The 2019 SIHH is over and while Swiss watchmaking is recovering little by little from hard years, let’s highlight an interesting finding: Female watches are not always a priority in watchmaking. While men lines are generally the iconic pieces and the focus for most of the watch brands, it is unfortunate to realize that there is still efforts to be made in order to better please female watch aficionados. There are very few novelties dedicated to women that are true timepieces (and not necessary jewelry accessories only).
From a historical point of view, women’s watches came first!
When we look at watchmaking history it is said that the first women’s wristwatch was created by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1810. It was a special order for Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples. The younger sister of Napoleon, was a great watch aficionado. Between 1808 and 1814 she purchased from Breguet 34 clocks and watches, making her as one of the best customers of the brand. Commissioned in 1810, Breguet developed a revolutionary watch concept: an ultra-thin repeating watch, oblong in shape, equipped with a thermometer and mounted on a wristlet of hair entwined with gold thread. Story tells that more than 17 different craftsmen were required to build the watch and 34 different operations allowed to honor the Queen’s order. Since then, Breguet still perpetuates the heritage of Queen of Naples in a specific collection of their current catalog,
A little bit later in this 19th century, Patek Philippe made a wristwatch for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary in 1869. Patek Philippe manufactured a very lovely and dainty timepiece on a yellow gold bracelet. Its rectangular yellow gold case was embellished with enamel and diamonds as well as decoration belonging to the highest jeweler’s art.
Another interesting story is Hermès. In 1912, Thierry Hermès granddaughter, Jacqueline Hermès disliked the way she needed to wear her pocket watch, specially when doing her outdoor activities. She asked her father to insert the pocket watch into a leather pocket that could be strapped to her wrist. It was a fantastic innovation.
Thanks to these amazing true inventions, wristwatches were considered for several decades as a women’s item. Men would wear pocket watches attached to their waist coat. With decades of watchmaking development, certain brands stayed true to their feminine heritage and new comers brought a certain sassiness into the female segment. Still, modern era became dominated by men’s watches and we can say that today, it is a man’s world.
Today, watchmaking is a man’s world…
Current watchmaking worldwide sales represents, according to Euromonitor a total business of USD 30 billion. 60% of the business is dominated by men’s watches and 40% of the business is represented by women’s timepieces. The focus on men’s wristwatches is a modern conception from the main watch brands. There is an idea that women will wear their watches as a piece of jewelry. Other brands know that women tend to purchase big diameter watches which makes them acquire men’s models easier. When history started with small diameters for women like 24, 25 and 29mm, today female customers would easily purchase 36, 39 and up to 41mm watches. Even if most of brands would not measure or even communicate to women with those watches, we know there is a considerably amount of men’s watches being purchased by men.
Other brands tend to pursuit a middle-road which is the idea of “unisex” watches. When IWC launched the Portofino line back in 2014, it was a series of 37mm watches for both women and men.
… But women’s watches are a solid good business
Over the years many watch brands have developed new lines to be marketed to women. Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega, Rolex, Cartier or Longines have established a pretty solid business on the women segment. In March 2015, Tag Heuer enlisted model Cara Delevingne to design a range of watches priced between $2,250 and $4,000. (Delevingne, of course, also starred in the campaign.)
The women market crossed the worldwide level of USD 12 billion last year. It is a 60% increase compared to 2006, according to Euromonitor. While the men market had a strong deceleration in the past 4 years, women’s segment maintained a stable/constant growth since then. According to Chronolytics, there is growing interest in women’s watches (+43% year on year). Based on online behaviors like search engines results, the most popular female watches (based on online consumer behaviors) are:
- Lady Datejust by Rolex
- Constellation by Omega
- Royal Oak Lady by Audemars Piguet
- Happy Sport by Chopard
When Fortune asked Sandrine Stern (Head of watch creation at Patek Philipe) what women are looking for when purchasing a watch she answered:
” What women want are timepieces with both substance and style. When I speak with ladies, their first priority is how it looks. They prefer complications that are useful, like a date indication. While men like visible complications like chronograph, something that looks high-tech. For them, it’s a bit like buying a sports car”
Trends about watchmaking in women’s watches
When looking to women’s watches, we can see there are several trends that have shaped latest launches. Here are a few of them that are bringing the level of female watchmaking higher.
Large diameters (not a new thing)
Women’s watches have evolved a lot in terms of diameter. While 50 years ago most of female timepieces were between 26 to 32mm, the past decade changed the deal quite a lot. Today, we see often female lines starting at 36 and going up to 41mm. Tastes have evolved and bigger watches became a symbol of modern elegance. The watch is also less a simple jewel and supplies an important useful role.
Technical elements are proudly shown
For a very long time, women’s watches needed to be beautiful, elegant and used to hide all technical elements (considered as not beautiful). Some watches would feature amazing movements that would be hidden by jewel, dials and other opaque backcases. Little by little, watchmakers discovered how to make technical details sublime. Women watch aficionados also learned how to appreciate technical details, especially if they procure an utility. Complications are showcased in watches for her and it help to combine aesthetics and technology. Most popular complications for women are:
- Date and Day
- Perpetual calendar
- Moon phases
- Multiple time zones
Multi-bracelets change is a must
As we often see, women customers are happy to pair their accessories with their clothes and handbag or shoes. Colors, textures and style are important. Being able to change the watch bracelet is a must for every women which will allow them to pair the watch of their day-to-day look and mood. While traditional bracelets are almost impossible to be changed by the common user, watchmakers have developed clever fixations to help the regular user to shift of bracelets.
Three Women 2019 timepieces worth knowing (and you did not)
While men’s watches were the highlights of this year SIHH, there are a couple of new women’s watches that you might not know and you should. Here are our top 3 novelties for women that deserves attention.
Claude Meylan Tortue 2019 Water Print Skeleton
Claude Meylan is an expert in the savvy technique of skeletonisation. Each year, Claude Meylan crafts its watches in ways that only an artist would care for his precious creations. Claude Meylan is definitely a true master in the art of skeletonization, working for other brands as well in the Vallée de Joux. Claude Meylan will use ETA movements and Valjoux movements in its watches. It is impressive to see how the movement is completely reworked to a deep degree. You will hardly recognize the original movement in the final result. Very impressive. This year Claude Meylan pursuit its exploration of the water print technique. The watchmaker matches the water print decorations with the skeleton structure of its movement. This watch is not necessary a women’s model but could seduce female users by giving a stylish approach of technical watchmaking.
Piaget Altiplano Tourbillon Meteorite 41mm
The Piaget Altiplano became an iconic watch in watchmaking. By achieving the challenge of creating a ultra-thin movement, Piaget opened a new window for elegance. In 2019, we discover this new variation of the Altiplano line which has a very outstanding look. The watch case is 41mm of diameter for only 7.4mm height. The pink gold case was decorated with brilliant-cut diamonds in the bezel and a precious meteorite blue dial. These elements provide a very chic look with timeless details. When we have a look at the watch face (dial), we can see 2 off-centered elements. The first one is the hours and minutes hands at eight o’clock. The second element is an aperture for the flying tourbillon at two o’clock. This watch is built with the 670P caliber. The tourbillon is an ultra-thin mechanism of 4.6mm height only. With this watch, there is also a great entry door for women watch users to the world of complications.
Jaeger Lecoultre Rendez-Vous Night & Day Jewellery
Jaeger Lecoultre is one of the beautiful jewels in the Swiss crown of watchmaker. This year they are presenting a very nice timepiece called Rendez-vous Night & Day Diamonds and Pink Gold. Extremely refined, the Rendez-Vous Night & Day Jewellery watch embodies all the assets and finery of such timeless objects that offer women the opportunity to shine through the night. And for countless nights beyond. Featuring an automatic, self-winding movement, the new Jaeger-Lecoultre has a beautiful day/night indicator at six o’clock.