Picks

The Perfect Gift for That Person Who’s Impossible to Buy For

Photo of Storm Glass on an aqua background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Amazon.

In search of the perfect gift? Read more of Slate’s holiday gift guides here.

My latest gift obsession started with a present for my dad. Not exactly in a “What do you get for the man who has everything?” way. It was more like, “What do you get for the man who doesn’t need or even like most things?”

I’d spent countless Christmases, birthdays, and Father’s Days buying my dad some combination of quirky garden décor, funny T-shirts, and Omaha Steaks . But I decided it was time to branch out. I flipped through a catalog for inspiration and stopped on an item called Storm Glass. The lovely teardrop-shaped glass container had water and fine white crystals in it—it’s fully sealed—and claimed to predict the weather. My dad has long been my personal weatherman—calling ahead of storms in my area to warn me to batten down the hatches, always tracking the weather on days we were meant to visit each other, worried we’d need to cancel. This seemed just right for him. After all, this a man who, when he has insomnia, turns on the Weather Channel to lull himself to sleep.

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I went online, added a Storm Glass to my cart, then scanned my gift list. I immediately added another one for my sister-in-law. She and my brother have a lovely home and the Storm Glass is elegant and unique. I knew exactly where they’d put it: atop a long, built-in cabinet in front of the bay window in their dining room.

On Christmas morning, everyone delighted in the Storm Glass’ novelty, and when we were done opening presents, they were the gifts that got talked about most. I liked them so much that I put one on my own wish list the following Christmas. When Santa came through for me, I decided to put my Storm Glass on my desk next to a Waterford paperweight and a potted succulent. The trio is just … enchanting.

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The makers of various brands of storm glasses tell the same origin story tied to 19th-century British naval admiral and scientist Robert FitzRoy. As the story goes, FitzRoy decided, after a particularly destructive storm in 1859, to try to better understand the weather by using glass barometers placed around the British Isles. The science was based on larger barometers that had come before and operated under the principle that crystals in water react to temperature and pressure changes in the air. FitzRoy decided that he’d collect data from people monitoring storm glass at various posts via telegraph and look for patterns. The crown itself got on board with the idea, subsequently distributing FitzRoy’s barometers to various fishing towns—and weather forecasting was born.

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Do I actually expect my Storm Glass to predict the weather? Of course not. It’s true that the crystals change regularly. Sometimes the water is cloudy. Sometimes crystals float throughout. On colder, gray winter days, they cling like snowflakes to the bottom. While I’m sure there are Storm Glass owners who pay closer attention to it than I do, it’s not like any one of us needs to rely on the science of the storm glass the way navigators of old did—especially when we can buy high-tech weather stations for our homes. Honestly, I’m content to just gaze at my Storm Glass periodically every day.

Looking ahead to the holidays, I already have a few recipients in mind for one. I have some year-end professional gifts to send, and they’re the perfect, benign surprise for colleagues who you might not know particularly well. The price point is great and the gift itself so versatile that I may even give one to a teen in my life who is prone to daydreaming and likely to make at least one TikTok about it. Honestly, who wouldn’t want this fanciful and stylish conversation piece?