Sales of watches have been under a cloud over the past two years due to declining demand. But there's one luminous spot to be found in the gloom: women's watches.
While men's timepieces have grown in size and complication and hogged the conversation, women's watches, long the Cinderella, have sometimes seemed an afterthought, often merely a man's watch with colour supplanting complication, diamonds the shortcut to dazzle. Not any more.
This is now a sector producing remarkable pieces designed from the outset with women in mind. These are watches that punch above their weight when it comes to not only lustre and luxe, but also mechanical ingenuity, which used to be considered the exclusive province of masculine pieces.
Coming full circle
It didn't happen overnight, and wouldn't have happened at all if it hadn't been for the entry of fashion brands into the field. Take a bow names such as Dior and Chanel, the latter celebrating 30 years of watchmaking this year with our cover watch, its first women's complication created completely in-house.
Such activity completes a circle, given the very first wristwatches were those created for women in the 1800s. Women had no pockets to accommodate the bulky timers that men, back then, could put in their waistcoats and continued to favour until the 1900s.
Be it newcomers Christophe Claret or Roger Dubuis or long-time experts in luxe such as Cartier, Piaget and Van Cleef & Arpels, watchmakers have rediscovered the magic to be had in creating something special for the female wrist – pieces that are simply too brilliant to take second place to their masculine counterparts.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Sonatina
Need a discreet reminder of an upcoming rendezvous? This Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Sonatina has just such a function, chiming at the appointed hour, which is marked by a star you can move around the dial. That dial boasts a guilloché finish resembling raw silk in amethyst shades and there's a night and day indicator in a semicircle at 6 o'clock. The 38.2mm case is white gold studded with brilliant-cut diamonds. Inside beats a 286-part self-winding movement – more music to the ears.
A. Lange & Sohne Little Lange 1
Two watchmaking complications – an outsize jumping date and a colour-co-ordinated moon-phase display – distinguish this A. Lange & Sohne Little Lange 1 model. The finely decorated dial is solid gold, the manual-wind movement has twin-barrels for 72 hours' power, and the moon-phase needs adjusting just once every 122.6 years.
Breguet Tradition Dame
A standout at this year's Baselworld watch fair, this Breguet Tradition Dame puts jewels in their place. Presented in rose gold, it's more a celebration of mechanical horology (usually regarded as a "man thing"). The movement is the hero, above which sits a dial with Clous de Paris hobnail engraving ringed by mother-of-pearl, while 68 brilliant-cut diamonds circle the 37mm case.
Christophe Claret Marguerite
Literally a statement piece, this Christophe Claret Marguerite is not only home to 609 diamonds but the press of a button sees the hour numerals disappear to be replaced by a message, which can be personalised in any language. This trick involves the mechanical interplay of two discs. Then there's the time-telling which sees two butterflies – one indicating minutes, the other hours – flitting around a ruby-centred daisy whose petals overlap with 220 of those diamonds. A two-barrel mechanical movement powers things. You're looking at $120,000-odd.
Hermès Cape Cod 25
Wear it by day, wear it by night: Hermès Cape Cod 25 marks 25 years with vibrant colour choice, here a lapis lazuli dial matched to a sapphire blue, quick-change, double-wrap alligator strap. The 29mm square case is steel trimmed with 42 diamonds totalling 0.75 carats.
Hublot One Click Cuddly Cuff
Off the cuff: the just-launched Hublot One Click Cuddly Cuff collection that takes the 39-mm Big Bang watch in gold or steel (diamonds optional), and wraps it in an artisanal rabbit-down-based strap that, yes, can be changed in a click. The oversized strap has been worked to offer a gradation of naturally tanned colours from mottled grey to turquoise, fuchsia and, shown here, ice blue.
Franck Muller Flower
Let your wrist bloom. This Franck Muller Flower watch draws its inspiration from the world of blossoms, exotic orchids in particular. The shimmering mother-of-pearl dial reflects the hues of your choice of nine varieties. A tone-on-tone alligator leather strap completes the pretty picture. Available cased in rose gold or stainless steel, the movement is quartz.
If you're looking for something altogether more recessive than most of today's timepieces, here's your answer. The Blancpain Ladybird had its debut in 1956 as the world's smallest round watch and this latest white-gold version is a mere 21.5mm, some feat given it has a self-winding automatic movement (visible through a sapphire caseback) and a bezel set with 38 diamonds. The dial is mother-of-pearl with a foliage motif.
Louis Vuitton Tambour Slim Infini
Traced in diamonds, this Louis Vuitton Tambour Slim Infini watch recreates a flower pattern in a 12-petal configuration, eliminating any need for numerals or hour markers. At its centre is the LV monogram. A 35mm version has 348 diamonds totalling two carats and a 28mm version has 224 diamonds totalling 0.78 carats. The case is pink gold, the dial mother-of-pearl, the movement quartz, the price from $33,000.
Tag Heuer Link Lady
A blue-grey mother-of-pearl dial that looks deep enough to dive into distinguishes this 32mm steel-cased Tag Heuer Link Lady timepiece. The double S-shaped bracelet that gives the watch its name now has a crisper, more contemporary look that works a treat. The icing on the cake? Those 48 diamonds (0.676 carats) crowding the bezel and a sub-$5000 price.
This year Girard-Perregaux introduces ladies' versions of the Laureato in two sizes, 38mm and 34mm, with options of steel and gold cases, dials in silver, slate or blue, and bezels set with 56 diamonds. The larger model has a self-winding movement, the smaller quartz internals. There's a choice of metal bracelet or alligator strap, the latter accompanied by an additional rubber strap.
Roger Dubuis Excalibur Essential 36 Automatic
"Electric" sums up the impact of the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Essential 36 Automatic, with its diamond-like-carbon-treated titanium case, blue PVD-coated dial with sunburst finish and a bezel set with 48 blue sapphires. As the name suggests, the case spans a tidy 36mm and the movement is self-winding. Just 28 are on offer so small chance of spotting your pride and joy on another wrist.
This article first appeared in the AFR Magazine's Ladies Watch supplement.
For more watch news check our dedicated site watch-next.com.