The winter holidays are fast approaching, and that means it’s gift buying time. We thought it would be fun this year to have our editors put together their picks for the best gifts of the season. Each has selected a handful of products spanning categories and price points, as well as something from the HODINKEE Shop. We’ll be bringing you a new guide each day this week, so keep checking in for more ideas.
One of my earliest Christmas memories is one that I suspect a lot of people share, in one form or another: Pop complaining. Of course there was the de rigueur grousing about the neighbors’ outdoor ornaments (we used to pile into the car and drive around the neighborhood so he could decry the tackiness of the more over-the-top efforts; that I thought they looked amazing and wished we could yield to the spirit of excess once a year, was something I kept to myself) and it was also an opportunity to complain about two of his favorite bêtes noire: plastic (which he loathed the way some people hate cats, or raw oysters, which is to say, with a loathing with which there is no reasoning) and batteries. Years and decades have gone by since then, but I imbibed Pops’ dislike of the throw-away or disposable, and I’ve retained a certain preference, when it comes to holiday gifting, to find something for everyone that has at least a fighting chance of giving long-term satisfaction instead of short term novelty – and if it doesn’t break the bank so much the better.
The Nikon FE 35mm SLR
If you know a serious photography enthusiast and they came of age during the digital era, there are obviously an incredible number of gift options – anything from a set of aftermarket lenses for the latest iPhone, up to and including a Leica M10 or Hasselblad medium-format X1D-50c. However, for considerably less money than the latest and greatest large sensor digital camera, you can get the shutterbug(s) in your life a piece of real analog excellence: the Nikon FE. The FE is fairly generally recognized as one of the greatest film single lens reflex cameras ever made, and features an incredibly easy-to-use, moving needle analog light meter that makes getting accurate exposures a piece of cake. It’s amazingly easy to handle and hey, does anything say old-timey holiday spirit more than dropping off film at the lab and waiting with bated breath to “see what comes out?” The only potential gotcha is the fact that the light meter becomes nearly invisible if you’re shooting ISO 3200 film in dim light or at night but if you want to do that a lot, the +/- LED meter in the FE’s near-relative, the FM, should suit you just fine. Refurbished and ready to rock, you’ll struggle to spend more than $300 bucks for one in excellent condition.
The Opinel No. 8 Carbon Steel Pocket Knife With Sheath
The holidays are a time when a fine folding knife will prove its worth again and again, for everything from portioning saucisson at the company festivity, to making quick work of wrapped packages – as long as you can keep its edge keen. Julia Child once remarked that people talk a lot about a knife keeping an edge, when it is far more important to have a knife that takes an edge. Behold, therefore, one of the ultimate knives that takes an edge like you wouldn’t believe: the no. 8 carbon steel folder from the good folks at Opinel. There is a reason most utility/kitchen/camp knives are made of stainless steel – it’s much lower maintenance – but stainless is a royal PITA to sharpen compared with plain carbon steel, and you can put an edge on an Opinel carbon steel folder keen enough to shave a truffle paper thin, perform an emergency tracheostomy, or eliminate an inconvenient sentry (dealer’s choice) with just a few quick passes on a whetstone. One of the best general purpose folders ever made, and incredibly cheap to boot. Splurge on one with a classy box and a gin-wine leather sheath and you’ll be out all of thirty bucks, and whomever you give it to will be using it fifty years from now (unless they lose it or, more likely, it gets nicked by a covetous relative over the holiday celebrations).
A Class And/Or Membership With The Horological Society Of New York
Objects come and go (mostly) but knowledge is the gift that keeps on giving, and if you know someone who’s keen on the subject of watches and hasn’t had any actual hands on experience with them, I can recommend no better gift than the Watchmaking series of classes offered by America’s first watchmaking guild: the Horological Society of New York, which has been around continuously since 1866, and which continues today to educate and enlighten the horological masses. Despite the enormous surge in popularity of watch collecting over the last decade, there is still a very surprising absence among many enthusiasts, of basic understanding of the real nuts and bolts aspects of how timekeeping, in a mechanical watch, actually happens. There is simply no way to overstate the value of spending an evening working on a watch movement yourself; you’ll never look at mechanical watches the same way again. Get a membership and a slot in Watchmaking 101 for your favorite fellow watch nut and get one for yourself, while you’re at it – they say knowledge is power, but when it comes to watches, it’s the doorway to a whole new perspective on timekeeping as well.
Pretty Much Any Railroad Grade American-Made Pocket Watch
A lot of vintage wristwatch models have gone nuts price-wise in a way I’d never have dreamed possible when I first got interested in watches (which was back When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth) but pocket watches have, by and large, remained more or less untouched by the price surges of the last ten years. In particular, American-made pocket watches made for the railroad service remain one of the biggest screaming bargains out there. The American watch industry was, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, simply the biggest and most robust by far in the world (the Swiss were very late, relatively speaking, to industrialize and the English never did) and as a result, there are literally millions of fully functional high-grade pocket timekeepers from companies like Waltham, Hamilton, Elgin, and Howard just waiting for good homes. In excellent condition, most of them – even some of the most collectible and desirable models – can be had for less than two thousand dollars and a 17 jewel Waltham (for instance) for less than five. Even adding in the cost of a service (which most will need) you get an enormous amount of history and real horological excellence for less than the cost of any number of extremely forgettable wristwatches. Models to look out for include high jewel count (21 or 23 jewel) models in general, like the pictured Hamilton 946; some classics include the Waltham Riversides, E. Howard “railroad chronometers,” pretty much any Ball, and the Hamilton 950B and 950E models. Yeah, you’ll need a waistcoat, but a little good old-fashioned wardrobe upgrade never hurts (especially around the holidays).
The Find-Them-If-You-Can Brooks Brothers Holiday Fun Pants
This one was both a surprise and a very bitter disappointment; it turns out that Brooks Brothers no longer offers its world-famous, holiday staple Fun Pants – at least, they are conspicuously absent in its online catalogue. I would have loved to be able to tell you that these eccentric trousers can be ordered in time for the holidays, but in what can only be characterized as a shocking – indeed, traumatic – break with tradition, I discovered to my great chagrin whilst compiling this list, that Brooks Brothers has eliminated them from its lineup, holiday or otherwise. This is a great loss, a great loss indeed – there are some things which irrespective of rhyme, reason, or profitability ought to remain consistent from one holiday season to the next, and the apparent demise of the Fun Pants – so-called because of their four-fabric deliberate-mismatch construction – makes this hardcore BB fan distraught at the company’s abdication of a serious social responsibility. Nothing ever went so well with an ugly Christmas sweater, and sure, “Fun Shirts” are still in the catalogue but how is one supposed to wear one’s ugly Christmas sweater with those? It makes me want to start a petition to bring them back; you can’t even find a pair on ever-lovin’ eBay. If there ever were a better pair of pants to wear while getting irritably drunk in one’s home in Fairfield, while staring in grumpy silence out the living room window before yelling without warning, at around 11:45 AM or so, “Is anyone going to walk the goddam dog or do I have to do everything myself?” I’d like to know what they are.
From The Shop: The Marine Chronometer, Its History And Development
Generally speaking, there are two sorts of books in the world: those which you read with enjoyment and which leave you emotionally and intellectually enriched, and those that reflect credit on your taste and intelligence sitting on your coffee table. Occasionally, the rare book comes along which does both. One such book is The Marine Chronometer, Its History And Development, by the late Royal Navy Commander Rupert T. Gould, who was inspired to write it owing to his experience restoring John Harrison’s “sea clocks” to working order at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in the 1920s. The book is as engrossing and exhaustive a horological narrative as you could ever hope to find and it’s both fanatically granular in detail, as well as entertainingly written. It’s really the perfect book for anyone keen on horology; if they actually read it, they’ll get an education in precision timekeeping that can be had nowhere else and if they don’t, everyone will assume, if they spot it on the desk, that they’re in the presence of an horological savant anyway, so really, it’s a win-win situation. Help someone burnish their horological reputation with borrowed glory right here, and Happy Holidays!