You would be forgiven for thinking that the world of luxury watches is overwhelmingly male-orientated and in some ways this is true. Through the history of watchmaking, names like Antoni Patek, Adrien Philippe, Louis Cartier and George Daniels have been the icons of horology.
Collecting watches may also be wrongly thought of as a passion for men – wristwatches being “male jewellery” – and certainly the most famous and sought after watches tend to be models for men. Ironically the very first wristwatch was designed by Patek Philippe for a woman – Countess Koscowicz of Hungary.
In reality there is a more nuanced answer to the myth that luxury watches are for men. Globally sales of luxury watches are divided 2:1 – according to Euromonitor “…in 2013, men’s luxury timepieces accounted for a 64% share of sales of overall luxury timepieces”, though of course it may not be men buying and wearing all of these luxury timepieces, as many women may choose to wear what is labelled ‘a man’s watch’.
One reason proffered for a lack of women’s luxury timepieces is that often women prefer a smaller, more subtle, more elegant watch, which somewhat precludes the inclusion of complications that can add bulk to a luxury mechanical watch. As Thierry Stern, chairman of Patek Philippe put it – “The more functions you add to a mechanical (watch) the thicker it gets. Maybe we have to wait for technical advances to go more into miniatures.” Currently around a third of Patek Philippes are worn by women.
Luxury Watch Brands and Women
So what does this mean for luxury watch brands? Well although currently a third of Patek watches are worn by women, the company hopes to increase this to 40% in the near future. As luxury brands look for new ways to expand and new growth opportunities, appealing more to women is an obvious step.
This intent also signifies a shift in economic power and general tastes. According to Bain & Co. “men accounted for 90% of China’s high-end purchases in 1995. Today women make up about half.” Growth in developing countries – particular the BRIC nations has also contributed to this growth. Overall timepieces for women grew by 7.5% according to the 2014 World Watch Report.
It would be tempting to think the difference between a male and female luxury watch is quite arbitrary, you wear it on your wrist, it tells the time, looks fabulous. But in terms of marketing and appearance there can be gap between what sells to each gender. Watch brands can make a higher margin selling diamond-encrusted quartz watches that have the right look than trying to sell a mechanical watch to women. As such, it’s easy to see why brands have not always pushed to change the status quo.
Women and Wristwatches
Luxury watch makers are not the only game in town, of course, in fact high-end fashion brands such as Michael Kors, Chanel and Hermes have had more success selling watches for women. Perhaps because, as we established earlier, fashion plays a bigger role than mechanics in women’s watches or because of loyalty to particular fashion brands. It is certainly the case that luxury watch makers have sought to capture this fashion market over the past decade.
The emergence of high-end smartwatches like the Apple Watch has also opened a new front in the competition for women’s wrists. Apple are keen for the Apple Watch to have the same gender-neutral ubiquity as the iPhone. “Apple has been engaging with what it feels are the world’s top fashion resources… the Apple Watch Edition in 18k gold appeared on the wrist of Liu Wen on the Chinese version of Vogue Magazine. The Apple Watch Sport is seen on the wrist of Candice Swanepoel on the March cover of Self magazine.” – ablogtowatch.com
The Future For Women’s Watches
There is a diverse and exciting future ahead in the women’s luxury watch space as designers move away from the “shrink it and pink it” model of designing women’s watches (as described by Sphere Life). Companies like DeLaneau are making watches for women, by women, shunning traditional marketing and focusing on great craft and excellent design. They created the first ever women’s tourbillons a decade ago now and continue to innovate.
It is also fitting that 2012 saw the first occasion on which a women was presented with the Best Watchmaker Award at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. Carole Forestier-Kasapi, head of technical development at Cartier has brought innovative ‘magical’ designs to the world of women’s watches. Despite being born to two parents who were both watchmakers, she has had to fight to succeed in what is still a male dominated industry.
As interest in the horological side of watches increases it will only fuel demand for more female-focused designers, watchmakers and marketing.