For a company that used to proudly promote their fake watches using the tagline “engineered for men”, IWC Schaffhausen’s booth at this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) looked rather feminine.
IWC’s newly revived Da Vinci collection highlighted two watches, the Da Vinci Automatic 36 and Da Vinci Automatic Moon Phase 36, both created solely for women.
“The question of ours was never ‘should we go on to [the] female segment?’. The question was always ‘how’,” says outgoing CEO of IWC Schaffhausen, Georges Kern.
IWC chose to revisit its archives for design inspiration and focused on its campaign’s storytelling to appeal to a female audience while keeping their brand image intact. From the classical circular case shape revived from the 1980s to the new “flower of life” pattern on the casebacks of the women’s only watches, the whole line not just felt more feminine, but it also felt more mature, more put together.
“The storytelling has kind of evolved, but the events are more specific to the female audience, and that’s [us] constantly developing the strategy,” incoming CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr says.
But IWC was hardly the only brand tapping into the women’s market at this year’s SIHH. Brands are increasingly aware of the potential growth in the women’s segment, and are also more sensitive to their women clients’ needs.
“We have a good part of our portfolio now addressed or dedicated to women, and it’s a little bit more than 45 per cent in volume,” says Daniel Riedo, the outgoing CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre.
While this figure does not include Jaeger-LeCoultre‘s haute horlogerie pieces, which are still dominated by men’s watches, the figure is nevertheless still impressive.
Jérôme Lambert, the CEO of Montblanc, underlined the buying power of women, saying that they make up 25 per cent of the watch market.
“We foresee that [the percentage] will increase, because there are more women in China that are making their own money,” Lambert says, also noting the trend to be true for the greater Asia-Pacific region at large.
While mechanical watches for women have been available for centuries – some point to Breguet’s wristwatch for the Queen of Naples in 1810 as a prime example – there was a sharp decline in interest when the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s and 1980s hit, almost wiping out the whole of the fine watchmaking industry.
Even when the haute horlogerie industry saw a revival and sales of mechanical replica watches began picking up, it was largely true only for men’s watches while the women’s segment continued to be considered less significant. However, women’s appetite for mechanical watches has been making a comeback – and it’s not going unnoticed.
Lambert says the notion that smaller-sized dials and more decorative options were all that is needed to create a woman’s watch is an “aged” one.
“It used to be like that but it has changed,” he says, noting that women have shown greater interest in tourbillons, a conventionally “masculine” function.
“Men buy tourbillons most of the time for their precision. They buy [a tourbillon] because it’s a symbol of power, achievement and success. Why would it be different for women?”
Montblanc expanded its women’s Bohème collection last year with three new models that incorporated its patented manufacture ExoTourbillon movement. The ExoTourbillon is noted for its technical design – the tourbillon cage is intentionally kept small and does not fully encircle the balance wheel, which allows the large balance wheel to rotate freely while conserving energy. This leads to a more precise timekeeping mechanism that comes with a longer power reserve of 48 hours.
Richard Mille, traditionally a masculine watch brand known for creating highly complicated movements, also has a reputation for designing beautifully engineered women’s watches. Its women’s timepieces are made using high-grade materials and consistently boast stereotypically ‘masculine’ features such as tourbillons, high-grade case materials like grade 5 titanium, and advanced barrels for better performance and power reserve.
“Women expect more than just putting diamonds on a complication,” Lambert says.
This year, Jaeger-LeCoultre took its commitment to its female clients a step further by introducing a new complication for the Rendez-Vous collection during SIHH. The new chiming function is exclusive to its Sonatina Large watch. The romantic “ding” of the function can be set by using the top crown to move a star around the dial to set an alarm for an upcoming appointment or, if the mood strikes, a cheeky rendezvous.
This line was designed by ladies for ladies. It’s really dedicated to them,” Riedo says. “That’s the reason also why we introduced this year a complication … the Sontina, that doesn’t exist for men.”
Despite being quite technical, the chiming function – with its promise of a romantic diversion – is irresistibly whimsical and feminine. The focus expands beyond the maison’s engineering skill and includes the watchmaker’s and designer’s savoir-faire in capturing their audience’s attention.
Brands like Christophe Claret and Van Cleef & Arpels are leaders in merging the technical aspect of a well-executed watch with women’s desire for romance. The result is a watch that tells a story, not just the time.
When Christophe Claret introduced Margot to the world in 2014, his first lady’s high complication watch, it was noted for being both romantic and a feat in mechanical engineering. Users are encouraged to play a game of “he loves me, he loves me not” with the daisy at the centre of the dial by pressing on a pusher at 2 o’clock which randomly hides the flower petal (or petals) under a raised ledge, while a hammer strikes a chime. The automatic-winding mechanical piece also comes with 72 hours of power reserve, thanks to double barrels. No wonder then that Margot received the much lauded Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (the Oscars of the watchmaking industry) in the Ladies’ High-Mech category.
“You want to be as close to the whimsicality of nature as you can,” says Nicolas Bos, CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels.
The new Lady Arpels Papillon Automate watch, which comes in a numbered edition, is the latest watch to join a line of what Bos refers to as “narrative watches”. On the dial is a butterfly with wings that magically flutter at random times, an effect made possible thanks to a random automaton and on-demand animation module which were developed exclusively for the maison and resulted in four patent applications.
“You have this double activation in a way, in a watch, one which is random [and conditioned by the power reserve, and the other which] is linked of course to the activity of the person who wears it,” Bos says. “So the more you’re active and the more you’re moving, the more the butterfly is going to be active.”
By boldly linking the fluttering of the wings directly to the amount of activity by the wearer, it adds another layer of intimacy to the relationship between the wearer and the watch.
With the increase in demand for women’s mechanical timepieces having allowed watchmakers to enthusiastically explore the possibility of creating more mechanical options for smaller wrist sizes, it is not surprising that this trend looks to become the new norm for the industry.
“I say, it’s like the golden egg for the moment,” Riedo says, explaining why he does not want to entertain suggestions of bringing back quartz movements to the Rendez-Vous.
“If the ladies want to have mechanical, I will provide mechanical. It’s better for our brand and it’s better for the customers.”
The family-owned independent watchmaking company marked the 40th anniversary of its women’s Royal Oak collection by collaborating with jewellery designer Carolina Bucci. The new Frosted Gold collection is made using an old Florentine technique of hammering the metal with a diamond-tipped tool to create an illusionary frosted effect.
The maison celebrated the 60th anniversary of its ultrathin Altiplano model with a limited-edition collection. For the ladies, 34mm versions – with a pink dial, turquoise dial and white opal dial – were available, all housing the 2.1mm manufacture 430P mechanical hand-wound movement. A larger unisex 38mm version in blue was also presented.
This daring young brand injected its Excalibur collection with a bit of femininity with its Essential 36 Automatic. Limited to 28 pieces, the 36mm model encases within its black DLC-treated titanium case the self-winding mechanical calibre RD830, which comes with a 48-hour power reserve.
This brand is renowned for women’s replica watches that highlight the maison’s skill in merging haute horlogerie with haute joaillerie. The maison presented its Trait d’Eclat watch powered by the calibre 101, which demonstrates the maison’s savoir-faire.