Historically men’s and women’s watches have always been worlds apart and it is a truth universally acknowledged that traditionally watch designers focus on aesthetics when it comes to women’s timepieces, while horological developments and juicy complications are reserved for men.
For women who demand more from their watch than a bejewelled bezel or silk strap, there have been a few launches in recent years that have suggested the industry is adapting to create more mechanical and technologically advanced watches designed with women in mind. However, recent marketing messages promoting a lack of crown or ease of winding as a means of avoiding the risk of breaking nails has raised questions about brands’ commitment to creating more advanced timepieces for women.
And when it comes to which type of women’s watches are racking up the sales on the high street, it is easy to understand why brands are still choosing glitz over guts, it is because the majority of female watch shoppers are too.
For women who are looking for something more advanced from their watch than a quartz movement but who don’t want the weight or diameter of a man’s watches the good news is that some brands are taking product development in a more dynamic direction. “I think there is a greater focus on developing and presenting more complications for women and recognising there is a market for that and not just being focused on the aesthetic,” says Noel Coyle, chief executive of multiple retail chains Fraser Hart and Fields.
Among the watch houses proving that women’s watches can be both good looking and complicated is Chanel, which this year updated its women’s complicated Première Flying Tourbillon and its J12 White, which is available with a self-winding mechanical movement and 42-hour power reserve.
Also turning heads for women who are looking to invest in a mechanical watch is Rolex with its latest versions of the Oyster Perpetual Lady-Date Just Pearlmaster, which features the sparkle of 18ct white gold set with diamonds combined with the 2235 calibre, a self-winding mechanical movement with a date display.
While there certainly are brands developing mechanical watches for women and, to a lesser extent, watches with complications, reports from retailers that women’s watch buying tends to predominantly focus on the look of the watch highlights why brands limit their investment in complicated or mechanical watches specifically for women.
“The main feedback from those ladies who are self-purchasing watches is that it’s very much about the aesthetics of the piece as much as it is about the brand or its technical aspects, which is why we currently stock Hérmes ladies quartz and also TAG Heuer, “ says Charles Fish Canary Wharf store manager Scott Donovan. “We have been finding that a small but increasing number of women in the Canary Wharf area are looking at brands such as Zenith – watches that have a timeless aesthetic but also have added complications such as sun and moon phases as well as a semi-open front dial to allow them to view the mechanisms.”
Responding to feedback from the trade that there has been an increase in demand for ladies’ Swiss automatic watches, the Dreyfuss Group launched the Rotary Ladies Jura at BaselWorld 2013, which follows the launch of the Gent’s Jura range last year.
However, Victoria Campbell, managing director of the Dreyfuss Group, concedes that women tend to be swayed more by the look of a watch than the concept. “There is certainly an appetite for automatic movements but not so much for technically advanced ones,” she says. “We believe that the aesthetic is more important, along with the size of wrist. Classic styling will remain a big factor and the demand for Swiss automatic movements will continue to grow.”
Wes Suter, sales director at retailer Steffans, which includes The Watch Works, says that although they are seeing more women who are interested in mechanical watches, it is still a small part of the market. “I think women are becoming more educated in their choices but it’s still all about the emotion and not based around facts, like men,” he says.
LOOK OF LOVE
Although opinion at BaselWorld was divided over whether women’s preferences are moving towards smaller or larger cases, the importance of overall aesthetics was unanimous.
“The aesthetic is definitely a very important factor and paramount when it comes to watch design,” says Philippe Cogoli, head of watches at Links of London. “Very often [it’s about] the combination of materials such as the colour and texture of the strap matching the colour of the dial. The detailing as well as the size and the shape of the case can give a strong point of difference and play a crucial part in the feminine aspect and final look of the watch. All these aesthetic codes are design signature and storytelling, which make a point of distinction.”
In terms of materials, Olivia Burton co-founder Jemma Fennings says that rose gold is still a particular favourite with women. She adds: “Affordability and quality are key considerations. In this climate. Brands have to work harder to gain a sale.”
Although popular aesthetic details in women’s watches have traditionally entailed lashings of sparkles, polished finishes and feminine motifs, it doesn’t always come at the cost of a mechanical movement. Take, for instance, the Frédérique Constant set of four women’s automatic timepieces, launched at BaselWorld 2013.
Designed in partnership with the World Heart Federation and raising money through sales for the Hearts of Children Campaign, these mechanical watches offer women a more technical timepiece while featuring a double heart shaped apertures and options including diamond additions and satin straps.
Style certainly doesn’t come at the cost of substance either in the Omega Ladymatic, which has had an injection of colour for 2013. The 34mm polished stainless steel cased watch retains the Omega co-axial 8520 calibre movement but is now available in purple, grey and pink or blue mother-of-pearl.
While brands such as Omega are revisiting and updating models, some brands, such as Jorg Gray are making their first serious move into women’s watches having recognised the level of demand,
confirmed by focus groups. “Women very much consider their watch as a fashion accessory and are influenced by fashion trends, hence accessorising one’s wardrobe using a watch is definitely increasing and the research showed that this group of buyers wanted to own more than one watch, if possible,” says Steven Kluk, chief executive of Jorg Gray Europe.
For other brands the current remit is about providing women with more serious options. At BaselWorld 2013, Citizen introduced its Ladies’ World Timer A-T, as part of a further push into the women’s watch market in response to demand from women for more serious timepieces. The watch has the same technology as the men’s models, featuring radio-controlled atomic timekeeping and Citizen’s Eco-Drive technology.
When it comes to product development, some brands are creating something entirely new for women. Rado makes for an interesting case having recently presented its Rado Esenza Ceramic Touch.
When a fingertip influences an electrode through the Rado watch’s ceramic insulator case, it acts as a stray capacitator, modifying the frequency of an oscillating circuit. Moving the fingertip in a certain way on the case instructs a chip in the quartz movement to allow the motor to move the hands so that the wearer sets the time through touch.
The sleek-looking monobloc watch for women features advanced technology to create a ceramic touch case control. It’s certainly a different type of technology but it was the marketing message that said the watch poses no danger of ruining a manicure that has raised eyebrows.
Regardless of whether or not they choose a timepiece based on the risk posed to their nails, women are making more informed choices. “The women coming into the shops are more discerning, asking more questions and being more careful about their purchase,” says Peter Jackson, managing director of five-store retailer Peter Jackson the Jeweller, something that can only be good news for brands recognising, and branching out into more serious watches for women.