Being obsessed with wristwatches may seem like a solitary pursuit to the uninitiated, but there’s whole side of the hobby that’s highly social. “Watch guys” bond over shared interest and knowledge, but taking your passion from the internet to in-person encounters isn’t without its pitfalls and potential faux pas.

Watches can be very expensive and very personal items, so it’s wise to tread lightly and remain respectful. At the end of the day, a lot of it comes down to basic common sense, but whether at a dedicated watch get-together or on the street, here are some quick etiquette guidelines that’ll help you have a positive experience.

Remark on someone else’s watch with tact.

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Gear Patrol

Say, you see someone out in the world with an interesting watch and you’d like to strike up a conversation. Ease into it! Some people might be taken off guard and initially suspicious of a stranger interested in their watch — especially if it’s expensive.

“Nice El Primero!!” out of nowhere might simply cause confusion (not everyone knows the official name of their watch), so stick to something a little more cautious like “Hey, that’s a cool watch” or similar, followed by something more specific.

Quickly explaining yourself as a collector (or “watch nut” if you prefer a little more candor) will set the appropriate expectations for any further discussion. Not everyone will be receptive, but it should help diffuse any natural defensiveness.

Always always ask before you touch.

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Gear Patrol

You’ve successfully initiated a watch discussion with a stranger, or maybe you’re happily chatting with fellow nerds at a watch get-together or event.

These are indeed cool opportunities to see and experience all kinds of watches first-hand, but remember to treat other people’s watches respectfully: Never touch or reach for a watch without asking. You may want to offer your watch first. Even when you have permission to handle someone’s watch, it’s still thoughtful to ask before trying it on your own wrist.

It should go without saying that you should be careful not to drop a watch or handle it roughly in any way.

If you’d like to take a photo, ask first and explain how you might use it. If you plan to post it online, make sure they’re comfortable with the info you’ll share. You might also offer to tag or otherwise credit them.

It’s nice to be nice.

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Gear Patrol

Have you spent too much time debating watches online? Well, this is the real world. If someone shows you their beloved personal watch off their wrist, don’t criticize the 4:30 date window design decision or something about the brand that turns you off. Be cool! Often, the owner’s own personality or story about the watch can make you appreciate it in a totally different way than abstractly dissecting online pictures would.

Maybe you’re new to watches, or maybe you’re a veritable encyclopedia of dates, reference numbers, movement mechanics and horological history — everyone’s tastes, experience level and watches should be welcome and respected. Don’t stand there “educating” your new friends. Asking polite questions, meanwhile, will always meet with good results.

Don’t just blurt out “How much did you pay?!”

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Gear Patrol

Some people want to tell you what they paid for a watch, but others are more cautious. You should be sensitive to this, too, and it’s probably best approached one-on-one rather than in a group. It shouldn’t be the first question nor the focus of the conversation, but it’s not rude to inquire if you do it gently, and acknowledge that they might prefer to not say. “Do you mind if I ask how much you got it for?” is a good approach that leaves plenty of room for a dodge like “It wasn’t cheap” or “I got a good deal!” If you get one of those, it’s best to leave it at that and not press the issue.

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