How to Choose a Watch Box
Summary: All watch boxes are not created equal! This article will explain what to look for and why cheaper is not always better!
When you own more than one watch, you're a collector. And once the collecting bug bites, it's hard to stop, especially when there are some really cool and inexpensive watches like the Vostok Amphibia and Komandirskie; watches from Alpha, Orient, Parnis and even Timex. Why not? You don't have to spend a lot of money to become a watch collector!
And every respectable watch collector needs a watch box. It's way too easy to scratch your new watch if it's left on the dresser or thrown in a drawer. That an inexpensive watch needs more care than an expensive watch may be a paradox. But a cheap watch usually has an acrylic crystal and chrome or gold plate; easier to damage than, say, the ultra-hard tegimented metal and sapphire crystal of a Sinn 857.
A watch with an acrylic crystal can pick up a scratch as quickly as you can say "Shturmanskie" and it will start looking, well, like an inexpensive watch in no time. It's not very difficult to remove a scratch from an acrylic crystal with some polish and elbow grease, but the point here is that once you start to get serious about your watches (which by definition you are if you're reading this article!), you'll want a watch box.
The immediate temptation is to search through eBay or somewhere online for the cheapest watch box you can find. But I'll argue that by doing so, you could be making a big mistake if you don't know what to look for. Take it from me: I've learned the hard way. It doesn't make sense to "cheap out" on a watch box, only to discover that the money spent was wasted on a box that doesn't protect the collection.
Many beginning (and experienced) watch collectors seem to find it difficult to spend as much on a watch box as they would on a nice watch. But I'd argue that my experience says that a good watch box is definitely worth the money.
And it may not be as expensive as you think. Perhaps you'll find a real bargain; a watch box that meets all of my criteria at a steal of a price. I actually did find the perfect watch box at an unbelievably low price, just by chance. Perhaps someday I'll be able to score another...
So follow along, and check out my video and hopefully you can use this information to find a watch box you won't regret.
The Perfect Watch Box
It took me too much time and too much money to understand the features that make the perfect watch box. The single most important tip I have is to make sure the watch box does not include the cheap squishy pillows similar to the one shown in the photo above right.
These pillows look (and feel) like they came from a cheap doll house divan, but they are unfortunately found in many watch boxes. My opinion is that this type of pillow is simply not suitable for holding any type of wrist watch. Apparently most first-time watch box owners don't know any better, so the manufacturers figure they can save some money by exploiting the unsuspecting customer.
A watch box pillow must be large enough to firmly hold the watch with the strap or bracelet tightened. This means a large, oval-shaped, firm fleece-covered pillow like the ones shown in the lower set of photos above.
I'll describe these in more detail in the video (below). The photos of the aluminum watch box also illustrate how these flimsy pillows don't even support the smaller watches like the Vostok Komandirskie, which has a 39 mm diameter and is approximately 10 mm thick. And if they can't support a Komandirskie, there's absolutely no way they'll hold a big dive watch in place.
Even some very expensive watch boxes use this type of pillow, which is an instant turn-off for me. I won't even look at a watch box that uses those smaller pillows, no matter how inexpensive or good-looking the box might be.
Of course, there are other criteria that are important in choosing a watch box. The individual compartments or cells must be large enough and deep enough to accommodate many different types and sizes of wrist watches. After all, if you're buying a watch box, you're probably expecting your collection to grow, or you may find that your tastes change and the box will have to hold different types of watches over its lifetime.
Thus, I suggest buying a watch box that will fit the largest dive watches. A box sized to fit a large watch should have no problem fitting a smaller watch, but the opposite is not true. I use my Glycine Lagunare 3000 as the benchmark; if it fits, then the watch box should have no problem fitting any other type of watch I might own.
The Lagunare 3000 is 46 mm in diameter and a massive 18 mm thick. The watch box compartments must also fit a big watch like the very wide Glycine F-104, which is a monstrous 52 mm in diameter. Any box that can hold those watches should have no problem fitting smaller watches, like a petite Omega Seamaster 120 at 36 mm across for example.
Also, the watch box cover must have enough depth clearance under it to close over the largest watches without touching. Unfortunately, this isn't easy to determine when looking at online photos of a watch box.
My Favorite Watch Box
After trying six or so different types, I have finally learned which criteria are necessary for the perfect watch box. My favorite box has no brand name that I'm aware of, but it is a high-quality wooden watch box with felt or fleece lining and big, generous pillows and just-as-generous internal dimensions.
It cost only $32.00 on a closeout sale at a department store! The regular price was $199.99, believe it or not, and I bought the last two they had in stock. This is the wooden single level box with the thick wooden dividers shown in the photos.
This box holds 8 watches. The outside of the box measures 280 mm wide and 220 mm deep and it has a height of 90 mm. The wood used to make this box is 10 mm thick. Each compartment measures 45 mm deep from the bottom to the top of the divider. The compartments measure 50 mm wide and 80 mm long.
The watch cover adds an additional 22 mm of overhead clearance for a total of about 67 mm of depth for the watch when it's sitting on the pillow. Each compartment is surrounded by 10 mm wooden dividers. Finished wooden dividers seem to be a hallmark of a high-quality watch box; less expensive boxes make do with thin painted cardboard or vinyl-covered dividers, as seen in the photos of the dual-level watch box. It's important to have adequate distance between the watches however, to accommodate those big dive watches, so the divider width is important and wood dividers are usually thicker and better.
The fleece-covered pillows in my favorite box are approximately 43 mm thick by 75 mm long. This yields roughly 24 mm or so height over the top of the pillow to the Plexiglas in the lid cover, not counting the space needed below the pillow for the watch band. Since most watch bands or bracelets are nominally about 5 mm thick, not counting the buckle, this is just enough room for the big Glycine Lagunare 3000, which is probably about the thickest and heaviest watches you will find.
For the most part, you probably will not find these dimensions when you look at watch boxes online. You're lucky if the description includes even one or two decent photos.
That's a big problem for people forking over good money. I'm not sure I've ever seen a watch box retailer list the dimensions under the cover to the top of the compartments. It's also nearly impossible to determine the quality of the box, wood, pillows, lining, etc. from the photos on most watch box retail websites.
But this is par for the course, right? It's not uncommon for the biggest watch manufacturers to leave out critical information like lug width, lug-tip-to-lug-tip distance, watch weight, etc. on their watches costing thousands of dollars.
My favorite watch box is also extremely well made. It not only looks like a work of art, it is a work of art! I'm not sure what type of wood was used, but it is some type of high-quality hardwood, not stained pine or other inexpensive type.
But truth be told, the material that the box is made from doesn't matter as much as the pillow type and the dimensions. Don't let your emotions guide you on this by thinking that a highly-polished good-looking wooden box is what you need. The details are what's important.
The pillows used in this box have an interesting feature -- they are adjustable. Each pillow has a central felt-lined core that can be removed, which makes a smaller-diameter pillow for smaller watches (illustrated in the photo below and in the video). And finally, the lid can be opened with one hand, another nice feature.
What Not to Buy
The other two watch boxes shown in the photos and in the video are used for an illustration of what not to buy. The aluminum box is actually built rather well but it has two big drawbacks. First, it uses those horrible squishy unsupportive pillows. Second, the compartments are way too shallow. And the pillows don't help either, because they don't hold the watches upright or straight.
The aluminum box holds 18 watches. The box measures 340 mm wide by 250 mm deep by 70 mm high, which is already 20 mm thinner than my favorite watch box described above. Under the lid the compartments are 45 mm deep and 47 mm wide by 75 mm long. It's disappointing that someone thought about building a nice robust case but didn't think about the insides. This box isn't even deep enough to hold the smallest watches.
I'll admit that not every box is built to hold a big watch like the Lagunare, but the aluminum box can barely contain an old Swiss Army Original, which is about as small as they come.
I bought two of these aluminum boxes online after looking at a couple of photos. They were on a "two for one" sale and they were the first watch boxes I ever bought. I didn't know any better, but now you do.
The two-tiered watch box also seen in the photos and the video was a recent purchase. Again, I was fooled by the photos. I was looking for a box like my favorite described above but one that would hold more watches. This one was on sale for $40.00 USD. I didn't follow my own rules, letting the sale price cloud my judgment.
Actually, this box isn't all bad news. It sort of fits between the unacceptable aluminum box and the favorite in terms of utility. The wood on this one is nice, but a bit thin.
It holds 20 watches but the drawer on the bottom has no latches or catch so it slides right out as soon as the box is tipped. Pull the drawer out too far and it will fall out of the box. The lock looked good, but it has to be squeezed just right on either side with one hand as the top is opened with the other hand, making it a two-handed procedure.
This box is 295 mm wide by 195 mm deep by 125 mm tall. The compartments are 53 mm wide by 90 mm long, but they're only 31 mm deep to the top of the compartment. Note that the compartment depth dimension is a bit misleading, because the walls of the compartment can be lower but if the box has a deep lid, there still may be clearance. But the compartments can't be too shallow, like in the aluminum box, or the side walls won't provide enough support to hold the watch upright.
The lid on the two-tiered box is about 20 mm deep, so the total height over the pillow is 51 mm, compared to the 67 mm of depth in my favorite. This means that some of the larger dive watches won't fit, as you can see in the video, where there isn't enough clearance over the top of a Vostok Amphibia 1967 when the lid is closed.
Also, each pillow in the two-level box is 71 mm long, which is strange, because it leaves about 20 mm of empty space in the 90 mm long compartment.
The bottom drawer is only about 58 mm deep to the bottom edge of the top section, so only the smallest watches will fit when wrapped around the pillows.
By the way, most watch boxes require the watch to be wrapped around the pillow and secured at the clasp, just like you were putting it on your wrist. You can sometimes cheat by wrapping the watch strap around the bottom of the pillow and stuffing it into the compartment, but usually this means you'll end up with an ill-fitting pillow and watch combination and if there's minimal clearance under the lid to begin with, you may have problems.
Summary: What to Look For in a Watch Box
Based on my experience over the years with probably a half-dozen different watch boxes, here's what I suggest:
Pillows: Firm oval-shaped pillows as described above and as shown in the photos. The fleece-covered pillows in my favorite watch box are the best I've seen, so let's call it an even 45 mm thick by 75 mm long. If you can get pillows like mine where the outer sleeve is removable to fit smaller watches, that's a bonus. Just say "No" to the squishy turd-shaped pillows!
Compartment Dimensions: 50 mm wide with 10 mm dividers leaves enough room for the largest dive watches. Don't forget that divider width, which is necessary to have in addition to the compartment width so that the largest dive watches will fit without touching. I read once that an owner had two very expensive watches damaged because they were touching when they were sitting next to each other in adjacent compartments in the watch box!
Compartment Depth: Deeper is better. I'd say 45 mm deep is the minimum (measured from the floor of the compartment to the top of the divider), with at least another 20 mm of depth in the lid. Better would be 55 mm deep with a 20-30 mm lid depth. Make sure the compartment walls are tall enough to support the pillow and the watch.
Lining: High-quality fleece or microfiber is best.
Other Features: I like boxes with a clear top, so I can see and enjoy the watches. A clear top helps me to quickly identify which watch I plan on wearing each day. Also, don't forget: if you have a solar-powered watch, the clear cover provides enough light to keep it charged, an important point.
As far as the number of watches the box should hold, that's up to you. I thought it would be better to have one large box to hold all my watches, but I'm now convinced that a couple of smaller boxes are easier to manage. If I could find more of my favorite box described above, I'd probably buy a half-dozen of them!
I hope this too-long dissertation on watch boxes will help you decide. I haven't focused on pricing because that isn't as important as the criteria. Once you know what to look for, you may be able to find a watch box that matches the description at a very reasonable price. Good luck and if you find a deal, please let me know!
Published: January 2010