Back in the day, retirement was celebrated with a big presentation including a plaque and gold watch.
Typically, it honored 35 plus years of service with the same company. I even vaguely recall attending several of these in the early days of my career.
As a general rule, gifting a watch has become an outdated retirement practice. The times and people have changed and there are many more thoughtful gifts. The only exception is when the person genuinely yearns for a watch to commemorate this special occasion.
Somehow, the notion still persists a gold watch marks the end of a successful career. I’ve seen countless claims that a watch is a timeless and classic retirement gift. However, everyone of them is also trying to sell you a watch!
So, let’s dig deeper to find out is a watch a good retirement gift?
When Watches Were Good Retirement Gifts
The practice of presenting a watch as a retirement gift is thought to have begun in the early to mid-nineteenth century.
According to a Time Piece Article, this practice began during the golden days of the railroad. The “railway pocket watches” were considered the most accurate timepieces and highly prized possessions.
Thus began the tradition of rewarding employees’ years of service and loyalty with a time piece. This evolved into presenting valued workers with a gold watch upon retirement.
Previous Generations Valued Their Watches
Back then, it was the norm to spend your entire working life with the same company. A family type of atmosphere was fostered with workers earning pensions. The standard retirement age was 65, at which point most workers were physically worn out.
The gold watch symbolized their years of hard work and dedication. Something to treasure in their remaining few years. Typically, these were passed down to the succeeding generation as heirlooms.
Unfortunately, the significance and meaning were often lost. Either tucked away and forgotten about or pawned off.
Times Have Changed
Nowadays, hardly anyone remains with the same company throughout their entire career.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the number of jobs held during a lifetime for younger baby boomers (born between 1957 and 1964) has greatly increased. On average, men will have 12.6 jobs whereas women will have 12.3.
Switching jobs is often considered the fast track to promotion, better pay and benefits or relocating to a preferred location. The average tenure per job is around four years.
In light of how everything has changed, it’s understandable why employers aren’t handing out gold watches.
People Have Changed
The majority of our fathers’ and grandfathers owned but a single watch. These were relatively expensive and if they stopped working, they were taken in for repair. These days, we’d be hard pressed to find anyone who still repairs them.
Much easier just to buy a new one. Although, it seems half the population no longer wears one. Everyone has a smart phone plus their vehicle and almost every device displays the time.
What most surprised me was a lot of my retired friends don’t wear a watch. They used to at work and now they couldn’t be bothered.
They’re no longer on someone else’s schedule. This also explains why most retirees have long since turned off their alarm clocks.
Another consideration is what if they have a perfectly good watch? For instance, the one my mother gave me is precious and filled with sentimental value. I’d be hard pressed to set it aside to wear something else.
All this raises the question, is a watch a good retirement gift?
Yet, Some Folks Love Their Watches
On the other hand, some people have one for every occasion. For instance, they might have a dress watch, casual watch, sports watch and another just because. Additionally, the more expensive ones might be a status symbol.
For women, it tends to be a fashion statement. Some ladies have a jewelry box full of them with one for each outfit. Prices have come down so much, you can buy a decent one for under ten bucks!
Or, you can spend hundreds of dollars on a “smart watch”. Some of these devices can do almost everything you’d do on a cell such as phone calls, email and even stream music.
Anyone who's trying to get in better shape has probably considered getting a Fitbit. These can count your steps, monitor your heartrate and much more.
Employers Seldom Present Watches Anymore
The reality is seldom does anyone last at a company for 35+ years anymore. The practice of watch giving commemorated years of service.
With few employees staying more than 4 or 5 years, it’s rather difficult for the employer to justify an expensive watch.
For this reason, retirement celebrations are getting fewer and farther between. Even for their long-term employees, companies seem reluctant to shell out money to acknowledge their contributions and service.
Work Culture Has Changed
Honoring special occasions isn’t something most employers do anymore. In the not-too-distant past, many organizations used to host employee functions. These could include a barbecue, team building activities and even a Christmas party.
Employers have contributed to this changing phenomenon and disengagement forgetting their employees are their most valuable asset. Now, their only focus is on the bottom line.
This minimizes the worker's feeling of belonging and a workplace family. Therefore, employees work ethic has changed and they don’t feel as loyal as they used to.
It’s no wonder why they're detached and planning their next job change.
A Quality Watch is Expensive
Is a watch a good retirement gift? If you believe it will truly commemorate their big day, it might be the perfect item. Keep in mind, is this something they really want as a quality watch can be pricey.
Right now, the price of gold is over $1,800 per ounce. Rolex, is one of the few manufacturers to use real gold (18 karat). Their watches are expensive, with the average cost ranging between $7,000 and $12,000.
Cheaper “gold” watches can be found for under $200.00. While they might look nice, often they’re knock-offs made in China. The old adage, “you get what you pay for”, fits perfectly. Which is another reason this may not be the best gift.
A Cheap Watch as A Fun Gift
The days of the company giving employees gold watches has long since passed.
This creates the opportunity to present a cheap watch (think the dollar store) from the team as a fun gift. The cheesier, the better. Maybe even completely spray it with gold paint.
Then, a note or card could say “Congratulations, we all hope your retirement is as golden as this watch!”.
As very few people expect an expensive retirement watch, this could tickle a few funny bones. Also, it’s highly recommended to present them with something nice they'll appreciate.
Rather than a watch, most folks prefer something more personalized to their interests. We have a wide assortment of ideas in our additional resources below. The key is selecting something they’ll appreciate.
For example, if they enjoy hiking, they’d appreciate accessories like walking poles, a quality water bottle or a book about the best hiking trails.
Another option is gift certificates as they seem to be popular in today’s work culture. The person can get exactly what they want.
Closing Thoughts on Is a Watch a Good Retirement Gift
A gold retirement watch is, typically, thought of as a gift for a man. Symbolic of a long successful career with the same company.
Clearly times have changed making this an outdated and antiquated gift. Only in rare exceptions will such a gift be meaningful and fully appreciated.
When thinking about a good retirement gift, the person’s likes and interests need to be taken into account. If they seldom wear a watch, it’ll most likely become a trinket, a dust collector or wind up on eBay.