With new movements, bigger diamonds, robust sports cases and métiers dials, ladies’ watches easily outshine men’s this year. The first three on our list of “best new ladies’ watches so far in 2018” are actually smaller versions of great men’s watches. There was a time when this was considered anathema, particularly during the latter part of the quartz era. There was nothing creative about taking an ordinary men’s watch with a quartz movement, a conventional design and no outstanding functions and simply making it smaller to fit a woman’s wrist. But the mechanical revolution changed all that. Now, men’s watches have elite movements, high-tech case engineering, detailed finishing and great design, so there is something of more substance for women to genuinely covet, as in: “I want that, only a little bit smaller.”
And so to numbers 1, 2 and 3 on our top ten list: the Tudor Black Bay 32mm; the Breitling Navitimer 38mm; and the Panerai Luminor Due 38. The Black Bay’s NATO fabric strap, 150-meter water resistance, ultra-luminated dial, including the large snowflake hour hand, and an automatic movement are all big draws. As for the Breitling Navitimer, the beaded bezel is a big attraction, and so is the slide rule. No one has actually used a slide rule since the 1930s; it’s the look that appeals to people, and why shouldn’t that include women too? Panerai’s 38mm Luminor Due 3 Days Automatic is a new smallest size for a brand known for its 47mm watches. The 38mm Due is also only 11.20mm thick, compared to the 17.5mm thickness of the 47mm Luminor 1950. The smaller size means 30-meter water resistance compared to 100-meter, but the sacrifice is worth it. It retains the iconic elements of the Luminor: sandwich dial, minimalist styling, discreet small seconds counter at 9 o’clock and even the crown guard.
More interesting complications
Purpose-built movements are reason enough to love numbers 4 and 5, namely the Grand Seiko Automatic for ladies and the 25th anniversary Chopard Happy Sport. The Seiko Caliber 9S25, with a 50-hour power reserve, was developed for a 28.7mm wide cased watch. The 37 diamonds on the notched bezel are set in a way that allows light into the pavilion for maximum light return and sparkle. For its 25th anniversary, the Chopard Happy Sport got an in-house movement, the automatic Caliber 09.01-C, created for cases measuring 30mm wide. It has a 42-hour power reserve.
Complications are potentially more interesting in ladies’ watches because they lend themselves to more decorative applications. A day/night indicator on a man’s watch is often some variation on a dark or light arc on the dial. Not so with our number 6 choice, the Girard-Perregaux Cat’s Eye Day and Night. Against a background of aventurine, framed with diamonds, a 24-hour disc with sun and moon motifs indicates day or night behind a screen of diamonds. Speaking of diamonds, our number 7 pick, the Corum Heritage Sublissima, illustrates a trend toward bigger diamonds in ladies’ watches, which are particularly noticeable on the bezel. A typical bezel is set with about a carat total in diamonds, but this year bezels were set with between 3 and 6 total carats of diamonds, often prong-set to let more light into the pavilions. The bezel of the Corum Heritage Sublissima is set with 6.16 carats of diamonds.
Modernizing a long-time tradition
Color is another decorative element that sometimes looks best on a ladies’ watch, as it does on numbers 8 and 9: the Hermès Arceau Casaque and the Rolex Datejust 31 with malachite dial. The champlevé enamel and lacquer dial on the Hermès Arceau Casaque is available in four primary colors: red, blue, green and yellow. Hermès once made the casaques, or silks as they’re called, for jockeys, which inspired the brand to start making silk scarves. The malachite dial on the Datejust features applied Roman numerals in 18k gold set with diamonds, and represents a popular color this year in watches.
Finally, the Cartier Tank Louis Cartier makes the list simply because of the exquisite detail on the bracelet, with its S-shaped links, that is masterfully attached to the case. It has the effect of modernizing the long-time traditional elements of the Cartier aesthetic: Roman numerals, railway track index, guilloched center dial and blued sword hands, and represents a beautiful evolution of the model.