Solely In Black and White: Just Watch…or A Matter of Time?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Just Watch…or A Matter of Time?

I have recently been pondering a question: Where does the practice of giving a chossan watch come from and what are the implications of such a practice nowadays? While some people (bloggers, columnists, community enthusiasts, town criers, bellwethers, and paper boys…) have decried wedding gifts as being overly elaborate and a byproduct societies’ infatuation with materialism, or perhaps just our childlike enthusiasm for shiny objects that cost a lot of money, there is one “gift” that stands out: The Chossan Watch. Well, technically, it’s not the only gift that stands out in the fray, since the other exceptions are the ubiquitous diamond engagement ring and the typical wedding band. Obviously we must discount those since they are part and parcel of getting engaged and married. The question that has been perturbing me recently is: is the Chossan watch a typical gift or is it something more? 

 To elaborate my query succinctly, has the widespread adaptation of a chossan watch become the male equivalent of an engagement ring and thus an obligation upon the girl, in most cases her family, or not? To make matters slight more interesting it would seem that boys' (technically, their family) whom happen to buy girls nice real rings and accessories (such as a necklace or bracelet or both, depending on the circumstances or circles) feel slighted if the girl (or ostensibly their family) do not reciprocate in kind. But if a chossan watch is an obligation, albeit a new fangled one, are parents required to provide their future son-in-law with a reasonable watch just as we expect a boy to provide his fiancée a reasonable ring? Would that also mean that a girl would be responsible to buy one if her parent couldn’t or wouldn’t, or is that somehow against the rules? Granted, if a guy gets his future wife a cheap CZ, she can rightfully buy him a knock-off Rolex or whatever fine merchandise can be purchased out of a trench-coat. ;-) Okay, perhaps that is less acceptable as it crosses some ethical and moral lines… but you get the idea, a cheap watch in its stead. :-) 

Watch the watchWhile I personally do not know how often this happens in real life or the manifestation of such a scenario on an engagement, I am aware of a couples of instances where this question has arose. Seemingly this isn’t such an uncommon problem and it creates a rather peculiar predicament. For one, engagements are hard enough as is, being that everyone is trying to walk on egg-shells while trying to plan a complex collaborative event, also known as a wedding. Add a little watch drama and things can get messy quickly or so I am told. I mean I never even knew of this problem, let alone that is a widespread issue. 

Understand that I always thought a watch was a gift and that was all. You take what you get and smile politely. Anecdotally, I am relatively certain my brother-in-law dislikes his watch and my parents know this. Then again he chose the watch himself, but that is a different story! :-) Furthermore, I never realized how lucky I was to receive the watch that I did, and now I am even more thankful. Not because of the actual watch, although I do admire it, but for what it represents and the thoughtfulness behind it! All that aside, perhaps I was wrong in my assessment on what a watch represents until now... 

And thus in a nutshell, the question that I am wondering about, is a chossan watch considered the male equivalent of an engament ring, and consequently an accepted obligatory custom, or is it merely a gift and should be accepted if given and overlooked if not?


  1. You raise an interesting question, though I definitely think that the engagement ring predates the "chosson watch".
    Of course, I come from a time where it would be unthinkable for the engagement ring to be purchased by anybody other than the chosson himself (a rarity, apparently, nowadays) and in my day the chosson watch was often a gift from the future in-laws.

  2. Thoughy not precisely tit-for-tat with an engagement ring, the watch giving was already there in Europe in the early days of the last century and a little before, although it was a pocket watch in some cases. It was the only piece of jewelry considered appropriate for a frum man to wear, and was mostly customary among those with some money as watches of the choson variety (and most others as well) were expensive. There was also one other gift which a choson got to the wedding--a silver atarah for his tallis, again where there was money to buy one. These gifts were from the parents, not the kallah.

    And as G6 said, the kallah's ring was purchased by the choson in my day, not by the choson's parents. A man who had not yet earned enough to buy that ring was not considered as a good candidate for marriage--how would he support his wife and family?

  3. so true! i see it first hand with a couple of my siblings the real difference that something like that can make!

  4. It is just another example of the escalation of gifts for the couple, and the financial burden grows increasingly heavy for their parents. The chasson watch idea has been around for about a dozen years. I would venture to guess that it came into vogue around the same time that kallahs went on the assumption that "everyone gets a custom wig" and bills it to the MIL as the s added on to FLOPS.

  5. as commented elsewhere "a watch is to impress upon the guy that now you are responsible for your time. Before you could do as you pleased but now you have more responsibilities."

    as profk mentioned this is an old, established minhag - no less than the brisker rav was gifted a gold pocket watch. the minhag has a basis, what doesn't is the extent to which it has been taken.


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