Watch etiquette can be confusing, and some rules are worth following more religiously than others.
The idea that you should only wear your watch on your non-dominant hand, for example, is a rather old-fashioned principle that few people follow these days. Another one that’s perhaps more important to keep in mind – but one that’s also regularly ignored by many watch fans – is that you should never wear a dive watch with a suit. The list goes on.
But there’s one watch rule that you really shouldn’t ever break – and that’s asking how much someone paid for a watch.
Generally speaking, asking someone how much they paid for anything, whether that’s a car, a house or a jacket, is poor form. As this Quora thread eloquently puts it, “people should no more ask the cost of your watch than a woman’s engagement ring.”
But it seems as if many people (especially Aussies) aren’t quite so considerate when it comes to watches. It’s like a blind spot in our manners. Maybe it’s because we’re generally a pretty laid-back, casual sort of people – or maybe it’s because watch collecting isn’t quite as common within Australian society as, say, property ownership is.
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Last year, we spoke with an Australian watch fan who had picked up a Rolex Submariner ‘Hulk’ – one of the most desirable and aggressively speculated-upon watches in recent memory – and found that he hated wearing it, because so many people would ask him impolite questions about how much it cost.
“I’m looking forward to getting another watch, because people constantly stop me and ask about it… They always ask me the same three questions: when did I get it, where did I get it, and did I pay retail for it.”
While you’d think this is a rather trivial reason to get rid of a watch, the point still stands: it’s incredibly impolite and irksome to ask someone how much they paid for a watch. Even more so whether they got a discount.
But are we making a mountain out of a molehill? DMARGE spoke exclusive with Chamath Gamage (@champsg), noted Australian watch collector and founder of watchadvice.com.au, who has a more magnanimous take on the matter.
“I personally don’t mind if someone asks how much my watch is. I usually enjoy their reaction.”
“In my opinion, I believe a person who asks that question, is usually not a person who is well versed in watches. If you understand that thinking, you probably won’t find it impolite or get offended.”
“It also comes down to how the question is asked, if they are genuinely curious about my watch and the ‘cost’ question comes up then I think that’s is a fair question to ask.”
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Indeed, he thinks that sometimes the balance of good taste can sometimes swing the other way when it comes to wearing high-end timepieces.
“Sometimes, I do feel like I am being judged for having a watch that one might consider too expensive… [But] I personally don’t think putting a monetary value on a watch undermines watch collecting. At the end of the day, I enjoy watch collecting and I’m not bothered about what others think.”
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Gamage reckons there are far worse offences than asking how much someone’s watch costs – namely, asking more personal questions of a watch owner.
“Often after finding out how much my watch costs, they’ll ask what I do for a living, which I’m generally happy to answer but it can come across as rude depending on how they ask or the tone they use.”
“Another question I find rude is asking where I bought a certain watch and that person asking me to put in a good word with the Authorised Dealer (AD) to help them to get a specific watch.”
“Now, I am more than happy to help, but putting in a good word typically doesn’t help their cause, as they should build the relationship with the AD (just like I have!). I also see questions such as ‘did you wait a long time for the watch’, ‘which AD did you get your watch from’ on forums and I personally don’t see how it helps.”
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As Oscar Wilde once said, “nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” The value of a watch isn’t always easily expressed as a dollar figure. Watches are family heirlooms; gifts from loved ones or colleagues; a reflection of someone’s character, personality or history.
Our advice? Don’t be fixated on what a watch is worth, and much like anything to do with money, let a watch owner freely volunteer how much they paid for a watch rather than risk being impolite and asking yourself.