Ladies’ complications fit for a princess

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August 2010

From Cinderella’s midnight minute repeater to a summer time/winter time indicator, feminine complications are bringing some mechanical magic to women’s watchmaking.

Once upon a time women had a choice between a ladies’ quartz watch or a man’s wristwatch with a sprinkling of diamonds or a pink strap. Then the trend for larger watches emerged and many watch brands decided to use the additional space to equip their ladies timepieces with mechanical movements. Women started to become more receptive to the mechanical side of the watch and appreciate the workmanship involved. Now a very small number of watchmakers are going one step further and designing complications especially for ladies.

DeLaneau – pioneers in contemporary women’s complications
DeLaneau was the first watch company to introduce complications for women around a decade ago. At the time, it was probably the smallest niche in the entire watch industry, but there were a handful of informed women who fell in love with the brand and its philosophy. “When we started creating our feminine horology niche, talking about complications for women and mechanical emotions, everybody smiled,” shares DeLaneau’s CEO and Creative Director, Cristina Thévenaz-Wendt. “I was told that it was useless, that women want quartz and that’s it!”
But Cristina Thévenaz-Wendt knew what she was doing and now her clients count far more than a handful, and the company has just opened a flagship store in Geneva and plans to open another in New York shortly.
Over the years DeLaneau has created many different complications for women, including tourbillons and intricate moon phases. Today the brand is concentrating on its feminine, but complicated, 1608 and Angel Heart collections.
The 1608 Collection is not named after a date, but the number of times its mechanical, oversized ‘digital’ display jumps every single day. Women’s lives are governed by the time, often even more so than men, as they run from appointment to appointment, to and from work and take their children from A to B - every minute counting so as not to be late. The advantage of a digital display allows a rapid reading of the exact time. This clean digital display, without hands getting in the way, also leaves the majority of the dial free to be explored by the brand’s network of enamel artists, engravers, stone setters and marquetry experts.
The Angel Heart comes in a square or rectangular case and features a heart on the dial that can be mechanically opened up, magically transforming the two halves of the heart into angel wings that reveal a seconds counter beneath. The simple, and yet innovative, design uses the winding crown to open the heart. The dial can also be decorated in a multitude of ways.
It can’t be an easy task coming up with the idea for a complication that will appeal specifically to women. “We think about what kind of information we women would like to have, how we relate to time, how we use our watch and how fast and easy is it to read the information needed,” explains Thévenaz-Wendt.
The other challenge in creating women’s complications is how to combine something as masculine as a mechanical combination with a ladies watch. “Our heritage as a jeweller of watches gives us an amazing know-how on different crafts and techniques relating to stones and setting etc. We also have the privilege of having our own enamel workshop, which we have had for many years now, as well as a fantastic network of artisans.
“Aesthetic is subjective. Some women like their watches to have a masculine look, some like them to be more ‘ornamental’, colourful, set, etc. However, there are certain criteria that are common to all these different looks, such as the size, and the weight. You can’t go too far with those.” Continues Thévenaz-Wendt DeLaneau communicates to both men and women, because even if the brand is focused on women, men are still better informed than women when it comes to the value and the meaning of a mechanical movement. For years, mechanical timepieces just weren’t available to women. “What is really important for me is not to pretend to determine what women really want, but to give them a real choice on who they want to be. So it is nice to know that men can only adhere to her choice when she falls in love with a mechanical watch that actually caters to her and has been thought for her,” concludes Thévenaz-Wendt .

Ladies' complications fit for a princess ANGEL HEART, MAGNOLIA and ENAMEL BLUEBERRIES by Delaneau

Van Cleef & Arpels’ poetry in motion
One brand that has been in the limelight this year is Van Cleef & Arpels. The company drew a lot of attention at the SIHH show in Geneva with its Pont des Amoureux (See Europa Star 1/2010) which is part of its Poetic Complications collections that have become increasingly sought-after.
Van Cleef & Arpels introduced its first women’s complication in 2006 with its Quantième de Saison collection. The inventiveness of this collection was to be found in the mechanics behind the dial that rotate the face of the watch 360 degrees over the course of a year showing the passing of the seasons in real time. The timepiece was such a success that three other themes have since been created using the same complication: the Folie des Prés, the Opéra and the Océanide. Other complications include the Lady Arpels Féerie, whose dial depicts a fairy who indicates the time with her magic wand and her wing, Journée à Paris and Jour Nuit.
“The idea is to use the mechanics of the watch to serve the aesthetics and create emotion,” explains Maria Laffont, Communications Director for the brand.
The company has a long history of working with the finest artisans in its jewellery collections, whether it is world-class gem setters, jewellers, engravers or enamel artists, so it makes sense that the same attention to craftsmanship should also be applied to the movement inside each timepiece.
Van Cleef & Arpels is conscious that education is key in understanding and appreciating the company’s complications, even if there are a number of clients who have started collecting the brand’s timepieces and are impatient for the next creation. The company is constantly organising events with its clients with explanations from watchmakers about the individual functions of each movement and with enamel artists who are delighted to share their art with the brand’s clients. “It is thanks to this exchange of passions that we aim to transmit the fabulous savoir-faire which is the source of our feminine complications,” explains Laffont.
But are women really interested in the mechanical side of things? Is it perhaps not the aesthetics of the watch that catch their attention more than anything, regardless of the movement inside? “We have carried out special orders for some clients who have asked us to switch the quartz movements in their watches for mechanical movements. The demand for mechanical pieces and complications seems very much present. The feminine Poetic Complications® are much more than just a trend; this a sector that is here to stay,” concludes Laffont.

Ladies' complications fit for a princess QUANTIÈME DE SAISONS collection by Van Cleef & Arpels

Ladies' complications fit for a princess LADY ARPELS FÉERIE, JOURNÉE À PARIS, JOUR NUIT AND BUTTERFLY SYMPHONY by Van Cleef & Arpels

Ellicott and the 12 strokes of midnight
Ellicott is a relatively new brand to the watchmaking scene and this year was the first time the company exhibited inside the BaselWorld fair. Ellicott ’s owner, CEO and designer, Pierre-André Finazzi, was ready with a number of collections for men - with complications galore - and an eye-catching line for women with an original new concept.
The name of Ellicott’s feminine complication is the Lady Tuxedo Midnight Collection which is equipped with a self-winding mechanical movement that sounds the hours and the quarters on request. The idea was to create a watch for today’s Cindarellas who need to keep a check on the approach of midnight!
Minute repeaters are one of the most magical complications as they summon the ears as well as the eyes, add to this the enchanting fairy tale of Cindarella, and the importance of the twelve strokes of midnight, and you surely have a winning story for today’s retailers to tell. “What we have noticed is that what interests women the most with the Lady Tuxedo is the beauty of the object, combined with certain functions, and of course, the el-ement of dream created by this collection and its models,” reveals Finazzi.
The timepiece presented here is in 18-carat white gold, but it is also available in 18-carat pink gold or steel and with a choice of diamond settings. The dial is midnight blue with diamond stars and indexes. On the technical side, this self-winding mechanical movement has a 42 hour power reserve; 251 parts; displays the hours, minutes and a central sweeping second hand; and has a bidirectional winding system.
Looking to the future of women’s mechanical watches, “As we are pioneers in this segment, we believe that it is premature to talk about a trend right now. Today we are have a fondness for a niche that hopefully has a future!” shares Finazzi.

Ladies' complications fit for a princess LADY TUXEDO MIDNIGHT COLLECTION by Ellicott

Saskia Maaike Bouvier – spring forward, fall back
One watchmaker who has noticed the lack of ‘serious’ watchmaking for women is Saskia Maaike Bouvier. This talented young lady has designed movements alongside some of the greatest names in the industry. She started her watchmaking career concentrating on the research and development of mechanical movements before moving on to work for herself. “In 2004 I became independent and worked in the shadows on various developments. I would often propose creations for women to the companies I worked for, but they were always nervous about the idea,” shares Bouvier.
In 2009 she had become frustrated by the fact that mechanical watches were predominantly reserved for men and decided to start her own brand of women’s mechanical timepieces with a first collection called L’Heure d’Eté & d’Hiver - Summer & Winter Time.
When the clocks change, who doesn’t have to take a moment to try and calculate whether the time goes forward or back - whether we get one more hour at the disco or lose an hour in bed? This intriguing wristwatch solves this bi-annual problem with two readings: a summertime display and a wintertime indication. In summer, the user reads the top half of the dial and in the winter she refers to the lower indication. The large dial reveals wheels that are decorated with flowers and snowflakes supported by two bridges in the shape of tree branches. The three dimensional view inside the watch displays the workings of the movement below, which is a great way to highlight the mechanical aspect of the watch for women to see and appreciate. “Women are more sensitive to open mechanics and transparent dials and the intricate details of the mechanics,” explains Bouvier. Limited to 88 pieces for the steel collections and eight pieces for the white gold versions with diamonds, each timepiece is equipped with an automatic movement, sapphire crystal and a hand stitched strap with a contrasting coloured lining.
After presenting her collection for the first time during BaselWorld among the watchmakers of the AHCI (Académie Horlogère des Créateurs indépendants), reactions have been very positive. “The 45mm size scared a lot of people, but once on the wrist, the pure shape of the case fitted perfectly on even the smallest wrists,” notes Bouvier.
It is no easy time to come out with a new brand as few distributors or retailers are willing to take a risk with a newcomer right now, however clients are finding their way to Saskia Maaike Bouvier and ordering directly from her workshop, even special requests for bespoke pieces have been ordered. And the boys have been asking when a masculine version of the watch will arrive too – all good signs that we are going to be hearing a lot more from Bouvier in the future.

Ladies' complications fit for a princess L’HEURE D’ÉTÉ & D’HIVER by Saskia Maaike Bouvier

Perrelet’s mechanical feature
Perrelet’s double rotor is not so much a complication, but more a mechanical feature, however, it is so uniquely feminine that it certainly deserves a mention here.
The collection is called the Diamond Flower and each timepiece is equipped with a Perrelet P-181 automatic movement with not one, but two rotors – one rotor is on the movement side and the other on the dial. Both rotors are perfectly synchronised and power the going barrel by giving a constant and amplified source of energy. The magic, however, is most apparent on the dial side rotor which has been created in the shape of a lotus flower and richly decorated with gem stones. The ‘diamond flower’ spins as its owner moves, catching the light and everyone’s attention, while also powering the movement.
“Perrelet deliberately chose a female designer, who immersed herself in the brand for several months with a view to defining the aesthetic codes of the collection,” shares Isabelle Oppliger, Perrelet’s Director of PR and Communication. The result combines the beauty of a jewellery watch with the complexity of a mechanical movement in such a unique and interesting way.” It is little surprise to hear Oppliger say that “This collection has been a huge success”.
The collection was launched in 2008 and has since been introduced in 27 different variations with steel, gold, diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds. Its success was instant and it won the prestigious ‘Watch of the Year Award’ by the Swiss public at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie in Geneva during the year of its launch. The following year saw the arrival of a ‘Diamond Flower Rare Prestige Edition’ with seven unique pieces, and 2010 has been marked by a number of dramatic models in black and white ceramic with diamonds.
Like with all mechanical timepieces for women, education remains key. “At Perrelet, we believe that women share a certain interest for watchmaking techniques and mechanical watches. However, these women are in the minority and unfortunately the industry in general has the habit of simplifying the technical aspects when they are addressing a female public. There is a long road ahead,” explains Oppliger.

Ladies' complications fit for a princess DIAMOND FLOWER COLLECTION by Perrelet

The road may be long, but Perrelet is committed to the development of its feminine products and believes in the importance of working with female designers who intuitively create products that respond to the demands and desires of today’s women. The rest is for Perrelet’s retailers to share their knowledge and passion over the counter, something that shouldn’t be too difficult with such a stunning product!
It will be interesting to see if this very small niche will expand further. One thing is sure, women are receptive to the beauty of a complication and can appreciate the quality of workmanship, whether it is on the dial or underneath it.
Admittedly, the majority of women don’t know much about mechanical watches or complications yet, but with the help of these pioneering brands, that is going to change and there is a good chance that we will see more ladies’ complications in the future – we do hope so!

Source: Europa Star August - September 2010 Magazine Issue