3 Classes of Modern and Vintage Graduation Watches

Article By: Logan Hannen

WATCH101 | May 07, 2019

It’s that time of year again – after years of hard work and determination, you or some of the people in your life that you care about will be donning their caps and gowns and taking a stroll across a stage to collect their degrees. To mark this occasion, especially for the watch geeks in your life, a watch seems like the perfect gift (even if they’re not, it’s still a classic, traditional gesture that I’ve always loved).

However, the range of budget and style varies greatly. While it’s easy to recommend a couple of go-to classics, there are a number of factors that will influence the watch that is most appropriate for the grad in your life. For that reason, we’re going to dive into a couple different options, at varying price levels, for three major “classes” of career path your graduate might be on: the dressy, suit and tie every day job; the more casual, but still professional; and the more hands on, strenuous type of career.

Class 1: The Suit-and-Tie Job
Here, I want to look for options specifically for those who are going into professions where a suit and tie is the base expectation for how they should dress (specifically, professions like lawyers and other more formal business settings). In general, grads in this category are going to want dressier pieces to match their more formal aesthetic, but it would be wise to also keep it classic and restrained so as not to make it stand out and become the focus of your interactions with both co-workers and clients/customers alike.

Hamilton Jazzmaster Thinline Small Seconds Quartz
Diameter: 44 millimeters
Movement: Quartz
Price: CHF 475
Photo Source: Hamilton

Hamilton offers some of the best value for money of any modern (or vintage) watch brand out there. The Jazzmaster line represents their dressier offerings, and this Thinline Small Seconds Quartz is as pure a representation of that as there is. Featuring a beautiful, sunburst gray dial, refined black alligator grain strap, and incredibly thin case, the watch is understated and fitting for the environment, without feeling uninteresting in the process. Plus, at a retail price of around $450, and often being available for less, it stands as a great option for someone’s first “nice” watch.

Omega 30T2
Diameter: 37 millimeters
Movement: Manual winding
Price: $2,995
Photo Source: Theo & Harris

In the $2500 to $3500 price range, there are a couple of really solid options, but I think value-for-money is owned in this segment by vintage Omegas, such as this 30T2. At 38mm, it’s a smidge smaller than the Hamilton, but is still an incredibly wearable size for most wrists, and features a design that, with a mixture of Arabic and stick indices, is also a bit less sterile than it would otherwise be with all sticks. It also carries the cache of the Omega brand which, though it may not matter to some, is still a nice thing to see to celebrate such a momentous occasion.

Cartier Tank Solo
Diameter: 27 x 27 millimeters
Movement: Quartz
Price: $3,445
Photo Source: Theo & Harris

The undisputed champion of dress watches, in my mind, is the Cartier Tank. Worn famously by everyone from Andy Warhol to Muhammad Ali, the Tank is as much an icon as the people who’ve worn them, and Solos like this one can be had for under $4,000 on the pre-owned market, even less in steel. If you want a mechanical movement, you’re looking a bit north of that, but even still, the Tank is a classic symbol of both culture and counterculture, and is hard to ignore as the ultimate option for the grad who will be spending the rest of their days working in a suit and tie.

Class #2: The Business-Casual
When I think business casual, I’m usually referring to those entering a field in which some form of more formal dress is required (say, a button up, Oxford collar shirt and nice shoes), but can also be mixed with something less formal (say, fresh, dark denim). Often, these are either startups, tech companies, or other more creative fields (being a professor often also falls into this category). Therefore, it makes sense to have a watch that is perhaps more versatile than any other on this list.

Seiko SARB033
Diameter: 38 millimeters
Movement: Caliber 6R15 Seiko Automatic
Price: $499
Photo Source: WatchGecko

I could sit here and say that, for under $1000 ($500, to be exact), that there are plenty of versatile options that offer great value for money, and that’s partly true, but few of them come close to the Seiko SARB033 (or its cream dial cousin, the SARB035). The 033 is every bit Japan’s answer to the Rolex Datejust, if you ask me, from its classic 38mm size to its functional, lumed dial that is still clutter-free and hyper-legible. It looks good on just about any strap you put it on, meaning that it’s both versatile in terms of situations in which it can be worn and changeable in terms of the way it can be worn in those situations, and honestly, it never fails to captivate me when I look at it (especially in profile, with those classically Seiko curved lugs).

Tudor Date-Day
Diameter: 35 millimeters
Movement: Automatic winding
Price: $3,195
Photo Source: Theo & Harris

I’m cheating a bit here, but stay with me. When you’re looking at the price range between $3500 and $5000 for a versatile, everyday watch, the Rolex Datejust is kind of as good as it gets, and the brand recognition that comes with getting your first Rolex as a graduation gift is a totally different level, but thinking about the more creative, more forward thinking and outside-the-box careers in this class, I wanted to recommend specifically a Tudor Date-Day, a watch that is in many ways a Rolex by any other name. The Date-Day offers two things that help it stand out – the day and date complication in steel, something Rolex doesn’t do, and a twist on a classic watch that opens up a world of conversation in the process. I’m all for the “classic with a twist” aesthetic myself, so to me, this is a no-brainer.

Class #3: Casual/Hands-On
For this class of employment, we’re looking at not just those in very directly labor-related fields, though this certainly applies. Rather, we’re looking at those who spend their time out and about, outside the confines of an office and doing work more directly with other people. This kind of work (think everything from probation officer to social worker) requires an inherent degree of professionalism that often involves being dressed up, but in a way that is functional and can, if the need arises, turn active.

Glycine Combat Sub 42
Diameter: 42 millimeters
Movement: GL224 Swiss automatic movement
Photo Source: Glycine

Glycine has a long and storied history of producing tool watches, specifically their Airman range, and the Combat Sub 42 is a prime example of their expertise in this area. Everything is incredibly functional, from its diving bezel to its impressively lumed hands and Arabic numerals, and the model on the steel bracelet feels all the more tool-like. It’s also incredibly thin, which doesn’t inhibit durability, but instead enhances the degree to which the watch is completely unobtrusive. At around $500, it’s also a really great option for a high value dive watch.

IWC Aquatimer Chronograph
Diameter: 44 millimeters
Movement: Automatic winding
Price: $4,600
Photo Source: Theo & Harris

In the range of just under $5000, you really do have a lot of options, and you can even start getting into pre-owned Rolex sport models in this territory, but I think that for something to check all the boxes here, we need to think a bit sportier and a bit more functional in the purest sense. Enter the IWC Aquatimer Chronograph, a watch that is from one of my personal favorite brands, and one that brings a ton to the table in terms of design and functionality. Its fully brushed steel case and integrated rubber strap make it perfect for situations in which durability is the focus, and yet it just as easily can go with a button up and chinos for a more casual, but still professional setting if the situation calls for it. It isn’t wholly versatile, but it makes up for it plenty with the usefulness of its chronograph complication and day-date function.

Alright geeks, hopefully this list has provided a good few ideas for the different watches and styles that might be the most appropriate for the graduate in your life. And, more importantly, if you yourself are completing your education this May/June, then best of luck out there and, remember, keep it classy, watchfam.

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