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Are engagement watches the new engagement rings?

Experts share their thoughts on the engagement watch trend.
Close-Up Of A Couple Holding Hands With An Engagement Ring
Would you propose with an engagement watch?Jon Asato / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

"Show us your ring!" It's a phrase that couples often get asked after getting engaged, and for good reason. Engagement rings have been a symbol of commitment for ages, and they're a way to tell the world that you're officially off the market.

But some couples are flipping the script and opting for a different piece of jewelry to symbolize their intent to marry. Engagement watches have been flying quietly under the radar for a while, but they seem to be gaining traction.

We were curious to know: Is this a lasting trend or simply a passing craze? So TMRW reached out to some style experts to get their thoughts on engagement watches and whether they think the timepiece trend is here to stay.

How long has this been a trend, anyway?

When we first heard about engagement watches in a recent Refinery29 article, our first thought was, "Huh?" Engagement rings are such a universal sign of love and commitment and they're deeply ingrained in tradition; this must be a fleeting fad. But the trend has apparently been gaining traction for a while.

"While most (96%) couples continue to exchange rings at the start of their engagement, we also see couples proposing with non-ring items that are just as meaningful — think watches, bracelets, gifting a vacation or even a down payment on a house with the money one would’ve spent on a ring," said Shelley Brown, senior fashion and beauty editor for The Knot, citing the wedding site's 2019 Jewelry & Engagement study.

Recent data from digital shopping platform ShopStyle also shows an uptick in search traffic for the terms "women's watches" (+33% in search volume year over year), men's watches (+31% in search volume year over year) and watches (+23% in search volume year over year).

Engagement traditions are evolving

Katie Brownstein, director of marketing at wedding planning company Joy, told TMRW she's noticed nontraditional symbols of commitment popping up for several years, and said she thinks that many of these wedding trends took root in 2020.

"We all took a moment to reflect and many traditions no longer hold the same weight post-pandemic. I see the rise in trends like engagement watches as a reflection of our values — we are looking for things that hold more meaning. For some couples, an engagement ring does not feel authentic to them, so an alternative like a watch may be a more personal symbol of their commitment," she said.

"We all took a moment to reflect and many traditions no longer hold the same weight post-pandemic."

Katie Brownstein

These days, some couples opt to wear engagement or commitment rings together or go for something more unique that doesn't include a diamond.

"As the traditions around rings shift, it goes to follow that ring alternatives also gain popularity. Designer timepieces retain their value and thus are an heirloom investment similar to diamonds, so they're a natural engagement gift option," Brown said.

Engagement watches have also become a nice alternative option for same-sex couples who are looking for a unique way to show their commitment to each other or for women who want to pop the question to their boyfriends.

"There has also been a rise in partners who receive an engagement ring who would like to reciprocate the gesture with something equally as meaningful and sentimental — making the engagement watch the perfect gift," Brownstein said.

Watches are special in their own right

Engagement watches are a relatively newer trend, but watches in general have been a staple piece of jewelry for several centuries.

"Watches have occupied a significant place in the Western wardrobe because they spent most of their existence (say about 300 years) as an elite accessory. They were extremely expensive. Only in the late 19th, early 20th century could regular people even kind of afford one," Deirdre Clemente, a fashion historian and 20th-century American culture expert at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told TMRW.

Engagement rings symbolize commitment and tell a story, and many couples view watches in the same way.

"An engagement watch becomes a part of your own 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, said.

Much like engagement rings, watches can be personalized — with dials, engravings, straps and more — making them a meaningful piece for the couple.

Do engagement watches have staying power?

What sort of impact will this trend have on the way people express their relationship status?

"While a watch doesn't immediately express 'engaged' to others, it's ultimately up to the couple to find something that is unique and personal to them, whether it's a ring or a watch. Traditionally, men don't wear rings when they're engaged so this shouldn't have an impact on the expression of relationship status," Brownstein said.

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.

Still, Clemente acknowledged that the trend might gain more traction in the years to come.

"The social and cultural meaning of objects are dynamic — they change according to how we live. As a society, we are reevaluating what is important and what is necessary in our everyday lives. As a historian of material culture, I am completely unsurprised that we’re reconsidering how we express commitment," she said.

How to find the perfect engagement watch

Considering an engagement watch? We asked the pros for some shopping tips to help you find the perfect one:

  • Set a budget: "You can never go wrong with a classic brand, and the solid steel sports watch is a great option that can be dressed up with a suit but still looks incredible dressed down with a simple T-shirt and jeans," said Aaron Merino, a men's style influencer whose Alpha M YouTube page has 6.36 million subscribers. "The other great thing about some of the classic brands is that many of them will not only hold their value, they can even appreciate depending on the brand!"
  • Do your research: "Looking for a watch to pass down to future generations? Certain brands, makes and models retain their value better than others," Brown said.
  • Keep it personal: "Just like with an engagement ring, the watch should feel personal (and) take the partner’s style and preferences into account. For those choosing to forgo the engagement ring route, personalize the watch to make it all the more special and sentimental," Brownstein said.
  • Keep it simple: "This is not the time for something statement making or flashy with limited styling possibilities. Like a traditional wedding or engagement ring, an engagement watch is something you’ll want to wear as often as possible because of what it represents," Sacawa said. "Think about the clothes you normally wear and choose something that works as seamlessly as possible throughout your wardrobe and that makes sense for your lifestyle."