My Best Watch Storage Solutions

I used to have two watches. Yes, two: one beater and one dress watch for special occasions. They lived in my nightstand, and that was that. Then I discovered the watch hobby, and it rapidly spun out of control. Two became six became twelve and soon I had more watches than any one person could possibly need, an equally stupid number of straps, and an ever-expanding mass of ancillary stuff like spring bars and buckles. All of it needed to be stored somewhere, and it had to be done in a manner that allowed me to see everything and access it easily. It has been a challenge, but after a few years, a couple of false starts, and some fine tuning, I’ve got a pretty good system. This is not an exhaustive list, and not every idea will work for everyone, but these are the watch organization, storage, and transport tips that work for me.

Best Watch Storage Ideas

Watch Rolls

Many beginning collectors assume they should buy a watch box as their first storage solution. I did the same, and after the third one, I realized it was a waste. Boxes are bulky, occupy precious space on your dresser or shelf, and they have no secondary purpose once your collection outgrows them. If I were building my collection all over again, I'd start with a decent watch roll or two instead.

Watch rolls are, above all, compact. A four pocket model is no larger than an overstuffed burrito so one or two will not monopolize your sock drawer. Unlike an empty box, a roll collapses to nearly nothing when not in use. When you find you have one more watch than you have pockets, you can move on to the next storage solution and use the rolls when you travel or cart your collection to enthusiast get-togethers.

Watch Storage Zelos Leather Roll

I've accumulated several over the years, but my favorite is the Large Leather Watch Roll that came with the original Zelos Abyss. This butternut tan beauty has four pouches that are large enough to swallow a 47mm diving watch, one 1/4 sized pocket for a strap tool, and buckled strap to keep it shut. This particular one is no longer offered. Fortunately, rolls are easy to find and budget-friendly. Some brands include them as part of their packaging or as a stretch goal when crowdfunding. Yes, I know the cost of the roll is built into the final price, but “free gift with purchase” is not a bad way to get something you were ready to pay for anyway. If you are shopping for one, there are dozens available on most watch sites. If you still can't find what you want, then I’d suggest trawling Etsy to have one made to order. Rolls are most commonly made from felt, leather, or canvas. I’m partial to leather because it wears well and adds less bulk than heavy canvas.

Watch Storage Zelos Leather Roll

My best advice when shopping for a roll is to keep its fully loaded, rolled up size in mind. If you do try a roll with five pockets or more, make sure it is made from relatively thin material. I’ve seen guys with thick leather or canvas rolls made to fit seven or more watches, and they often end up the size of fireplace logs. Better to have two smaller rolls than one unwieldy monster.

Pelican Cases

Pelican makes hard shell, foam lined cases for transporting all kinds of things. Folks use them for camera gear, tech equipment, firearms, you name it. Of course, people like us use them for watches. The beauty of a hard shell case is that it protects its contents while facilitating transport. Pelican is not the only company that makes them, but they are the most popular. I like the secure latches and integrated handles. The combination lock and waterproof seal is overkill, but it’s nice to know that they are there.

Pelican 1200 Watch Case

I have known folks who have used these cases for home storage, and if you have a growing collection and not much storage space, it isn’t the worst idea, but it can be a hassle to pull it out every morning. I use mine strictly for transport.

To make your hardshell case a watch case, you need to cut watch sized sections from the protective closed cell foam. There are some companies sell ready-made inserts specifically for watches (Nalpak makes some particularly nice ones) but for such an easy DIY, I'd rather save the money. 


Pelican 1495 watch case

Pelican's “Puck and Pluck” foam inserts have perforated square segments that allow easy sizing and removal. Make sure you have a layer to fit your case, calculate the number of spaces, their size, and distance in between, then cut the sections free with a knife. The parts you remove will become the cushions for your watches. I cut 4x5 segment cushions for the watches, spaced 3 segments from the case sides and 2 segments apart. Some dive watch collectors have winced at how closely they are packed, but I’ve never had a watch come close to its neighbor and the egg crate foam in the lid keeps them securely in place while in transit. That said, a little extra room wouldn’t kill anyone. Go with what makes you feel comfortable.

Pelican Case

I’ve got two cases. One small model 1200 ($54.95) set up for 9 watches, and a briefcase-sized model 1495 (currently unavailable from Pelican, but $161.56 from Nalpak) with room for 32. I could actually squeeze 40 in there, but I haven’t needed to yet. I use the small one when I am meeting watch friends who just want to see the latest acquisitions and the pieces passing through for review and the large one for shows where I am bringing sets of display samples from several vendors. I saw one guy at a show who had put a huge collection into what looked like a rifle case. Browse Amazon or eBay and you will be sure to find what you need.

Watch Folios

I only recently discovered these on Amazon for $29.95 each. The Optima 33-190 is a zippered vinyl folio with 10 pairs of elastic straps on either side and a soft nylon divider in between. The idea is that you lay your watches flat, placing each end of the strap through the elastic. It holds 20.

I like the idea, but it has its drawbacks: it would be awkward to flatten a dive watch on a fitted rubber strap, I would worry that heavy watches would escape the elastic, and it simply would not work for any watch on a bracelet. But that does not mean the folio does not have its place. I bought a couple of them for straps.

Optima 33-190 20 watch case, 40 straps

My strap collection was always in a heap. Sometimes the heap was in a box, sometimes a compartment in a drawer, but always a pile I would have to dig through to find the one I needed. The folio solves the problem. Each elastic strap holds two strap sections up to 26mm wide with ease. What was designed for 20 watches now swallows 40 straps that you can see all at once. Store them in a drawer or stack them vertically on a shelf like books. Game changer!

Watch Drawers

When your collection gets truly grand, you will need a grand solution. Mine was the watch drawer: clear it, compartmentalize it, fill it with watches. I’ve laid out the steps in two previous articles; one for drawers, and another for an entire cabinet. I invite you to refer back to them for details, but in short, you need non-slip shelf liner, a customizable drawer organization system (I used this one from The Container Store), and dense foam pipe insulation from the hardware store to use as your watch cushions (I am told pool noodles work just as well and are easier to find in the summer).

Ikea Watch Cabinet

My system has worked beautifully. The only issue I discovered is that over time, heavy pieces on bracelets compressed the foam, so the watches sagged in their compartments. The solution was pretty easy. I just stuffed the inside with more foam.  Boom. No sag.

Watch cushion foam

Of course, the watch drawer/cabinet idea requires furniture you can take over — something about which your significant other may or may not be thrilled. But man, if you can do it, I’ve found nothing better. Everything is secure, in its place, and easily accessible. In my case, a $130 IKEA Alex Drawer Unit that held all my watches and rolled away into my closet was the ideal solution for both of us.

Compartment Boxes

So now that you have your watches squared away, what do you do with the buckles, screws, and worst of all, the spring bars? That stuff adds up fast and gets lost in drawers even faster. I went for the kind of plastic organizing boxes that are generally sold for craft supplies, fishing lures, fasteners, and pretty much any other fiddly bits that people use in their hobbies.

Look for clear plastic containers divided into small sections. My personal favorites have two rows of compartments, each with their own snap-lock lid and a curved bottom, like a larger version of your grandparents' "pills of the day" dispensers. This way, you can open just the section with the 20mm fat Seiko spring bars and not risk mixing them up with the 20mm standard size spring bars if you jostle the container, or worse, scattering everything if you knock it over. The curved bottom makes it about 100 times easier to fish those little suckers out.

Watch parts compartment box
You will find all kinds of utility and supply boxes at art supply stores, sporting goods stores, hardware stores, even your local big box emporiums. Prices start around $2 for basic boxes and go up from there.

What’s next?

Good question. Even after all this, there are still some items that haven’t found homes. My tools still tend to end up floating around the drawers of my watch cabinet and the original packaging and display boxes get dumped into bins in the garage until I need to sell the watch they came with. (Please, watch brands, give us cheap, disposable packaging, so the next guy doesn’t insist on the original boxes. I’m begging you here.) Even so, these random bits are out of sight, and I can find them when I need them, so I really can’t complain. 

At this stage, I’ve probably spent more on watch organization than most normal people spend on watches, but it’s worth every penny to have my watches, straps, and accessories stored in a way that is safe, tidy, and easy to browse when making my daily selection. I hope you find a system that works for you! ⬩

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