Two of Bathsheba’s suitors, Gabriel Oak and Sergeant Troy, both have watches that they consult regularly and that seem, in many ways, an extension of their characters. This is a surprising similarity between two otherwise quite different figures. These watches are, of course, simply humdrum accessories that are far from uncommon, but in the novel they also serve as material objects, markers of status and position, that underline each character’s personality and relationship to the world. Gabriel’s watch is, like him—at least at the beginning of the novel—imperfect and even rather mediocre. It doesn’t always work, which often requires him to shake it or otherwise fiddle with it; sometimes he even has to use it in tandem with looking at the stars and constellations in order to know what time it is. But Gabriel’s watch reminds us of his pragmatism and willingness to work through difficulty in order to make things work himself. He does have a more successful relationship to the natural world, dealing with circumstances beyond his control not by rebelling against his fate but by working within the obstacles with which he is presented.
Gabriel’s pragmatic, reasonable attitude contrasts with Troy’s impulsive, childish behavior. Troy’s watch is elegant and expensive. It belonged to his father and it is important to him, but he thrusts it into Bathsheba’s hands when he’s courting her, before admitting that he hadn’t thought the gift through at all. It’s also through his mindless opening and closing of his watch that Bathsheba learns of Troy’s love for Fanny—an earnest love, certainly, but also one that gives his thoughtlessness a particularly cruel bent. As material possessions with their own quirks and attributes, then, watches in the novel also say something about their owners.