Forget the shrink-and-pinks – women’s watches are now bigger, better and properly powered. Laura McCreddie-Doak looks at the rise of the new-look female timepiece. Men of the world, rejoice; your watches are finally safe from previously light-fingered other halves. For decades, the only way women could sport a decent-sized timepiece with a mechanical movement was by shopping in, or purloining from, the men’s department. Women’s watches tended towards the pretty and pink. There were some exceptions, but generally whenever a brand launched a women’s timepiece it looked as though it had hired Barbie as creative director.
Arguably, the watch that marked a sea change was Patek Philippe’s Ladies First Chronograph. In 2009, at the opening of its new showrooms on the Place Vendome, the brand launched its column-wheelcontrolled CH 29-535 PS calibre. Nothing new there, except it also announced that this chronograph calibre would have its first outing inside a women’s watch, the aforementioned chronograph – something that was unheard of at the time.
‘Of course, it was a big surprise,’ says Sandrine Stern, head of creation at the brand. ‘Patek is known for its movements but, at the time, men thought women didn’t care about that side of a watch. And men certainly reacted strongly to this launch. Luckily, things are different now.’
Things are different. Looking for a robust diver in steel? Tudor has you covered. Want a classic sporty, bracelet style? Head over to Rolex or Patek. Do you have a penchant for diamonds? Vacheron Constantin is on hand to indulge your feminine side, while Zenith will allow you to wear them every day.
A quick glance through the major women’s watch launches this year shows such variety, from millennial pink Hublot Big Bangs through diamond-encrusted Piagets to pilot’s watches (thank you, Breitling). There is no category unrepresented. As someone who spent most of the mid-noughties wearing a men’s Bremont Solo because she couldn’t find a single women’s watch that she liked, I’m delighted.
And what’s driving this is women themselves. According to a report in the Financial Times last year, women account for 40 per cent of the sales at Watches of Switzerland, while when it comes to overall Swiss watch sales, they account for a third.
It isn’t just how much women are buying that’s interesting; it is what they are buying. Just like the car industry, which has seen an upswing in women buying supercars for themselves, women have been doing their research so they can talk the talk, and now they want to buy in.
They want automatics, larger dials, clever complications; everything men had before but which was denied to them. According to Watches of Switzerland’s 2019 Trend Report, women may buy at a lower frequency than men, but they are willing to spend more money. For once, the watch industry is responding accordingly. A 38mm Panerai or a 36mm Breitling Superocean in baby blue would have been unthinkable 10 years ago, but now it’s an integral part of the brands’ offering aimed at encouraging women to open their purses.
There are those who think that shrinking a man’s watch is just lazy on the part of the brands; that it’s not catering to women specifically, just giving them sloppy seconds. They would have a point if that was all that was out there, but for every 34mm Royal Oak, there is a Vacheron Constantin Egerie.
Brands are giving women choice, and it’s up to them entirely if they want to wear a man’s watch that has had a few millimetres shaved off the case diameter or a brand-new design created just for them.
It’s just great to, finally, be able to have the luxury to make those decisions. It’s only taken over a decade!
WORDS Laura McCreddie-Doak, PHOTOGRAPHY Gary Houlder, STYLING Sophie Kenningham
ROLEX DATEJUST 36
When it comes to the classic bracelet sports watch, you can’t make a better choice than a Rolex. The Datejust has been in the brand’s catalogue since 1945, when it was created to celebrate the company’s 40th birthday, and was the world’s first automatic with a date window that would automatically show the correct date at midnight. Powered by the COSC-certified, ultra-reliable in-house calibre 3235 and given an extra dash of panache with the aubergine dial, this could be the only watch you’ll ever need. For now.
£14,400 / $15,500
CARTIER PASHA DE CARTIER
Despite being the biggest trend of the last few years, vintage revivals have too often been restricted to chaps only – until this beauty from Cartier came out earlier this year. Horological rumour has it that, back in the 1930s, the Pasha of Marrakech requested a Cartier watch that was waterproof and elegant – and so, the Pasha was born. It was first revived in 1985 and the 2020 reboot keeps all of the quirky design details, but packages them in sleeker, more modem attire.
£5,650 / $6,150
BREITLING NAVITIMER 35
Finding a pilot’s watch for women was like trying to get your hands on a Hermes Himalaya Birkin – impossible. But not any more, thanks to Breitling. Nothing has changed about its instantly recognisable Navitimer except for the size. The slide rule is still there (and you should definitely learn how to use it), as is the beaded bezel. Here the bi-colour adds a touch of luxury to what is a straight-up, no-nonsense tool watch. Now where to find that Birkin…
£6,750 / $8,800
PATEK PHILIPPE TWENTY-4 AUTOMATIC
A decadent chocolate dial and a luscious warm rose-gold case make for a winning combination in this iteration of the Twenty-4. Although designed to be an everyday piece, hence the name, there is something more after-dark about this, especially with the addition of diamonds. Under the bonnet is the calibre 324 S C – the powerhouse for many Patek icons, including the Aquanaut and Calatrava Travel Time, proving that this is a brand that takes its women’s watches as seriously as its men’s pieces.
£46,450 / $56,702
VACHERON CONSTANTIN EGERIE MOONPHASE
The new Egerie collection is the perfect combination of brains and beauty. For inspiration, the creative team looked beyond the Jura to the world of haute couture. The unusual guilloche dial, unique to the brand, is a reference to the couture technique of fabric pleating (or plisse), while the ornate italic font used for the numerals is inspired by the name tags that would be sewn into couture gowns. The hands are reminiscent of needles, and the mother-of-pearl clouds on the moon-phase indicator add to the dreamy beauty of the entire piece.
£30,000 / $34,300
PANERAI LUMINOR DUE 38MM
Back in 2004, Jemima Khan ‘single-wristedly’ kickstarted the boyfriend-watch trend after being papped wearing a Panerai, bought for her by then-beau Hugh Grant. Hugh opted for steel, but this rose-gold Luminor Due is just as effortlessly chic. It’s slightly slimmer than the brand’s usual styles, making it ideal for those with more delicate wrists. Powered by the in-house P900 calibre and with an impressive three-day power reserve, this statement piece is the perfect accessory for everything in your wardrobe.
£13,400 / $15,300
ZENITH DEFY MIDNIGHT
Zenith has spent the past few years focusing on toys for boys, so it was a wonderful surprise when the brand released its first design considered exclusively for women. It ticks so many boxes: it has a sporty steel vibe, but with white diamonds; the bang-on-trend midnight-blue gradient dial is embellished with stars; it’s powered by the iconic Elite 670 movement; and it comes with three additional coloured straps which you can change without reaching for a special tool. Could this be the perfect everyday wearer? It’s definitely a candidate.
£9,000 UK Only