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Lois Greene Stone: Changing fashion roils the gift-giving world

Watch out. What obsolete item in a current format may become a welcome gift? Let’s backtrack:

In the 1940s, fountain pens with nibs of 14k gold were standard commemorative presents. Made to last for decades, a user selected the ink color. A timepiece, however, could be handed down.

Girls wristwatches in white or rose gold were favorites for daughters. After World War II, Benrus came out with a unique strap, named Embraceable; this mixed metal, comfortably priced, slipped like a bracelet on a girl’s wrist. Many boys received 14k gold Hamiltons with brown leather bands. Men’s pocket watches went from generation to generation, but needed the correct attire to fix in place. Often ornate, the sound of one snapping closed was distinctive, just as the wearer felt about himself.

Women glanced at dainty dials. But all-gold included numbers, case back and so forth, and the investment suggested permanence. I was 13 when my grandfather presented me with a 14k beauty that had a tiny rectangular face, and the gold band was exactly the same diameter.

At my engagement, my future in-laws gave me a 14k gold watch, small round head, and the bracelet band had links that looked like scalloping. The set-time knob was hidden on the case’s gold back. My daughter has that today; her 21st century jeweler marveled at the movement when he cleaned it.

My future husband received, from my mother, a 16mm magazine camera and carry case in smooth leather; magazine was new and easier than loading film. But she began documenting his milestones with gold wristwatches that had leather bands.

Travel gradually moved to plane for distances, and heavy, supple leather bags for train use were no longer gifted (though it took luggage longer to get thinner and lighter and wheels were still not yet made for suitcases). Fountain pens became foreign as ballpoints reached the market.

Appreciative of instant ink that didn’t require nib-cleaning, staining fingers, blotters, another commemorative gift vanished. Savings bonds lost appeal when paper ones, generally touched and secured in safe deposit boxes, became obsolete.

Grandchild’s college graduation was certainly a significant event for me to witness. Luggage, light and on wheels, is a “no” as it’s easier to carry a backpack on a plane. Fountain pens? Where might one even be sold, and who’d want it today when “writing” is texting? Watch? I asked. As if we were proposing he drive a horse and buggy, he responded that no one of his generation wears one since they tell time on their smartphones. The smartphone is an alarm, flashlight and so forth, and multi-tasks so efficiently that he can verbally ask the time and the phone’s computer voice will reply.

April 2015. He got a watch as a gift? It’s a phone, computer and such that can be worn rather than pocketed and pulled out. It’s not a standalone piece as the wearer needs a smartphone and the watch gets charged at night. And a speakerphone is built right into the wrist computer. The old Accutrons or jeweled mechanisms running timepieces are now estate jewelry.

In a safe deposit box marking grandchild’s birth years ago, there’s still a tangible U.S. Savings Bond. When interest payments cease, he’ll view the paper, and then have to find out how to redeem.