The wristwatch has undoubtedly become a statement item for the modern man, but, believe it or not, it was women who first made the statement. Dating all the way back to the 16th century, wristwatches were seen as a feminine pursuit. While men proudly sported pocket watches, it was women that were the first to wear watches on their wrists, primarily in the form of jewelry. Although certainly admirable for their elegant and artistic exterior, their function was not of much consequence. In the 19th century, many manufacturers such as Vacheron Constantin and IWC were producing lavishly decorated bracelet watches for women, adorned with jewels set in elaborate case designs.
A slightly later example would be a 1950s platinum Rolex bracelet watch that we offered recently in our December 6 auction in New York, set with approximately 135 marquise, circular and baguette-cut diamonds, but with a concealed and barely-there dial.
Recently, fine jewelry has met fine watchmaking in an impressive collaboration embraced by many manufacturers. More watches embraced by women now possess both aesthetic qualities as well as inner magic, offering beauty and brains, and the result is so much more enjoyable. Owners are able to understand the complexity of their timepiece and its many possible functions. It is a pleasure to see our clients at Christie’s taking this approach to collecting.
Some iconic ladies’ watches that merge form and function are the Cartier Crash, the Patek Philippe Twenty-4 or the Rolex Datejust, but technically speaking even these models go as far as time-only, or a simple date wheel. Both introduced in the mid to late 20th century, they are still in high demand as attractive and useful timepieces, not to mention important in horology and the history of the brands. But recently we have seen a major shift in female collectors’ wish lists to include larger and more complicated watches, watches that are not made distinctively for a lady.
Historically, most watches that were designed specifically for ladies were smaller, diamond-set, with elaborate gems or perhaps attached to a brooch or necklace. However, as times change, we are beginning to see a crossover in design. Men’s watches, including the vintage military look, are appealing, certainly with the larger dial formats with more features, and undoubtedly have a unisex aesthetic. Even more apparent, however, is that women need a watch to keep up with their busy lives, a timepiece that is highly functional, robust, and can multitask—many of the same needs that are included in the engineering of a man’s watch.
The Crossover, It’s Complicated
Nowadays, we are seeing that the options for women are growing rapidly. Manufacturers are recognizing the demand for function but with a slightly more feminine aesthetic. Therefore, more and more brands are introducing such models with increased complications featuring lighter colors, more variation in materials or a smaller size to the male counterpart. Secondly, we are seeing women adopting men’s watches as their own, despite their original intention.
The RM007 features the 18k gold rotor with micro-ball compartment which enables efficient rewinding of the mainspring. At 45mm overall length, it is available with various complications, materials, colors, with skeletonized dials, and diamond-set bezels; pretty much anything a lady could ask for.
Initially iconic for men, and now iconic for women, the Daytona is a timeless model with a status symbol that doesn’t only apply to one sex. Nicknamed the “Daytona Beach,” possibly because of its playful looks, in 2002 this model became available in four colors: green, blue, pink and yellow. The dials were made either of Chrysophrase (the blue and the green versions), or mother-of-pearl (the yellow and the pink versions), and the watches came with lizard straps matching the dial color. An instant classic, the Daytona Beach is one of the most collectible modern versions of the Daytona.
This reference 7414 from Vacheron Constantin is an extremely attractive watch. It features a blue pulsations track (also called pulsometer) around the edge of the dial. This configuration was initially marketed to doctors and also features lapidated lugs, gold applied baton markers, and a two-tone silver starburst dial. Inside is the legendary in-house caliber 30CH, which has the flyback capability. The flyback function allows the chronograph to be re-started without stopping. These features make this watch both functional and dressy. At 36mm diameter, it was initially made for a man in the 1960s but has been adopted by women as a perfect size and dial format for the moment.
The Future Of Women’s Watch Collecting
Watches have become more than just an accessory. They hold meaning, often offer a story and allow the wearer a connection with the past. Women have the luxury of choosing a dress watch for the evening, a Rolex GMT to travel, or a vintage Omega Speedmaster on the weekend. Vintage watches are a great way to create style but without a flashy motive. Not only can women decide whether to make a statement or not, all the while maintaining style and comfort, they can collect a wide range of watches to invest in. In fact, investments for women in watches is bigger than ever.
One has the ability to collect Tiffany & Co. pendant watches from the late 1800s, Art Deco Cartier Tank wristwatches from 1919, or even Patek Philippe coin watches from the 1950s onwards. I believe the future for women’s collecting is not so much about what is right in society as it once was, but what is right for the individual. The collecting community has become all-inclusive and bypassed the simple nature of “ladies’ watches.” There really is something for everyone’s tastes and desires that will no doubt only continue.