be a timeless treasure, especially if it’s connected to a legacy brand’s heritage. “If I had to mention one single timepiece as an heirloom, I would choose our Patrimony,” Selmoni elaborates. “The Patrimony is rooted in the 1950s, a decade of elegance and sophistication, with modern proportions and aesthetics.”

While Proia gets her watch serviced by professionals only when something breaks, Selmoni believes bringing your Vacheron Constantin back to a boutique for a look over every now and then will help it last longer. And as far as when to hand over a special watch to your kids? “A good age for a first mechanical watch is your 16th birthday, but it doesn’t have to be the nicest watch. The first nice, nice watch, wait until after college — 25, when the prefrontal cortex has fully evolved,” Proia says with a laugh. As the mother of twins, she’s already planning for that day. “Before I was even ever pregnant, I had bought two watches made in my birth year: a Rolex Day-Date and a Tudor Submariner,” she reveals. “[My kids] will just pick out which one they want.” After all, she’s learned firsthand how significant the right heirloom can be. “I have one watch that was inherited — my dad bought it for my uncle in the ’90s. It was a Rolex Daytona with a Patrizzi dial,” she says. “I think about watches as a place to draw power from, so I wear it for special occasions — or when I need extra little ancestors on my shoulder.”

Our Contributors

Alex Frank Writer

Alex Frank is a contributing editor at Departures. Based in Manhattan, Frank previously worked at as deputy culture editor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Pitchfork, New York Magazine, Fantastic Man, and the Village Voice.

Giorgia Ascolani Illustrator

Giorgia Ascolani is a half-New Zealander, half-Italian content artist currently based in London. She has created content for Zac Posen, Inglot Cosmetics, Prada, and Mulberry, to name a few.


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