The trend has been growing for several years, and with the 2019 SIHH and Baselworld shows behind us, we can safely confirm that mechanical watches for women are here to stay. While trimmed-down versions of men’s watches, with or without a diamond bezel and often equipped with a quartz movement, are still the preference of many ladies, a whole new market has opened to accompany the (r)evolution. This developing interest in mechanical watches (alongside gem-set pieces specifically intended as a jewel watch) provides a potentially lucrative target for creative brands that propose new cases and movements designed and manufactured with her wrist in mind. From traditional Houses such as Jaeger-LeCoultre, Girard-Perregaux, Patek Philippe or Carl F. Bucherer to, on a more accessible level, TAG Heuer or Frederique Constant, laudable efforts are being made to seduce women customers. Even MB&F has launched its Legacy Machine FlyingT, designed for women!
Wearing a mechanical wristwatch is not a new experience for women. In the early 20th century, while men still preferred pocket watches, ladies were the first to adopt wristwatches, which at the time were of course equipped with mechanical movements. This feminine influence, both socially and professionally (notably from those in the medical field), actually contributed to the development of certain movements, as brought to light in Omega’s “Her Time” exhibition in 2017. However, whereas the Swiss watchmaking industry moved ahead with mechanical watches for men following the “quartz crisis” of the 1970s to early 80s, many ladies’ models were left behind in quartz mode – a trend exacerbated in recent years with the quest for the almighty in-house movement, most of which have been destined for men’s watches.
No longer a male preserve
For Nathalie Célia Koch-Chevalier, “lady connoisseurs and collectors were not really envisaged at first, because watchmaking was more a story for men.” And if readily available on-line information and an increase in the working woman’s purchase power have been essential contributing factors, this change has come about largely through “a desire to break into what their husbands had long told them was an exclusive male hunting ground. A mechanical watch offers a way for a lady to break the codes, to show men she can ‘speak the same language’. Ladies even went so far as to adopt big men’s models for their own wrists.” Ms Koch-Chevalier posits that Bucherer may have been a factor as well, explaining that the French operation is composed almost exclusively of women. Following her directives, Bucherer created the first Woman and Watch Club. The Paris store hosts two to three themed evenings each month. Past themes have included explanations on the functioning of a mechanical movement with Audemars Piguet, and a gem workshop with Bucherer Fine Jewellery.
Nathalie Célia Koch-Chevalier describes a change in attitudes, as women no longer come to the store simply to accompany a male friend or husband, but for themselves. “A more informed client will ask to see a watch with complications, often without diamonds. Others come in not knowing that anything other than a quartz movement even exists. When we show them other models, manual-wind or automatic, some will opt for automatic while others still prefer quartz. It depends on their lifestyle. The important thing is that women now have the same choices as men.”
The average spend
Prices in the Paris store range from €80 for a B Swiss by Bucherer to €400,000 for something by Roger Dubuis or Audemars Piguet, depending on the complications, stone-setting and metal. An astounding 40% of purchases are made by women, “although part of that is for men’s watches, as gifts. French customers spend on average between €5,000 and €15,000, whether for men’s or ladies’ models, and this is the segment that is developing enormously,” affirms Nathalie Célia Koch-Chevalier. “Above €15,000 and it becomes more complicated, especially here in France where the current situation means people are more discreet about wearing valuable items. At the same time, people are more likely to invest in what we call a valeur sûre, something that will retain its value. I think we are going in that direction.”
For the store’s relatively large clientele of international visitors, the situation is somewhat different. “They look for something a little more exceptional or unusual, generally showcasing the métiers d’art. Bucherer has a long history of international customers, notably from the United States. At the end of the Second World War, a lot of GIs were passing through Switzerland. They didn’t have a penny on them – they’d been at war, after all. Trust has always been part of our customer relations, and so Mr. Bucherer would tell his staff, ‘if a GI wants to buy a watch, let him sign a written acknowledgement of debt, and he can pay us back when he gets home.’ I haven’t personally verified the accounts from back then, but the story goes that absolutely every single purchase was reimbursed.”
Were there any GI Janes among the buyers? Probably not. But if they come into a Bucherer shop today, you can be sure they will be welcomed with the three values that are part of the House’s foundations, and which Nathalie Célia Koch-Chevalier takes pride in today: hospitality, inspiration and passion.