There was a time, not so long ago, when cheap quartz movements were standard fare for women’s watches that tended to rely heavily on their traditionally ‘feminine’ aesthetics to warrant their price tag. If we were to go back just five years to SIHH 2013 and take a look at the ladies’ watches released there, we would see the likes of the Piaget Couture Précieuse with its intricately wrought rose gold chain cuff, the Montblanc Princesse Grace de Monaco ‘Pétales de Roses’ and the Vacheron Constantin Malte Lady with 190 diamonds on the bezel and dial. Two of these watches have a quartz movement and all three are extensively bejewelled.
Now, skip forward to 2018 and look at Romain Gauthier’s first ever ladies’ timepiece, the Insight Micro-Rotor Lady, or Cartier’s Révélation d’une Panthère. Both step away from traditional ladies’ watch stereotypes and are so much more than the jewels that adorn them. The Romain Gauthier watch, which is set inside a 39.5mm case, is powered by an in-house calibre equipped with a bi-directional micro-rotor made from 22k gold. Ladies’ timepieces have gone from high jewellery to high-mech. At last, Haute Horlogerie is happy to create complicated (and no less beautiful) pieces for women. The times they are a-changin’…
Fine watches at the forefront
It isn’t just the aesthetics and manufacturing of ladies’ watches that are changing; it’s how people are searching online. Data coming from Google helps, in a small way, to change attitudes towards ladies’ watches, at least for an online audience. Women watch-buyers have become less inclined to use keywords such as “diamonds” and “Tiffany” in their searches and more likely to look for horological substance. In 2014, Daniel Wellington was hugely popular online while smartwatches, unsurprisingly, were becoming more prevalent in searches. Today’s searches are far more focused on fine watch brands.
Last year, in an interview to the New York Times, Richemont chairman Johann Rupert was quoted as saying “Luxury has got to be discreet; the day of bling is gone; forget it. The hatred of the rich is going to expand and people do not want to show their wealth off and put it in people’s faces like they have in the past.” An observation borne out by the releases at both Baselworld and SIHH 2017. While jewellery watches are still very much in the picture, both these fairs showed that sometimes a more subdued aesthetic will actually add to the true beauty of a women’s timepiece. It’s a change that’s been bubbling under within the fine watch industry, although last year was the biggest marker. SIHH kick-started a movement that saw watchmakers truly begin to cater to a demographic that appreciates a tourbillon as much as diamond paving. This is confirmed by a look at the biggest ladies’ watches on Instagram from the year. Although Rolex took the top spot, among the most popular watches were the IWC Portofino, a refined and understated timepiece, and the new-to-2017 Omega Speedmaster 38mm with the Omega Co-Axial Calibre 3300.
Femininity is blurring
Eszter Faykiss, editor-in-chief of Loupiosity, says she expects the line between men’s and women’s watches to blur: “I don’t think a laser-cut line between watches dedicated to men and women is necessary. Just by having both genders in mind when developing new models, a great chunk of today’s gap can be filled. Brands have started to explore this solution, but it has still to gain momentum.” This idea of ‘gender-fluid’ watches follows a wider cultural trend which the Omega Speedmaster Chronograph and the Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Lady both channel.
Brands can also choose to position themselves on one or other side of the gender fence. Cartier, for example, is reasserting itself as a women’s brand. Speaking at SIHH 2017, Marketing Director Arnaud Carrez had this to say: “It’s true that we were focused on men, with our Haute Horlogerie and sports watches. Our new positioning takes us back to what we are really about, the founding tenets of our company. We were first a jeweller then a watchmaker, and this is what defines us as a watchmaker. We are a women’s brand and we fully recognise that.” Of course, this didn’t prevent Cartier from revisiting its Santos this year: a men’s watch that women love!