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Is the trend of ‘engagement watches’ here to stay?

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The engagement ring has a long history, and the concept dates back to the ancient Egyptians. They believed circles to be the symbol of eternity and would exchange handmade rings made from braided reeds. However, in the past 5,000 years, new trends have come up in the world of engagements and proposals globally. Weddings have evolved greatly and while some maintain certain traditions, others venture way out of the box and add personal touches. The engagement trend we are seeing now is more of the ‘engagement watch’.

In recent times, watches are becoming an engagement staple. Engagement watches have said to have been around for longer than we might think. And in the last few years, this unique tradition has seen a rise in popularity, especially in the western side of the world. Reasons are many, but probably you want to trade-off a ring for a shiny new fancy watch if you are a girl proposing to a guy?

Of late, one noticed that searches for engagement timepieces have risen by more than 40%, indicating that couples are forgoing diamond rings in favour of watches. Tastes and style change as time and situation differ from the earlier days. As social media platforms like Twitter show hundreds of ‘proposals’, the option for gifting a watch for engagement rings is predominant! Studies show that for men especially, the male engagement ring is a thing. They would prefer a watch, not a ring. And gift them a fancy high-end watch and they’ll cherish it forever, more than any precious stone!

The ongoing pandemic has created a situation far removed from the traditional weddings of the past. It is not surprising that couples are opting for smaller, more quirky ceremonies leading to engagements evolving too. So, the surge in popularity of elegant watches that are useful and sustainable, instead of diamond rings is understandable.

Of course, the most well-known way to propose is by giving an engagement ring. Traditionally, the man gives one to his girlfriend and asks her to be his bride. But times are changing, and some traditions might change as well. With women being more financially independent, a lot of traditions are shaking up.

Suggestions by fashionistas in magazines, including digital magazines, are now going ‘all out’ to suggest a sophisticated watch instead of a ring... any day! People who were always planning to propose but the partner isn't into rings, are recommended to gift an elegant watch!

According to stylists, a beautiful or elegant watch might be the perfect alternative to a ring! Watches, according to them, is something they can wear daily if they so wish. Besides being ideal proposal pieces, tasteful watches have a certain air of sophistication on both men and women.

In the Wedding 2021 Report, Lyst --- the Global fashion shopping platform --- revealed that there was about a 42 per cent increase in searches for 'couple,' 'engagement' and 'wedding' watches, indicating a rise in sales of upmarket timepieces going forward. Morgan Le Caer, who is a content lead at Lyst, reportedly said: 'This season, more couples have been forgoing traditional rings as engagement presents, instead opting for gender-neutral watches. People are now gushing about the trend, saying their fiancées are more openly saying that they wanted a specific watch instead of an engagement ring. The same goes with men, who want to get proposed with a Rolex, instead of an engagement ring to get married. So much for the ‘change in trend’ globally!

Some Twitter users have said women should gift their partner an engagement watch in exchange for being given a ring. However, suggestions are in the rise in engagement watches is even attributed to the number of same-sex marriages. On social media platforms like Instagram, engagement watches are growing in popularity. Also, more sellers are marketing their watch offerings to the soon to be married couples. Anyways, for women looking to propose to their male partners or LGBTQ couples, who want to forgo the traditional engagement route, watches are becoming the ‘best-loved’ gift for the partner.

For a couple, however, watches offer an opportunity to participate in the traditions of engagement and marriage in a personal way, and without the outdated social norms or the skyrocketing price tag of rings. Meanwhile, sales of watches have increased recently because they are considered investment pieces and there is a general trend in self-gifting, according to The 2021 State Of Fashion Report.

Though watch models are usually marketed for men, models like the Rolex Pre-owned 40mm Submariner, is getting more attention from female shoppers. For some, the lack of an object announcing their relationship status adds to the appeal of an engagement watch.

Watches have had a general boost in popularity in the past few years. High-end pieces became a particularly strong category amid the pandemic, thanks to their appeal as investment items. Although rings continue to be the dominant engagement piece, according to experts interviewed, watches offer versatility and intimacy that may, one day, outweigh the pros of a traditional ring. Not unlike diamonds, certain brand watches are very valuable. Some watches even contain diamonds, making them extra special and perfect for a proposal.

In the USA, Fashionphile is currently on track to sell more watches in 2021 than it did the previous year, doubling its revenue from this category. Searches for the word “watch” are up 73% on the site compared to 2020, while “women’s watches” have increased by 92% since last year. “For women, watches are seen as jewellery.” Ms Fristik, from Fashionphile, says that watches are becoming more common as engagement presents because they are seen as heritage investment pieces that, much like rings, are passed down from generation to generation. They are also, according to Fristik, a way to tailor to people’s unique tastes, which might not include rings.

In South Korea, in most cases the bride and the groom exchange rings and watches. Nowadays, the wedding gift trend is focused on practical items like watches, where Korean trendsetters often have their first encounters with new international labels. The Galleria’s Luxury Hall East has two floors dedicated to watches, with in-store boutiques selling brands like Vacheron Constantin, Officine Panerai and Patek Philippe.

When a couple gets engaged, though they felt pressured to follow the elaborate gift traditions, they follow their hearts and give their partner something that will make them happy. Rolex watches are a favourite with South Koreans, though they love all luxury watch brands like IWC, Breitling, Audemars Piguet and so on.

Interestingly in western cultures, the lady is the star of the show, and the ring comes a close second. Men are often ignored in this part of the journey. However, in many other cultures in Asia and the Middle East, both parties tend to involve families and it is a bigger affair than just two people getting engaged privately. Gifts from both families are exchanged. Often both parties wear rings and more guys wear watches also to commemorate the occasion if they don’t want a ring. A watch so modern in line and proportion, it is no wonder it has been a huge commercial success for Cartier.

In Singapore, the unfailing joy of a mechanical watch is felt when men and women get engaged. The engagement ring is reciprocated with the gift of a mechanical watch. Because that watch now becomes his companion in the journey that will be their life together. There are 19,851 engagement watch suppliers, mainly located in Asia. The top supplying country or region is China, which supplies 100% of engagement watch respectively.

“Though engagement watches are a relatively newer trend and become a part of your personal story and history, a special item that can easily become a family heirloom, passed down from generation to generation," Brian Sacawa, the expert behind the popular YouTube channel He Spoke Style.

Much like engagement rings, watches can be personalized with dials, engravings, straps and more, making them a meaningful piece for the couple. Fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell agreed that watches are a nice option but doesn't think the trend has enough momentum to replace traditional engagement rings.

"I don't think it's a perfect replacement for a ring, because it doesn't announce to the world that the wearer is engaged or married; to do that, you still have to put a ring on it," she said acknowledging however that the trend might gain more traction in the years to come.

Watches are expected to become a strong engagement trend and continue for a long time to come. Popularly, this trend is being used when women want to pop the all-important question. In fact, in 2018, Pinterest found that the search term: ‘women proposing to men ideas’ had increased by 336%. A smartwatch or a classic timepiece, with or without diamonds, is what most men love. So, with many luxury watches available to choose from … looks like the trend is here to stay!

Aruna Gaitonde, Editor in Chief of the Asian Bureau, Rough&Polished