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The serious business of women’s watches

The serious business of women’s watches

Wednesday, 29 March 2017
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

“Thirty years in journalism are a powerful stimulant for curiosity”.

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5 min read

If it’s true that behind every great man, there is a great woman, Baselworld 2017 showed that there is a woman behind every watchmaker too, particularly now brands have realised the potential of a demographic that is just as appreciate of a bi-axial tourbillon as a skeleton movement.

When it comes to watches, women are rarely mechanically inclined. A smattering of diamonds is all it takes to have them giggling with delight (Marilyn did tell us they’re a girl’s best friend). While old habits may die hard, such outdated views are fortunately losing currency among watch brands, which claim to have finished with the tradition whereby women were “served” scaled-down versions of men’s watches. Long gone indeed are the days when all that mattered in a lady’s timepiece was the exterior, a sumptuous shell for the vacuity within. Granted, quartz movements are still a common feature of women’s watches, in particular jewellery models, but this doesn’t prevent manufacturers from insisting on efforts made to develop, from scratch, calibres specifically for their women customers. That such affirmations are increasingly likely to catch our attention proves that they strike a chord.

Omega Speedmaster 38 mm
Omega Speedmaster 38 mm
Growth opportunities

This sudden interest in “what women want” comes not from the desire to make amends for a regrettable oversight. Rather, brands have identified in their female clientele untapped growth potential at a time when the saturated men’s market is showing signs of flagging. Not that women are complaining. Why should men have the monopoly on mechanical watches? As the number of ladies’ watches with in-house movements grew, so the audience for them gained in size and strength. This initial offering, mechanical as it may be, continued to play up feminine attributes such as “poetic” complications, hence an overabundance of moon-phase displays; again, brands had failed to grasp the depth of the market. Only when watchmakers realised that many women, unable to find what they wanted, were turning to men’s watches did they finally understand that such blatant distinctions between “his” and “hers” were unnecessary, counterproductive even.

Patek Philippe Calatrava Squelette référence 5180
Patek Philippe Calatrava Squelette référence 5180

As any visitor to Baselworld will have noticed, watchmaking’s every register now has its feminine variant, and so much the better. Precious gems are of course in evidence, an outdated but still omnipresent hallmark of a lady’s watch, but they are by no means the only criterion to catch her eye. Omega for one is offering its totemic Speedmaster chronograph in a 38-mm diameter with, as its principal assets, the remarkable performance of the Co-Axial escapement beneath a blue sunray dial, topped with a blue aluminium bezel with tachymeter scale. A real-life chrono, mercifully free from diamonds and moon phases which, unusually, Omega has reserved for a more masculine interpretation in reference to the history of the watch that went to the moon. With hard-working, hard-wearing sport watches now firmly attached to women’s wrists, what next but to venture underwater, courtesy of the Happy Ocean from Chopard or the Patravi Scuba Tech from Carl F. Bucherer, both fitted with mechanical movements.

Chopard Happy Ocean
Chopard Happy Ocean
Technically advanced

For the most enthusiastic, such a promising start could only lead to even greater things. There is, after all, an inherent beauty to a mechanical calibre whose intermeshing of gears and escapement, plates and bridges form a mysterious “living” tableau. Goodbye sculpted mother-of-pearl dial, adieu miniature enamel painting, and welcome pivots, pinions, balance and spring: an infinitely more captivating sight for anyone with an eye to appreciate this rigorous geometry. Openworked dials and skeleton movements are now to be found at the heart of brands’ offering for women. Patek Philippe, for example, is marking the fortieth anniversary of its extra-thin calibre 240 with a Calatrava Ref. 5180/1. “The aesthetic appeal and transparency with which the calibre 240 SQU keeps track of time makes it a miniature opus of kinetic art,” states the brand. Corum is similarly inspired with its Golden Bridge Rectangle, whose baguette movement is behind some of its finest hours. At Bulgari, the manual-wound mechanical movement of the Serpenti Incantati Tourbilllon Lumière is delicately sculpted from gold and openworked to allow light to enter the heart of the watch through its sapphire crystals. Not to be outdone, Chanel’s Première Camellia Skeleton debuts the brand’s second in-house movement, a painstaking development that transforms the calibre into a mechanical camellia blossom.

Bulgari Serpenti Incantati Tourbillon Lumière
Bulgari Serpenti Incantati Tourbillon Lumière

This realisation that women no longer balk at the sight of a mechanical movement – on the contrary – has prompted brands to put these inner workings on show. Graff comes with a Floral Tourbillon, showcasing a carpet of enamel blooms next to a floral-inspired tourbillon. More technical, the Breguet Tradition Dame 7038 positions the movement’s barrel, geartrains and bridges in full view for a captivating neo-retro approach to time. More technical still, TAG Heuer’s Heuer 02T is a tourbillon chronograph with a ring of baguette diamonds on the bezel. And for the true devotee, Hublot’s MP-09 Tourbillon Bi-Axis is micromechanics at its finest. Even the independents, who have tended to sideline women in their collections, have had to think again. After Urwerk, it’s now Romain Gauthier’s turn with the Insight Micro-Rotor whose gently rounded forms are purely mechanical.

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