Male designers gave women what they thought they wanted, small, pink and diamond scattered. In answer, women started hijacking their men’s watches and that was when everything changed
What do women really want from a watch? If it is just to tell the time they only have to glance at their phone or computer. Yet most still own a watch and, as style magazines tell us, many increasingly have a watch ‘wardrobe’, ie a selection to wear for different events. Yet conventional wisdom has it that men pay more attention to watches because a) they are more techie and b) they have relatively few ways to express their personality through accessories.
Now is the time to knock both theories on the head. Men today wear jewellery, carry manbags and choose quirky shoes, let alone indulge in the old standbys of ties and cuff links, so their accessory quotient has shot up. Meanwhile women are proving themselves no slouches in the technical department. We are helped by the exploding number of women designers in the watch industry who instinctively know what women want, rather than male designers who used to canvass their female friends and then gave women what they thought they wanted, which tended to be small, pink and diamond scattered. In answer, women started hijacking their men’s watches (though we quite liked the diamonds) and that was when everything changed.
What women want is design and function. On the technical side, our eyes may glaze over when we’re told our watch movement is oscillating at a frequency of so many Hertz per second but when we can see the beat and the way it sets off tiny parts working together, through the sapphire crystal of an open case back, we really appreciate the beauty of the movement and the precision craft it involves. We love watching the movement of the rotor that gives an automatic watch energy, so three cheers for the geniuses at Dior, Piaget and Cartier who moved those rotors to the front and added diamonds and gold to make a sparkling design that comes alive with any movement of the hand. We might even covet the splendid Chanel Première Flying Tourbillon, where the symbolic flower revolves on top of a tourbillon, the fearsomely complex complication which men love to buy to show they can and which, it is whispered, some women are now buying for themselves because they enjoy the calming sense of perpetual motion.
Having gone overboard for the living look of an automatic movement, we also now love skeletons, the once male preserve where the baseplate is pared away to reveal the movement from the top too. The finest are indeed very expensive but good value mid-range brands such as Hamilton and Gc now do very attractive skeleton styles for women, as do Oris and Rotary. And talking of value, Tissot has realised that women who own and rotate several watches may be put off automatics because they run down and stop, and have several great designs with an 80-hour power reserve, which would be a highly respectable length in a far pricier watch.
Then there is the diamond thing. Putting a diamond bezel on any old design for girl appeal doesn’t cut it, but we love the irony of a frivolity of sparklers on a superficially tough, masculine style. An undisputed new star is Zenith’s women’s pilot watch, complete with vintage cockpit-style dial and ribbed onion crown, just like the chaps’, but trimmed with some serious carats and luscious in rose gold. At the very top Patek Philippe, under its female design director Sandrine Stern, introduces a new and beautiful complication for women each year, including a minute repeater and a perpetual calendar. Or try Jaeger-LeCoultre’s highly-crafted Rendez Vous, with the traditional moonphase complication replaced by a dinky little day-night indicator plus more lovely diamonds – there is even a tourbillon version. Or TAG Heuer’s new version of the Aquaracer, which turns a stereotypical men’s bracelet dive model into a delicate diamond-trimmed work-to-cocktail style. Not to mention the huge success of Omega’s Ladymatic, which gives feminine fluidity and (diamonds) to a plain, round style and adds more girly options every year.
The trend shows no sign of fading away. Cartier now has a female head of technical development, Carole Forestier-Kasapi, whose studio produces the most adventurous movements in the brand’s history. DeLaneau is a brand designed and made entirely by and for women, its extraordinary mix of high art enamelling and precious stones setting a new level. Extremely expensive one-offs, they frequently sell before they are completed. To anyone who believes women do not take watches seriously there is only one answer.
By Avril Groom