Best Graduation Watches To Fit Any Budget

When I graduated from High School back in 2012, my parents bought me a gold Fossil watch. While not the “best” watch on the market, and not the type of watch I’d buy on my own, it marked a special time in my life and I absolutely loved my parents for it. It’s also the watch that got me excited about wearing and learning about watches as a whole. Without that watch, I probably would’ve never gotten obsessed with them in the first place, and this blog you’re reading right now wouldn’t exist!

Graduation from high school or college is a special time in one’s life, it’ll only ever happen once! If your loved one is graduating, sure, you can send them to Cabo for a trip to celebrate. But how about something that’ll last, like a timepiece they’ll be able to build memories wearing, for the rest of their lives? Here are our picks for the best graduation watches to buy for him or her.

Our top picks for the best watches to buy for graduation are the Timex Weekender Chronograph, Seiko SARB or the Rolex Datejust, depending on budget. You should also consider getting the watch engraved with their name and graduation date, to serve as a reminder for their big achievement.

I’ll be giving more details on the watches mentioned and why I picked them for this list of best graduation watches. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to pick the exact right timepiece that special someone can have in their collection forever. But first, a couple of criteria that helped us make our decision.

What to Look for When Buying a Watch for Graduation

  • Built to last – Hopefully, this is a watch that will remain in their collection forever. Because of this, I’ve only included watches that are made by brands that have proven themselves for decades. You won’t find any new trendy fashion or micro brands in this list, because they haven’t yet proved themselves, or how long their watches last.
  • Versatility – Whether you’re kicking off someone’s watch collection with their first timepiece, or this will be an addition to an already developed collection, we want to pick a watch that the graduate can wear for a variety of different occasions. From casual to formal outfits, this watch won’t look out of place. The watch should be able to be worn with either a suit and tie or a t-shirt and shorts when paired with the right strap. 
  • Professionalism – After graduation, it’s likely the graduate will start to look for employment. We want the watch to look professional and presentable enough during the many interviews and exciting new job experiences to come. 
  • Stainless Steel Case for Engraving – I’ve only picked watches with a simple stainless steel case (with one exception) for this list, so you have the possibility of getting them engraved if you so choose. Watches that are coated or plated with precious metals, such as rose or yellow gold, should not be engraved, as it’d likely scratch through the plating and reveal the true color of the case underneath. Solid gold watches can be engraved, but since you’re carving into the precious metal, you’re literally shaving some of the watch’s value right off. It’s best to be avoided. Stainless steel watches usually tend to be more versatile and discreet, anyway, perfect for any occasion. 

Best Watches to Buy or Wear for Graduation

Timex Weekender Chronograph (Best Budget Graduation Watch)

The Timex Weekender is a great budget graduation watch for anyone looking to try wearing watches for the first time. Timex is a brand that has been making pocket watches and clocks since the late 1800s and has a very strong heritage. You know their watches are built to last.

The Timex Weekender Chronograph model in particular is one of their best watches for everyday wear. It’s simple and classy enough to be dressed up when worn with a leather strap, but also has more casual and rugged looking options when putting on a canvas strap. There are a huge variety of colors of dials and available straps, so you can pick the one that really suits your graduate’s personality. The chronograph feature is used to time something up to 30 minutes, great for timing workouts, a pizza in the oven, or anything in between. This added functionality makes it a great everyday option.

It’s also the most affordable graduation watch on this list, and one of the best watch to start any watch collection in general. This is the only quartz watch on this list.

Read more about quartz vs. mechanical watches here.

Quartz watches are very accurate and reliable, but if you think the wearer is the type that would be fascinated by wearing a mechanically engineered, self-powered, battery-less machine on their wrist, keep reading for some more options.

Seiko SKX007/009

My own personal beloved Seiko SKX007

Most every serious watch enthusiast has heard of, if not owned, a Seiko SKX. It’s one of those watches that feels and looks a lot more expensive than it is. It’s a serious diver watch meant for underwater exploration, so you’ll have no problem swimming with it and can technically withstand a shower (though you still shouldn’t shower with it, read why). It can take a serious beating and keep on ticking.¬†Seriously, this watch is rather indestructible, and a great choice for someone with an active lifestyle. It’s also great for someone who wants to wear their watch day in and day out, without having to baby it too much.¬†

Seiko SARB033/035 (Best Value Graduation Watch)

The Seiko SARB033 and the Seiko SARB035 simply exude class. A watch enthusiast unfamiliar with the price of this watch would likely evaluate its cost thousands more than it really does upon taking a glance.

It has a simple yet elegant look, but it avoids being boring like some other minimal watches. This is a watch you’ll literally be able to wear for the rest of your life and will never go out of style.

Seiko SARB035. Credit: Theurbanwatch

It features a display case back which allows you to admire the marvelous inner workings of the mechanical movement inside. One downside of this watch as a graduation present, however, is the display case back can make it difficult to find a place on the watch to engrave.

Everything in this watch is of a high standard, from the quality of the case, the durable sapphire crystal and the heft and feel of the bracelet. Best of all? This awesome graduation gift can be found for less than $500.  

Best Graduation Watch of All Time for Any Budget

Rolex Datejust

Rolex Datejust 36 ref. 116234 by lecocktailtime

The Rolex Datejust is simply timeless. While some may consider this watch a little “flashy” because of the fluted bezel, it’s hard to deny how classy and beautiful it looks. It’s a model that has been around for years, so there’s a huge variety of colors and dials to choose from, with some vintage options that are hard to find. This can add a truly rare and collectible piece to your graduate’s collection that will also be appropriate to wear for any occasion.

The Datejust primarily comes in two sizes, 36mm and 41mm. I recommend the more traditionally sized 36mm, which is a little more discreet on the wrist and will never go out of style. Plus, it’s a great graduation watch for women as well. 

Honorable Mentions

Omega Speedmaster

Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon. Credit: watchstylo

A watch that probably needs no explanation. The Omega Speedmaster is a watch that has been tested by NASA and worn to the moon. In fact, it’s still worn by astronauts today. As much as it is a tool watch, it’s also beautiful and a joy to wear.

Some consider the Omega Speedmaster aka the “Moonwatch”, the best one watch collection. And what’s more convenient than that, for a recent graduate? An entire collection in one watch, perfect for any occasion. It looks great on almost literally any variety or color of watch strap. Each new strap will give the Speedmaster a different vibe, and almost make it feel like wearing an entirely new watch. The chronograph also adds to the utility of the watch and helps further solidify the Omega Speedmaster as the perfect and utilitarian everyday watch. 

Graduation Watches for Ladies

There’s no reason a graduate who just happens to be a woman can’t wear any of these aforementioned watches on this list. Even if they’re marketed as “men’s” watches, I’d argue most of them are rather unisex in design. Some may be too large for a ladies wrist, so size is definitely an additional consideration when it comes to graduation watches for her. If you’re someone with smaller wrist and/or prefer smaller watches, here are a couple of my favorite graduation watches for ladies. 

Junghans Max Bill Ladies

This watch has a gorgeous aesthetic that somehow treads the line of both modern and retro at the same time. With its minimalist style, the simplicity may be a bit boring for some, but it’s such a low-key watch that flies under the radar. Only other watch geeks will know how truly awesome the Max Bill is. It’s sort of like being in a secret hidden watch club, and some prefer the “if you know, you know” aspect of brands like Junghans. 

Cartier Tank

In my opinion, the Cartier Tank is the absolute classiest watch of all time. The signature watch of some A-list celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Jeff Goldblum, and for good reason. The rectangular case design and formal-looking dial with Roman numerals may be a bit of an acquired taste or too formal for some. It’s not a watch that pairs well with a t-shirt and shorts but looks great when dressed up.

The watch has some extremely slim quartz variants, just 5mm tall, that feel nonexistent and weightless on the wrist. There are some mechanical and hand-winding versions as well, for those more into the mechanical side of watches. All in all, this is a watch that you won’t regret having in your collection and personally, I’d be ecstatic to ever receive one of these in my life, let alone for graduation. 

Rolex Datejust Ladies

A watch already mentioned on this list and is my pick for the perfect graduation watch, if you’re working with an unlimited budget. Perfectly executed design and with the Rolex brand backing it, you know you’re getting a quality watch that has lasted decades and will last for decades to come.

You can think of a Rolex Datejust as more of an heirloom than just a piece of jewelry. You’ll undoubtedly be able to pass this watch down for generations. Plus, Rolex Datejusts is available in a variety of sizes, dials, colors, materials and etc. If you’re looking for a traditionally, smaller sized ladies watch, the Rolex Datejust 28mm might be the graduation watch for her you’ve been looking for. 

Should You Get a Graduation Watch Engraved?

Something often asked when buying a watch for graduation is if you should have it engraved. Engraving the watch will always lower its resale value. However, graduation gifts such as watches are often meant to commemorate a significant achievement in one’s life, and most will never sell it since it’ll have immense sentimental value.

A personalized engraving will make the watch more meaningful to the graduate and make it a more unique watch at the same time. If it’s a very expensive timepiece, you might want to hold off on getting it engraved, and at least make sure it’s a watch the graduate is happy with first. If on the cheaper side, engraving isn’t as impactful of a decision. Engraving won’t harm the resale value of an already affordable watch too much, so feel free to get it engraved without worrying too much.

How to get a Watch Engraved for Graduation

Many jewelers offer personalized engraving on watches or any other piece of jewelry. My only recommendation when choosing a watch to engrave for graduation is to choose a stainless steel watch that doesn’t have a very busy caseback. This means watches like the Seiko SARB033 with display casebacks or other casebacks with intricate engraved designs or lettering can be difficult and should be reconsidered.

Some jewelers can, however, polish off specifications or anything already engraved into the watch, to make more space for your own personalized engravings. Mind you, this will likely add to the cost of the engraving, and not all jewelers or watchmakers are confident enough to attempt a modification that requires such precision. Some watches shouldn’t be engraved at all.

What to get Engraved on a Graduation Watch

When getting a graduation watch engraved, the sky is the limit. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

  • Write a personalized message in your handwriting, and have the watchmaker or jeweler use your handwriting. 
  • Consider writing the school and/or year of graduation.
  • A meaningful quote or inside joke between you and the graduate. 

Anything that you think will add meaning and sentimental value to the watch for the graduate is a good choice to engrave. Try to avoid trendy memes and such, just like you would if you were considering a tattoo.

Where Can I Get a Watch Engraved Near Me For A Graduation Present?

To find a watchmaker that can engrave a watch for graduation, search “watch engraving” on Yelp in your area. Always be sure to call ahead and see what the watchmaker’s level of experience and confidence with engraving is, and how long their turnaround time is. It goes without saying, but you need the watch back before graduation or the whole gift is for naught! Some watch companies, such as Timex, offer personalized engraving right on their site. 

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