One Woman’s View Of What Women Want In Watches
Here’s an important major truth: every woman – nay, every person – is different. Which means their needs and wants will be different. All I can do is tell you about my own experience.
I’m a woman who loves watches.
I love the silky feel of luxuriously finished cases against my skin.
I love the traditionally minded mechanics that scream culture, taste, and knowledge – especially when the movements are visible through the watch’s protective sapphire crystal.
I love the relationship I build with this carefully considered and sought-out object by winding and setting it regularly (but hopefully not every single day).
I love the wide variety of styles and decorations that should be available to me, even without gemstones as a decorative option.
But, wait: where are those?
I generally end up buying “men’s watches” because it’s among those that I find more of the variety of movements, functions, styles, and colors that I crave.
This is one of the biggest conundrums in luxury watches today: are watch brands really responding to modern women’s evolving watch tastes?
By and large, the answer is that while brands understand that the female consumer is a largely untapped market in terms of high-end watches, this audience has so far not been served as well as it could be by the major brands. It seems like most still resorting to simply shrinking existing men’s models by a few millimeters and/or adorning them with gemstones (aka “shrinking and pinking”).
The 2016 Ulysse Nardin Skeleton Tourbillon Pearl: the rare case where “shrink and pink” works
In some rare cases, that strategy can work as the Ulysse Nardin Skeleton Tourbillon Pearl of 2016 highlights, at least for me. This watch boasted a visible movement reduced to its bare minimum using a technique called skeletonization that artistically removes extraneous metal.
This variation of the brand’s powerful Skeleton Tourbillon model has been beautifully “feminized” with the addition of exquisite mother-of-pearl inlay and diamond setting on the movement’s bridges, case, crown, and lugs, adding softness and sparkle, but not too much in my opinion.
Only one small mechanical change was made, albeit a cosmetic mechanical change: Caliber UN-170’s silicon-based tourbillon was hidden behind a tourbillon bridge crafted from mother-of-pearl, retaining a purity in the now-pastel tones of the skeletonized watch. Personally, I would have opted to retain the view of the tourbillon, but that’s my only niggle.
Despite its 44 mm diameter this watch works well on the female wrist. I am not usually enamored of large watches as I have a small wrist; my “sweet spot” is generally 38-39 mm. But the design of this case makes it comfortable enough so that the larger size isn’t a problem.
The Skeleton Tourbillon Pearl’s manually wound movement boasts a week-long power reserve of 170 hours. One thing that most women (including me) are not too fond of is winding on a daily or bi-daily basis. Most watch crowns are relatively pokey and small, meaning that fingernails often come into play. Speaking from experience, the size and shape of a crown can be an uncomfortable dealbreaker for an otherwise lovely watch.
This is why automatic calibers, which wind themselves using the motion of the wrist, are more popular with women as are the quartz movements that use a battery for the power source – though quartz is usually not a preferred option for an enthusiast, collector, or mechanics-conscious woman like myself.
In pre-Kering days, Ulysse Nardin put quite a bit of thought into fingernails and in 2014 introduced something interesting to its Jade line: a button at 4 o’clock on the case allowing the wearer to select the crown function. Instead of searching around for the right crown position to set the date or time, you only had to pull the crown out one stop after selecting the desired function.
This functionality was requested many years ago by Chai Schnyder, widow of deceased previous owner of Ulysse Nardin Rolf Schnyder, who wanted a watch that wouldn’t destroy her manicure.
Now called the Classico Jade, a quick perusal of Ulysse Nardin’s website reveals that this function has been removed and the Jade has now been turned into a regular three-hand watch with only the slightest hint to the original design left on the dial design and in the name.
Armin Strom Lady Beat: a lesson in how to make a ladies’ watch (hint, use women)
A great example of how to seriously modify an existing men’s collection is the Armin Strom Lady Beat. Though, using the word “modify” here is perhaps a misnomer as it really is a whole new watch.
The Lady Beat shares similarities with the Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force, as it is supposed to, but it is powered by a different caliber, it is a wholly different size, and it features different elements. The family resemblance with the three dial-side bridges is however unmistakable.
The case size of 38 mm sits in my personal sweet spot, and while it is round, the clever design and integrated strap give it the distinct appearance of having a more interesting ovoid shape.
One reason the Lady Beat is so successful in my eyes is because it has not been designed by men, but rather women. This has been a sticking point in the watch industry and one big reason why so-called ladies’ watches have often been doomed to fail: they have historically been designed and marketed by men.
While the Armin Strom Lady Beat was conceived by men, they did the right thing in asking women for help, guidance, advice, and design.
One big reason this watch appeals so much to me is the visible movement components on the dial side. It’s the same reason I am attracted so much to skelotonizeed watches.
The Lady Beat looks and feels as technical as its sibling with its mechanics laid bare and visible screws, yet the crown is big and sensually shaped enough not to disturb my fingernails, and the power reserve of the automatic movement is a sweet 70 hours. So I can put it down over the weekend and pick it up again on Monday morning without having to reset or wind it.
My fingernails thank you, Armin Strom.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous and Breguet Reine de Naples: good examples of purpose-built watches for women
Women (and men) with money and taste are often intrigued by unique luxury watch propositions comprising a good selection of movement options and unique decorative crafts. And not to forget the romantic beauty of moon phase indications.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous collection is one the venerable Swiss manufacture has been trying to get “right” for years, and the latest versions are lustful objects of my affections. Knockouts to note are the Rendez-Vous Celestial model of 2014 with a gorgeous annual calendar clothed in lapis lazuli and diamonds, the High-Jewelry Tourbillon of 2016 with a jet-black dial and large opening to watch the tourbillon escapement in action, and the 2018 variation of the Rendez-Vous Celestial featuring a red aventurine dial (wowza). And a large variety of other variations to choose from likely to hit every taste.
While I have heard men lament the fact that there is no “masculine” version of the Rendez-Vous – which I’m not quite sure is as true as they think as the marketing toward women plays out in the head, does it not? – I for one am glad that one of my favorite manufactures has listened to the ladies and offers such a highly developed collection full of choice, beauty, and mechanics in every respect.
Women generally also love shaped cases, so I must mention the oval Breguet Reine de Naples collection.
Breguet’s Reine de Naples (“Queen of Naples”), like the Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous, is a pretty extensive collection with a large variety of colors, metals, gem setting, and decoration. In 2019 alone, Breguet launched several variations during its Time to Move event that provide a ton of choice for wardrobing, including a denim strap that drew audible gasps from my teammates and I.
That’s the “dressed-down” version for sure. The Reine de Naples is also available in maximum formal mode, including high-jewelry variations and even super-rare artistic decorations like cameo shell carving.
I’d also like to give a serious shoutout to both Vacheron Constantin for its Harmony collection and Patek Philippe for its original Ladies First model of 2009 (now discontinued in this case shape with the manufacture currently offering it in a round case), both of which tapped the feminine love of shaped cases and combined them with connoisseur-level mechanical movements with high complications. A true feast for the senses!
I compare and contrast these two extraordinary timepieces in Two Exceptional Cushion-Case Chronographs For Women: Patek Philippe Ladies First And Vacheron Constantin Harmony Chronograph Small Model.
Unisex: the secret of life
Another great way to the mechanical side of the female heart is the unisex timepiece. Rolex watches have been widely worn as unisex timepieces over the years due to their relatively small case sizes (until recently) – at least “small” as seen from a modern post-Panerai sensibility.
But an even better solution for today, where case sizes have begun to return to a more modest place, is Nomos Glashütte’s watches, which are extremely well-priced and marketed without qualifiers like “men’s,” “women’s,” or even “large” and “small.”
Fifty percent of Nomos’ products are sold to men and 50 percent to women, and these watches fit all wrists equally well as elegant everyday solutions with their timelessly designed, slim cases in moderate sizes. From day one – all the way back in 1991 – Nomos has not gendered its watches. They have always been unisex. From the get-go. Which has shown its worth in sales and market share.
Another brand that has followed Nomos Glashütte’s lead in terms of labeling is Habring2. With sober styling, unisex case sizing usually around 38-39 mm, and a decided bent toward the technical, Habring2 watches are great choices for anyone who loves sober unisex style and the rare delight of an independent maker.
Also in that vein, the Hermès Slim d’Hermès, which made its debut at Baselworld 2015, is another perfect unisex option. An instant classic, it was born of the desire to create an Hermès staple – in other words, a wristwatch for everyday wear. It is the perfect synthesis of what Hermès does so well. Which means that it is extraordinarily perfect in every detail. The Slim d’Hermès is now available in a large variety of sizes, colors, gem setting, functionalities, and even movement styles.
My personal favorite is the model with an oven-fired enamel dial in a pink gold case as it exudes an elegant simplicity that is just the right thing anywhere, any time.
The Reverso by Jaeger-LeCoultre, which celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2021, is another unisex evergreen. This Swiss brand has always offered the Reverso in numerous sizes and decoration styles powered by both mechanical and quartz calibers. Picking a favorite model is next to impossible, but if I had to it would be the breathtaking Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso 101.
This rare iteration puts the petite mechanical marvel Caliber 101, a movement a mere 3.4 mm in length, on display as a breathtakingly hand-engraved mechanism behind a sapphire crystal dial in the same Grande Reverso case used for the chunkier men’s watches.
The inside case back – generally decorated with perlage on the regular Reverso models – is fabulously snow-set with diamonds of varying size and shape here to provide a glittering backdrop for the mechanical star of the show. The movement appears to float within its sapphire crystal confines. To see it is to know what true creativity is.
Interchangeable straps: where are they?
An idea like an interchangeable strap – a strap and/or bracelet that can be easily changed by the owner to allow wardrobing – seems like a given. But it’s not. And that’s unfathomable to me.
Around 20 years ago, Frédérique Constant introduced interchangeable straps with the attractive and attractively priced Heart Beat – which satisfied a need to see into the movement for those technically minded women – in a variety of gemstone, metal, and dial combinations.
But interchangeable straps didn’t become what they should have become: ubiquitous. I cannot fathom why. They are the perfect solution to the need to “wardrobe” watches, change their look, and, on top of that, would provide extra income to manufacturers who could sell straps featuring proprietary quick-change technology.
While at one time Frédérique Constant offered a large variety of quick-change straps to order separately on the website, today it has only a handful in rather unexciting color variations.
While there are notably some manufacturers like Maurice Lacroix who are beginning to implement such systems throughout their collections, this is definitely an area that could universally benefit from vast improvement. The technology exists. Why is it not being used more ubiquitously? It would improve desirability for a lot of watches and even add another source of income for manufacturers.
When considering women, it is important to note that each one has her own sweet spot in terms of case size and demands. But one thing I find universal: (as with men) when a woman puts a watch on, it has to feel comfortable, look good, and work reliably.
And the most important thing of all is: any watch is a woman’s watch if a woman is wearing it.
Quick Facts Armin Strom Lady Beat
Case: 38 x 11.65 mm, stainless steel
Movement: in-house automatic Caliber ALA20, 3.5 Hz/25,200 vph, frequency, 70-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: CHF 16,900
Quick Facts Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Voux High Jewellery Tourbillon
Case: white gold, 39 x 12.4 mm, set with 254 diamonds
Dial: black high-fire enamel
Movement: automatic Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 978 with one-minute tourbillon
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: upon request
Quick Facts Breguet Reine de Naples Reference 8967
Case: 43.75 x 35.5 x 9.58 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber 591C, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, silicon balance spring and escapement lever, 38 hours power reserve; 22-karat gold rotor
Functions: hours, minutes