Prime Time for Women Watch Collectors
by roberta naas
At this year's Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, luxury watchmakers unveiled models combining beauty and power—for women only!
The Richard Mille RM 07-01 Ceramic ($105,000) houses the specially designed caliber CRMA2, a skeletonized automatic high-performance movement. The watch is crafted in gold and scratch-resistant, high-tech ATZ ceramic.
Over the past several years, women have been getting notoriously sophisticated about watchmaking culture,” says Richard Mille, founder of the luxury brand that bears his name. “From this point on, there is no question that women have knowledge about even the most technical aspects.” Mille has dubbed 2014 the Year of the Woman. While he has been creating women’s timepieces for almost a decade, this year he concentrated on producing larger sizes using high-tech materials—an approach that resonates with his female clientele. In keeping with his penchant for technically sophisticated and unusual haute horology, Mille has unveiled, among other models, the RM 19-01 Tourbillon Natalie Portman, featuring a spider motif in diamonds, and the avant-garde RM 07-01, housing a skeletonized automatic movement with titanium bridges made specifically for this watch. It’s also crafted in the advanced ATZ ceramic, a tenacious composite of alumina and zirconia. Adds Mille, “All of our ladies’ watches have a distinctly glamorous side in addition to being extremely technical.”
Of course, Mille isn’t the only brand focusing on the fairer sex. An appreciation for female watch enthusiasts and their depth of expertise was pervasive at January’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva. But what’s interesting is that many companies seemed caught off guard by how much today’s women know about watches, while others have clearly caught the wave of enthusiasm for their craft among their female clients, and they’re responding with a new realm of women’s watches that includes automatic and mechanical pieces with small complications, such as chronographs, skeletons, calendars, moon-phase indicators, and more.
Unlike watchmaking for men, in which a design concept starts in the luxury field and trickles down to the fashion arena, the women’s watch boom has its origins in the fashion world, where brands such as Michael Kors and Michele have taken the women’s market by storm. Sales of women’s fashion watches in the $300 to $500 price range were up 11 percent in 2013, according to LGI Network, an NPD Group Company.
In a “trickle up” effect, several high-end designer brands began paying attention to this market a few years ago. Chanel, Dior, and Van Cleef & Arpels created inventive, complicated watches, such as Chanel’s J12 Tourbillon, with a tourbillon movement crafted exclusively for the brand by the renowned manufacturer APRP. Similarly, Dior unveiled the Inverse Caliber—a movement that lets the rotor be seen on the dial side while allowing for stunning decorative elements—and housed it in the brand’s muchcoveted Dior VIII collection. And Van Cleef & Arpels, long a designer of women’s watches, launched its Poetic Complications line of whimsical retrograde and repeater watches for women, quickly stealing their hearts.
Cartier’s Les Indomptables de Cartier brooch watch (price on request) features a green enamel dial with a crocodile scale motif and enamel leaves. The crocodile, which can be removed from the timepiece and worn as a brooch, is made of 18k gold and brilliant-cut diamonds and peers from emerald eyes. It is part of a limited edition of 50 numbered pieces.
Noticing these brands’ success with high-end complex watches geared toward women, haute horology companies have begun taking action. “We owe it to women to be as true to them as we are to men with our high-end watchmaking,” says Xavier Nolot, CEO of Audemars Piguet NA, which currently produces strong pieces for women in its Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore collections. Next year the brand promises to unveil a line created expressly for women. “It used to be easy to take a shortcut for women and just offer beautiful timepieces, but that is not enough anymore,” he says. “Women are in places of power, executives, successful in all they do, and they demand a watch that makes a powerful statement on their wrist.”
The artistic director of Vacheron Constantin, Christian Selmoni, concurs. “The challenge we face as an industry is giving women the perfect blend of beauty and technology,” he says. “It is not good enough to put a mechanical movement inside a watch; we need to push to develop new looks for this new frontier.” His brand has done precisely that. Of the 16 watch companies exhibiting at SIHH last year, Vacheron Constantin was the only one to unveil women’s watches exclusively, including artistic masterpieces with enamel dials and mechanical movements. This year the brand continues that feminine focus with the Métiers d’Art Fabuleux Ornements collection, celebrating the decorative arts. Exemplars of fine watchmaking, these timepieces feature open-worked calibers, as well as cases and dials showcasing the arts of guilloche, enamel, engraving, gem setting, and more. Each piece in this series houses the brand’s ultraslim (1.64mm) Calibre 1003, consisting of a lacework of meticulously engraved wheel trains visible in the center of the watch dial and through the caseback. The series includes pieces bearing Indian, Ottoman, French, and Chinese-inspired motifs.
FROM LEFT: Christophe Claret’s Margot mechanical watch ($315,000) functions via an ingenious mechanism that plays the game “He loves me, he loves me not.” Each time the wearer presses the pusher, a single petal or a pair of petals randomly falls off the flower, disappearing beneath the dial. (There is also a nondiamond version for $199,500.) F.P. Journe’s new quartz-powered Elegante ($11,400) stops displaying the time after lying flat for 30 minutes, but is awakened with motion and automatically readjusts the clock. With a white mother-of-pearl dial under an open-worked 18k gold plate that is set with half pearls, Piaget’s Limelight Blooming Rose watch ($46,900) features four diamond-adorned rose petals, which bloom into eight petals with a touch of the case. Available this fall. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Perpetual Calendar watch ($49,800) is powered by the mechanical Calibre 868 automatic movement, which takes into account the months’ unequal lengths and requires no adjustment until March 1, 2100.
At the same time that Vacheron Constantin began unveiling women’s wonders, so did Jaeger-LeCoultre. About two years ago, the brand released Rendez-Vous, its special collection for women, which was focused on the Night & Day model, with an updated moon-phase indicator and a mechanical movement. After meeting with positive response, the company expanded the collection to include a celestial model, a tourbillon, and more. This year it introduces a perpetual calendar version and the Rendez-Vous Date, with the 27.5mm Calibre 966, one of the smallest mechanical movements on the market. “While we have a long history of making watches for women, this was different,” says Philippe Bonay, president of Jaeger-LeCoultre North America. “We had to create all-new cases just for women, as opposed to shrinking something down from the men’s collections. Especially in the high-end segment of watches, there is an entire culture of women who know exactly what they want, who see the watch as a horological piece. While they still want beauty and precious materials, they [also] want a movement that makes a statement and elicits a response to their knowledge.”
COMBINING ART AND STYLE
The rush to create watches for women isn’t only about new launches. Brands that have long designed for this market, such as Cartier, Baume & Mercier, Piaget, and Roger Dubuis, are recognizing the need to step up their game. As Bonay said, it isn’t just about adding a mechanical movement or a simple complication to a woman’s watch; it’s also about offering newly thought-out designs. “We are known for our very feminine style,” says Larry Boland, president of Piaget. “But women, especially in the boardroom, have a sophisticated sense of style and want a complex watch that makes a statement on their wrists.” This year, in its Altiplano and Limelight lines, Piaget unveiled several new mechanical watches for women that are at once elegant and technically impressive. The new Limelight Blooming Rose watch features four diamond-adorned rose petals encasing a center dial. With a simple touch, the upper case swivels and four more petals appear—surrounding the dial in full bloom.
This year Cartier is focusing on versatility, which plays a key role in its Métiers d’Art collection. First released in 2013, the series features artistic dials and overlaid sculptures, each of which can be removed from the case and worn as a brooch. This season’s models include a watch with a removable gold and diamond crocodile on top of a striking green enamel dial; another, with a removable flamingo, emulates a piece made for the Duchess of Windsor in 1940 by Cartier’s famed designer Jeanne Toussaint. In addition, the brand worked with actual rose petals in the design of its marquetry parrot timepiece. All of these diverse watches house mechanical movements and offer unparalleled artistry that proved to be a high point of SIHH.
INDEPENDENCE BREEDS INGENUITY
Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art Fabuleux Ornements 9906 Ottoman Architecture watch ($147,600) houses the ultraslim (1.64mm thin) manual Calibre 1003 skeletonized movement. Available in late fall by appointment.
Independent watchmakers are also answering the call to action from women, with some very unusual responses. Christophe Claret, famed for his ultra-mechanical chiming watches that allow the wearer to play poker, roulette, and other games, this year unveils his first complicated women’s timepiece. Called Margot, the limited-edition mechanical watch has a daisy dial inspired by the love-struck romantic’s game of plucking petals from a flower one by one while saying, “He loves me, he loves me not,” as well as an ingenious mechanism for predicting the answer: With the press of a pusher at 2, the watch comes to life, with a single petal or a pair of petals randomly falling off the flower, disappearing beneath the natural mother-of-pearl dial until the answer appears in French calligraphy at 4. Adding to the charm is the melodic chime that resonates in typical Claret style with each press.
In a different vein, F.P. Journe—easily one of the most traditional watchmakers of our time, focusing on handmade mechanical movements and heritage-inspired complexities—unveils its first women’s watch line this year. Making the milestone even more intriguing, the series includes Journe’s first quartz-powered watch. “We can’t close our eyes to the fact that quartz exists and that some women like the ease of a quartz watch,” explains Pierre Halimi Lacharlotte, general manager of F.P. Journe in America. “But Journe would not have been able to build a quartz watch unless it had complications and unusual abilities. It had to be something different, something beautiful and dedicated just for women.”
Called Elegante, the line also offers a unique feature: When the watch lies flat for more than 30 minutes, it stops displaying the time, but when you pick it up again, the motion wakes it and it automatically moves to the proper time in the quickest way possible, forward or backward. Eight years of research and development went into the piece, and thanks to Journe’s tireless commitment to precision, it houses two movements—one for seconds and one for hours and minutes—which also maximizes battery life. Yet this electromechanical marvel is still thin and, as its name suggests, elegant. Says Lacharlotte, “There is a sort of whimsical, dreamy appeal to a watch that goes to sleep but can wake up on touch.”
Several other important watch brands have already begun research and development on the all-new collections for women they’re promising for next year. Baume & Mercier, which currently offers a strong core line for women in its Linea collection of watches with interchangeable straps, plans to unveil an entirely new collection this fall. As part of that line’s ongoing research and development, the brand held focus groups internationally with women to determine their needs. “Women are not afraid to buy expensive watches for themselves anymore,” says Rudy Chavez, president of Baume & Mercier, North America. “They want watches that reflect the fact that they are independent thinkers, professionals who appreciate good looks and the power behind those looks. They want to celebrate their success, and a watch is something they can look at and recall the reason they bought it.”
photography by Youenn bosher; by vincent wulveryck/cartier